Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Teenage Thieves of Tumblr

The wonderful thing about Tumblr is that it can generate a subculture for just about anything. One prime example is Tumblr’s shoplifting community.

Shoplifting bloggers came under the media spotlight in April and May this year, when a Jezebel writer stumbled upon a Tumblr post listing various shoplifting accounts. And yes, a shoplifting blog is exactly what it sounds like: Tumblrs where people write about their shoplifting exploits and posts photos of what appear to be stolen goods. Many of them use Tumblr tags like “shoplifting,” so it doesn’t exactly take Sherlock Holmes to track them down.

These posts share a lot of similarities with haul videos, where young women show off the results of their latest shopping spree. “Heres my haul for today!” reads the text post for this photo, tagged #shoplifting and #stealing. “I got like two more dresses but I gave them to my friend lol. The total is about $2,613. Hopefully I can sell some and make some monaay (´∇ノ`*)ノ”

Four months after Jezebel’s “Tumblr Bling Ring” story was picked up by media outlets like the Daily Mail and the BBC, Tumblr’s shoplifting bloggers are still going strong. That sudden burst of unwanted outsider attention now seems like the kind of storm-in-a-teacup drama that happens in any Tumblr community or fandom. The main difference is that most shoplifting bloggers now post disclaimers saying that they’re not really stealing, they’re just roleplaying. “I post things I purchase with my own money and claim that they were stolen,” reads one. “It’s nothing more than a fun hobby.”

But while some blogs claim that shoplifting Tumblr is entirely populated by roleplayers, others are more critical of what one shoplifting blogger describes as “inconsistently applying the roleplaying excuse.”

“If you think that people truly believe that crock of shit you are only too gullible yourself,” they add.

Since all of the relevant Tumblr accounts are anonymous, it’s entirely possible that every single shoplifting blog really is a roleplay account. In some cases, the haul is so impressive that it surely has to be a hoax. Case in point, this post, in which someone claims to have shoplifted two live lobsters.

(People have actually managed to shoplift live lobsters in the past, so maybe this is less implausible than it seems.)

If we were to take all of those disclaimers at face value, then the idea of a thriving roleplay community might be even weirder than the assumption that they’re all the real deal. It would mean that people are going to stores, buying hundreds of dollars worth of clothes and makeup on a regular basis, and then claiming online that all of it was stolen.

Not only that, but they’re offering each other (allegedly fictional) shoplifting advice about how to find CCTV blind spots and deal with RFID tags, as well as discussing their philosophies of why it’s OK to steal. By the time you get to the in-depth walkthroughs of how to deal with certain shoplifting issues at certain stores, the roleplay excuse seems tenuous at best.

by Gavia Baker-Whitelaw, Daily Dot | Read more:
Images: gaylifting and emes/Tumblr

DDiArte, Crazy Kitchen

It's The End of the World As We Know It

In addition to being the most-watched basic cable network for the quarter in primetime, Fox News Channel saw across-the-board growth vs. Q3 2013. FNC was up +2% in viewers and up +4% in the A25-54 demo for total day viewing and up +10% in viewers and up +11% in the demo in primetime.

by Chris Ariens, TVNewser | Read more:

Reality Check On Car-Care Myths

To paraphrase Mark Twain, it's not what you don't know that can come back to bite you; it's what you know for sure that ain't true. When it comes to maintaining your car, misconceptions abound. And even the best intentions can lead you to spend more money than necessary or even compromise your safety. Here are common myths that can do more harm than good:

Myth Engine oil should be changed every 3,000 miles.
Reality Despite what oil companies and quick-lube shops often claim, it's usually not necessary. Stick to the service intervals in your car's owner's manual. Under normal driving conditions, most vehicles are designed to go 7,500 miles or more between oil changes. Changing oil more often doesn't hurt the engine, but it can cost you a lot of extra money. Automakers often recommend 3,000-mile intervals for severe driving conditions, such as constant stop-and-go driving, frequent trailer-towing, mountainous terrain, or dusty conditions.

Myth Inflate tires to the pressure shown on the tire's sidewall.
Reality The pounds-per-square-inch figure on the side of the tire is the maximum pressure that the tire can safely hold, not the automaker's recommended pressure, which provides the best balance of braking, handling, gas mileage, and ride comfort. That figure is usually found on a doorjamb sticker, in the glove box, or on the fuel-filler door. Perform a monthly pressure check when tires are cold or after the car has been parked for a few hours.

Myth If the brake fluid is low, topping it off will fix the problem.
Reality As brake pads wear, the level in the brake-fluid reservoir drops a bit. That helps you monitor brake wear. If the fluid level drops to or below the Low mark on the reservoir, then either your brakes are worn out or fluid is leaking. Either way, get the brake system serviced immediately. You should also get a routine brake inspection when you rotate the tires, about every 6,000 to 7,000 miles.

Myth If regular-grade fuel is good, premium must be better.
Reality Most vehicles run just fine on regular-grade (87 octane) fuel. Using premium in these cars won't hurt, but it won't improve performance, either. A higher-octane number simply means that the fuel is less prone to pre-ignition problems, so it's often specified for hotter running, high-compression engines. So if your car is designed for 87-octane fuel, don't waste money on premium.

Myth Flush the coolant with every oil change.
Reality Radiator coolant doesn't need to be replaced very often. Most owner's manuals recommend changing the coolant every five years or 60,000 miles. Of course, if the level in the coolant reservoir is chronically low, check for a leak and get service as soon as possible.

Myth Let your engine warm up for several minutes before driving.
Reality That might have been good advice for yesteryear's cars but is less so today. Modern engines warm up more quickly when they're driven. And the sooner they warm up, the sooner they reach maximum efficiency and deliver the best fuel economy and performance. But don't rev the engine high over the first few miles while it's warming up.

by Consumer Reports |  Read more:
Image: uncredited

Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument Expanded

[ed. Good news! Bad news!]

US President Barack Obama has vastly increased marine protection in the Pacific by declaring 1 million square kilometres of ocean part of a giant marine reserve.

Obama’s declaration on 25 September increased from 210,000 square kilometres to 1.3 million km2 the size of the protected area around a group of small islands in the central Pacific, stretching from Wake Atoll to Jarvis Island. This makes the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRINM), originally created by former president George W. Bush, one of the largest marine protected areas in the world. Thousands of sea birds, turtles, sharks and other marine life will now be fully protected from commercial, if not from recreational, fishing over this extended area.

The expansion was not as large as some researchers and conservationists were hoping. It had been suggested that the reserve could have been expanded by 1.8 million km2, and the scale-down seems to be a concession to the tuna fishing industry, which is active in the region.

Still, the expansion means Obama has put more of the planet under protection than has any other world leader, says Elliott Norse, chief scientist at the Marine Conservation Institute, a non-governmental organization in Seattle, Washington, that has played a central part in the creation and expansion of PRIMNM.

by Daniel Cressey, Nature | Read more:

Jane Maxwell, 3 Walking Girls

The Woman’s Heart Attack

In medical circles, they call it the Hollywood Heart Attack. You’ve seen it: grimace of agony, clutching of chest, sudden collapse, the whole purple-prose panoply.

For my husband, Harold Lear, a doctor who became a patient just that suddenly, it was the first stop in a five-year medical odyssey, one cardiac crisis after another, ending with the ultimate stop in 1978.

Through all the years that followed, it remained my assumption that the Hollywood Heart Attack was it: the paradigm, the norm, the way heart attacks are supposed to happen.

I was relieved of this assumption two years ago, when I had one of my own.

Mine went like this: altogether well one moment, vaguely unwell the next; fluttery sensation at the sternum, rising into the throat; mild chest pressure; then chills, sudden nausea, vomiting, some diarrhea. No high drama, just a mixed bag of somethings that added up to nothing you could name. Maybe flu, maybe a bad mussel, maybe too much wine, but the chest pressure caused me to say to my second husband, “Could this be a heart attack?” “Of course not,” he said. “It’s a stomach bug.”

Still, that pressure, slight but there, nagged at me. I called my doctor and reported my symptoms. The mention of diarrhea, almost never a presenting symptom in heart attacks, skewed the picture. He said, “It doesn’t sound like your heart. I can’t say a thousand percent that it’s not, but it doesn’t seem necessary to go racing to the emergency room with the way you feel now. Just see it through and come in for an EKG in the morning.”

The pressure eased. I slept, and woke the next morning feeling well. I went for the test mainly because I had said that I would, fully expecting to be told that I was healthy. First the EKG and then the echocardiogram told a different story: a substantial heart attack, “less than massive,” my doctor said, “but more than mild.” We were both stunned.

Suddenly I found myself living in a sequel: same hospital where Hal had worked and died, same coronary unit, same cardiologist, same everything; different husband wheeling me in my wheelchair through the corridors where I had wheeled Hal in his. Ghosts in every corner.

With a stent implanted in an occluded artery, I recovered fast and was cleared to leave in four days, but a bad hospital-acquired infection kept me there four weeks — time enough for a revelatory education about women and hearts.

Surprise No. 1: The biggest killer of American women is not breast cancer, as many people believe. It is heart disease. Should I have been surprised? Of course not. The American Heart Association keeps telling us about our hearts and we keep not listening, possibly because we are so fearful of cancer that we have no fear to spare, as we lie on our beds dutifully palpating ourselves for the lumps that we pray not to find.

Our hearts kill more of us than all kinds of cancer combined.

Surprise No. 2: I learn that Hal’s attack and mine are textbook illustrations of how vivid the gender differences can be. I learn that men more typically have “crushing” pain; women, nausea. That women are likelier to have early warning signs, such as unaccustomed fatigue or insomnia (unaccustomed: That’s the key word here). That we are likelier — this spooked me and kept me, for months, glued to calendars — to die within a year of a heart attack. That our symptoms can be so varied and nuanced that we feel no fear, seek no help, and possibly die — which may be why, although more men have heart attacks, a greater percentage of women die of them. (...)

Until shockingly recently — in fact, until this millennium — there was minimal research on women’s heart attacks because of widespread belief in the medical community that women did not have heart attacks. (When the American Heart Association introduced its Prudent Diet in the 1950s, it issued a pamphlet titled “The Way to a Man’s Heart.”

Research studies commonly used all-male subjects. Men with abnormal test results were treated far more aggressively than women with the same results. Women reporting the same symptoms as men were at least twice as likely to receive — no surprise here — a psychiatric diagnosis.

In a 1996 national survey of doctors, two-thirds were unaware of gender differences in symptoms and warning signs of heart attacks.

by Martha Weinman Lear, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Rachel Levit

Monday, September 29, 2014

Oyster Run 2014

[ed. I love it when this sleepy little town goes insane one day each year (for the last 33 years). Tens of thousands of bikers pour in to celebrate everything bike-related. It's the annual Oyster Run (here are a few photos from my first OR).  Always a great time.]

photos: markk

Byron Barrett, Rush Hour, 2009

When Blogging Becomes a Slog

[ed. Sometimes you're inspired, sometimes you're not. It must be grueling to produce original content every day. Much of what you see on the web today is derivative, so even with curation/aggregation blogs like this one, it takes time to separate the wheat from the chaff. But, since revenue generation has never been an issue here, no worries. Our motto: all the news you need, whenever we feel like printing it.]

Is the first generation of design bloggers aging out of the blogosphere? Or is this just a new twist on an old business story, updated for the Internet age?

Pam Kueber, the midcentury design expert behind the blog Retro Renovation, is 55, and she sees the Petersiks’ escalating stress levels and unhappiness simply as evidence of the latter: A passion turns into a hobby, which becomes a full-time career. “And in some predictable period of time, it consumes your life and sucks the joy out if it,” said Ms. Kueber, finishing the arc. “That last part of the Shakespearean tragedy is what you have to be mindful of not letting happen.”

A tricky thing to avoid as a full-time blogger, considering that the Internet never sleeps, readers want fresh content daily and new social media platforms must be mastered and added to the already demanding workload. Add to that the economic challenges of blogging full time. As Grace Bonney of Design Sponge lamented earlier this year in a “State of the Blog Union,” advertising rates have dropped significantly because advertisers are flooded with options.

To earn money, many bloggers have had to embrace sponsored content, breeding distrust among readers. Several Young House Love readers, for instance, thought the giveaways were product placements in disguise, even though the Petersiks maintained they weren’t compensated for doing them.

“If readers begin to suspect that your content is heavy on product placement, if they see excessive amounts of sponsored posts, you risk losing what’s most important, which is trust and authenticity,” said Ms. Kueber, who still relies largely on banner ads and has so far done only two sponsored posts.

And blogs that focus on the home come with their own particular set of challenges. Unlike a personal style blog, in which generating new content can be as simple as getting dressed in the morning, producing a decorating or D.I.Y. blog involves considerable time, expense and domestic upheaval. (...)

The Petersiks were early adopters of the blog format and hardly could have anticipated the success and opportunities that would result from telling strangers about redoing the dreary den of their starter home. But from the outset, the couple forged an intimate bond with their audience that went beyond fix-it projects. When they staged their D.I.Y. wedding in the backyard in 2007, they posted an album’s worth of photos, complete with a cost breakdown (cupcakes and s’mores: $125). And when Ms. Petersik had life-threatening complications during the birth of their first child, she shared the emotional story online.

The couple also worked tirelessly. Barely had they finished one total home redo when they bought another fixer-upper and then a third, as if they were trapped on a house-jumping hamster wheel by the need to generate blog content. Last November, the couple posted a to-do list for their latest home, a stately brick four-bedroom with a showcase lawn. If you print the list, it runs to 20 pages. You could exhaust yourself just reading it.

Erin Loechner, who publishes the blog Design for Mankind, said that professional bloggers like herself take on very demanding, self-imposed workloads. “I think there’s a fear that if we post less, our readers will find that content elsewhere,” she said. And yet many bloggers don’t want to complain for fear of sounding whiny or ungrateful.

by Steven Kurutz, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Michelle Litvin

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Marco Battaglini, Gentlemen prefer blondes

Ello, Goodbye

[ed. See also: What is Ello and Should I Even Bother?]

Here’s how venture capital works: you go to an investor, before you’ve even built the thing you’re building and you tell them how you’re going to exit. It’s called an exit plan or exit strategy. You tell them, for example: “Hey, we’re going to get 100 million people using our new platform in two years time, how much will you give me for 100 million people?” And they go “Umm, we’ll give you this much for 100 million people because we’re pretty sure we can get that amount back several times over when we sell those 100 million people in an exit either to another company or in an IPO.”

When you take venture capital, it is not a matter of if you’re going to sell your users, you already have. It’s called an exit plan. And no investor will give you venture capital without one. In the myopic and upside-down world of venture capital, exits precede the building of the actual thing itself. It would be a comedy if the repercussions of this toxic system were not so tragic.

Let me put it bluntly: if a company has taken venture capital, you have already been sold. It’s not a matter of if, it’s simply a matter of when. (Unless the company goes under before it can exit, that is.)

A venture-capital funded startup is a temporary company that has to convince enough people into using their platform so that they can make good on the exit they promised their investors at the very beginning. It is the opposite of a long-term, sustainable business.

by Aral Balkan |  Read more:
Image: Ello

Liberalism and Gentrification

When I want to examine the limits of liberal ideology, I look for class struggle; when I want to find some class struggle, I simply step outside my door. You don’t have to live in Washington, DC, like I do, but it helps.

Like a lot of cities, Washington is really two cities in the same space. We’ve got “Washington,” the place of popular imagination, gleaming white marble monuments and Aaron Sorkin speechifiers, the mostly-from-out-of-town professional class keeping the rusty wheels of state administration turning.

We’ve also got “DC,” the city distinct from the operations of the federal government, made up of “residents,” who are mostly poor and mostly black. These two cities are locked in a one-sided war of attrition, with affluent “newcomers” and their local allies conducting clear-and-hold operations against their less well-heeled neighbors. I can watch from what Forbes magazine, that barometer of bohemianism, has labeled the sixth-hippest neighborhood in the US, where I live.

This is gentrification, which, if you’re reading this and live in a city, is a process you’re caught up in. There’s a violent side of gentrification — think Rudy Giuliani and his “broken windows” alibi for crackdowns on petty crime. But there’s a softer side to this war as well, the liberal project of city governance whose patron saint is the activist Jane Jacobs, author of Death and Life of American Cities.

In the face of rampant suburbanization and slash-and-burn urban renewal, Jacobs emphasized the attractions of urban life in all its diversity, revealing the support networks that lent resiliency and quality of life to neighborhoods otherwise deemed undesirable. She was also a fierce critic of the monumental architecture of public housing, in favor of the historic charms of low-density buildings. Jacobs’ once-revolutionary ideas are now liberal urbanist common sense: pedestrian traffic, mixed-use development, a heterogeneous mix of architectural styles, businesses, and people. My city councilman’s slogan, “A Livable, Walkable City,” comes straight out of the Jacobs playbook, and it is difficult to find it objectionable.

However, as urban sociologist Sharon Zukin has pointed out again and again, Jacobs’ aesthetic insights can’t make up for her avoiding of class realities. Lambasting “planners” while ignoring the far more powerful real estate developers, Jacobs’ polemic has been turned against even her prized East Village neighborhood, a site of rapacious gentrification stretching back to the 1980s. (...)

The speed and rapacity of Washington gentrification lets you see clearly who’s responsible, without Richard Florida nostrums about “creatives.” We don’t have creatives. We have bureaucrats and IT workers with a few more years of beards and bong hits in them, and really, isn’t this what most “creatives” are? The sheer expense of living in Washington, and the squareness of your average fed worker, mitigates against the hipster bohemianism we’ve come to associate with the first wave of “neighborhood revitalization.”

Gentrification has always been a top-down affair, not a spontaneous hipster influx, orchestrated by the real estate developers and investors who pull the strings of city policy, with individual home-buyers deployed in mopping up operations. (...)

The first installment of DC gentrification began as the smoke lifted after the riots following Martin Luther King’s assassination. Large parts of the black areas of the city (at the time, everything east of Rock Creek Park, including what is now “downtown”) were burned. With the fear of urban insurrection hanging in the air, property values plummeted, paving the way for local real estate magnates to snap up hugely lucrative portfolios.

Developers succeeded in getting the city government and banks to assist in their purchases, promising community projects, like homeless shelters and hospitals, that they rarely delivered before they flipped the property. Often it was enough to throw chump change into Mayor Marion Barry’s re-election fund, or fly out some city council members on a junket to the Virgin Islands, to secure lucrative city projects and advantageous loans. Now the big operators, like Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, simply bypass the city government: according to broker Jerry Coren, when it comes to DC real estate deals, “Politics is really not essential.”

by Gavin Mueller, Jacobin |  Read more:
Image: Mitchell Map

Thursday, September 25, 2014

This Palm-Sized Laser Could Make Self-Driving Cars Way Cheaper

We don’t know how much self-driving cars will cost when they finally hit the market, but our best guess is, a lot. The technology needed to take the wheel out of your hands is frightfully expensive. Now, we can revise that estimate down a bit with the debut of a laser system that’s roughly the size and shape of a hockey puck and costs just eight grand.

Silicon Valley-based Velodyne Acoustics makes sound systems and a self-stabilizing boat said to prevent seasickness, but its most high profile product is the Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) system spinning proudly atop each of Google’s self-driving cars. The device uses 64 lasers to map the physical the world. It can collect more than a million data points about its surroundings every second, crucial information for autonomous automobiles. It’s remarkably cool, and remarkably expensive: Each unit costs up to $85,000, far too pricey to be used in vehicles the rest of us might one day buy.

Which brings us to the Puck, Velodyne’s miniaturized version of that technology. Instead of 64 lasers, it has just 16, resulting in a tenfold reduction in price. It’s also smaller, just 4 inches tall and 1.3 pounds—compared to 10 inches tall and 29 pounds for the unit on each of Google’s robocars. At $7,999, it’s small and cheap enough for mass-market vehicles, a big help for automakers intent on offering cars that drive themselves in the next decade.

by Alex Davies, Wired |  Read more:
Image: Velodyne

Jonas Wood, Interior with Fireplace, 2012

Occupational Hazards of Working on Wall Street

A few times in the past several decades it has sounded as if big Wall Street banks were losing their hold on the graduates of the world’s most selective universities: the early 1990s, the dot-com boom and the immediate aftermath of the global financial crisis (Teach for America!). Each time the graduating class of Harvard and Yale looked as if it might decide, en masse, that it wanted to do something with its life other than work for Morgan Stanley.

Each time it turned out that it didn’t.

Silicon Valley is once again bubbling, and, in response, big Wall Street banks are raising starting salaries, and reducing the work hours of new recruits. But it’s hard to see why this time should be any different from the others.

Technology entrepreneurship will never have the power to displace big Wall Street banks in the central nervous system of America’s youth, in part because tech entrepreneurship requires the practitioner to have an original idea, or at least to know something about computers, but also because entrepreneurship doesn’t offer the sort of people who wind up at elite universities what a lot of them obviously crave: status certainty.

“I’m going to Goldman,” is still about as close as it gets in the real world to “I’m going to Harvard,” at least for the fiercely ambitious young person who is ambitious to do nothing in particular.

The question I’ve always had about this army of young people with seemingly endless career options who wind up in finance is: What happens next to them? People like to think they have a “character,” and that this character of theirs will endure, no matter the situation. It’s not really so. People are vulnerable to the incentives of their environment, and often the best a person can do, if he wants to behave in a certain manner, is to choose carefully the environment that will go to work on his character.

One moment this herd of graduates of the nation’s best universities are young people -- ambitious yes, but still young people -- with young people’s ideals and hopes to live a meaningful life. The next they are essentially old people, at work gaming ratings companies, and designing securities to fail so they might make a killing off the investors they dupe into buying them, and rigging various markets at the expense of the wider society, and encouraging all sorts of people to do stuff with their capital and their companies that they never should do.

Not everyone on Wall Street does stuff that would have horrified them, had it been described to them in plain English, when they were 20. But enough do that it makes you wonder. What happens between then and now?

All occupations have hazards. An occupational hazard of the Internet columnist, for instance, is that he becomes the sort of person who says whatever he thinks will get him the most attention rather than what he thinks is true, so often that he forgets the difference.

The occupational hazards of Wall Street are more interesting -- and not just because half the graduating class of Harvard still wants to work there. Some are obvious -- for instance, the temptation, when deciding how to behave, to place too much weight on the very short term and not enough on the long term. Or the temptation, if you make a lot of money, to deploy financial success as an excuse for failure in other aspects of your life. But some of the occupational hazards on Wall Street are less obvious.

Here’s a few that seem, just now, particularly relevant:

by Michael Lewis, Bloomberg |  Read more:
Image: Jin Lee

Why the Heyday of Credit Card Fraud Is Almost Over

In 1960, an IBM engineer named Forrest Parry was developing a new type of ID card for the CIA when he had an epiphany: Why not make each card a tiny data storage device in and of itself? He cut a short length of half-inch wide magnetic tape from a reel and wrapped it around a blank plastic card, secured it with Scotch tape, and then, at his wife’s suggestion, pressed it on with a warm iron.

The magnetic stripe card was born.

Today magstripes are on the backs of millions of US-issued credit and debit cards, where they hold all the information needed to produce a flawless counterfeit card—account number, expiration date, and a secret code called a CVV. That has made Forrest Parry’s invention one of the computer underground’s most prized targets—more valuable than anything on your hard drive. We were reminded of that last week, when Home Depot confirmed that 56 million shoppers had their credit card data siphoned from the big box retailer’s point-of-sale systems over six months. That’s 3,000 miles of magstripe, stolen three inches at a time.

The announcement makes the Home Depot breach the single largest known theft of credit card data in history, edging out the 40 million cards stolen from Target late last year, and about the same number taken from TJX in 2006. It may also be one of the last major credit card heists.

But more on that in a moment.

First, a bit of history: What happens to stolen bank card data hasn’t changed in 15 years—the hackers package it and sell it in bulk to the underground’s third-party resellers. Ten years ago it was the Ukranian known as “Maksik”; today it’s the Ukrainian known as “Rescator.” If Parry’s innovation was to take a bulk storage medium and literally slice it into a wallet-sized one, the computer underground has perfected the opposite process, compiling all those squirts of information into a big data play that would make Mark Zuckerberg envious.

Once it’s in an underground shop, card counterfeiters buy the magstripes they need—sometimes ordering by bank or ZIP code—and copy it onto fake cards using their own magstripe encoding machines. Then they use the cards to buy goods they can resell or dispatch crews to do the shopping for them in exchange for a cut of the profits.

Since about 2001, stolen magstripe swipes, or “dumps,” have been the pork bellies of a massive hacker commodities market, centered in Eastern Europe and stretching around the globe. Beyond the hackers who breach stores like Home Depot, and the resellers like Rescator who market the cards, there are vendors specializing in the hardware and material—plastic embossers, fake holograms, blank cards, magstripe encoders—needed to use the data and others who crank out professional fake IDs to help pass the fake cards. By the most conservative estimates, it all adds up to $11 billion in losses annually.

But the golden age of credit card fraud is drawing to a close, and history will regard Home Depot, TJX, Target, and all other breaches as a single massive exploit against one catastrophic security hole: The banks’ use of roughly 23 characters of magnetically encoded data as the sole authentication mechanism for a consumer payment infrastructure that generated 26.2 billion transactions in 2012 alone. Engineering students will study that gaffe with the astonished bemusement with which they view old footage of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge twisting in the wind.

The fatal problem with the credit card magstripe is that it’s only a container for unchanging, static data. And if static data is compromised anywhere in the processing chain, it can be passed around, copied, bought and sold at will.

The solution has been available for years: Put logic in the card. Thanks to Moore’s Law, an inexpensive tamper-resistant microprocessor fits comfortably in a space smaller than your driver’s license photo. With a computer on both edges of the transaction, you can employ cryptography and authenticate the card interactively, so that eavesdropping on the transaction gains you nothing. Just as IBM’s Parry made our wallets smarter by adding computer storage, a modern card is smarter still by having an entire computer onboard.

Now, after resisting it for 10 years because of the formidable transition costs, the US is about to finally embrace the secure chip-based authentication system called EMV—the standard was pioneered by Europay, MasterCard, and Visa—that the rest of the world has already adopted. Pushed by mounting fraud costs, credit card companies have crafted incentives for merchants to switch to the sophisticated readers needed to accept the cards. “There was a lot of skepticism about whether it would ever happen in the US,” says Michael Misasi, an analyst with the Mercator Advisory Group. “All of the data breaches that have happened have woken people up, and progress has been accelerating this year.” The first serious milestone is October 2015. By 2020 the swipe-and-sign magstripe reader will be as hard to find as the credit card impression rollers they supplanted.

By then, it’s probably safe to say, the entire idea of a credit or debit “card” will be quaint. With the newly announced Apple Pay joining Google Wallet as a real-life payment system, even the chip-based credit cards will be little more than a backup technology. Apple took some ribbing for announcing Apple Pay while its iCloud celebrity breaches were still in the news. But unlike cloud storage, the state of the art of retail payment is so poor today that Apple can’t possibly fail to improve it.

by Kevin Poulsen, Wired |  Read more:
Image: The first magstripe card. Jerome Svigals via Wikimedia Commons

PJ Harvey

Anthony Bourdain Has Become the Future of Cable News, and He Couldn't Care Less

"Ready to eat well?" asks Anthony Bourdain.

The chef turned TV star is leading the way toward a pair of narrow seats at the New York outpost of a Michelin-rated Tokyo yakitori joint called Tori Shin, a tightly packed establishment that's Bourdain's kind of place: little-known, deeply authentic, and a bit unusual. "We might as well be in Tokyo," he says. "They do everything right here."

A meal out with Bourdain typically involves three things. There will be engaging conversation, possibly touching on such subjects as the essays of Michel de Montaigne, 1920s surrealist films, and mixed-martial-arts combat. There will be booze, although perhaps in more modest quantities than his reputation suggests. And there will be food--some strange, all carefully prepared, and a certain amount involving animal innards that seem better suited to ninth-grade biology class than the dinner table.

Bourdain, 58, is a foodie explorer who has spent years trekking around the planet while fearlessly tucking into all manner of exotic fare, from months-old rotten shark meat in Iceland to a still-beating cobra heart in Vietnam. "He's the Indiana Jones of the food world," says his close friend Eric Ripert, chef and co-owner of New York institution Le Bernardin. "He is the smart guy who knows food and is going to take us with him on an adventure."

Bourdain's hour-long CNN food and travel show, Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, which kicked off its fourth season on September 28 (new episodes air Sundays at 9 p.m. EST), is unlike anything else on TV. Forget about four-star hotels or luxury spa treatments: Bourdain is on a mission to illuminate underappreciated and misunderstood cultures, whether it's Myanmar or Detroit. He regularly takes viewers to the sorts of places--Libya, Gaza, Congo--that most Americans know only from grim headlines about political strife and body counts. Bourdain does all of this with vivid narrative reporting, stunning visuals, palpable empathy, and a relentlessly open mind. The show has so far been nominated for 11 Emmys and has won three (most recently for Best Informational Series or Special). This year it was also awarded a prestigious Peabody.

As with Bourdain's previous programs, A Cook's Tour and the long-running No Reservations, the premise is simple: he goes somewhere interesting and hangs out with the locals. "We show up and say, 'What's to eat? What makes you happy?'" Bourdain says. "You're going to get very Technicolor, very deep, very complicated answers to those questions. I'm not a Middle East expert. I'm not an Africa expert. I'm not a foreign-policy wonk. But I see aspects of these countries that regular journalists don't. If we have a role, it's to put a face on people who you might not otherwise have seen or cared about."

Parts Unknown is the flagship of Bourdain's somewhat accidental empire. He also presides over two other current TV programs: the PBS docuseries The Mind of a Chef (which he both narrates and executive produces) and the Esquire Network travel show The Getaway. He's a mentor on ABC's reality competition The Taste (season 3 premieres in January), and he oversees an Ecco/HarperCollins imprint that has released four books since it kicked off in May 2013. He has written six food books of his own--including his 2000 memoir, Kitchen Confidential--and several crime novels. Recently, and much to his surprise, he's even become a new face of CNN, which is currently being overhauled by former NBCUniversal president and CEO Jeff Zucker. His show could lead an industry-wide shift toward a more documentary-focused cable-news landscape.

For Bourdain, it has been a long evolution: from heroin-addicted chef to punk-rock-foodie author to global citizen on a mission to simply understand a bit about our world. It's a testament to Bourdain's work ethic and creative drive that after 14 years on television, he's still pushing to get better, go deeper, seek out complexity, avoid the obvious and conventional. At a time when he could simply coast, Bourdain seems as energized as ever. (...)

That quest for excellence is a big part of what's kept Bourdain excited about making a show with the same basic format for the past 14 years. He can be intense, but he constantly pushes the crew to reach toward the new. "We literally sit down and try to figure out, 'What's the most fucked-up thing we can do?' " he says, taking a swig from his industrial-size cup of light-and-sweet deli coffee. " 'What haven't we done that we can try?' " (...)

Not all of these experiments pay off, and Bourdain is okay with that. The point is to resist the predictable, especially when it comes to TV's ingrained conventions. "The only thing that makes me upset and, really, a dick is if something is fucking plodding and reasonable," he says, spitting out that last word with palpable revulsion. "It starts with an establishing shot, I go someplace, I meet somebody, I sit down, I eat, and I come to a conclusion: That kind of conventional thinking really upsets me. I would much rather see some incomprehensible, over-the-top, fucked-up thing, because at least you're trying to do something awesome."

by Rob Brunner, Fast Company |  Read more:
Image: CNN

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Polaroid Goes After GoPro With a $99 Action Camera

What better way to conjure the 1980s, Taylor Swift probably thought, than by using a Polaroid picture of herself as an album cover. Inside the album are 13 more vintage-esque photos. You could say that Polaroid is having its moment. Again.

This time around the brand is resonating with a generation whose parents experienced the first boom in analog instant photography. And now the company is trying to sustain that interest with the Cube, an adorably tiny HD action-video camera priced at $99 for kids who can’t afford a GoPro, which can cost two to four times as much.

“GoPro has done an incredible job building a new category in the digital imaging space,” says Polaroid Chief Executive Officer Scott Hardy. “But when we look at that market, we think it can be much bigger by not just targeting the professional and amateur and aspirational thrill-seekers but going after more of the lifestyle segments.” The Cube, which goes on sale today, is geared toward people who are more likely to strap a camera to the handlebars of their fixed-wheel bike than to swim with sharks. (...)

Beyond the physical allusions, Brunner says he wanted to make the camera as fun and easy to use as the original Polaroid point-and-shoots. The Cube has a single button on top—press once to take a still image, twice for video. A door in the back, unscrewed with a coin, reveals the memory card, a micro USB port for charging the device and for downloading video, and a switch for choosing between 720p or 1080p resolution. The resolution is on par with that of a GoPro, which also offers an intermediate option of 960p.

As one would expect with a camera that’s half the price, the Cube includes fewer features. There’s no photo blast or remote control, while the cheapest GoPro offers both. But what it sacrifices in terms of features, the Cube makes up for in convenience. A magnet on the bottom attaches to metal surfaces without the need for another accessory (although there are plenty of those, including helmet, bike, suction, and tripod mounts).

Plus, the Cube is cute.

by Belinda Lanks, Businessweek |  Read more:
Image: Polaroid

Pimping Climate Action

[ed. See also: Naomi Klein's One Way or Another Everything Changes]

I’ve never been to a protest march that advertised in the New York City subway. That spent $220,000 on posters inviting Wall Street bankers to join a march to save the planet, according to one source. That claims you can change world history in an afternoon after walking the dog and eating brunch. Welcome to the “People’s Climate March,” which took place yesterday in New York City. It was timed to take place before world leaders hold a Climate Summit at the United Nations tomorrow. (...)

Environmental activist Anne Petermann and writer Quincy Saul describe how the People’s Climate March has no demands, no targets, and no enemy. Organizers admitted encouraging bankers to march was like saying Blackwater mercenaries should join an antiwar protest. There is no unity other than money. One veteran activist who was involved in Occupy Wall Street said it was made known there was plenty of money to hire her and others. There is no sense of history: decades of climate-justice activism are being erased by the sensationalist phrase “biggest climate change demonstration ever.” Investigative reporter Cory Morningstar has connected the dots between the organizing groups, 350.org and Avaaz, the global online activist outfit modeled on MoveOn.org, and institutions like the World Bank and Clinton Global Initiative. Morningstar claims the secret of Avaaz’s success is its “expertise in behavioral change.”

That is what I find most troubling. Having worked on Madison Avenue for nearly a decade, I can smell a P.R. and marketing campaign a mile away. That seems to be how the People’s Climate March was organized. According to inside sources a push early on for a Seattle-style event—organizing thousands of people to nonviolently shut down the area around the United Nations—was thwarted by paid staff with the organizing groups. One participant in the organizing meetings said, “In the beginning people were saying, ‘This is our Seattle.” But the paid staff got the politics-free Climate March. Another source said, “You wouldn’t see Avaaz promoting an Occupy-style action. The strategic decision was made to have a big march and get as many mainstream groups on board as possible.”

Nothing wrong with that. Not every tactic should be based on Occupy. But in an email about climate change that Avaaz sent out last December, which apparently raked in millions of dollars, it wrote, “It’s time for powerful, direct, non-violent action, to capture imagination, convey moral urgency, and inspire people to act. Think Occupy.” Think Occupy? Without the politics? What is happening exactly?

It seems that Avaaz found a lucrative revenue stream by warning about climate catastrophe that can only be solved with a donate button. This isn’t really a surprise. Avaaz has pioneered clickbait activism. It gets people to sign petitions about dramatic but ultimately minor issues. The operating method of Avaaz, which was established in 2007, is to create “actions” like these that generate emails for its fundraising operation. Avaaz’s business model to create products (the actions), that help it increase market share (emails), and ultimately, revenue. The actions that get the most attention are ones with the most petition signers, media coverage, and ability to generate that revenue. Social justice is turned into a product that enhances the liberal do-goodery. Avaaz profits off using internet activism and philanthropy as a release valve for people who desire genuine change, but lack the tools for building it directly. Now, it has set its sights on the climate justice movement.

To convince people to donate, it says we need Occupy-style actions. That lets people direct their desire for social change into a click of their mouses. When the moment came for assembling such a protest, though, Avaaz and 350.org blocked it. When it finally did get organized in the form of Flood Wall Street, they pushed it out of sight. If you go to the People’s Climate March website, you won’t find any mention of the Flood Wall Street action, which I fully support, but fear is being organized with too little time and resources. Nor have I seen it in an Avaaz email, nor has anyone else I’ve talked to. Bill McKibben of 350.org began promoting it this week, but that may be because there is discontent in the activist ranks about the march, which includes a number of Occupy Wall Street activists. One inside source said, “It’s a branding decision not to promote the Flood Wall Street action. These are not radical organizations.”

Branding. That’s how the climate crisis is going to be solved. We are in an era of postmodern social movements. The image is said to come first, not the ideology, and it is the branding that shapes the reality. The P.R. and marketing determines the tactics, the messaging, the organizing, and the strategy. When I asked an insider what the metrics for success would be, the insider told me that it would be measured by media coverage and long-term polling about public opinion. I was dumbfounded. Those are the exact same tools we would use in huge marketing campaigns. First we would estimate and tally media “impressions” across all digital, print, outdoor, and so on. Then a few months down the road we would conduct surveys to see if we changed the consumer’s opinion of the brand, their favorability, the qualities they associated with it, the likelihood they would try. Avaaz is doing the same thing.

That is how we should read Avaaz’s branding about changing world history. The more dramatic the language, the better the response. It’s like the supermarket. The bags and boxes don’t say, “Not bad,” or “kinda tasty.” They say “the cheesiest,” “the most delicious,” “an avalanche of flavor,” “utterly irresistible.” That’s why climate change polls so well for Avaaz. You see the same overblown rhetoric being used for the People’s Climate March: It’s the “biggest ever.” There is “unprecedented collaboration” with more than 1,400 “partner” groups in New York City. Everything comes down to this one day with the “future on the line and the whole world watching, we’ll take a stand to bend the course of history.”

by Arun Gupta, Souciant | Read more:
Image: Mat McDermott

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"It's strange. I felt less lonely when I didn't know you."
       ~ Jean-Paul Sartre

Joel Meyerowitz, St. Louis, 1977

Larry Ellison Bought an Island in Hawaii. Now What?

Henry Jolicoeur is a retired French Canadian hypnotherapist and a glass-products importer who enjoys making very low-budget documentary films. In the summer of 2012, Jolicoeur read that Larry Ellison, a founder of the Silicon Valley giant Oracle and the fifth-richest man in the world, had bought 97 percent of the Hawaiian island of Lanai — not a 97 percent stake in some kind of company, but 97 percent of the physical place. Jolicoeur was curious, so he booked a flight and packed his camera.

Jolicoeur knew a little about Lanai, having lived in Hawaii in the ’90s. It is among the smallest and least trafficked of Hawaiian islands — a quiet, spectacular place where Cook Island pine trees vault up everywhere, like spires or giant peacock feathers — and can feel like a charming wormhole to an earlier era. There is only one town, Lanai City, where virtually all of the island’s 3,200 residents live. Ellison now owned a third of all their houses and apartments; the island’s two Four Seasons-run hotels; the central commons at the heart of Lanai City, called Dole Park, and all the buildings around it; the town swimming pool; the community center; the theater; a grocery store; two golf courses; a wastewater treatment plant; the water company; and a cemetery. In a single sweeping real estate deal, reported to cost $300 million, he had acquired 87,000 of the island’s 90,000 acres. And he would subsequently buy an airline that connects Lanai to Honolulu as well. On all of Lanai, I heard of only a handful of businesses — the gas station, the rental-car company, two banks, a credit union and a cafe called Coffee Works — that are neither owned by Ellison nor pay him rent. (...)

Ninety seven percent of Lanai may be a lot of Lanai, but it’s a tiny part of Ellison’s overall empire. Ellison, who stepped down as C.E.O. of Oracle on Sept. 18, is estimated to be worth $46 billion. He made an estimated $78.4 million last year, or about $38,000 an hour. He owns a tremendous amount of stuff — cars, boats, real estate, Japanese antiquities, the BPN Paribas Open tennis tournament, an America’s Cup sailing team, one of Bono’s guitars — and has a reputation for intensity and excess. Recently, The Wall Street Journal reported that when Ellison has played basketball on the courts on his yachts, he has positioned “someone in a powerboat following the yacht to retrieve balls that go overboard.” One biographer called him “a modern-day Genghis Khan.”

At a public meeting on Lanai last year, an Ellison representative explained that his boss wasn’t drawn to the island by the potential for profits but by the potential for a great accomplishment — the satisfaction one day of having made the place work. For Ellison, it seemed, Lanai was less like an investment than like a classic car, up on blocks in the middle of the Pacific, that he had become obsessed with restoring. He wants to transform it into a premier tourist destination and what he has called “the first economically viable, 100 percent green community”: an innovative, self-sufficient dreamscape of renewable energy, electric cars and sustainable agriculture.

Ellison has explained that Lanai feels to him like “this really cool 21st-century engineering project” — and so far, his approach, which seems steeped in the ethos of Silicon Valley, has boiled down to rooting out the many inefficiencies of daily life on Lanai and replacing them with a single, elegantly designed system. It’s the sort of sweeping challenge that engineering types get giddy over: a full-scale model. Of course, there are actual people living inside Ellison’s engineering project — a community being hit by an unimaginable wave of wealth. But unlike all the more familiar versions of that story, Lanai isn’t being remade by some vague socioeconomic energy you can only gesture at with words like “techies” or “hipsters” or “Wall Street” but by one guy, whose name everyone knows, in a room somewhere, whiteboarding out the whole project.

Jolicoeur seemed to understand the precariousness that power imbalance created: the staggering responsibility, the incomprehensible control. At one point, standing on a beach, he announces theatrically to the camera, “The Bible says, ‘Where there is no vision, people perish.’ ” Eventually he visits the island’s animal-rescue center, where a young employee explains that because there are no natural predators on Lanai, the feral-cat population just explodes. Right now, she tells him, the shelter is housing 380 cats.

From behind the camera, Jolicoeur hollers: “So basically, these are 380 cats of Mr. Ellison’s?”

“They’re his cats!” the woman says, laughing and laughing. (...)

Like a lot of omnipotent forces, Ellison has remained mostly invisible. He has visited Lanai many times — locals told me they can tell he’s on the island when they see his yacht hitched in the harbor — but he seems determined to keep a formal distance from the community, shielding himself behind the executive team of Pulama Lanai, the management company he set up to oversee the island’s transformation. Although Pulama holds frequent public meetings on Lanai, Ellison has declined to attend any or to address residents directly. Several residents told me that they’d resorted to reading biographies of Ellison to learn more about the man — books that have somewhat disquieting titles like “Everyone Else Must Fail” and “The Difference Between God and Larry Ellison,” the punch line being: “God doesn’t think he’s Larry Ellison.”

Ellison’s vision for the island was first delivered, by proxy, early last year, at a meeting of the island’s Community Plan Advisory Committee. These meetings were part of a county-government process to update the island’s comprehensive planning document, which dictates everything from zoning and land use to cultural preservation. Butch Gima, a Lanai native and social worker who was chairman of the committee, told me that Ellison’s takeover put them in a tricky position. On one hand, it allowed for greater ambition. (“A new world has opened up,” one member told the committee.) But it also felt strange to chart a course for an island that someone else had taken control of. Even the committee’s economic research and growth projections might now be obsolete, depending on what Ellison wanted to do. And so they invited Pulama’s new chief operating officer, Kurt Matsumoto, to brief them.

Matsumoto was hired to oversee operations on Lanai a couple of months earlier. He had a background in running large resorts, but he was also a “Lanai Boy,” as people kept putting it to me — he grew up on the island. “He doesn’t come off as being real slick,” Gima told me. (As kids, Gima and Matsumoto were in Boy Scouts together.) His appointment was encouraging; the relationship between the island and its new owner had been brought down to a more human scale.

Matsumoto appeared before the committee in mid-January — a middle-management Moses coming down the mountain with an important PowerPoint. He prefaced his presentation by explaining that Ellison didn’t have any firm plans yet, only “intentions.” Then he put up his first slide.

That night, and in other meetings, Matsumoto unveiled a startlingly ambitious vision for the island. He explained that Ellison aimed to build a third resort, this time on the uninhabited southwestern coast, as well as a complex of private estates — maybe 50 of them, each five or more acres. Ellison intended to expand Lanai’s airport, adding a bigger runway to accommodate direct flights from the mainland for the first time. The limiting factor on Lanai has always been water, but Ellison would build a state-of-the-art desalination plant to produce more fresh water. Ellison would expand Lanai City; build an “energy park,” where electricity produced with solar panels or photosynthesizing algae would be fed into a new smart grid; and bring commercial agriculture back to the island, in fields outfitted with sensors to control fertilization and irrigation, so that Lanai could begin to feed itself and even export products, rather than depend on weekly food barges from Oahu. Eventually Matsumoto would tell The Wall Street Journal that Ellison hoped to see the island’s population double to about 6,000. Elsewhere, there was talk of organic wineries and flower farms and an innovative aquaponics-and-hydroponics operation that would raise fish and fruits and vegetables in a sustainable symphony of positive feedback loops. Better health care. A bowling alley. An institute for the study of sustainability. A 22-acre film studio. A top-flight, residential tennis academy for competitive youth.

Matsumoto’s tone at that first meeting was low-key, humble and inclusive. He used words like “respect” and “empower,” “sharing” and “investing.” Then, eventually, he hit his last slide: “Mahalo” — Hawaiian for “Thank you” — and was done.

“It was hard to formulate any thought-out questions,” Gima recalled about the presentation. “I think people just went, ‘Whoa.’ ”

by Jon Mooallem, NY Times |  Read more:
Images: Mark Peterson and Greta Pratt for The New York Times

Portland Will Still Be Cool, but Anchorage May Be the Place to Be

Alaskans, stay in Alaska. People in the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest, sit tight.

Scientists trying to predict the consequences of climate change say that they see few havens from the storms, floods and droughts that are sure to intensify over the coming decades. But some regions, they add, will fare much better than others.

Forget most of California and the Southwest (drought, wildfires). Ditto for much of the East Coast and Southeast (heat waves, hurricanes, rising sea levels). Washington, D.C., for example, may well be a flood zone by 2100, according to an estimate released last week.

Instead, consider Anchorage. Or even, perhaps, Detroit. (...)

Under any model of climate change, scientists say, most of the country will look and feel drastically different in 2050, 2100 and beyond, even as cities and states try to adapt and plan ahead. The northern Great Plains states may well be pleasant (if muggy) for future generations, as may many neighboring states. Although few people today are moving long distances to strategize for climate change, some are at least pondering the question of where they would go.

“The answer is the Pacific Northwest, and probably especially west of the Cascades,” said Ben Strauss, vice president for climate impacts and director of the program on sea level rise at Climate Central, a research collaboration of scientists and journalists. “Actually, the strip of coastal land running from Canada down to the Bay Area is probably the best,” he added. “You see a lot less extreme heat; it’s the one place in the West where there’s no real expectation of major water stress, and while sea level will rise there as everywhere, the land rises steeply out of the ocean, so it’s a relatively small factor.”

by Jennifer A. Kingson, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Andrew Burton/Getty Images; Joe Raedle/Getty Images; The' N. Pham/The Virginian-Pilot, via Associated Press; Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

The Solace of Oblivion

On October 31, 2006, an eighteen-year-old woman named Nikki Catsouras slammed her father’s sports car into the side of a concrete toll booth in Orange County, California. Catsouras was decapitated in the accident. The California Highway Patrol, following standard protocol, secured the scene and took photographs. The manner of death was so horrific that the local coroner did not allow Nikki’s parents to identify her body.

“About two weeks after the accident, I got a call from my brother-in-law,” Christos Catsouras, Nikki’s father, told me. “He said he had heard from a neighbor that the photos from the crash were circulating on the Internet. We asked the C.H.P., and they said they would look into it.” In short order, two employees admitted that they had shared the photographs. As summarized in a later court filing, the employees had “e-mailed nine gruesome death images to their friends and family members on Halloween—for pure shock value. Once received, the photographs were forwarded to others, and thus spread across the Internet like a malignant firestorm, popping up on thousands of Web sites.”

Already bereft of his eldest daughter, Catsouras told his three other girls that they couldn’t look at the Internet. “But, other than that, people told me there was nothing I could do,” he recalled. “They said, ‘Don’t worry. It’ll blow over.’ ” Nevertheless, Catsouras embarked on a modern legal quest: to remove information from the Internet. In recent years, many people have made the same kind of effort, from actors who don’t want their private photographs in broad circulation to ex-convicts who don’t want their long-ago legal troubles to prevent them from finding jobs. Despite the varied circumstances, all these people want something that does not exist in the United States: the right to be forgotten.

The situation is different in Europe, thanks to a court case that was decided earlier this year. In 1998, a Spanish newspaper called La Vanguardia published two small notices stating that certain property owned by a lawyer named Mario Costeja González was going to be auctioned to pay off his debts. Costeja cleared up the financial difficulties, but the newspaper records continued to surface whenever anyone Googled his name. In 2010, Costeja went to Spanish authorities to demand that the newspaper remove the items from its Web site and that Google remove the links from searches for his name. The Spanish Data Protection Agency, which is the local representative of a Continent-wide network of computer-privacy regulators, denied the claim against La Vanguardia but granted the claim against Google. This spring, the European Court of Justice, which operates as a kind of Supreme Court for the twenty-eight members of the European Union, affirmed the Spanish agency’s decisions. La Vanguardia could leave the Costeja items up on its Web site, but Google was prohibited from linking to them on any searches relating to Costeja’s name. The Court went on to say, in a broadly worded directive, that all individuals in the countries within its jurisdiction had the right to prohibit Google from linking to items that were “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed and in the light of the time that has elapsed.”

The consequences of the Court’s decision are just beginning to be understood. Google has fielded about a hundred and twenty thousand requests for deletions and granted roughly half of them. Other search engines that provide service in Europe, like Microsoft’s Bing, have set up similar systems. Public reaction to the decision, especially in the United States and Great Britain, has been largely critical. An editorial in the New York Times declared that it “could undermine press freedoms and freedom of speech.” The risk, according to the Times and others, is that aggrieved individuals could use the decision to hide or suppress information of public importance, including links about elected officials. A recent report by a committee of the House of Lords called the decision “misguided in principle and unworkable in practice.”

Jules Polonetsky, the executive director of the Future of Privacy Forum, a think tank in Washington, was more vocal. “The decision will go down in history as one of the most significant mistakes that Court has ever made,” he said. “It gives very little value to free expression. If a particular Web site is doing something illegal, that should be stopped, and Google shouldn’t link to it. But for the Court to outsource to Google complicated case-specific decisions about whether to publish or suppress something is wrong. Requiring Google to be a court of philosopher kings shows a real lack of understanding about how this will play out in reality.”

At the same time, the Court’s decision spoke to an anxiety felt keenly on both sides of the Atlantic. In Europe, the right to privacy trumps freedom of speech; the reverse is true in the United States. “Europeans think of the right to privacy as a fundamental human right, in the way that we think of freedom of expression or the right to counsel,” Jennifer Granick, the director of civil liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, said recently. “When it comes to privacy, the United States’ approach has been to provide protection for certain categories of information that are deemed sensitive and then impose some obligation not to disclose unless certain conditions are met.” Congress has passed laws prohibiting the disclosure of medical information (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), educational records (the Buckley Amendment), and video-store rentals (a law passed in response to revelations about Robert Bork’s rentals when he was nominated to the Supreme Court). Any of these protections can be overridden with the consent of the individual or as part of law-enforcement investigations. (...)

Google doesn’t publish its own material, but the Court decision recognized that the results of a Google search often matter more than the information on any individual Web site. The private sector made this discovery several years ago. Michael Fertik, the founder of Reputation.com, also supports the existence of a right to be forgotten that is enforceable against Google. “This is not about free speech; it’s about privacy and dignity,” he told me. “For the first time, dignity will get the same treatment in law as copyright and trademark do in America. If Sony or Disney wants fifty thousand videos removed from YouTube, Google removes them with no questions asked. If your daughter is caught kissing someone on a cell-phone home video, you have no option of getting it down. That’s wrong. The priorities are backward.” (...)

“There is an inevitable conflict between two distinct social values”—privacy and free speech, Schrage said. “The question is how do societies value those competing rights. Technology didn’t create the tension but just revealed it in a dramatic way.”

by Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker |  Read more:
Image: Javier Jaen

Alibaba is All of These Companies Rolled Into One

[ed. The initial public offering happened last Friday and generated $25 billion in revenue. See also: After Alibaba's I.P.O: The Big Picture]

Alibaba’s initial public offering is likely to be the biggest the world has ever seen. The scale of the thing has led many to compare the huge Chinese company to familiar internet giants in the West, such as Amazon. But the company isn’t just the “Amazon of China”—it’s also the Dropbox, PayPal, Uber, Hulu, and more. Though Google has its fingers in a similarly high volume of pies, its enterprises, unlike Alibaba’s, are exclusively digital.

Alibaba’s distinct businesses resemble more than a dozen major Western companies, by our count—a phenomenon we’ve sketched out in the graphic below. In the text that follows, we unravel some of that complexity—and explain how Alibaba has expanded on its way to a historic IPO.

Following the ambitious vision of founder and chairman Jack Ma, Alibaba has been on an investment bender, snatching up stakes in everything from mobile platforms to brick-and-mortar shopping malls, wealth-management products, and cloud services. This strategy might look scattershot. But Alibaba—a bit like Amazon, the Western company to which it’s most often compared—has demonstrated a knack for dominating whatever sector it enters and for anticipating what consumers want before they know they want it.

by Nikhil Sonnad, Gwynn Guilford and Lily Kuo, Quartz |  Read more:
Image: uncredited

Monday, September 22, 2014

via: account deactivated

‘Poor People Don’t Plan Long-Term. We’ll Just Get Our Hearts Broken’

In the autumn of 2013 I was in my first term of school in a decade. I had two jobs; my husband, Tom, was working full-time; and we were raising our two small girls. It was the first time in years that we felt like maybe things were looking like they’d be OK for a while.

After a gruelling shift at work, I was unwinding online when I saw a question from someone on a forum I frequented: Why do poor people do things that seem so self-destructive? I thought I could at least explain what I’d seen and how I’d reacted to the pressures of being poor. I wrote my answer to the question, hit post, and didn’t think more about it for at least a few days. This is what it said:

Why I make terrible decisions, or, poverty thoughts

There’s no way to structure this coherently. They are random observations that might help explain the mental processes. But often, I think that we look at the academic problems of poverty and have no idea of the why. We know the what and the how, and we can see systemic problems, but it’s rare to have a poor person actually explain it on their own behalf. So this is me doing that, sort of.

Rest is a luxury for the rich. I get up at 6am, go to school (I have a full course load, but I only have to go to two in-person classes), then work, then I get the kids, then pick up my husband, then have half an hour to change and go to Job 2. I get home from that at around 12.30am, then I have the rest of my classes and work to tend to. I’m in bed by 3am. This isn’t every day, I have two days off a week from each of my obligations. I use that time to clean the house and soothe Mr Martini [her partner], see the kids for longer than an hour and catch up on schoolwork.

Those nights I’m in bed by midnight, but if I go to bed too early I won’t be able to stay up the other nights because I’ll fuck my pattern up, and I drive an hour home from Job 2 so I can’t afford to be sleepy. I never get a day off from work unless I am fairly sick. It doesn’t leave you much room to think about what you are doing, only to attend to the next thing and the next. Planning isn’t in the mix.

When I was pregnant the first time, I was living in a weekly motel for some time. I had a mini-fridge with no freezer and a microwave. I was on WIC [government-funded nutritional aid for women, infants and children]. I ate peanut butter from the jar and frozen burritos because they were 12 for $2. Had I had a stove, I couldn’t have made beef burritos that cheaply. And I needed the meat, I was pregnant. I might not have had any prenatal care, but I am intelligent enough to eat protein and iron while knocked up.

I know how to cook. I had to take Home Ec to graduate from high school. Most people on my level didn’t. Broccoli is intimidating. You have to have a working stove, and pots, and spices, and you’ll have to do the dishes no matter how tired you are or they’ll attract bugs. It is a huge new skill for a lot of people. That’s not great, but it’s true. If you fuck it up, you could make your family sick.

We have learned not to try too hard to be middle class. It never works out well and always makes you feel worse for having tried and failed yet again. Better not to try. It makes more sense to get food that you know will be palatable and cheap and that keeps well. Junk food is a pleasure that we are allowed to have; why would we give that up?

We have very few of them. (...)

Convenience food is just that. And we are not allowed many conveniences. Especially since the Patriot Act [aimed at strengthening domestic security in the war against terrorism] was passed, it’s hard to get a bank account. But without one, you spend a lot of time figuring out where to cash a cheque and get money orders to pay bills. Most motels now have a no-credit-card-no-room policy. I wandered around San Francisco for five hours in the rain once with nearly a thousand dollars on me and could not rent a room even if I gave them a $500 cash deposit and surrendered my cellphone to the desk to hold as surety.

Nobody gives enough thought to depression. You have to understand that we know that we will never not feel tired. We will never feel hopeful. We will never get a vacation.

Ever. We know that the very act of being poor guarantees that we will never not be poor. It doesn’t give us much reason to improve ourselves. We don’t apply for jobs because we know we can’t afford to look nice enough to hold them. I would make a super legal secretary but I’ve been turned down more than once because I “don’t fit the image of the firm”, which is a nice way of saying “gtfo, pov”. I am good enough to cook the food, hidden away in the kitchen, but my boss won’t make me a server because I don’t “fit the corporate image”. I am not beautiful. I have missing teeth and skin that looks like it will when you live on B12 and coffee and nicotine and no sleep. Beauty is a thing you get when you can afford it, and that’s how you get the job that you need in order to be beautiful. There isn’t much point trying.

Cooking attracts roaches. Nobody realises that. I’ve spent hours impaling roach bodies and leaving them out on toothpick spikes to discourage others from entering. It doesn’t work, but is amusing.

“Free” only exists for rich people. It’s great that there’s a bowl of condoms at my school, but most poor people will never set foot on a college campus. We don’t belong there. There’s a clinic? Great! There’s still a copay [cost levied by health insurance companies]. We’re not going. Besides, all they’ll tell you at the clinic is you need to see a specialist, which, seriously? Might as well be located on Mars for how accessible it is. “Low cost” and “sliding scale” sound like “money you have to spend” to me, and they can’t help you anyway.

I smoke. It’s expensive. It’s also the best option. You see, I am always, always exhausted. It’s a stimulant. When I am too tired to walk one more step, I can smoke and go for another hour. When I am enraged and beaten down and incapable of accomplishing one more thing, I can smoke and I feel a little better, just for a minute. It is the only relaxation I am allowed. It is not a good decision, but it is the only one that I have access to. It is the only thing I have found that keeps me from collapsing or exploding.

I make a lot of poor financial decisions. None of them matter, in the long term. I will never not be poor, so what does it matter if I don’t pay a thing and a half this week instead of just one thing? It’s not like the sacrifice will result in improved circumstances; the thing holding me back isn’t that I blow five bucks at Wendy’s. It’s that now that I have proven that I am a Poor Person that is all that I am or ever will be. It is not worth it to me to live a bleak life devoid of small pleasures so that one day I can make a single large purchase. I will never have large pleasures to hold on to.

There’s a certain pull to live what bits of life you can while there’s money in your pocket, because no matter how responsible you are you will be broke in three days anyway. When you never have enough money it ceases to have meaning. I imagine having a lot of it is the same thing.

Poverty is bleak and cuts off your long-term brain. It’s why you see people with four different babydaddies instead of one. You grab a bit of connection wherever you can to survive. You have no idea how strong the pull to feel worthwhile is. It’s more basic than food. You go to these people who make you feel lovely for an hour that one time, and that’s all you get. You’re probably not compatible with them for anything long term, but right this minute they can make you feel powerful and valuable. It does not matter what will happen in a month. Whatever happens in a month is probably going to be just about as indifferent as whatever happened today or last week. None of it matters. We don’t plan long term because if we do we’ll just get our hearts broken. It’s best not to hope. You just take what you can get as you spot it.

I am not asking for sympathy. I am just trying to explain, on a human level, how it is that people make what look from the outside like awful decisions. This is what our lives are like, and here are our defence mechanisms, and here is why we think differently. It’s certainly self-defeating, but it’s safer. That’s all. I hope it helps make sense of it.

by Linda Tirado, The Guardian | Read more:
Image: Scott Suchman