I make films. I'm also a nerd.

Posts in culture:

Every Step You Take, They’ll Be Watching You

Boston.com, via the Associated Press:

Chances are, your local or state police departments have photographs of your car in their files, noting where you were driving on a particular day, even if you never did anything wrong.

The local news here in California has been covering these license-plate scanning systems for a while now, but it seems the phenomenon is becoming more widespread.

I really don’t understand why the public at large seems more or less at ease with the idea that police are recording everything we do while arming themselves to the teeth. How is that not something we should care about? Are we all really that lobotomized?

How to Pay Internet People to Like You

Matt Honan explains:

In an era when a story’s success is defined by its impact, there are a lot of cheats. Need to boost pageviews? You could rent a botnet for $2 an hour and point many thousands of visitors to your story. But counting pageviews is old-school—”engagement” is where it’s at today. So I went to Fiverr, a service that lets you pay people $5 for all sorts of tasks. First, I paid someone to get 6,000 people to spend at least 30 seconds viewing my story. To juice social media I paid $5 for 2,000 shares on Facebook. I also put down $5 for 500 people to tweet my story and another $5 for 500 retweets of my own tweet. Money can’t buy me love? Nonsense.

This is an iron-clad plan for the acquisition of meaningless notoriety—which is great, because after Money, that’s the only thing Americans care about.

Hackers Selling Code Exploits to Governments

Nicole Perlroth and David E. Sanger for The New York Times:

On the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta, two Italian hackers have been searching for bugs — not the island’s many beetle varieties, but secret flaws in computer code that governments pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to learn about and exploit.

During the Cold War, we had James Bond. Today’s spies do their work between sessions of Call of Duty, while eating Kraft Dinners bought by their mothers.

Microsoft Lies Baldly In Response to New Snowden Allegations

Pierluigi Paganini, via Security Affairs :

Edward Snowden has issued new top secret documents demonstrating the intense collaboration between Microsoft and US government, in particular the whistleblower revealed the support received by the NSA that obtained by the company the access to encrypted messages into its products. Microsoft designed specifically backdoor into Outlook.com, Skype, and SkyDrive to allow government agency to spy on online communications.

They’ve flatly denied every single allegation asserted in these new documents. I suppose we can trust them with our data now. And certainly none of the other big tech companies will be caught in a lie, immediately.

Russian Intelligence Reverts To Typewriters Due To NSA Surveillance

Miriam Elder writes in The Guardian:

In the wake of the US surveillance scandal revealed by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden, Russia is planning to adopt a foolproof means of avoiding global electronic snooping: by reverting to paper.

The Federal Guard Service (FSO), a powerful body tasked with protecting Russia’s highest-ranking officials, has recently put in an order for 20 Triumph Adler typewriters, the Izvestiya newspaper reported.

Great, so we’re all going to revert to our 1972 selves now because the U.S. government desperately needs to know what sandwich my aunt photographed last night. We live in a shitty, shitty world.

Atheists in Florida…Wait, There Are Atheists in Florida?

The Huffington Post :

A group of atheists unveiled a monument to their nonbelief in God on Saturday to sit alongside a granite slab that lists the Ten Commandments in front of the Bradford County courthouse.

I grew up in the South, surrounded by undereducated hillbillies who feel the compulsion to shove their curiously non-Christ-like beliefs down everyone’s throats. This monument in Florida makes me giggle with glee.

Oh, wait…the atheists in this story aren’t from Florida. Yeah, that checks out.

Why Coffee Shops Shouldn’t Be Antagonistic To WiFi Users

Ben Brooks takes to task the thick-headed notion that letting people work in cafés is bad for the coffee-selling business:

Coffee Shops started sprouting up everywhere in the U.S. because of massive demand for the coffee shop — not massive demand for coffee, mind you, but for the seats in the shops. This is evident with the way most shops are setup, but no more evidence needed than to look at the move of Starbucks providing free WiFi, instead of paid WiFi they started with.

My own behavior can obviously only serve as anecdotal evidence, at best, but speaking as someone who often chooses and/or needs to get outside the house and work: I will never, ever buy coffee from a shop that won’t let me hang out for a while with a computer. That’s the whole point of a coffee shop.

I find myself less and less likely to spend any time—or money—at the downtown location of Philz here in Palo Alto, despite the fact that theirs is my favorite coffee in the world. I simply cannot stand the fact that their WiFi access is provided by Facebook, and requires me to “check in” before I can log on. Philz loses a lot of money I’d otherwise be giving them for even this. If they became completely antagonistic to their customers and tried to shoo them along, I’d soon find myself never buying anything from them ever again.

Quit Being Intolerant of Ignorant Bigots, Says Ignorant Bigot Orson Scott Card, Intolerantly

The A.V. Club nails it:

Issuing a plea to set prejudices aside and adopt a more open-minded, progressive approach to accepting things solely on their inherent worth, Orson Scott Card has asked that people stop persecuting the upcoming Ender’s Game [film adaptation] simply because he is a homophobe.

Idiots can say whatever they want–it’s a free country. Fortunately, we’re also perfectly within our rights when we ridicule hateful idiots.

One Roadblock Removed in Lawsuit Against NSA

Joshua Kopstein, The Verge :

…a federal judge ruled Monday that the Obama administration can not use its “state secrets” privilege to block a lawsuit originally brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 2008.

That’s big news: until now, the administration has repeatedly invoked the privilege to block almost every legal challenge the NSA has faced over its surveillance activities, even after a secret court ruled that the programs had violated the Constitution “on at least one occasion.” But the ultimate goal — an official Constitutional ruling that would ostensibly bring an end to NSA’s warrantless data collection programs — is still a ways off, if it happens at all.

Let’s go ahead and assume that this whole case will be swallowed by a giant U.S.A.-shaped black hole eventually—as Kopstein notes, the government can always shut the case down with an invocation of “sovereign immunity.” For now, though, it’s nice to think that some judge might actually have to try to square PRISM with the Fourth Amendment.

By the way, here’s the full court document, for those interested.

Twinkies To Return–With Longer Shelf Life

CNN Money:

The new Hostess Brands, which bought the rights and recipe to make Twinkies and other Hostess snacks out of bankruptcy court earlier this year, says that when Twinkies return they’ll have a 45-day shelf life. That’s significantly longer than the 26-day shelf life they previously had.

It’s great to see the return of an iconic American brand. And now we know Twinkies will never go away again, because not even two million years of entropy can break down their chemical structure. I think these things might become popular in the construction business–cheaper than bricks, and yet far more durable.