Harvard Study Shows Why Big Telecom Is Terrified of Community-Run Broadband [Published articles]

Dark Energy Survey spots remains of 11 galaxies devoured by the Milky Way [Published articles]

Data released from the Dark Energy Survey has revealed 11 new stellar streams, the leftovers from ...

The first intriguing findings have been released from the Dark Energy Survey, a project that's studying the sky to find clues about the mysterious force that seems to be accelerating the expansion of the universe. And among the data is the discovery of 11 new stellar streams, the remains of smaller galaxies that our own Milky Way has torn to shreds.

.. Continue Reading Dark Energy Survey spots remains of 11 galaxies devoured by the Milky Way

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Blind backpacker and travel writer has visited over 120 countries [Published articles]

I initially felt bad for Tony Giles when I watched his story on the BBC Travel Show. I caught the episode part way through and saw him walk right into a turnstile while crossing a security checkpoint into Palestinian territories. Giles, from England, is completely blind and severely deaf, but he travels all over the world by himself and occasionally stumbles into people willing to guide him a bit.

When I found out he’s visited over 120 countries, including all seven continents and every state in the US, I realized I don’t feel sorry for Giles. I’m jealous of him and I’ll continue to feel sorry for myself. Giles can make any argument his disabilities limit him from traveling or excuse himself from any barrier at all. We’d all understand. Yet, he’s experienced things people probably don’t even waste time dreaming about.

Photos on Giles’ personal website show him taking a mud bath near the side of the Dalyan River in Turkey and playing the kora in Senegal. I assume many of us, disabled or non-disabled, would come up with hundreds of reasons why we couldn’t travel and explore the world. Giles just does it.

Using a Yubikey for GPG and SSH [Published articles]

Intel is having reboot issues with its Spectre-Meltdown patches [Published articles]

 It hasn’t been a fun time to be Intel. Last week the company revealed two chip vulnerabilities that have come to be known as Spectre and Meltdown and have been rocking the entire chip industry ever since. This week the company issued some patches to rectify the problem. Today, word leaked that some companies were having a reboot issue after installing them. A bad week just got worse. Read More

Why the World Only Has Two Words For Tea [Published articles]

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: With a few minor exceptions, there are really only two ways to say "tea" in the world. One is like the English term -- te in Spanish and tee in Afrikaans are two examples. The other is some variation of cha, like chay in Hindi. Both versions come from China. How they spread around the world offers a clear picture of how globalization worked before "globalization" was a term anybody used. The words that sound like "cha" spread across land, along the Silk Road. The "tea"-like phrasings spread over water, by Dutch traders bringing the novel leaves back to Europe. The term cha is "Sinitic," meaning it is common to many varieties of Chinese. It began in China and made its way through central Asia, eventually becoming "chay" in Persian. That is no doubt due to the trade routes of the Silk Road, along which, according to a recent discovery, tea was traded over 2,000 years ago. This form spread beyond Persia, becoming chay in Urdu, shay in Arabic, and chay in Russian, among others. It even it made its way to sub-Saharan Africa, where it became chai in Swahili. The Japanese and Korean terms for tea are also based on the Chinese cha, though those languages likely adopted the word even before its westward spread into Persian. But that doesn't account for "tea." The te form used in coastal-Chinese languages spread to Europe via the Dutch, who became the primary traders of tea between Europe and Asia in the 17th century, as explained in the World Atlas of Language Structures. The main Dutch ports in east Asia were in Fujian and Taiwan, both places where people used the te pronunciation. The Dutch East India Company's expansive tea importation into Europe gave us the French the, the German Tee, and the English tea.

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Russian Military Base Attacked By Drones [Published articles]

A Russian military base in Syria was recently attacked -- 20 miles from the frontline. The only video of the attack is from a Facebook group for a nearby town, which identifies the noises as an "anti-aircraft response to a remote-controlled aircraft," while the Russian Ministry of Defence claims at least 13 drones were involved in the attack, displaying pictures of drones with a wingspan around 13 feet (four meters). Long-time Slashdot reader 0x2A shares a report from a former British Army officer who calls drones "the poor man's Air Force," who writes that the attack shows "a strategic grasp of the use of drones, as well as a high level of planning." The lack of cameras on the drones suggest that they are likely pre-loaded with a flight plan and then flown autonomously to their target, where they dropped their payload en masse on a given GPS coordinate... The lack of any kind of claim, or even rumours from the rebels, indicates that whoever is producing these drone and launching these attacks has a high level of discipline and an understanding of operational and personal security... Although some regard the threat from commerical off-the-shelf and improvised drones as negligible, they have the power to inflict losses at both a tactical and strategic level... Although the plastic sheeting, tape and simple design may belie the illusion of sophistication, it seems that the use of drones, whether military, commerical off-the-shelf or improvised, is taking another step to becoming the future of conflict. The article notes there's already been four weaponized drone attacks in Syria over the last two weeks, which according to CNBC may be part of a growing trend. "Experts said swarm-like attacks using weaponized drones is a growing threat and likely to only get worse. They also said the possibility exists of terrorists using these drones in urban areas against civilians."

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“Thoughts and Prayers” in Greek Tragedy (2017) [Published articles]

Interviewing the Interviewer [Published articles]

Terry Gross, NPR's The Fresh Air host, on the art of the Q&A: "People are always projecting things. They're hearing things that weren't said or projecting meaning that was not intended and, perhaps, not even implied. I've gotten both insults and compliments for interviews I've never done. What can you do? There's no way of controlling what people think. I do have a bullshit detector and it's something I'll use, but I do think I try and be empathetic to everyone I interview," said Terry Gross.

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Feed Extinguisher: Removes FeedBurner from RSS feeds [Published articles]

Study finds municipal broadband is up to 50% cheaper than telcos [Published articles]

Telcos despise community-owned broadband, and fight like mad whenever a city announces it's going to build its own network. Why?

Because when communities provide their own broadband, it costs users way less than broadband from telcos.

That's what the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard found in a terrific new study. They collected data on 27 community-owned broadband networks that offer at least 25/3 Mbps service, and compared it to the pricing of similar offerings from telcos serving those communities. This sort of comparison is hard to do, because it's tricky to find enough markets that have side-by-side offerings; but they found enough cases to see the trend, and it looks terrible for the telcos.

In nearly every case, the community-own broadband was cheaper -- up to 50% cheaper -- and had more consistent, predictable pricing.

The whole report is here, but here are the top-level findings:

When considering entry-level broadband service—the least-expensive plan that provides at least 25/3 Mbps service—23 out of 27 community-owned FTTH providers we studied charged the lowest prices in their community when considering the annual average cost of service over a four-year period, taking into account installation and equipment costs and averaging any initial teaser rates with later, higher, rates. This is based on data collected in late 2015 and 2016. In these 23 communities, prices for the lowest-cost program that met the current definition of broadband were between 2.9 percent and 50 percent less than the lowest-cost such service offered by a private provider (or providers) in that market. In the other four cases, a private provider’s service cost between 6.9 percent and 30.5 percent less. While community-owned FTTH providers’ pricing is generally clear and unchanging, private providers almost always offer initial "teaser" prices and then raise the monthly price sharply. This price hike in the communities we studied ranged between $10 (20 percent) and $30 (42.8 percent) after 12 months, both imposed by Comcast, but in different communities
(Image above courtesy the CC-licensed feed of the Blue Diamond Gallery)

The history of the Internet's first viral video [Published articles]

Wired has done a fun job of documenting the history of “badday.mpg" -- which became a passaround hit in 1997, making it probably the first viral video of the Internet.

Mind you, as the author Joe Veix notes, they didn't call it a "viral video" back then, because the very concept of "virality", as applied to culture, wasn't yet mainstream. Given how slow most people's Internet connections were back then -- and, frankly, what a small percentage of the population was online -- and given that there weren't any big social-networking tools, it's amazing the 5-meg video spread so wide. The origins of the video:

Loronix was developing DVR technology for security-camera systems and needed sample footage to demonstrate to potential clients how it worked. So Licciardi and his boss, chief technology officer Peter Jankowski, got an analog video camera and began shooting. They filmed Licciardi using an ATM and pretended to catch him robbing the company’s warehouse. Licciardi decided he wanted to be a “disgruntled employee,” which gave his boss an idea. “It was pretty ad hoc,” Jankowski says. “We had some computers that had died and monitors and keyboards that weren’t working, so we basically set that up in a cubicle on a desk.” Jankowski directed the shoot, as Licciardi went to town on a broken monitor and an empty computer case. It took two attempts. “The first take, people were laughing so hard we had to do a second one,” Licciardi says.

The video spawned fan sites and conspiracy theories, Veix adds, so it presaged even more of our modern online culture than mere virality.

Bruce Lee Wields The Most Impractical Lightsabers Ever In Fan Video [Published articles]

Martial arts legend Bruce Lee, sadly, didn’t live long enough to turn in even half of the brilliant performances he was capable of, a tragic fact which leaves a lot to the imagination of his fans. Like, what would Bruce Lee have looked like as part of the modern rise of science fiction cinema?


NASA is investigating X-Ray navigation in space [Published articles]

X-rays aren't just for investigating artworks or photographing black holes. NASA scientists just used them to demonstrate a new technique: Navigating the stars. In an experiment, equipment mounted on the International Space Station measured radiation...

Aaron, 5 years later [Published articles]

Beowulf on the Big Screen: Good, Bad, and Even Worse [Published articles]

I don’t want to make you jealous or anything, but at least once a year I get to teach Beowulf.

I know, I know. You probably skimmed it once in some first-year literature survey class and you didn’t like it and … friends, you’re missing out. Beowulf is amazing. There’s a damn good reason that J.R.R. Tolkien was fascinated with it his whole life.

(True story: I spent days in the Tolkien Archives poring over his handwritten translations of the poem, annotations, and lecture notes. The recent Beowulf volume put out by the Tolkien Estate does not do the professor’s work justice.)

First page of Beowulf in the manuscript. Being able to read this is tremendously good at parties, I can assure you.

The thing is, though, that most people don’t really get how deeply and powerfully resonant Beowulf remains—over a thousand years since monks wrote our sole surviving copy of it. Unless you had a great teacher who could bring the culture alive—political and social nuances intact with the astonishing power of its verses—it’s likely that you viewed this great English epic as more of a class speed bump more than an extraordinary masterpiece.

Alas, I wish I could say that Hollywood has stepped up to fill in the gaps. Some of my colleagues might hate-mail me for this, but there are some great works of literature that are actively helped by having terrific film adaptations: the immediacy of visual presentation, along with its unpacking of action and character development, can at times serve as a bridge for people to access the text. I’m thinking at the moment of Ang Lee’s 1996 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet) or Oliver Parker’s 1995 adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Othello (starring Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh)—movies that are equal to the task of representing the magnificent words from which they were fashioned.

For Beowulf, no such film exists. What do we have instead? Well, below I’m going to give you a list of my top five Beowulf movies (sorry, TV, I’m looking at the big-screen here).

First, though, a Beowulf primer:

Act 1. A monster named Grendel nightly terrorizes the hall of Hrothgar, king of the Danes. Beowulf, a young hero from the land of the Geats (in modern-day Sweden), comes to Daneland and rips off Grendel’s arm. The people party.

Act 2. Grendel’s Mother crashes the party, and Beowulf goes into the mere after her. When he finds her he kills her, too. The people party.

Act 3. Fifty years later, Beowulf has risen to become king of the Geats back home, and a dragon in Geatland is awoken from its slumber when a thief steals a cup from its horde (cough, The Hobbit). Beowulf fights the dragon alone at first, then with the help of a single loyal companion defeats the beast. Alas, Beowulf has been wounded; he dies, his body is burned upon a pyre. The people mourn.

Or, to put it another way, here’s the gist from Maurice Sagoff’s Shrinklit:

Monster Grendel’s tastes are plainish.
Breakfast? Just a couple Danish.

King of Danes is frantic, very.
Wait! Here comes the Malmö ferry

Bringing Beowulf, his neighbor,
Mighty swinger with a saber!

Hrothgar’s warriors hail the Swede,
Knocking back a lot of mead;

Then, when night engulfs the Hall
And the Monster makes his call,

Beowulf, with body-slam
Wrenches off his arm, Shazam!

Monster’s mother finds him slain,
Grabs and eats another Dane!

Down her lair our hero jumps,
Gives old Grendel’s dam her lumps.

Later on, as king of Geats
He performed prodigious feats

Till he met a foe too tough
(Non-Beodegradable stuff)

And that scaly-armored dragon
Scooped him up and fixed his wagon.

Sorrow-stricken, half the nation
Flocked to Beowulf’s cremation;

Round his pyre, with drums a-muffle
Did a Nordic soft-shoe shuffle.

I’m skipping whole rafts or nuance and intricacy, but this is good enough to get us started.

So, on to the film versions:

5. Beowulf (1999; dir. Graham Baker)

The weaponry in this one is almost bizarre enough to distract me from his hair. Almost.

One of the things that screenwriters seem desperate to do is explain Grendel. This was true before John Gardner’s novel Grendel hit the shelves in 1971, and it’s only gotten worse since. Why does Grendel attack Hrothgar’s hall?

The poem, of course, makes no answer. Grendel is the wilderness, the terror of the black night, the lurking danger of what’s just beyond the reach of civilization’s light. It needs no explanation because it cannot be explained. The original audience understood this, but Hollywood folks seem altogether wary of trusting that modern audiences will. (Not just Hollywood, I should say, since Grendel was a huge turning point for what my friend John Sutton has called Beowulfiana; for more on this, check out the article we wrote together on the subject.)

Anyway, in this post-apocalyptic retelling of Beowulf, starring Christopher Lambert as the leading man, we are given a rather inventive backstory for Grendel: he is the unwanted son of Hrothgar, who slept with Grendel’s Mother, who happens to be an ancient demoness whose lands Hrothgar subsequently took from her. Oh, and Hrothgar’s wife committed suicide when she found out about the affair, which totally removes the insightful political dynamics centered on Queen Wealhtheow in the poem.

Also, Beowulf gets a love interest in the form of Hrothgar’s daughter who is remarkably good-looking despite living in a post-apocalyptic hellscape … which the director emphasizes with several unsubtle cleavage shots.

Classy it is not.

Also, the movie completely omits the entire third act of the poem with the dragon. I’d be more mad about this if it wasn’t common to most of the adaptations.


4. Beowulf (2007; dir. Robert Zemeckis)

This should have been so good. The script was written by Roger Avary (Trainspotting) and Neil Gaiman (the man, the myth, the legend), the director is great, and the cast is terrific. Why doesn’t it work? Part of it is the motion-capture CGI that Zemeckis was working with (here and in Polar Express): it makes a character that is simultaneously too real and too fake, making it a go-to example for defining the “uncanny valley.”

The movie also takes huge liberties with the text. As with our previous entry, the filmmakers couldn’t go without providing some kind of explanation for why Grendel does what he does. In this case, it turns out that Grendel’s Mother is a gilded naked Angelina Jolie who is some kind of semi-draconian shapeshifter that lives in a cave. Hrothgar has sex with her (what’s up with this?) and promised to make their son his heir. Alas, Grendel turned out sorta troll-like. When Hrothgar held back on his promise, as a result, the terror began.

And that’s just the start of the textual violence. When Beowulf goes to fight Grendel’s Mother, he doesn’t kill her; instead, repeating history, he, too, has sex with Golden Angie. Yeah, it’s true that in the poem Beowulf brings no “proof” of the killing back with him, but it’s quite a stretch indeed to suggest they had sex and thus Beowulf became the dad of the dragon that plagues Hrothgar’s Kingdom fifty years later when Beowulf takes the throne. Yes, to make this work they had to collapse all the geography and thus nuke the political dynamic of the poem. Ugh.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the go-to movie for students who inexplicably don’t want to read the poem—probably because it has, as noted, a gilded naked Angelina Jolie. It’s only classroom usefulness, though, is as a good answer to students who question whether the sword can really be a phallic symbol.

(Also, you can be sure that I write test questions to deliberately trip-up students who watched this poem-in-a-blender.)


3. Outlander (2008; dir. Howard McCain)

The Moorwen: dragon, troll, dinosaur, and hungry hungry hippo.

Another science fiction version, billed on the poster as “Beowulf Meets Predator”! This one stars James Caviezel as a space-farer named Kainan who crashlands his alien spaceship in a Norwegian Lake in the Iron Age. His ship, it turns out, was boarded by a creature called the Moorwen, which is the last of a species that space-faring humans tried to wipe out when they were colonizing another planet. The Moorwen caused Kainan’s ship to crash—conveniently waiting to do so after it reaches Earth, which is a past “seed” colony, too, we’re told.

Escaping from the wreckage, Kainan runs into a Viking named Wulfgar (this is the name of the coastal watchman that Beowulf first encounters in the poem), who in turn takes Kainan to Rothgar, a stand-in for the poem’s King Hrothgar—played by the always wonderful John Hurt. Kainan tells them the Moorwen is a dragon, which allows the film to combine that pesky third act of the poem into the first two acts. This collapsing of the poem is furthered when the Moorwen has offspring partway through the movie: Grendel’s Mother is the Moorwen, Grendel its child, and the dragon essentially both.

To top it all off, the movie wraps a kind of quasi-Arthurian spin on the whole thing, as Kainan needs to forge an Excalibur-ish sword out of spaceship scrap metal in order to defeat the Moorwen. It’s sorta insane.

I can’t say that this is a particularly good film—shocker with that synopsis, amiright?—but this bizarre take on Beowulf is so crazy that I find it oddly endearing.


2. Beowulf & Grendel (2005; dir. Sturla Gunnarsson)

Pretty scenery. Don’t mind the murderous big fellow.

If you’re looking for a Beowulf film that feels accurate to the tone and plot of the original poem—though it omits the dragon episode—this is the best bet. It takes some significant detours from the poem by giving Grendel a backstory, Beowulf a love interest, and adding in a subplot about Christian missionaries converting the pagan world … but it nevertheless gets things more right than wrong.

Grendel’s backstory? He and his father are some of the last of a massive race of blond cromagnon-y folks that the Danes believe to be trolls. Hrothgar and his men hunt them down, and a hiding child Grendel watches his father slain by them. Years later he grows to a massive size and begins exacting his revenge.

Gerard Butler makes for an excellent Beowulf, and the first we see of the character is him trudging ashore after his swimming match with Breca—a lovely side-story in the poem that pretty much tells you everything you need to know about Beowulf’s character. He comes across the sea to help Hrothgar, just as in the poem, and he ends up becoming the lover of a local witch named Selma who has been raped by Grendel (though she isn’t sure that Grendel, who is shown as simple-minded, knows what he’s done). Beowulf fights Grendel and kills him, then fights a sea-creature that turns out to be Grendel’s Mother.

Aside from keeping a bit closer to the poem, one of the great strengths of this film is that it was shot in Iceland. The scenery is stark but beautiful, and it feels remarkably true to the cultural memory behind Beowulf.


1. The 13th Warrior (1999; dir. John McTiernan)

Buliwyf and his fellow 10th-century warriors – with guy on the left in 16th-century armor.

I’ve already written one article proclaiming my high regard for this film, and there’s no question that it’s my favorite Beowulf adaptation. We get all three acts of the poem here—Grendel, Mother, and dragon—through the eyes of the very real Arab traveler, Ibn Fadlan (played by Antonio Banderas), who didn’t do much of what’s depicted after the first few minutes of the film. Based on Eaters of the Dead, a novel by Michael Crichton, 13th Warrior does a great job of building a historically plausible look at something that might explain the development of the Beowulf legend.

Well, plausible except that the timeline is broken, the armor ranges from the 5th to the 18th centuries, the herd at the end is untenable, and … ah, shoot, it’s a damn good movie despite all that!


So there you go. Five adaptations of one of the greatest epics in English literature … each of them in some way flawed. The moral of the story, I believe, is that Hollywood needs to do another to try to get Beowulf right.

My agent is waiting by the phone, producers. Let’s do this.

Michael Livingston is a Professor of Medieval Culture at The Citadel who has written extensively both on medieval history and on modern medievalism. His historical fantasy trilogy set in Ancient Rome, The Shards of Heaven, The Gates of Hell, and the newly released The Realms of God, is available from Tor Books.

Wow, People Are Really Mad at Poe Dameron [Published articles]

Star Wars, The Last Jedi, Leia, Poe

I mean, I’m not. But other people are.

At first glance, there’s an interesting theme at work in The Last Jedi. That theme seems to turn on practically every female character in the film looking to their male cohort and saying “Don’t do that!” and the men turning around and saying “I’m definitely going to do that!” And then things go generally wrong and we all plant our faces in our hands and sigh.

Here’s a brief (not comprehensive) list to that end:

  • Leia tells Poe not to continue his attack on the Dreadnought, but he does;
  • Rose tells Finn how disappointed she is to see Resistance fighters trying to cut and run, then realizes he’s doing that exactly that;
  • Amilyn Holdo repeatedly tells Poe to stop bothering her about her plans for the fleet, he commits mutiny after barging in on said plans;
  • Rey tells Kylo Ren to join her instead of continuing on his path to dark side domination, he refuses;
  • Rose tells Finn that stopping the battering ram cannon isn’t worth his life, he proceeds to ignore her and nearly dies;

There has been a lot of discussion around this trend in the movie, but particularly around the actions of Poe Dameron and his flagrant disobedience within the chain of command. He refuses to listen to Leia, and the dreadnought attack depletes the Resistance of its bombers and many fighters, too. He demands that Holdo answer his questions even when she is under no obligation to do so, given his demotion and her position as fleet commander. He sends Finn and Rose off on a mission to save the fleet, in direct violation of Holdo’s orders, and that mission winds up putting the Resistance in even more danger. He commits mutiny and is only stopped by Leia Organa marching onto the command ship bridge—having just awoken from a coma—and stunning him.

Yet in the scene immediately following, Leia and Amilyn stare at Poe’s unconscious form fondly, and the Vice Admiral tells her old friend: “I like him.” Leia wryly agrees. The entire tenor of the conversation is more akin to the antics of a hyper child being discussed by his mother and aunt. It almost seems strange coming from two high-ranking women who have been putting up with Captain Dameron’s constant insubordination throughout the entire film. On the surface, and especially when compared with everything else happening on screen, this is just another example of some young guy thinking that he knows better the women around him.

And sure, that is absolutely a valid interpretation of the film. But there’s a lot going on in The Last Jedi that requires a larger galactic context to appreciate. Poe’s behavior doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and everything that happens in Episode VIII is addressing a much larger issue that the Resistance has to contend with:

The legacy of the Rebel Alliance.

The Last Jedi is all about legacy and heroism, specifically the way it distorts our understanding of events and becomes over-relied upon in present day as a form of misguided motivation. Luke Skywalker’s journey is about the heroism problem specifically, which I’ve unpacked previously. But legacy as it pertains to heroism is the problem that the Resistance has, especially where its younger members are concerned. The story of Poe’s mutiny, and Rose and Finn’s largely ineffectual Canto Bight sojourn, is not about men ignoring the sage advice of women—it’s about a young generation who grew up on stories of the glorious Rebellion, and don’t yet understand that the road they want to travel is not all about firefights and glory.

The Force Awakens, Poe Dameron

Poe Dameron’s parents were both members of the Rebellion. They fought alongside Han Solo and Princess Leia, and Poe’s mother was a fighter pilot who died suddenly when he was only eight years old. He is primed for this narrative. It is in his bones, in the stories that his father told him and the ones his mother never wanted to share. Many members of the Resistance are likely in the same boat, kids who learned about the Rebellion after the Empire was long gone. It’s a story to them. A beautiful story with unlikely odds that freed the galaxy from tyranny.

And in that story, the “good guys” didn’t always listen to their commanding officers. And they didn’t care if they made it out alive.

One of the greatest heroes of the Rebellion—Han Solo—was practically always there on his own terms. In the end he stayed because he fell in love, but he helped to destroy the Death Star by showing up last second, completely outside the Alliance’s command structure, to blow away some TIE fighters and give Luke Skywalker the shot he needed. Luke himself just nabbed his X-Wing and wandered off to a swamp planet so he could train as a Jedi without telling anyone in the Rebellion that he was taking a sabbatical. When he made the choice to confront Vader and the Emperor, he was absolutely not under orders to do so. If Leia hadn’t showed up on an Ewok walkway to say goodbye, no one would have likely known where he went… but there was every chance that he was walking straight to his death.

Of course, let’s not forget the big one. You know, the fact that the Rebellion only got their hands on the Death Star plans at all because a woman named Jyn Erso led a small band of Rebel officers and allies to a planet called Scarif, and forcibly liberated those plans from a computer core. After they’d been expressly told not to do that by all of the Rebellion’s leadership.

The Force Awakens, Poe Dameron

And every single one of them died.

This is the story of how the Rebel Alliance defeated the Empire, how they brought down an unstoppable regime with a ragtag group of ruffians and discontent politicians and old military dogs. They worked together when it mattered most, but the large strokes of the Alliance narrative is written in blood and sacrifice and often thinking beyond your brief. The Alliance is technically a military organization, but it’s not built up like one. They don’t have recruitment centers and bootcamps and training runs. It’s not a job or career, it’s a cause. You’re there because you’re passionate about the work.

It’s important to remember that this is the same framework that applies to the Resistance. When Leia poaches Poe, he’s a disgruntled pilot in the New Republic Starfleet, angry that the current government refuses to meet the rising First Order threat head-on. He joins Leia to do something. To make his skills count where they’re needed. And when Leia takes him on, she sees something familiar in him, qualities that she knows all too well. She makes the choice to start molding him into another Resistance leader, and spends time teaching him valuable lessons. In fact, the entire Poe Dameron comic run has been focused on this journey, on the ways that Poe is being groomed for more responsibility, step by step…

Star Wars: Poe Dameron Annual #1. Robbie Thompson, art by Nik Virella.

…particularly because Leia knows she won’t always be around to do this work.

Star Wars: Poe Dameron #17. Charles Soule, art by Angel Unzeuta

There’s a reason Poe straightens up expectantly before Commander D’Acy announces that it’s Holdo who will be taking over the fleet while Leia is unconscious, and it’s not just ego. He’s supposed to be in charge of this group one day. He knows that is the endgame Leia had in mind—he just doesn’t see how much more he has to learn. He cannot see the wisdom in Leia’s rebuke after he tells her that the people who destroyed the First Order dreadnought were heroes, and she replies: “Dead heroes. No leaders.”

But pointedly, it’s not just Poe learning all of this. He is central to the arc because he’s expected to lead the charge next, but Finn is learning right alongside him. So is Rose. And so are the others who mutiny with Poe, many of them pointedly younger remembers of the Resistance, including Lieutenant Connix and C’ai Threnalli. All these kids think they’re doing the right thing—more specifically, they think they’re doing what Leia would have wanted. They don’t know Holdo, and they are deeply loyal to their general. They think they are going Rogue One all over Holdo, being the savvy, insubordinate heroes. Their mistake is in assuming that Leia would have anyone on this team she didn’t trust.

The Last Jedi is Poe Dameron’s final lesson. And that lesson is simple: The truest heroes don’t fuss over glory and optics. They don’t care if they’re even called heroes. They stay and they keep their heads down, and they do the work. They stick with it after losing everything, over and over again, because the welfare of others matters more than their individual loss and pain. They don’t make sacrifice plays unless they’re going to count. They don’t commit to grand gestures that look good symbolically, but leave them scrambling in reality. Hotshot pilots are all over this damn galaxy, but real leaders… they are a handful in billions.

Star Wars, The Last Jedi, Poe

It’s a high price to pay for that lesson, and it should be. Because they are in the middle of a war, and those lessons are never going to be free.

After watching Holdo’s sacrifice—the one that counts—Poe finally gets it. And when he leads an attack on the First Order’s battering ram cannon and realizes that it’s a suicide mission, he thinks of the cost, for the very first time. He thinks of all the friends he’s about to lose, he thinks of what meager victory they will attain, he thinks about whether his death is actually worth it this time around, and he realizes that the answer is no. He orders everyone to break off. Finn takes more convincing than he should, but Rose is thankfully there to crash some sense into him.

Poe Dameron finally puts it all together. He forgoes heroics and becomes a leader. He gives his life to the Resistance—not in a glittering explosion, but in time. This is it for him. His real calling, the one he’ll never be rid of. This is the part of the fight that really hurts because it’s never over, the commitment that does nothing but take and take and take until you think there’s nothing left. Then you stand up and commit to it all over again because you’re not dead yet. You’re here.

Star Wars, The Last Jedi, Leia

And Leia knows, because she always does. When Poe figures out how they might get out of the Crait base alive, everyone looks to her for the okay, as they’ve done for decades. She comically glances backward to see if there’s anyone behind her, then says, “What are you all looking at me for? Follow him.”

It’s a wonderfully anticlimactic torch-passing, which seems only right for someone as no-nonsense as General Leia Organa. And just like that, the Resistance is reborn. Not to kids who are going to give up their lives at the first chance to do something valiant, but to tomorrow’s leaders who will stop at nothing to restore the galaxy’s freedom.

While it may hurt to watch our heroes make such dire mistakes in order to find that path, it’s refreshing to see Star Wars acknowledge that your average person doesn’t just know these things innately. We can’t all be Leia Organa, so sure of ourselves from the very beginning and regal beyond measure. So cognizant of what it takes to make a difference in our day to day lives. This new generation of fighters has learned that hardest lesson of all—that sacrifice is overrated, and trust born out of love for friends and comrades will always win the day (even if that win seems far too small). Now the real struggle comes: the day-to-day minutiae of building and running a Resistance that can truly burn the First Order to the ground.

Star Wars, The Last Jedi, Poe

And Poe Dameron is ready this time.

Emily Asher-Perrin is 9000% here for Poe Dameron learning things. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

Ninth Circuit Doubles Down: Violating a Website’s Terms of Service Is Not a Crime [Published articles]

Good news out of the Ninth Circuit: the federal court of appeals heeded EFF’s advice and rejected an attempt by Oracle to hold a company criminally liable for accessing Oracle’s website in a manner it didn’t like. The court ruled back in 2012 that merely violating a website’s terms of use is not a crime under the federal computer crime statute, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. But some companies, like Oracle, turned to state computer crime statutes—in this case, California and Nevada—to enforce their computer use preferences.

This decision shores up the good precedent from 2012 and makes clear—if it wasn’t clear already—that violating a corporate computer use policy is not a crime.

Oracle v. Rimini involves Oracle’s terms of use prohibition on the use of automated methods to download support materials from the company’s website. Rimini, which provides Oracle clients with software support that competes with Oracle’s own services, violated that provision by using automated scripts instead of downloading each file individually. Oracle sent Rimini a cease and desist letter demanding that it stop using automated scripts, but Oracle didn’t rescind Rimini’s authorization to access the files outright. Rimini still had authorization from Oracle to access the files, but Oracle wanted them to access them manually—which would have seriously slowed down Rimini’s ability to service customers.

Rimini stopped using automatic downloading tools for about a year but then resumed using automated scripts to download support documents and files, since downloading all of the materials manually would have been burdensome, and Oracle sued. The jury found Rimini guilty under both the California and Nevada computer crime statues, and the judge upheld that verdict—concluding that, under both statutes, violating a website’s terms of service counts as using a computer without authorization or permission.

Rimini Street appealed, and we filed an amicus brief last year urging the court to reject Oracle’s position. As we told the court, the district court’s reasoning turns millions of Internet users into criminals on the basis of innocuous and routine online conduct. By making it completely unclear what conduct is criminal at any given time on any given website, the district court’s holding is in violation of the long-held Rule of Lenity—which requires that criminal statutes be interpreted to give clear notice of what conduct is criminal. Not only do people rarely (if ever) read terms of use agreements, but the bounds of criminal law should not be defined by the preferences of website operators. And private companies shouldn’t be using criminal laws meant to target malicious actors as tool to enforce their computer use preferences or to interfere with competitors.

At oral argument in July 2017, Judge Susan Graber pushed back [at around 33:40] on Oracle’s argument that automated scraping was a violation of the computer crime law. And Monday, the 3-judge panel issued a unanimous decision rejecting Oracle’s position. As the court held:

“[T]aking data using a method prohibited by the applicable terms of use”— i.e., scraping — “when the taking itself generally is permitted, does not violate” the state computer crime laws.

The court even refers to our brief:

“As EFF puts it, ‘[n]either statute . . . applies to bare violations of a website’s terms of use—such as when a computer user has permission and authorization to access and use the computer or data at issue, but simply accesses or uses the information in a manner the website owner does not like.’”

We’re happy to see the Ninth Circuit clarify, again, that violating a website’s terms of service is not a crime. And we hope this decision influences another case pending before the court involving an attempt to use a computer crime statute to enforce terms of service and stifle competition, hiQ v. LinkedIn. That case addresses whether using automated tools to access publicly available information on the Internet—information that we are all authorized to access under the Web’s open access norms—is a crime. It’s not, and we hope the court agrees. It will hear oral argument in March in San Francisco.

Related Cases: 

The True Story Behind Han's Dice, and More Last Jedi Secrets From the Lucasfilm Story Group [Published articles]

Want to watch the Lucasfilm Story Group dish on Star Wars: The Last Jedi for 30 minutes? Of course you do.


Courts: Violating a Website’s Terms of Service Is Not a Crime [Published articles]

What are some slang terms a 50 year old dad can say to his daughter to embarrass her? [Published articles]

How the right "dose" of exercise can reverse aging-related heart damage [Published articles]

A new study suggests heart elasticity can be improved if a person starts exercising regularly later ...

An inspiring new study from scientists at UT Southwestern suggests the damage caused to a person's heart from years of sedentary behavior can be successfully reversed by the right "dose" of exercise. The two-year study found that exercising four to five times per week can significantly improve a person's heart elasticity, as long as the training begins before the age of 65.

.. Continue Reading How the right "dose" of exercise can reverse aging-related heart damage

Category: Health & Wellbeing

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How Meltdown and Spectre Were Independently Discovered By Four Research Teams At Once [Published articles]

The uncanny coincidences among the Meltdown and Spectre discoveries raise questions about "bug collisions"—and the safety of the NSA's hidden vulnerability collection.

Man who invites homeless people to his home during freezing temperatures threatened by city officials [Published articles]

A man in Elgin, IL who invites homeless people to spend the night at his house during brutally cold weather must stop his generous charity immediately or face consequences. City officials threatened to condemn his house if he continues to have homeless "slumber parties."

When the winter weather turned dangerously cold and not enough shelters were available, resident Greg Schiller offered his house to homeless people, making sure they didn't bring in any drugs or alcohol. He offered them food, hot drinks, movies and cots for the night. But authorities – who didn't offer any alternative solutions – didn't like it.

According to NBC:

Last winter, Schiller offered up his garage to area homeless, but said he was told he could no longer do so after EMTs were called to help a man with a heart condition. That’s when he had the idea to move them to his basement – complete with all the activities needed to consider them simply “slumber parties.”

Schiller believed city code allowed for slumber parties, but officials said there are "sleeping regulations" for basements and Schiller's basement doesn't meet those requirements...

Schiller said city officials and police officers came to his home with a warrant Tuesday and went into his basement. There, he said they found his ceiling height too low and windows too high and too small to be an egress.

“They shut me down and said I have 24 hours to return my basement to storage and take down - I have several cots with sleeping bags for everybody – or they’ll condemn the house.”

Yep, those hazardous low ceilings and high windows do sound threatening – good thing authorities have the good sense to send people outside in below-zero temperatures to do their sleeping.

Image: George Hodan

NASA Launches a Mission To Study the Border of Earth and Space [Published articles]

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A new NASA mission, the first to hitch a ride on a commercial communications satellite, will examine Earth's upper atmosphere to see how the boundary between Earth and space changes over time. GOLD stands for Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk, and the mission will focus on the temperature and makeup of Earth's highest atmospheric layers. Along with another upcoming satellite, called ICON, GOLD will examine how weather on Earth -- and space weather caused by the sun -- affects those uppermost layers. GOLD, which will inspect the ultraviolet radiation that the upper atmosphere releases, will also be the first to take comprehensive records of that atmospheric layer's temperature. The satellite carrying GOLD will orbit 22,000 miles (35,400 kilometers) above Earth in a geostationary orbit, which means GOLD will stay fixed with respect to Earth's surface as the satellite orbits and the world turns. GOLD will pay particularly close attention to Earth's thermosphere, which is the gas that surrounds the Earth higher than 60 miles (97 km) up, and the layer called the ionosphere, which forms as radiation from the sun strips away electrons from particles to create charged ions. And although solar flares and other interactions on the sun do have a strong impact on those layers, scientists are learning that Earth's own weather has an impact on the layers, too.

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Generating inspirational quotes with Markov chains [Published articles]

The Math Behind Gerrymandering and Wasted Votes [Published articles]

Simple math can help scheming politicians manipulate district maps and cruise to victory. But it can also help identify and fix the problem.

2018 Is the Last Year of America's Public Domain Drought [Published articles]

An anonymous reader shares a report: Happy Public Domain Day, every-some of you! In New Zealand and Canada, published works by artists who died in 1967 -- Rene Magritte, Dorothy Parker, John Coltrane, and many others -- have entered the public domain; Kiwis and Canadians can now freely distribute, perform, and remix a wealth of painting, writing, and music. In Europe, work published by artists who died in 1947 are now public domain. In the United States, well, we get nothing for the 20th year in a row, with one more to go. Our public domain drought is nearly old enough to drink. American copyrights now stretch for 95 years. Since 1998, we've been frozen with a public domain that only applies to works from before 1923 (and government works). Jennifer Jenkins is a clinical professor of law at Duke Law School, which hosts the Center for the Study of the Public Domain. In an email she explained what changed and why nothing has entered American public domain for two decades. "Until 1978, the maximum copyright term was 56 years from the date of publication -- an initial term of 28 years, renewable for another 28 years," she wrote. "In 1998, Congress added 20 years to the copyright term, extending it to the author's lifetime plus 70 years, or 95 years after publication for corporate 'works made for hire.'"

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Space Opera is More than “Fantasy in Space” [Published articles]

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

It’s important to remember that the term “space opera” was first devised as an insult.

This term, dropped into the lexicon by fan writer Wilson Tucker, initially appeared in the fanzine Le Zombie in 1941. It was meant to invoke the recently coined term “soap opera” (which then applied to radio dramas), a derogatory way of referring to a bombastic adventure tale with spaceships and ray guns. Since then, the definition of space opera has been renewed and expanded, gone through eras of disdain and revival, and the umbrella term covers a large portion of the science fiction available to the public. It’s critical opposite is usually cited as “hard science fiction,” denoting a story in which science and mathematics are carefully considered in the creation of the premise, leading to a tale that might contain more plausible elements.

This had led some critics to posit that space opera is simply “fantasy in space.” But it isn’t (is it?), and attempting to make the distinction is a pretty fascinating exercise when all is said and done.

Farscape, season 2

Of course, if you are the sort of person who terms anything with a fantastic element as fantasy, then sure—space opera falls into that sector. So does horror and magical realism and most children’s books and any other number of sub-genres. The answer as to how much any given qualifier for a sub-genre truly “matters” is always up for debate; pairing it all down until your favorite stories are nothing but sets of rules is a tasking journey that no mortal deserves to suffer through. What does it matter, right? We like the stories that we like. I prefer adventurous stories with robots and spaceships and aliens, and nothing else will ever be as good to me. I enjoy the occasional elf, and I love magic, and fighting against a world-ending villain can be great sometimes. I also adore it when real-world science is applied lovingly to a fictional framework. But if I don’t get my lasers and my robots and poorly considered space wardrobes in regular doses, the world will not turn properly.

Which means that something about the genre is distinct—so what is it? Highlighting the variations can make a heaping difference in helping people explain what they enjoy in fiction, and to that end, the definition of space opera has had quite a journey in the popular lexicon.

Battlestar Galactica 1978

To start, a word from The Space Opera Renaissance, written by David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer. Their book defines the genre as “colorful, dramatic, large-scale science fiction adventure, competently and sometimes beautifully written, usually focused on a sympathetic, heroic central character and plot action, and usually set in the relatively distant future, and in space or on other worlds, characteristically optimistic in tone. It often deals with war, piracy, military virtues, and very large-scale action, large stakes.”

Plenty of those ideas apply in a wide spread of fantasy tales, particularly epic fantasy; central hero, war and military virtues, colorful and dramatic yarns, large-scale action and stakes. The trappings are still different in space opera, with stories set in the far future, and the use of space travel and so forth. But what about that optimism? It’s an interesting stand out, as is the tendency toward an adventure narrative. Epic fantasy can end happily and be adventurous at times, but it often doesn’t read with a plethora of either of those traits. The Lord of the Rings is harrowing. A Song of Ice and Fire is full of trauma and darkness. The Wheel of Time turns on minute detail and precise depictions of a world that has been thought through in every aspect. Fantasy lends itself to extreme specificity and worlds in turmoil—space opera doesn’t have to in order to work.

What’s more fascinating is that the comparison to fantasy is relatively new in the history of space opera’s existence as a genre. In fact, what it used to be compared to was the “horse opera”… that is, Westerns. Here is the back cover of the first issue of Galaxy Science Fiction from 1950:

Galaxy Science Fiction, first issue, 1950

Whoa. Outside the fact that this copy is throwing some serious shade, we can glean a better sense of what space opera meant to many seven decades ago, and how it was viewed. And what it reveals is perhaps a larger problem: why has space opera always been compared to other genres throughout its history? Why can’t it just be considered its own thing?

The macrocosm answer is simple enough: stories are stories. They all rely on similar devices, tropes, and narrative styles. There is very little that sets one genre apart from another in the broadest sense, and that’s perfectly fine. The microcosm answer is more complex: space opera used to be an insult, and it has taken years and the advent of incredibly successful space operas—like Star Wars and the Vorkosigan Saga and the Culture series—to allow it to stand on its own. But perhaps all those years of hanging out in the shadows has made fans more hesitant in parsing out what they love about the genre.

So what is it?

As a fan of the genre, I find the Western comparison hilarious because Westerns are very much not my thing. So what makes the difference? Why are aliens and robots important? Why are ray guns and space travel better than horses and six-shooters? There’s a part of me that wants to argue for introspection in that vein; robots and aliens are often used as a way to examine aspects of human nature, to dissect ourselves by using other beings as a template. Dwarves and orcs can do this too, but seem a bit more earth-bound, whereas robots and aliens are a part of our future—they ask questions about where we might go, what challenges we might face as we evolve.

Jupiter Ascending

But there’s also the “opera” part of space opera, something that doesn’t get enough credit in the phrase. After all, labeling something an opera creates a very specific expectation in the mind of your audience. It grants your story scale, yes, but not just in terms of set pieces and costumes. Opera is all about performance, about emotion. Operatic stories are bursting with feelings that can only be spelled out in all-caps. You don’t need a translation of an opera to understand it because the spectacle of it should transcend the need. Opera works with visuals, music, dance, poetry, as many forms of art as we can shove into a collective space and time. Opera is bigger than all of us.

Space operas often deliver on those terms. They are writ large and bursting with color and light. Perhaps that is the distinction worth making in the quest to explain its pull as a genre. Taking the opera out of space opera leaves us with… space. Which is great! But I don’t want to spend most of my musings on space marveling at the use of silence in Gravity. Space needs a little melodrama. It needs an opera.

Is space opera just fantasy in space? To each their own on that definition. But there’s a difference between the two all the same, and even if we don’t need to pin it down, we can at least honor the fact that space opera is no longer an insult—it encompasses many of the stories that we treasure.

Originally published in May 2017.

Emily Asher-Perrin has been asking for a robot friend and an alien friend since childhood. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

Alleged “Call of Duty” swatter arrested in LA after fatal shooting [Published articles]

What apparently started as a $1.50 bet on "Call of Duty" and turned into a Twitter argument ended up in an innocent man's death.

Fakespot – measure the legitimacy of reviews on popular sites [Published articles]

Forward your spam to sp@mnesty.com and a bot will waste the spammer's time [Published articles]

Spamnesty is a simple service: forward your spam to it and it will engage the spammer in pointless chatbot email chains, wasting their time.
If you get a spam email, simply forward it to sp@mnesty.com, and Spamnesty will strip your email address, pretend it's a real person and reply to the email. Just remember to strip out any personal information from the body of the email, as it will be used so the reply looks more legitimate. That way, the spammer will start talking to a bot, and hopefully waste some time there instead of spending it on a real victim. Meanwhile, Spamnesty will send you an email with a link to the conversation, so you can watch it unfold live!

The conversations are indeed posted live, and some are quite funny. It's fascinating how obvious it is when a spammer switches from their own bot to giving a human response, and satisfying to see them fooled.

Have you met Lenny?

That Game on Your Phone May Be Tracking What You're Watching on TV [Published articles]

Rick Zeman writes: The New York Times (may be paywalled) has an article describing how some apps track TV and movie viewing even when the loaded app isn't currently active. These seemingly innocuous games, geared towards both adults and children work by "using a smartphone's microphone. For instance, Alphonso's software can detail what people watch by identifying audio signals in TV ads and shows, sometimes even matching that information with the places people visit and the movies they see. The information can then be used to target ads more precisely...." While these apps, mostly available on Google play, with some available on the Apple Store, do offer an opt opt, it's not clear when consumers see "permission for microphone access for ads," it may not be clear to a user that, "Oh, this means it's going to be listening to what I do all the time to see if I'm watching 'Monday Night Football."'One advertising executive summarizes thusly: "It's not what's legal. It is what's not creepy."

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Does capitalism breed greed, or elevate the greedy? [Published articles]

When a billionaire Koch heir announces that he's taking a break from suing ex-fiancees to give back their engagement rings and playing tennis at Mar-a-Largo in order to produce designer shirts covered in money-bags, it's worth asking: did capitalism turn this guy into a useless asshole, or does capitalism find the useless assholes and shower them with money? (more…)

Empirical Research Reveals Three Big Problems With How Patents Are Vetted [Published articles]

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: If you've read our coverage of the Electronic Frontier Foundation's "Stupid Patent of the Month" series, you know America has a patent quality problem. People apply for patents on ideas that are obvious, vague, or were invented years earlier. Too often, applications get approved and low-quality patents fall into the hands of patent trolls, creating headaches for real innovators. Why don't more low-quality patents get rejected? A recent paper published by the Brookings Institution offers fascinating insights into this question. Written by legal scholars Michael Frakes and Melissa Wasserman, the paper identifies three ways the patent process encourages approval of low-quality patents: -The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is funded by fees -- and the agency gets more fees if it approves an application. -Unlimited opportunities to refile rejected applications means sometimes granting a patent is the only way to get rid of a persistent applicant. -Patent examiners are given less time to review patent applications as they gain seniority, leading to less thorough reviews. None of these observations is entirely new. But what sets Frakes and Wasserman's work apart is that they have convincing empirical evidence for all three theories. They have data showing that these features of the patent system systematically bias it in the direction of granting more patents. Which means that if we reformed the patent process in the ways they advocate, we'd likely wind up with fewer bogus patents floating around.

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Seven Awful DRM Moments from the Year (and Two Bright Spots!): 2017 in Review [Published articles]

The Apollo 1201 project is dedicated to ending all the DRM in the world, in all its forms, in our lifetime. The DRM parade of horribles has been going strong since the Clinton administration stuck America with Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act ("DMCA") in 1998. That law gave DRM special, hazardous legal protection: under that law, you're not allowed to remove DRM, even for a lawful purpose, without risking legal penalties that can include jailtime and even six-figure fines for a first offense.

That's a powerful legal weapon to dangle in front of the corporations of the world, who've figured out if they add a thin scrim of DRM to their products, they can make it a literal felony to use their products in ways that they don't approve of -- including creative uses, repair, tinkering and security research. (There's an exemption process, but it's burdensome and inadequate to protect many otherwise legal activities.

EFF is committed to halting that parade of horribles, but it hasn't been easy. Here are seven of the DRM low-points from 2017, and two bright spots that give us hope for the year to come.

  1. The World Wide Web Consortium published its standard for browser-based DRM. We fought this from its inception, and even conceived of a compromise that would allow the corporate members of the W3C to get DRM in browser, but limit their ability to leverage the DRM to inhibit security research; stop a11ies from making their products accessible for people with disabilities; thwart archiving by libraries; and control who got to compete with them. The corporate members refused and the W3C caved, publishing the Encrypted Media Extensions standard without the consensus that the organization has prided itself on for 25 years. Three billion web users now have browsers with new attack-surfaces and new risks to their financial, familial, educational, personal and professional life.
  2. Sony revives the DRM-encumbered robot pet. It's been 15 years since Sony used Section 1201 of the DMCA to shut down the community that had sprung up to extend the functionality of its Aibo robot dogs, threatening people with lawsuits and jailtime for modifying their dogs' operating systems. Now, Sony has brought back the Aibo and with it, revived its view that you can never truly own a product you buy from the company. The new, $1700 Aibo has a mandatory $26/month subscription fee, tethering it permanently to a Sony server. I will bet you anything that anyone releasing a mod that allows the Aibo to run as a standalone will get both a DMCA 1201 (circumventing DRM) and CFAA (violating terms of service) threat. Just your latest reminder that in the 21st century, we are increasingly relegated to the status of digital tenants, renting our gadgets on terms unilaterally set by their manufacturers.
  3. The most powerful DRM in the video games industry is cracked within hours of release. Denuvo is billed as the video game industry's "best in class" DRM, charging games publishers a premium to prevent people from playing their games without paying for them. In years gone by, Denuvo DRM would remain intact for as long as a month before cracks were widely disseminated. But the latest crop of Denuvo-restricted games were all publicly cracked within 24 hours. It's almost as though hiding secrets in code you give to your adversary was a fool's errand.
  4. Someone made a $400 kettle that only took DRM tea-leaves, and irony died forever. Did you buy a useless $400 "smart" juicer and now feel the need to accessorize it with more extrusions from the DRM dystopia timeline? Then The Leaf from Teaforia is just the thing: it was a tea-maker that used DRM-locked tea-pods to brew tea in your kitchen so you don't have to endure the hassle of having the freedom to decide whose tea you brew in your tea-brewing apparatus, and so that you can contribute to the impending environmental apocalypse by generating e-waste every time you make a cup of tea. If you were unfortunate enough to shell out $400 for this thing, you got played, because they went bankrupt in October.
  5. All the virtual rabbits in Second Life faced starvation because of DRM virtual rabbit-food. Every Ozimal digirabbit in the venerable virtual world Second Life faced terminal starvation (well, permanent hibernation) this year because a legal threat has shut down their food-server, and the virtual pets are designed so that they can only eat DRM-locked food, so the official food server's shutdown has doomed them all. Ozimals LLC, the company that created the digipets, shut down last year, and Malkavyn Eldritch, a volunteer, kept their food-server online. Edward Distelhurst and Akimeta Ltd say that Ozimals shut down owing him a lot of money. The case has dragged out at great length, with court orders and reported bad faith from the owners of Ozimals. Edward Distelhurst and Akimeta Ltd sent a cease-and-desist to Eldritch, demanding that he "cease all use of Ozimals intellectual property." This means that he's shut down the server, which immediately killed every virtual puffin in Second Life -- the virtual rabbits will take longer to die, because they can retain some virtual, DRM-locked food in their bellies before they starve to death.
  6. North Korea unveiled a DRM-encrusted surveillance tablet. The Ullim Tablet is the latest mobile device from North Korea to be subjected to independent analysis, and it takes the surveilling, creepy nature of the country's notoriously surveillant Android devices to new heights of badness. The Ullim analysis was conducted by researchers from Heidelberg's Enno Rey Netzwerke and presented at last year's Chaos Communications Congress in Hamburg. The Ullim tablet was made by installing a custom Android 4.4.2 version on a Chinese Z100 tablet that has had its network interfaces removed -- you get it online by attached a tightly-controlled network dongle that does wifi, Ethernet and dial-up. The Ullim Android customization removes many of the stock Google apps (such as Gmail) and adds in several apps designed to spy on the tablet's users. These include Red Flag, a background app that takes a screenshot every time an app is opened, logs browser history and reports on any attempts to tamper with the OS; and Trace Viewer, an app that for examining the forensic data created by Red Flag. Any logged in user can launch and use Trace Viewer, providing a reminder that everything you do with the tablet is being watched. The Ullim also watermarks all the files generated by the OS, linking them to the device's unique serial number, locks out any app not on a whitelist, and refuses to play back any media files that are not on a nationally maintained whitelist of approved programs.
  7. Oh, John Deere. Don't ever change. Meaning please, please change. John Deere claims that fixing your own tractor violates its copyright, because of DRM. So American farmers are installing bootleg Ukrainian firmware in their tractors, just to get the harvest in. Canadian farmers are braving Big Ag's wrath, too, and American farmers are coming up with Made in America ways to seize the means of production and make hay while the sun shines.

And now, a couple of most welcome bright spots:

  1. Portugal passes the world's first reasonable DRM law: Last June, Portugal enacted Law No. 36/2017 which bans putting DRM on public domain media or government works, and allows the public to break DRM that interferes with their rights in copyright, including private copying, accessibility adaptation, archiving, reporting and commentary and more. Regrettably, the law doesn't go so far as to authorize the creation of tools to break DRM that has been improperly used, so the public is forced to hunt around online for semi-legal tools with anonymous authors of unknown quality. (cough Ukrainian tractor firmware cough).
  2. Behold! The paleohistory of DRM, revealed! Redditor Vadermeer was in a local Goodwill Outlet and happened on a trove of files from Apple engineer Jack MacDonald from 1979-80, when he was manager of system software for the Apple II and ///. MacDonald's files include more than 100 pages of printed and handwritten notes for a scheme to create DRM for the Apple /// (then called the Sara) and the Lisa, a failed precursor to the Mac. These constitute a fascinating, candid and intimate history of the creation of a DRM scheme, a kind of microcosm for all the problems we see with DRM today, in which a platform tries to offer products to its sellers that it knows its customers will hate, and also be able to break. ne of the most amusing back-and-forths is the tick-tock between Randy Wigginton and Steve "Woz" Wozniak, who propose and then demolish rival DRM schemes, while also tearing apart successive versions of Visicalc DRM, which was then the state of the art. New managers come in and write memos saying, basically, "Are you nuts? You've proposed a grotesquely expensive hardware dongle that's going to eat one of the four expansion slots on this computer, that will stop working if the user upgrades their OS, that will require them to bring corrupt floppies back to the store to get a backup to work, and that we think people will be able to break in an hour -- let's go back to the drawing board, shall we?"

This article is part of our Year In Review series. Read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2017.

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People with a greater sense of entitlement are less likely to follow instructions than less entitled people are, because they view the instructions as an unfair imposition on them, finds new research in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. [Published articles]

Not Some New Man: The Hidden Pattern Behind the Doctor’s Regenerations [Published articles]

Doctor Who, Regeneration cry

Regeneration can be confusing for even the most ardent Doctor Who fan. Our intrepid hero literally becomes a new person and the adjustment is always a little heartbreaking, as though you have to say goodbye to one friend in order to gain another. The process itself is woolly; the Doctor himself admitting upon his seventh transformation that it was “a lottery” and that he had never been any good at it.

But does regeneration make sense, even if you’re no good at it? I think it does. In fact, I’d argue that the events leading up to each regeneration have a very heavy impact on how the next incarnation turns out. Though he can’t pick out faces and then discard them the way other Time Lords can, subconsciously, the Doctor is clearly and cautiously reconstructing himself, adapting according to his triumphs and failures each time.

Don’t believe me? The pattern is there. Check it out:

First to Second Doctor

Doctor Who, First Doctor and Susan

The First Doctor got to live out his life in his initial body to a respectable old age, eventually dying of natural causes—not a bad way to go for your first run. He was a quirky old man with an odd laugh who showed a grandfatherly protectiveness toward many of his companions. He was also, and there’s no better way of putting it, a big old grump. He was the man in charge and liked to be treated as such, and many of the people who traveled with him (namely Ian and Barbara) took him to task for being bossy and secretive.

It’s not hard to infer that perhaps the First Doctor wanted to use this new beginning as a chance to upgrade. Be a little more hip, a little younger and easier to love since he had fallen into the practice of taking on new friends wherever he found them. Perhaps his sense of humor was in need of an overhaul, perhaps he needed a haircut like all the young people (Read: Kids in the 1960s who loved The Beatles) were getting. Eh voila, enter Doctor the Second.

Second to Third Doctor

Doctor Who, Second Doctor and Polly

The Second Doctor was even more apt at getting himself into trouble by virtue of his ability to clown around, letting his enemies underestimate him. He was a veritable poster child for playing the fool, and he adored his companions (especially Jamie), huddling with them in corners and double-talking them into exasperation. But he broke the rules of the Time Lords, meddling and giving other species knowledge of their practices and other times. His regeneration was forced on him by his own people.

So the Doctor was understandably petulant and more than a little brassed off that the Time Lords had taken matters into their own hands, planning to exile him on Earth with no knowledge of how to repair his own TARDIS. He would need to be adaptable to keep himself occupied and dramatic enough to impress all the humans he was stuck amongst, but the chances of that petulant streak not embedding itself as well? Yeah, not good.

Third to Fourth Doctor

Doctor Who, Third Doctor, Sarah Jane, UNIT

The Third Doctor was something of an aging James Bond figure—a flashy old man with a love of opera capes, fast modes of transportation (blessed Bessy aside), and Venusian aikido. He could get supremely pouty and a bit rude when he didn’t get his way, but he had plenty of people to fuss over him at UNIT, his new home away from home. The Master only added to that sense of importance by showing up all the time to play “How Will I Attempt to Take Over the Universe and Let You Stop Me This Week?”

The Third Doctor had a good run, and also got his privileges reinstated by the Time Lords, free once again to galavant across the universe. He’d made many friends, done so much good, and had a heck of a lot to show for it by the time he got accidentally dosed with radiation. Perhaps it was time for that sarcasm to fade, to let those old wounds close up. Perhaps he would like to be a little romantic next time around—he was done being the old man. Perhaps he could cause all the mischief of his second incarnation over again, let his ego shine, and be all the more lovable for it….

Fourth to Fifth Doctor

Doctor Who, Fourth Doctor and Romana

The Fourth Doctor had it all going for him. He had an answer for everything and a demeanor to match. He was charming to everyone, especially lovely ladies. He gave candy to every stranger he encountered, and they all took it (proving that their mothers had taught them very poorly). He was positively mad, but also properly thoughtful, and he had experience enough under his belt to tackle some really hard questions. He was on a roll. Companions came and went, enemies came and went, and his scarf weathered every storm.

He got a little too comfortable, you might say. That old friend of his, the Master, finally managed to get a real one-up on him, dropping him off a radio telescope. But he had a gathering of friends there when he said goodbye, so many people who loved him, so maybe that was the answer. Maybe it was time for the Doctor to embrace all those people, to not try and solve every problem on his own. It was time to feel a little younger, more like a contemporary of his traveling mates. It was time to have a crew, a sort of family to usher around.

Fifth to Sixth Doctor

Doctor Who, Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Turlough

The Fifth Doctor had a pretty rough time of it. It turned out that his family plan backfired—Five’s companions rarely listened to him, squabbled over his every decision, and never stayed where he told them to. He was the second Doctor to lose a companion, the first Doctor to lose one so close to him. After Adric’s death, things sort of fell apart; Nyssa’s departure left him with Turlough, who was initially trying to kill him before the Doctor straightened out the mess. Tegan ran off in horror one day without really saying goodbye, Kameleon sacrificed himself, and Turlough eventually found a way home. The Doctor was left with a brand new companion named Peri, who somehow still wanted to travel with him despite all the dangers. She almost died on their first official outing, but the Doctor got her a poison antidote in time, even if he didn’t save any for himself.

And as he succumbed, literally hearing the ghosts of his companions tormenting him for his failings, you can just imagine him thinking… would all of this have gone so wrong if I had just been a bit tougher? More sure of myself, more of a leader? If I had just been a little irascible, harder to say no to, maybe none of this would have happened and all of my friends would still be here. And that, ladies and gents, is how we ended up with something completely different….

Sixth to Seventh Doctor

Doctor Who,, Sixth Doctor and Peri

The Sixth Doctor gets a bad rap because he is by far the most pompous, arrogant, shrewish incarnation of the Doctor in the show’s history. That doesn’t mean he was entirely unlovable—in fact, Six had some lovely moments of genuine wonder and was far funnier than he is generally given credit for. The darkness that had crept in to his persona was easy to understand, given how rough his previous departure had been. The Sixth Doctor certainly was the man in charge again, and it was simply because he insisted that everyone else around him was an idiot.

His death was accidental, with another childhood friend (the Rani this time) rocking the TARDIS hard enough that the Doctor hit his head and never woke up… as that man. Six had mellowed by the time of the regeneration and it seems possible that he realized he had gone too far. He didn’t have to be quite so rude, so snobbish. He was used to having his way, but maybe this time around he could get it through coercion, through misdirection. It was time to play things smart.

Seventh to Eighth Doctor

Doctor Who, Seventh Doctor and Ace

The Seventh Doctor was a tricky one. He was a grab bag sort of personality, an interesting melting pot of character traits that had come before. He had the mentoring tendencies of the First Doctor, the goofiness of the Fourth, the talent for making himself appear less threatening like the Second. However, this Doctor was an older one with purpose, plans of his own, and missions to complete. He was exceptional at manipulating his companion Ace, but they were an inseparable pair, he the professor and she the pupil.

By the time the Seventh Doctor regenerated, he was at the end of that body’s life. He had spent quite some time as that sharp old man, and he was a bit of a comfort creature, sipping tea and reading in the TARDIS console room. His death was a surprise, walking out of his ship and into a San Francisco gang fight, and then treated by doctors who had no knowledge of alien physiology. Because Seven was getting older, it was likely (for the first time since that first regeneration) that he’d had a few moments to think on what he hoped to come out like next—and it was time for new beginnings. Time to go younger again since he had spent so much time as an old man, another chance to discover the universe with fresh eyes. Romance once more, and maybe a little less plotting. Something handsome and wide-eyed should do it.

Eighth to War Doctor

Doctor Who, Eighth Doctor and Grace

The Eighth Doctor had the look of a poet about him, all curls and earnestness with a velvet frock coat. He was excitable, almost childlike when enthused, and contained a vulnerability that had never been seen before in the character. He was the first Doctor to ever kiss a companion, albeit in a moment of sheer joy.

Tragedy struck. The Time War raged and he tried to stay away, but when saving one life proved too difficult, something broke. It was at this point that the Eighth Doctor made perhaps the most pivotal decision made by any incarnation—to become another man. Because the universe couldn’t possibly need a Doctor anymore. This regeneration was aided, and so what he received was dependent on a choice… and the Eighth Doctor chose to become a warrior.

War to Ninth Doctor

Doctor Who, War Doctor

The War Doctor likely fought this battle for a long time—when he was first shown after his regeneration, he is much younger than he appears at the end of the Time War. Yet for all the magic potion that triggered his change was meant to make him hard and cold and willing to do whatever it took, this warrior was still unmistakably the Doctor. Not even an engineered regeneration could take that from him.

Thankfully, he was spared the fate that being a warrior would have left him… but he wasn’t allowed to know it. As he regenerated, he also forgot. Of course, what he was thinking of at the time turned out to be paramount—muttering about not having big ears meant that he got big ears. But beyond that, this Doctor renewed while harboring a wound that would scar him for centuries to come. And that was bravely where the new series chose to reintroduce us to him.

Ninth to Tenth Doctor

Doctor Who, Ninth Doctor and Rose

The Ninth Doctor clearly suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a man frightened of himself and what he could do, who still tried his best to carry on because he couldn’t think of anything else to do with himself. And then he met a girl. A girl who was willing to take some of the weight, who believed he was absolutely everything in the universe, who knew he was worth it when he had all but given up on himself. The only problem was, he was a little old to be her boyfriend.

When all hope seemed lost, that girl came back to him and saved him. And that was the moment, the place where the Doctor came back, too, and realized that he was still pleased to be that man even after all he (thought he) had done. More importantly, he realized that he loved that girl. And as he regenerated, he was thinking of that love and thinking of renewal, and he probably thought it would be fantastic if he could just be perfect for her. To be what Rose needed him to be. Time to be younger and brighter, cocky but cool, more physical and even more mouthy.

And no one would ever tell him that he was too old to be Rose’s boyfriend again.

Tenth to Eleventh Doctor

Doctor Who, Tenth Doctor and Donna

The Tenth Doctor was patently Rose’s Doctor, even long after she had gone, and that worked for him. Because he had been loved, the Tenth Doctor loved himself, a trait that had never been so apparent in any Doctor before. He was awkward yet suave, put a lot of effort into looking the part, and was charming as all get out. He was the epitome of “geek chic,” as we say. But he still harbored a mountain of grief from his perceived actions in the Time War, and that mountain didn’t get any easier to chip away at. He developed something of a god complex and made some poor choices. And he lost a lot of friends on the way.

The Tenth Doctor didn’t really want to regenerate. In fact, he was the first Doctor to make that pointedly clear—that regenerating feels a little like dying, becoming something else. The Tenth Doctor didn’t want to stop being himself, and so there was a lot of hold over to the Eleventh. He got even younger looking, kept a pretty snazzy dress sense, and maintained that ability to posture his way out of a lot of situations. But the guilt from the Time War needed to be set aside, and he needed to stop being so up front with his companions….

Eleventh to Twelfth Doctor

Doctor Who, Eleventh Doctor and Amy

“The Doctor lies.” The Eleventh Doctor certainly did, and he did because he thought he had to. He buried some things deep down, tried to forget the past that had haunted him in his previous two incarnations. And he became guardian again to a little girl—like he had with his granddaughter—and had a funny sort of romance with that little girl’s daughter because, well, the daughter was a bit crazy and so was he. He got himself a proper family… and then he lost them. He gave up on companions for a time because the attachment was just too much. Thank goodness for an impossible girl.

And then something truly miraculous happened. The Doctor was absolved of his guilt in the Time War, and all because his Bad Wolf was still determined to keep him safe across the universe. He found out that his people survived somewhere out there, that Gallifrey never fell—he didn’t have to keep running away from himself like he was the monster. He thought that he would live out the rest of his life on Trenzalore, protecting the people of a small town, that this was his last stand… and he was content with that. And then he was given an unimaginable gift from a crack in the universe, and was able to start over again—this time unafraid, joyful for a chance to live on. Time to find that lost home, and maybe he could allow a little maturity to seep in because of that. More self-assurance. So much work pretending to be a young man; since he was used to age by now, why not try something with a few more years on for size?

Twelfth to Thirteenth Doctor

Doctor Who, Twelfth Doctor and Bill

The Twelfth Doctor was determined to do things his own way. He taught his first companion to become her own kind of Doctor, he punched his way back through to Gallifrey, he reconnected with his oldest friend (that’s Missy) and came so very close to reigniting their partnership. This Doctor learned a lot: about sacrifice, about friendship, about staying put for a while (at Bill’s university, teaching under-motivated students). He reaffirmed his purpose and place in the universe, not as a hero, but as the person who decides to do what’s right—because it is kind.

The Twelfth Doctor, much like the Tenth, enjoys being himself and isn’t particularly interested in changing again. The Doctor’s fear of regeneration is clearly an ever-present issue for him, and whenever he gets too much time to think about it, it starts to panic him. In trying to put it off, the very earliest version of himself (the First Doctor, appearing in “Twice Upon A Time”) will have to knock some sense back into him.

Outgoing showrunner Steven Moffat has thrown his opinion into the ring on the Thirteenth Doctor’s incarnation, saying, “I suppose at the back of my mind I’ve known for ages the next Doctor was going to be a woman – although I didn’t know which woman – so I was thinking, ‘Why does he subconsciously make that choice?’ Maybe seeing the whole span of his life as a man, seeing himself as the Hartnell Doctor, might make him think maybe it’s time to be a bit more progressive.” This is pretty ridiculous, as opinions on regeneration go: the fact that the First Doctor was more rigid does not mean that a female Doctor must be inherently more progressive… because women as a gender are not a political statement.

But it does seem likely that the Twelfth Doctor has had a thought about what it would mean to regenerate differently. He noticed that the Master-as-Missy was more flexible, open to new ideas, and she enjoyed herself. Perhaps he envied her a little bit. His oldest and best friend, capable of learning new things that he hadn’t thought possible. And looking like Mary Poppins while she did it. Maybe he could give it a go and see what it’s like. Maybe it’ll make the journey more exciting than ever before.

Doctor Who, Thirteenth Doctor

And what does that mean for future incarnations? Only time will tell. We can see that the Doctor’s emotional state, the influence of the people surrounding him, seem to have a direct impact on who he becomes. That’s the key to regeneration, and one that is sure to keep the show fresh and exciting for years to come.

Top image from Whovian Rules on Tumblr.

Emily Asher-Perrin thinks that surviving regenerations makes Doctor Who fandom the toughest by far.You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

'The Last Jedi' Is the Most Intellectual 'Star Wars' Movie [Published articles]

Rian Johnson's movie has more moral complexity than any of the previous films—and gives audiences a lot more to think about.

UK Government moves to classify high-speed broadband access as a "legal right" [Published articles]

Hot on the heels of the FCC's net neutrality repeal, the UK Government has offered up ...

The UK Government has just announced that from 2020, high-speed broadband will be considered a legal right for all its citizens, meaning service providers must offer access to any person that requests it. The announcement follows a proposal from BT, the UK's largest telecommunications provider, to provide universal broadband coverage to all areas of the UK under a voluntary agreement. The Government, however, felt the importance of universal broadband access required a regulatory hand in the matter.

.. Continue Reading UK Government moves to classify high-speed broadband access as a "legal right"

Category: Telecommunications

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The Case Against Reading Everything [Published articles]

The Human Cost of the Ghost Economy [Published articles]

VU#144389: TLS implementations may disclose side channel information via discrepencies between valid and invalid PKCS#1 padding [Published articles]

Vulnerability Note VU#144389

TLS implementations may disclose side channel information via discrepencies between valid and invalid PKCS#1 padding

Original Release date: 12 Dec 2017 | Last revised: 22 Dec 2017


TLS implementations may disclose side channel information via discrepancies between valid and invalid PKCS#1 padding, and may therefore be vulnerable to Bleichenbacher-style attacks.. This attack is known as a "ROBOT attack".


CWE-203: Information Exposure Through Discrepancy

Transport Layer Security (TLS) is a mechanism for a security transport over network connections, and is defined in RFC 5246. TLS may utilize RSA cryptography to secure the connection, and section 7.4.7 describes how client and server may exchange keys. Implementations that don't closely follow the descriptions in RFC 5246 may leak information to an attacker when they handle PKCS #1 v1.5 padding errors in ways that lets the attacker distinguish between valid and invalid messages. An attacker may utilize discrepancies in TLS error messages to obtain the pre-master secret key private RSA key used by TLS to decrypt sensitive data. This type of attack has become known as a Bleichenbacher attack. CERT/CC previously published CERT Advisory CA-1998-07 for this type of attack.

Some modern cryptographic implementations are vulnerable to Bleichenbacher-style attacks on TLS. While RFC 5246 Section provides advice in order to eliminate discrepancies and defend against Bleichenbacher attacks, implementation-specific error and exception handling may nevertheless re-introduce message discrepancies that act as a cryptographic oracle for a Bleichenbacher-style attack.

More information about the research and affected vendors is available from the researcher's website.


A remote, unauthenticated attacker may be able to obtain the TLS pre-master secret (TLS session key) and decrypt TLS traffic.


Disable TLS RSA

Affected users and system administrators are encouraged to disable TLS RSA cyphers if possible. Please refer to your product's documentation or contact the vendor's customer service.

Apply an update

Some products may have software updates available to address this issue. If an update is available, affected users are encouraged to update product software or firmware. Please see the Affected Vendors list below for more information.

Note for developers

RFC 5246 contains remediation advice for Bleichenbacher-style attacks. Developers are encouraged to review the advice and ensure implementations of TLS or software that utilizes a TLS library does not introduce further message or timing discrepancies that may be used in a Bleichenbacher-style attack.

Vendor Information (Learn More)

The Vendor Information section below lists implementations and vendors that have been identified as vulnerable TLS implementations. Separate CVE IDs for each vendor have been assigned due to the implementation-specific nature of the vulnerability.

Vendor Status Date Notified Date Updated
Cisco Affected 15 Nov 2017 14 Dec 2017
Citrix Affected 15 Nov 2017 12 Dec 2017
Erlang Affected - 12 Dec 2017
F5 Networks, Inc. Affected 15 Nov 2017 20 Nov 2017
Legion of the Bouncy Castle Affected 15 Nov 2017 12 Dec 2017
MatrixSSL Affected 15 Nov 2017 12 Dec 2017
wolfSSL Affected 12 Dec 2017 12 Dec 2017
Botan Not Affected 15 Nov 2017 20 Nov 2017
Check Point Software Technologies Not Affected - 14 Dec 2017
Dell EMC Not Affected 15 Nov 2017 29 Nov 2017
Fortinet, Inc. Not Affected - 22 Dec 2017
GnuTLS Not Affected 15 Nov 2017 13 Dec 2017
IAIK Java Group Not Affected 15 Nov 2017 06 Dec 2017
Microsoft Corporation Not Affected 15 Nov 2017 12 Dec 2017
OpenSSL Not Affected 15 Nov 2017 20 Nov 2017
If you are a vendor and your product is affected, let us know.View More &raquo

CVSS Metrics (Learn More)

Group Score Vector
Base 7.1 AV:N/AC:M/Au:N/C:C/I:N/A:N
Temporal 5.6 E:POC/RL:OF/RC:C
Environmental 4.2 CDP:ND/TD:M/CR:ND/IR:ND/AR:ND



Thanks to Hanno Boeck, Juraj Somorovsky of Ruhr-Universität Bochum / Hackmanit GmbH, and Craig Young of Tripwire VERT for reporting this vulnerability.

This document was written by Garret Wassermann.

Other Information


If you have feedback, comments, or additional information about this vulnerability, please send us email.

Don't worry, Alexa. I can't really say it right either. [Published articles]

Mars [1000x2888] [Published articles]

In B-Flat [Published articles]

Comedian can't stop laughing at a joke made about him [Published articles]

TIL : British Submarines carry the Jolly Rodger because a First Lord Sea Admiral said that submarines are ""underhanded, unfair, and damned un-English" and their sailors should be hanged as Pirates [Published articles]

ISPs Won't Promise To Treat All Traffic Equally After Net Neutrality [Published articles]

An anonymous reader writes: The FCC voted to put an end to net neutrality, giving internet providers free rein to deliver service at their own discretion. There's really only one condition here: internet providers will have to disclose their policies regarding "network management practices, performance, and commercial terms." So if ISPs want to block websites, throttle your connection, or charge certain websites more, they'll have to admit it. We're still too far out to know exactly what disclosures all the big ISPs are going to make -- the rules (or lack thereof) don't actually go into effect for another few months -- but many internet providers have been making statements throughout the year about their stance on net neutrality, which ought to give some idea of where they'll land. We reached out to 10 big or notable ISPs to see what their stances are on three core tenets of net neutrality: no blocking, no throttling, and no paid prioritization. Not all of them answered, and the answers we did get are complicated. [The Verge reached out to Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, Charter (Spectrum), Cox, Altice USA (Optimum and SuddenLink), and Google Fi and Google Fiber.] Many ISPs say they support some or all of these core rules, but there's a big caveat there: for six of the past seven years, there have been net neutrality rules in place at the FCC. That means all of the companies we checked with have had to abide by the no blocking, no throttling, and no paid prioritization rules. It means that they can say, and be mostly correct in saying, that they've long followed those rules. But it is, on some level, because they've had to. What actually matters is which policies ISPs say they'll keep in the future, and few are making commitments about that. In fact, all of the companies we contacted (with the exception of Google) have supported the FCC's plan to remove the current net neutrality rules. None of the ISPs we contacted will make a commitment -- or even a comment -- on paid fast lanes and prioritization. And this is really where we expect to see problems: ISPs likely won't go out and block large swaths of the web, but they may start to give subtle advantages to their own content and the content of their partners, slowly shaping who wins and loses online. Comcast: Comcast says it currently doesn't block, throttle content, or offer paid fast lanes, but hasn't committed to not doing so in the future. AT&T: AT&T has committed to not blocking or throttling websites in the future. However, its stance around fast lanes is unclear. Verizon: Verizon indicates that, at least in the immediate future, it will not block legal content. As for throttling and fast lanes, the company has no stance, and even seems to be excited to use the absence of rules to its advantage. T-Mobile: T-Mobile makes no commitments to not throttle content or offer paid fast lanes and is unclear on its commitment to not blocking sites and services. It's already involved in programs that advantage some services over others. Sprint: Sprint makes no commitments on net neutrality, but suggests it doesn't have plans to offer a service that would block sites. Charter (Spectrum): Charter doesn't make any guarantees, but the company indicates that it's currently committed to not blocking or throttling customers. Cox: Cox says it won't block or throttle content, even without net neutrality. It won't make commitments on zero-rating or paid fast lanes. Altice USA (Optimum and SuddenLink): Altice doesn't currently block or throttle and suggests it will keep those policies, though without an explicit commitment. The company doesn't comment on prioritizing one service over another. Google Fi and Google Fiber: Google doesn't make any promises regarding throttling and paid prioritization. However, it is the only company to state that it believes paid prioritization would be harmful.

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#311443 [Published articles]

<Sohcahtoa> I don’t always use UTF-8, but when I do, I parse it as ASCII.

Trump Signs Law Forcing Drone Users To Register With Government [Published articles]

President Trump signed a sweeping defense policy bill into law on Tuesday that will allow the government to require recreational drone users to register their model aircraft. This comes after a federal court ruled in May that Americans no longer have to register non-commercial drones with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) "because Congress had said in a previous law that the FAA can't regulate model aircraft," reports The Hill. From the report: In December 2015, the FAA issued an interim rule requiring drone hobbyists to register their recreational aircraft with the agency. The rule -- which had not been formally finalized -- requires model aircraft owners to provide their name, email address and physical address; pay a $5 registration fee; and display a unique drone ID number at all times. Those who fail to comply could face civil and criminal penalties. While Congress directed the FAA to safely integrate drones into the national airspace in a 2012 aviation law, lawmakers also included a special exemption to prevent model aircraft from being regulated. A D.C.-based appeals court cited the 2012 law in its ruling striking down the FAA drone registry, arguing that recreational drones count as model aircraft and that the registry counts as a rule or regulation.

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The Earth's constant hum comes from the ocean floor [Published articles]

For more than fifty years, scientists have known that the Earth hums. We can't hear the sound as it's at a frequency 10,000 times lower than our hearing threshold but new research suggests that it's coming from the ocean floor. Scientists from the Paris Institute of Global Physics analyzed data from earthquake sensors on the Indian Ocean floor and found the familiar and constant oscillations of between 2.9 and 4.5 millihertz. From National Geographic:

"To better understand where the signal comes from, we believe that observing oscillations from the ocean bottom can help," says co-author Martha Deen...

Since early observations, a number of studies have hypothesized that the Earth's free oscillations are a side-effect of the pounding of ocean waves. Other research suggests the hum could originate from atmospheric turbulence, or the wind motions around the globe, cued by storms. The current study says turbulence could account for part of the vibration, leading the rest to be fueled by ocean waves...

By studying the Earth's hum signal from ocean-bottom stations, scientists can map out a detailed landscape of the Earth's interior. Currently, they can only look at the inside of the planet during earthquakes, which limits studies to certain times and areas. And when looking at seismic activity from land monitors, researchers can't chart places far removed from islands and land masses. But the hum signal, droning and constant, can be detected across the world.

Congress has set out a bill to stop the FCC taking away our internet. PLEASE SPREAD THIS AS MUCH AS YOU CAN. [Published articles]

Human trials of Huntington’s drug offers hope for new gene-silencing treatments [Published articles]

A ground-breaking new treatment that has proven safe in phase 1/2a human trials could potentially be ...

The first human trial examining the safety of a drug designed to reduce the levels of a corrupted protein that is responsible for the devastating effects of Huntington's disease has proven a success. These early, yet exciting results, suggest potential for a new drug that could possibly be adapted to treat other brain disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

.. Continue Reading Human trials of Huntington’s drug offers hope for new gene-silencing treatments

Category: Medical

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Juno reveals the roots of Jupiter's Great Red Spot [Published articles]

Juno has peered into the depths of Jupiter's Great Red Spot and revealed how deep down ...

The Great Red Spot, a gigantic storm of crimson clouds bigger than the Earth, has been raging on Jupiter's surface for centuries. We've known its size in two dimensions for a long time, but after a close flyover in July the Juno probe has finally given us an answer about how deep into the atmosphere the storm's roots run. And in the process, the mission uncovered two weird new radiation zones.

.. Continue Reading Juno reveals the roots of Jupiter's Great Red Spot

Category: Space

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NASA Hosts Media Teleconference to Announce Latest Kepler Discovery [Published articles]

NASA will host a media teleconference at 1 p.m. EST Thursday, Dec. 14, to announce the latest discovery made by its planet-hunting Kepler space telescope.

Why You Watch the Original Mad Max Trilogy [Published articles]

Mad Max Mel Gibson

We all know Fury Road is great, but perhaps you need some convincing that the original Mad Max trilogy is worth your time. Perhaps you missed Beyond Thunderdome each of the many times it was shown on a cable outlet, and are now leery of Tina Turner in a fright wig. Perhaps you think moviemakers couldn’t create a believable post-apocalyptic landscape in the (mostly) CGI-free days of the 1980s. Perhaps you just can’t with Mel Gibson. I understand. (Truly! Especially about that last one.) But I’m here to show you that the original Mad Max trilogy holds many wonders.

There will be people who tell you that the first film is crap, or that the last film is crap. Those people are wrong. The original Mad Max does indeed have long boring stretches, but those patches are interrupted by some of the best chase sequences in all moviedom. And yes, Beyond Thunderdome is…well… silly. Deeply silly. But it’s also fun, and the first half in particular has some of the best post-apocalyptic worldbuilding I’ve ever seen. Which leads us to the first reason you should watch it:


It’s Not Just Another Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland

Mad MaxIn fact, the beginning of the trilogy takes place in a pre-apocalyptic wasteland. One of the most unique things about the Mad Max trilogy is the way it shows the full arc of an apocalyptic event. In the first film society is definitely on the decline following a major energy crisis, but it does still exist in recognizable ways: there are highways, towns, ice cream shops, and enough of an infrastructure to keep things hobbling along.

Mad Max initially works as a cop (note: Max is a civil servant, not a vigilante or even a military enforcer) trying to keep the roads clear of gasoline-siphoning biker gangs. By Road Warrior, the lawlessness of the gangs has become the norm, and Max, now a lone drifter, ends up helping a small community who were lucky enough to find an oil refinery—but unlucky enough to be targeted by a terrifying gang leader named The Humongous. Finally, in the third film, we learn that the nuclear apocalypse has actually occurred—Sydney’s gone, and presumably most other cities have been reduced to radioactive ash. The only people who have survived are the ones who were further out in the country, and now it’s up to them to figure out if things are even worth rebuilding.


It’s Pretty Much the Best Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland!


As other, more mainstream filmmakers were batting around the idea of the apocalypse with utter seriousness (Wargames), utter nihilism (A Boy and His Dog), or utter faith (A Thief in the Night) George Miller was making a snarky, explosive, and somehow totally realistic trilogy about humanity’s slide into a dystopian wasteland. Mad max also stands apart from all of these scenarios by focusing on the thing I think is actually going to kill us: the utter breakdown of society in the face of resource depletion.


George Miller’s Stellar Naming Conventions


Here’s a short list of the characters you will encounter in the Mad Max Trilogy: MasterBlaster, Aunty Entity, Goose, Toecutter, Feral Kid, Jedidiah the Pilot, Scrooloos, The Humoungus, Mr. Skyfish, Slake’m Thirst, and Pappagallo. The vast majority of these characters live up to the awesomeness of their names. Feral Kid is obviously the best. I mean, look at him.


Bondage Gear!

Mad Max Road Warrior

Perhaps you’ve heard about the bondage gear? Maybe even a little freaked out by it? I would argue that in addition to being visually striking, it’s also meant to be silly and impractical—a constant joke puncturing the seriousness of Apocalypse Times. It also links all of the characters; how is skintight-leather-clad Max truly any different from The Humungous? The Refinery tribe wears crazy feathers in their hair, the gyrocaptain wears canary yellow skinny jeans, and Aunty Entity wears a chainmail disco dress. Everyone looks equally ridiculous, without any simplistic telegraphing through clothes.


The Violence is Explodey But Not Gratuitous


Yes, there is a moment in Mad Max that literally inspired the entire Saw series. There is also rape, torture, and dog-murder. So what I’m about to say will seem weird, and possibly wrong-headed, but I would actually argue that the Mad Max films as a whole are not gratuitously violent. There is no tortureporn-style lingering over details, or reveling in human pain, or straight-up nihilism, as there is in, say, A Boy and His Dog. Most of the truly horrific moments either occur off-screen, or are dealt with in a way that gives emotional weight to people’s suffering.

The most violent sequence in the trilogy is the Thunderdome fight, but even then the action is directed against our nigh-indestructible hero, and the whole thing winds up pretty cartoonish. And the two times Max is actually meant to be gratuitously violent are far more complicated than they usually are in action films—these are moments when the character is very clearly pushed over the edge. Max is not the type of hero who punches his way out of problems. In fact, Max isn’t really a hero at all.


Max isn’t Actually A Hero


It turns out Tina Turner is not being rhetorical. You can read Max in a bunch of different ways, but one of the best things about the character is that he doesn’t adhere to any particular heroic arc. Sometimes he’s a lone mercenary, just out for himself. Sometimes he’s a Shane-like protector. Other times he’s a Jesus-esque sacrificial figure. And sometimes he’s just a pawn in other characters’ games.

Over the course of the trilogy Miller plays with several different heroic tropes, allowing us to see Max as lonely human in need of redemption, while also keeping him cynical enough—and smart enough—to hold other people at arm’s length. In The Road Warrior, the leader of the Refinery Tribe calls Max out for his self-pity, reminding him that everyone has suffered, and in Thunderdome he never quite becomes the messiah some of the kids want him to be. By using the character to question what makes a hero, Miller allows the films to slip between different genres and tones rather than just being slavishly “Western” or “Sci-Fi.”


Awesome Women!


There is, as I mentioned, lots of violence and a few moments of straight-up brutality aimed at women in the Mad Max trilogy. But there are also several important female warriors who protect the Refinery Tribe in The Road Warrior, and who hold their own against The Humungous’ gang. And in Beyond Thunderdome we get two different female leaders: Aunty Entity, the founder of Bartertown, and Savannah Nix, the young woman who wants to lead a group of plane crash survivors to a better home. Both of the women are real characters; rather than being noble cardboard cutouts, they make mistakes—and have to pay for those mistakes. But they’re also accepted as leaders by everyone around them, without having to fight any tired sexist battles to prove themselves.


Background Worldbuilding


When Max is discovered by the young plane crash survivors, we learn that Cusha (second from the right in the picture above) is “ready to pop.” That’s because these kids formed a post-apocalyptic community together, survived, hit puberty, and… figured stuff out. The film doesn’t dwell on this, Max doesn’t dwell on this, it’s just there in the background. It shows that humans can adapt and survive no matter what, and that’s kind of great.


You’ll Increase Your Reference Quotient At Least 1000%!


  • Who Run Bartertown?
  • What happens when you bust a deal?
  • Should you just walk away?
  • Are there any alternate definitions of the word “gulag” I should know about?

You’ll be able to answer these questions, and so many more! These films inspired the Saw series, Fallout, a whole slew of lesser imitations, and helped gain attention for the more self-consciously artistic branches of the Australian New Wave. It also gave us Mel Gibson! A mixed bag, perhaps, but… he was great in Gallipoli? But best of all, this MST3K skit will be even funnier.


It’s Actually Pretty Optimistic!


By centering us on Max and his fellow civilian survivors, Miller allows us to experience the apocalypse the way most of us actually would. We’re not in secret meetings in the War Room. We’re not the phone phreakers who inadvertently triggered Global Thermonuclear War. We’re not pilots trying to decide whether or not this is a drill. We get to watch humans like us who try to create communities together and build a better tomorrow. Granted, some people just want to watch the matches at the Thunderdome all day, but some people become gyrocopter pilots, some people build whole towns that run on a certain type of justice, and some people become reluctant messiahs. As Aunty Entity says, “On the day after, I was still alive. This nobody had a chance to be somebody.”

This article was originally published in May 2015.

Leah Schnelbach hopes that if the apocalypse does come, someone will trade food for thinkpieces carved into tree trunks. Until then, she’ll use Twitter!

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