Tools & Info for SysAdmins - Malware Sandbox, Humor, Server Monitor & More [Published articles]

Hi r/sysadmin,

Each week I thought I'd post these SysAdmin tools, tips, tutorials etc.

I've set up a new subreddit /r/itprotuesday. I’ll keep posting this in here each week as well and but will start featuring / encouraging some additional tools, tips etc posts throughout the week in the new subreddit. Pop over and subscribe if you’re interested.

A Free Tool

Cuckoo Sandbox is an advanced, modular, automated malware analysis system. This open-source solution can: analyze malicious files (executables, office documents, pdf files, emails etc.) and websites under Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, and Android virtualized environments; trace API calls and general behavior of a file and distill it into high-level information and signatures that are easily understood; dump and analyze network traffic, even when encrypted with SSL/TLS—with native network routing support; and perform advanced memory analysis of the infected virtualized system. Because of its modular design, any aspect of the analysis environment can be customized. Thanks for this one go to NerdBlender, who likes it as a "sandbox for malware analysis."

A Little Humor

Shit Sales People Say is a humorous Twitter account lamenting the difficulties sales people tend to create for those who have to implement. A bit of fun to break up the day of any sysadmin who's stuck trying to deliver on all those promises. A shout out to kenelbow for the suggestion!

Another Free Tool


Censys allows you to find and monitor any server on the Internet. It shows what servers and devices are exposed on your network, so you can find vulnerabilities. Suggested by videoflyguy because the site "constantly updates their results, basically just keeps port scanning the internet and reports the results. You get 10 free searches per day, and it has helped me find several weak points in the network."

A Website

NixCraft is an online community of new and experienced Linux and Unix sysadmins. Content includes research and discussion on various open-source software, including enterprise Linux distributions, traditional Unix operating systems like OpenBSD/AIX/HP-UX, cloud computing, building scalable and high availability infrastructure, networking/DNS/Web/Proxy/office servers, security and firewalls, automation and infrastructure deployment, Desktop Linux, Apple OS X Unix operating systems, best practices and easy-to-follow tutorials.

A Podcast

Smashing Security is a podcast featuring computer security industry veterans Graham Cluley and Carole Theriault. The hosts discuss cybercrime, hacking, and online privacy with assorted expert guests in an informative and entertaining style. Winner: "Best Security Podcast 2018."

Have a fantastic week and as usual, let me know any comments or suggestions for future versions.

u/crispyducks (Graham @ EveryCloud Email Security)

submitted by /u/crispyducks to r/sysadmin
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Is fake-news sharing driven by age, not politics? [Published articles]

Researchers say people over 65 are seven times more likely to share fake news than 18 to 29-year-olds.

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]

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?

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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Using a Yubikey for GPG and SSH [Published articles]

This is how you figure out the day of the week for any date ever, without Google [Published articles]

By using this mental trick developed by mathematician John H. Conway, you can figure out the day of the week for any date, past or future, in a few seconds with just one hand. And no, that one hand is not looking to Google for the answer.

It uses an algorithm he devised called the Doomsday Rule:

[It draws] inspiration from Lewis Carroll's perpetual calendar algorithm. It takes advantage of each year having a certain day of the week, called the doomsday, upon which certain easy-to-remember dates fall; for example, 4/4, 6/6, 8/8, 10/10, 12/12, and the last day of February all occur on the same day of the week in any year. Applying the Doomsday algorithm involves three steps:

Determination of the anchor day for the century.

Calculation of the doomsday for the year from the anchor day.

Selection of the closest date out of those that always fall on the doomsday, e.g., 4/4 and 6/6, and count of the number of days (modulo 7) between that date and the date in question to arrive at the day of the week.

This technique applies to both the Gregorian calendar A.D. and the Julian calendar, although their doomsdays are usually different days of the week.

Here's the video's "cheatsheet" if you want to give it a go.

(The Kid Should See This)

How to drill holes through glass [Published articles]

Chris Notap bought some cheap hole-cutting bits on eBay and tried them out on a pane of glass, a mason jar, a ceramic bathroom tile, a mirror, and a coffee mug. The results are nice.

Restaurant preferences mapped [Published articles]

Simon Rogers, a data journalist and data editor at Google, created a series of maps showing the regional popularity of certain kinds of restaurant.

Our Favorite Groundhog Day Time Loops in SFF [Published articles]

The now-classic Groundhog Day flirts with (and breaks) the rules of multiple movie genres: romantic comedy, time travel narrative, small town dramedy, spiritual redemption tale—and it’s also given birth to an entire subgenre of its own. The “Groundhog Day episode” is a mainstay of many television series, and the plot even pops up in films, novels, and short fiction. It’s a fun way to play with established characters, putting your faves through the emotional wringer while trying to solve a murder or stop a crime. And it can be an equally effective tool for riffing on entire genre tropes; mixing in high school drama, slasher horror, or other well-worn genres can lead to some fascinating mashups. And in (almost) all cases, the protagonist stuck in the time loop comes out on the other side all the better.

We’ve compiled a list of our favorite Groundhog Day riffs and the most memorable time loops in SFF. Take a break from listening to “I Got You Babe” for the nth time and instead check out these 14 recursive tales.

 

Farscape: “Back and Back and Back to the Future”

Farscape "Back and Back to the Future" time loops SFF Groundhog Day

It takes guts to do a Groundhog Day episode at the start of your run, but that’s exactly what Farscape did in their fifth episode. When new guests appear on Moya, blood cousins of D’Argo’s species, John begins having flashes of the future where different sets of people wind up dead. He finds it difficult to explain to most of the crew members—they are still reticent to trust him as an odd, volatile species that they know nothing about—but eventually settles on trying to communicate this strange occurrence to Zhaan. From that point on, John finds himself trapped in a loop where he begins by telling Zhaan what he believes is wrong, then drops a precious glass mask that belongs to her, and afterwards fails to prevent the deaths of his shipmates. Eventually John learns that he’s suffering temporal dislocation as a result of the black hole weapon their guests have brought onto Moya without the crew’s knowledge. After a few runarounds with different permutations of the scenario, John finally figures out how to convince his friends of what’s happening, and they Starburst away before the black hole weapon can destabilize and kill them all. —Emily Asher-Perrin

 

Happy Death Day

Happy Death Day Groundhog Day SFF time loops

Blumhouse Productions’ 2017 Halloween offering has a pretty unbeatable premise: Groundhog Day crossed with a slasher film, in which co-ed Tree (short for Theresa) is endlessly chased and killed by a psycho with a knife wearing a nightmare-fodder cartoon baby mask on her birthday. Every time she gets murdered, she wakes up on her birthday again. Happy Death Day refreshes the time loop premise by making the archetype who would usually bite the dust early in the movie—that is, the clueless sorority girl—self-aware and active in her own fate; as she retains memories of the previous days, she’s able to begin anticipating the killer’s approach to try and evade her own murder. As Tree learns to pay attention to her sorority sisters and the sweet underclassman trying to help her stay alive, as she investigates red herrings and reconciles with estranged family on what is already an emotional bulldozer of a day, she slowly transforms herself into a Final Girl.

Now, the movie doesn’t quite deliver on its excellent trailer, as there’s too much bloat in the middle while Tree is still figuring out how to break free of her time loop and not enough subterfuge surrounding the identity of her killer. But lead actress Jessica Rote is a snarky, gutsy comic gem and should totally be cast in more trope-defying movies. While you’ll probably guess Happy Death Day’s ending a mile away, as we’ve learned from these types of stories, the fun is in the journey, not the destination. —Natalie Zutter

 

The Good Place

The Good Place

There’s no way to talk about this without spoilers for season one, so skip ahead if you’re not caught up!

In its first season, The Good Place trundled along disguised as a brilliant fish-out-of-water sitcom in which deceased human trashfire Eleanor Shellstrop is sent to “The Good Place” by mistake and has to pretend to belong. In the season finale, it pulled all the rugs out from everyone when Eleanor realized that “The Good Place” was actually “The Bad Place”—an afterlife of unending psychological torture. And froyo.

The second season blew the concept open, running through a montage of scenarios in which one of the four main characters figured the twist out within months, days, or even minutes of being introduced to the “Good” Place. Finally, in “Dance Dance Resolution,” they learn that they’ve gone through over 800 iterations of their life in The “Good” Place, and decide to team up with Michael, the demon who has been tormenting them. The show stops being a simple riff on a time loop story, and instead digs into the emotional underpinnings of Groundhog Day: Michael, formerly self-assured and happily evil, is going through one humdinger of an existential crisis. The second half of season 2 has focused on Michael’s quest to be “good”—all while trying to keep his boss from finding out. —Leah Schnelbach

 

The Vampire Diaries

There are worse times to be stuck in than 1994. But there’s always a catch, right? And in The Vampire Diaries’ sixth season, the catch is that Bonnie Bennett (sans her magical powers) and Damon Salvatore (still a vampire) are trapped in a prison world that was meant to hold a really irritating serial killer. At first, reliving May 10, 1994 isn’t that bad: they camp out in the Salvatore house, the grocery store seems to restock itself, and Damon gets pretty decent at making waffles. (Why they’re there is just too much to get into; have you watched this show? Summarizing it in a way that makes sense is a highly specialized art form.) After four months, someone else fills in a clue on their crossword puzzle. When they meet this someone—Kai, played by Chris Wood (you may know him as Supergirl’s Mon-El)—he’s spiked the bourbon in the grocery store with toxic-to-vampires vervain, rendering Damon helpless. It’s all a big ploy to motivate Bonnie to get her magic back, and did I mention this show is convoluted? I shan’t get into the drama that getting out of the prison world entails, as we’d be here all day. This plotline subjected us to way too much of Kai’s murdery annoyingness, but at least it also gave Bonnie and Damon’s friendship a chance to develop further. He’s a semi-reformed jerk and she’s a witch who’s been put through the wringer and then some; 1994 is hardly the worst thing they’ve faced. —Molly Templeton

 

The Sandman: Endless Nights by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

Sandman: Endless Nights by Neil Gaiman, art by Frank Quietly

Art by Frank Quitely

Endless Nights is a collection of graphic vignettes about Neil Gaiman’s Endless, the seven siblings who are—in a sense—the building blocks of our universe. The final story of these is concerned with Destiny, its title eponymous with the title of the whole tome. In it, Destiny walks through his garden, his book chained to his wrist. The narrative addresses the reader in second person, and “you” are informed that Destiny’s book contains between its pages every moment of your life, and every moment of every other life. Everything you know and do not know. Everything you believe and do not believe. Every other person who will live and die in this universe. The story tells you that one day the book will be over and no one knows what will come after it is finished. But Destiny turns the page of his book… and walks through the garden, his book chained to his wrist… —EAP

 

Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde

Cover art by Mark Thomas (Hodder & Stoughton, 2002)

In an alternate 1985 where computers haven’t been invented but literature is protected at Fort Knox and time travel is de rigeur, one of the cruelest and most unusual forms of punishment is Closed Loop Temporal Field Containment: Pop a criminal into the same eight-minute time loop on repeat for anywhere from five to twenty years, and by the time they’re freed, they won’t know heads or tails enough to want to return to that life. Literary detective Thursday Next acknowledges the brutality of this warped form of justice, yet its true effect doesn’t really sink in until she gets in the middle of a fight between the ChronoGuard and her target:

I yelled, “NO!” and pulled out my gun and aimed it at the man who held Billden.

I yelled, “NO!” and pulled out my gun and aimed it at the man who held Billden.

I yelled, “NO!” and pulled out my gun and aimed it at the man who held Billden.

I yelled, “NO!” and pulled out my gun and aimed it at the man who held Billden.

I yelled, “NO!” and pulled out my gun and aimed it at the man who held Billden.

I yelled, “NO!” and pulled out my gun and aimed it at the man who held Billden.

And so forth for about a page until she suddenly comes to, disarmed and disoriented. In the case of Jasper Fforde’s novel, the time loop is an obstacle, not an aid, to Thursday ensuring that her husband is born, instead of erased from this timeline. But it does change her outlook on the punishment itself. —NZ

 

Stargate SG-1, “Window of Opportunity”

Stargate SG-1 "Window of Opportunity" time loops SFF Groundhog Day

On a mission to a planet experiencing strange solar activity, the SG-1 team has a run-in with an archaeologist who seems a tad unbalanced. Following a geomagnetic disturbance, Jack O’Neill and Teal’c both find themselves trapped in a time loop of this day over and over. They attempt to explain this to Daniel Jackson, Sam Carter, and General Hammond with varying levels of success as the loop plays out, but fail to prevent numerous iterations over the course of many months. Because Daniel (their resident linguist, archaeologist, and anthropologist) is not a part of the time loop, Jack and Teal’c are forced to learn and memorize the alien language on the solar-wobbly planet in an effort to break the loop. Daniel also points out that a time loop allows them to do what they want without consequences, however, which leads to a series of antics on their part—they play golf through the Stargate, Jack rides a bike through the SGC, they both learn to juggle. Eventually they find out that the archaeologist they encountered on their mission is attempting to use incomplete time travel technology of the Ancients, trying to get more time with his dead wife. Jack, who lost his son some years back, appeals to the man to get him to shut down the loop. —EAP

 

The Tunnel Under the World” by Frederik Pohl

In Pohl’s disturbing short story (the only tale on the list that actually predates Groundhog Day), Guy Burckhardt wakes up on June 15 screaming from a nightmare of an explosion. As he goes about his normal day in Tylerton, he can’t shake the oddness of certain details being off, primarily all of life’s little annoyances—a stuck door latch, a loose floorboard—suddenly smoothed over. Then there’s the matter of all of the goods and services being hawked at him, from a blaring truck advertising freezers at 6 a.m., to the newspaper stand guy basically paying him to try a new brand of cigarettes, to the most unpleasant, jingle-laden elevator ride to his job. But weirdest of all is when he goes to sleep, and wakes up the next morning—on June 15, except he’s the only one who realizes he’s living the same day, albeit with a whole new set of carefully curated advertisements, over again. As Guy struggles to escape this seeming time loop, he discovers the true purpose of Tylerton and his own fate. —NZ

 

The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King

The Dark Tower, Idris Elba

Though it took some time to reveal the truth (an entire series of books, when all was said and done), the Dark Tower series is perhaps the greatest Groundhog Day story arc in all of genre fiction—though it’s more like a Groundhog Quest than one simple day repeating. The tale follows the Gunslinger Roland on his journey to the Dark Tower and the people he brings with him… and often loses along the way. But after who-knows-how-many cycles of this tale, Roland finally learns that he has reached the Dark Tower before, many times, and that he keeps having to repeat this quest, presumably in order to get it right. At the end of The Dark Tower VII, Roland is sent back to the beginning yet again, but with something that he lacked in his previous journeys: the Horn of Eld. Stephen King himself said that the Dark Tower film of 2017 was meant to be Roland’s final run to the Tower, and true to the book series finale, Idris Elba’s Roland has the Horn of Eld when he begins his journey. With the end of the film seeing Roland and Jake head off on a brand-new adventure, it would seem that the cycle is finally broken, 35 years after the first book appeared on shelves. —EAP

 

The X-Files, “Monday”

The X-Files, Monday

The episode opens with the shocking image of Mulder bleeding out from a gunshot wound. He and Scully have been caught in a bank robbery, and when Scully tries to reason with the gunman, he reveals a homemade bomb, and detonates it rather than surrendering to the police. And thus the show ended in its sixth season without ever solving… oh, wait. In the next scene Mulder wakes up to discover that his waterbed has sprung a leak (because of course Mulder has a waterbed) and for a few minutes it seems like the bank robbery was a nightmare—until he ends up back in the bank with Scully, and the same bomber walks in. It soon becomes clear to the audience that the agents are trapped in a loop that always ends in the same horrific explosion. It also becomes clear that the only one aware of what’s happening is the bomber’s girlfriend, Pam, at one point telling Mulder that she’s spoken to him over fifty times—and of course she’s the only one who can break the cycle.

The episode is a perfect riff on Groundhog Day because it plays with the idea of time itself getting stuck. This isn’t just Mulder or Pam living this day over and over, it’s every single person in the bank, and everyone affected by their deaths. Plus it makes for a particularly great X-File because it implies that giant, horrifying mysteries are unfolding around Mulder and Scully all the time, without their knowledge. How long have they been trapped in this loop? How many other loops have they stumbled into and escaped, without ever knowing it? —LS

 

Supernatural, “Mystery Spot”

Supernatural, Mystery Spot

Poor Sam Winchester can’t catch a break. His brother Dean is already running on borrowed time (after signing over his soul to a demon to bring Sam back from the dead), with only a year left to live. Then one day Dean bites the dust ahead of schedule—but Sam wakes up to the exact same day all over again. Except this time he tries to change things, and Dean just dies a different way. And then he wakes up to the same day, and Dean dies again. And again. What’s worse, every morning Sam wakes up to Asia’s “Heat of the Moment,” which Dean dances along to vigorously. It’s a very peculiar version of hell, which Sam eventually learns is being run by a Trickster (who is later revealed to be the archangel Gabriel… yeah, it’s a long story) he and his brother had a run-in with a year ago. When Sam commands that they are released from the time loop, Dean dies again, but this time he stays dead and leaves his little brother cradling his body, whispering “I’m supposed to wake up…” Sam goes a bit dark-side trying to hunt down the Trickster and force him to fix this rotten timeline. The Trickster later explains that in a way, he’s trying to help; he wants Sam to learn how to cope without his big brother. But it undoubtedly leaves little Sammy scarred after countless days watching his brother get murdered in increasingly creative (though sometimes hilarious) ways. —EAP

 

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Before I Fall movie poster Lauren Oliver book Groundhog Day time loops SFF

Before Tree was outwitting a serial killer in Happy Death Day, another vapid bitch was confronting her own mortality in a time loop: Oliver’s 2010 YA novel has beta mean girl Sam reliving “Cupid Day” (a.k.a. February 12) over and over after her first go-round ends with her dying in a grisly car accident driving with queen bee Lindsay. At first thinking that she’s been granted a second chance without strings, Sam soon comes to realize that the only reason she hasn’t passed on is because she must change something about her fate—not her death, but someone else’s. Playing out different iterations of Cupid Day also allows Sam to grapple with the stages of grief: denial that the day will end her life; anger at Lindsay for bullying her before she joined their clique, spurring her on to hang out with other students she had written off; bargaining to save her own life; depression, which manifests in uncharacteristic recklessness; and, finally, acceptance. —NZ

 

Doctor Who, “Heaven Sent”

Doctor Who "Heaven Sent" time loops SFF Groundhog Day

Doctor Who takes on this plot by refusing to let you in on the time loop secret during your first go-round. Following Clara Oswald’s seeming death, the Doctor finds himself in an empty castle where a mysterious creature known as the Veil stalks him as he tries to makes sense of the place. Clues in the castle direct him to room 12, where there is a wall of Azbantium, a substance 400 times harder than diamonds. It is eventually revealed that the Doctor has left a message for himself in this maze; the word “bird” drawn in the sand next to the teleportation chamber he arrived in, a reference to the Brothers Grimm tale “The Shepherd Boy,” where a bird wears down a mountain with its beak. The Doctor keeps dying after being touched by the Veil, only to reconstitute himself via the teleportation chamber, make his way back to room 12, and continue punching his way through the Azbantium wall over the course of several billion years. After all that time, he breaks through the wall and finally emerges on Gallifrey, having taken “the long way around” to find his way home. —EAP

 

Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde

After marrying virtual reality with Dungeons & Dragons-esque fantasy in User Unfriendly, Vivian Vande Velde throws in a dash of video game commentary in this 2002 book set in the same universe and starring Giannine, one of the members of the prior book’s Rasmussem, Inc. campaign. This time, she’s been gifted a certificate to try out a single-player VR experience at one of Rasmussem’s gaming centers, instead of in the comfort of her own basement. In the game Heir Apparent, she is the illegitimate heir of a dead king, who has left her the throne over her three half-brothers. As Janine de St. Jehan, she must survive three days of game time to make it to her coronation. Giannine promptly starts the game and gets cut down.

Heir Apparent is a cheeky riff on video games with infinite lives, where the player must retread the same digital ground over and over, learning the quirks of cliff jumps or nabbing power-ups, where death is simply one step backward. Until, that is, a well-meaning group of “concerned citizens” breaks into the Rasmussem center and destroys the game’s failsafe… meaning that Giannine, neurally hooked up to the game, will suffer brain damage if she disconnects or if she doesn’t solve the game quickly enough. Suddenly, she doesn’t have the safety net of dying every time she crosses paths with a werewolf prince or fails to recite a poem that fails to satisfy the the saint statue guarding a powerful ring.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome. In that case, you could call Giannine and her fellow gamers insane—until, that is, they hit upon that one little change that restores their sanity. While Giannine’s time loop doesn’t alter her character as drastically as Phil Connors’ or even Tree’s, Heir Apparent still lets her play out real-life frustrations—namely, her strained relationship with her father—in a virtual landscape and work toward mending her actual existence. —NZ

 

What are your favorite time loops in SFF?

UK's Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health issues new guidance saying little evidence showing screen time is harmful to children [Published articles]

As a boy, Ronald Clark literally lived in a New York Public Library [Published articles]

In the 1940s, Ronald Clark's father was a custodian at the New York Public Library's Washington Heights Branch. That meant he and his family lived in an apartment in the library. Here's an animated StoryCorps video about Clark's childhood in "The Temple of Knowledge" and "creeping down to the stacks in the middle of the night when curiosity gripped him."

Can any composer equal Bach? [Published articles]

Play HATETRIS, the most frustrating version of Tetris ever [Published articles]

According to its infernal creator, HATETRIS "is bad Tetris. It's hateful Tetris. It's Tetris according to the evil AI from 'I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream.'"

Background, hints, and links to others' prior work here.

(via Kottke) Read the rest

Max Headroom recites the ABCs [Published articles]

In 1987, Max Headroom appeared on Sesame Street where he recited the alphabet. Catch the wave.

And if you're not hip to Max's cyberpunk stylings, the 1985 UK TV movie is where it all started:

Satisfying manufacturing videos [Published articles]

Core77 published its annual collection of "the best mind-melting manufacturing videos," including furniture made from chocolate, a chicken-wire wrapper, a thermoformed case, a cookie-cutter former, and more. My favorite is this blobby ceramic bowl stamper:

View this post on Instagram

Had no idea this is how you mass manufacture printed ceramics 😂 (via @world_of_engineering) #processporn

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The Sombrero Galaxy in Infrared [Published articles]

This floating ring is the size of a galaxy. This floating ring is the size of a galaxy.


The New Horizons probe buzzes the most distant object ever encountered first thing tomorrow [Published articles]

Four billion miles from Earth, the New Horizons probe that recently sent such lovely pictures of Pluto is drawing near to the most distant object mankind has ever come close to: Ultima Thule, a mysterious rock deep in the Kuiper belt. The historic rendezvous takes place early tomorrow morning.

This is an encounter nearly 30 years in the making, if you count back to the mission’s beginnings in 1989, but it’s also been some 13 years since launch — the timing and nature of which was calculated to give the probe this opportunity after it had completed its primary mission.

New Horizons arrived at Pluto in the summer of 2015, and in its fleeting passage took thousands of photos and readings that scientists are still poring over. It taught us many things about the distant dwarf planet, but by the time it took its extraordinary parting shots of Pluto’s atmosphere, the team was already thinking about its next destination.

Given the craft’s extreme speed and the incredibly distant setting for its first mission, the options for what to investigate were limited — if you can call the billions of objects floating in the Kuiper Belt “limited.”

In fact the next destination had been chosen during a search undertaken in concert with the Hubble Space Telescope team back in 2014. Ground-based reconnaissance wasn’t exact enough, and the New Horizons had to convince Hubble’s operators basically to dedicate to their cause two weeks of the satellite’s time on short notice. After an initial rejection and “some high-stakes backroom maneuvering,” as Principal Investigator Alan Stern describes it in his book about the mission, the team made it happen, and Hubble data identified several potential targets.

Ultima Thule as first detected by New Horizons’ LORRI imager.

2014 MU69 is a rock of unknown (but probably weird) shape about 20 miles across, floating in the belt about a billion miles from Pluto. But soon it would be known by another name.

“Ultima Thule,” Stern told me in an interview onstage at Disrupt SF in September. “This is an ancient building block of planets like Pluto, formed 4 billion years ago; it’s been out there in this deep freeze, almost in absolute zero the whole time. It’s a time capsule.”

At the time, he and the team had just gotten visual confirmation of the target, though nothing more than a twinkle in the distance. He was leaving immediately after our talk to go run flyby simulations with the team.

“I’m super excited,” he told me. “That will be the most distant exploration of any world in the history of not just spaceflight, but in the history of human exploration. I don’t think anybody will top that for a long time.”

The Voyagers are the farthest human-made objects, sure, but they’ve been flying through empty space for decades. New Horizons is out here meeting strange objects in an asteroid belt. Good luck putting together another mission like that in less than a few decades.

In the time I’ve taken to write this post, New Horizons has gone from almost exactly 600,000 kilometers away from Ultima Thule to less than 538,000 (and by this you shall know my velocity) — so it’ll be there quite soon. Just about 10 hours out, making it very early morning Eastern time on New Year’s Day.

Even then, however, that’s just when New Horizons will actually encounter the object — we won’t know until the signal it sends at the speed of light arrives here on Earth 12 hours later. Pluto is far!

The first data back will confirm the telemetry and basic success of the flyby. It will also begin sending images back as soon as possible, and while it’s possible that we’ll have fabulous pictures of the object by the afternoon, it depends a great deal on how things go during the encounter. At the latest we’ll see some by the next day; media briefings are planned for January 2 and 3 for this purpose.

Once those images start flowing in, though, they may be even better in a way than those we got of Pluto. If all goes well, they’ll be capturing photos at a resolution of 35 meters per pixel, more than twice as good as the 70-80 m/px we got of Pluto. Note that these will only come later, after some basic shots confirming the flyby went as planned and allowing the team to better sort through the raw data coming in.

The New Horizons team reports the spacecraft is healthy and on track for the historic flyby of #UltimaThule just after midnight tonight! Watch flyby events live on NASATV and @JHUAPL starting at 2pm (ET): https://t.co/eMJrTOiPxQ | https://t.co/Zan07qh3OJ https://t.co/B3FxqIe6XN

NASA New Horizons (@NASANewHorizons) December 31, 2018

“You should know that that these stretch-goal observations are risky,” wrote Stern in a post on the mission’s page, “requiring us to know exactly where both Ultima and New Horizons are as they pass one another at over 32,000 mph in the darkness of the Kuiper Belt… But with risk comes reward, and we would rather try than not try to get these, and that is what we will do.”

NASA public relations and other staff are still affected by the federal shutdown, but the New Horizons team will be covering the signal acquisition and first data live anyway; follow the mission on Twitter or check in to the NASA Live stream tomorrow morning at 7 AM Pacific time for the whole program. The schedule and lots of links can be found here.

911 mobile services are gradually returning after CenturyLink outage [Published articles]

911 services are gradually coming back online in several states and cities following an outage. An outage at a CenturyLink data center affected 911 mobile calls in Oregon, Arizona, Idaho, Missouri, Seattle, Salt Lake City and other locales.

The Very Slow Movie Player shows a film over an entire year [Published articles]

It seems someone took Every Frame a Painting literally: The Very Slow Movie Player is a device that turns cinema into wallpaper, advancing the image by a single second every hour. The result is an interesting household object that makes something new of even the most familiar film.

The idea occurred to designer and engineer Bryan Boyer during one of those times we all have where we are sitting at home thinking of ways to celebrate slowness.

“Can a film be consumed at the speed of reading a book?” he asked himself, slowly. “Slowing things down to an extreme measure creates room for appreciation of the object… but the prolonged duration also starts to shift the relationship between object, viewer, and context. A film watched at 1/3,600th of the original speed is not a very slow movie, it’s a hazy timepiece. A Very Slow Movie Player (VSMP) doesn’t tell you the time; it helps you see yourself against the smear of time.”

The Very Slow Movie Player is an e-paper display attached to a Raspberry Pi board; you load a movie onto the latter, and it processes and displays a single frame at a time, updating the screen with a new one every two and a half minutes.

That adds up to 24 frames per hour, as opposed to the usual 24 frames per second — 3,600 times slower than normal viewing, and producing a (perhaps) 7-or-8,000-hour tableau you view over the course of a year or so.

“It is impossible to ‘watch’ in a traditional way because it’s too slow. In a staring contest with VSMP you will always lose,” writes Boyer in a post explaining the project. “It can be noticed, glanced at, or even inspected, but not watched.”

He compares it to the work of Bill Viola, whose super-slow-motion portraits are similarly impossible to watch from start to finish (unless you’re very, very patient) and therefore exist in a sort of limbo between motion picture and still image.

The image itself leaves something to be desired, of course: e-paper is essentially 1-bit color depth — black and white. So the subtleties of color you might see in any film, color or no, will be lost to dithering.

The way it’s done helps highlight the contrasts and zones of a scene, though if you really want to appreciate Rear Window as cinema, you can watch it any time you like. But if you want to appreciate it as a process, as a relationship with time, as an object and image that exists in the context of the rest of the world and your life… for that, you have the Very Slow Movie Player.

Teaching test-driven development and continuous integration with "Evil Fizz Buzz" [Published articles]

Fizz Buzz is the word-game in which players in a circle count from 1 up, substituting multiples of three with "fizz" and multiples of five with "buzz" ("1, 2, Fizz, 4, Buzz, Fizz, 7, 8, Fizz, Buzz, 11, Fizz, 13, 14, Fizz Buzz, 16, 17, Fizz, 19, Buzz, Fizz, 22, 23, Fizz, Buzz, 26, Fizz, 28, 29, Fizz Buzz, 31, 32, Fizz, 34, Buzz, Fizz, ...").

Evil Fizz Buzz is Jason Gorman's exercise that uses Fizz Buzz to teach continuous integration and test-driven development, played with five or more software developers.

The players divide into five groups, each tasked with a different component of writing a program to output correct Fizz Buzz sequences:

1. Generate a list of integers from 1-100

2. Numbers that are divisible by 3, replace with "Fizz"

3. Numbers that are divisible by 5, replace with "Buzz"

4. Numbers that are divisibele by 3 & 5, replace with "FizzBuzz"

5. Output this list as a single comma-delimited string

Teams can whiteboard and discuss together, but teams can only contribute code related to their task, checking it into a source control repository. That's when it gets interesting:

Once you have a working (green) build on a skeleton solution (i.e., one that compiles and runs at least one dummy test), the build must not go red. This is an exercise on delivering as a team WITHOUT BREAKING THE BUILD. OK? If the build goes red again, the exercise is over.

The team has 1 hour to deliver a working solution they can demonstrate to the "customer"

Lots of people asking about Evil FizzBuzz. So here are the instructions: (1/)

— jasongorman (@jasongorman) December 24, 2018

(via Four Short Links)

(Image: Excirial, CC-BY-SA)

Air Force veteran Reality Winner is serving 5 years for blowing the whistle on Russian election interference, while Trump's Russia-dealing cronies are going free [Published articles]

In 2017, Reality Winner, a 25-year-old Air Force veteran and intelligence contractor was arrested for leaking confirmation of 2016 Russian election meddling to The Intercept; Winner seems to have been motivated by the same outrage that had animated Ed Snowden four years earlier: watching her bosses lie about matters of national interest.

Winner is a principled, brilliant patriot who was facing a long prison sentence when she pleaded guilty and got a five-year term, the longest ever term for an offense of the sort Winner was accused of committing.

In the months since Winner's sentence, her alleged leak has been vindicated again and again, as members of Trump's inner circle have pleaded guilty, or been convicted, of acting as unregistered foreign agents, of secretly arranging Russian payouts, of lying to US law enforcement and Congress.

But these swamp creatures aren't drawing five-year sentences like young Ms Winner. Instead, they're getting wrist-slaps (George Papadopoulos got 14 days and sought early release after 12).

Winner's mother, Billie Winner-Davis, has written an impassioned editorial for The Intercept, describing the ways that Reality Winner is suffering for the crime of telling us something we desperately needed to know, and railing against the impunity of the men who committed the crimes she disclosed.

You can sign a petition to free Winner here.

Winner can receive letters and money for her commissary account, as well as books (only books sent direct by Amazon, due to prison rules):

REALITY WINNER 22056-021
FMC CARSWELL FEDERAL MEDICAL CENTER
PO BOX 27137
FORT WORTH, TX 76127

Then Manafort. Despite having the financial means, connections, multiple passports, and experience traveling to other countries — at levels that far exceeded Reality’s — Manafort was allowed to remain out of jail on bond. Manafort’s bond was revoked only when he was accused of tampering with witnesses, and even then he seemed to be getting preferential treatment — until a judge transferred him to a “real” jail. Manafort was convicted of eight crimes and then entered into a plea agreement in another case. That plea was later revoked, after he was accused of lying to prosecutors.

Last year, on December 18, 2017, as the court allowed Manafort to travel to the Hamptons to celebrate Christmas, our family celebrated that Reality had been given fresh fruit, a gift from a local church, and the very first fresh anything since her arrest on June 3, 2017.

Next comes Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI concerning his contacts, during the presidential campaign, with people he believed had connections to the Russian government. He was sentenced to a total of 14 days in prison — and even then tried to get this sentence postponed before spending a mere 12 days incarcerated. What I wouldn’t give to even have Reality released after 12 months.

My Daughter Reality Winner Faced Severe Punishment, but Key Figures in the Trump-Russia Scandal Are Getting Off Easy [Billie Winner-Davis/The Intercept]

A skin of Castle Wolfenstein where all you do is pet dogs [Published articles]

In the original 1992 Castle Wolfenstein 3D, you fought off Nazis and their dogs.

Now there's a mod called Woof3D -- also known as "Return to Castle Woofenstein" -- which removes all the nazis and the guns, and all you do is ... pet the dogs.

As the creator explains:

There's a big ol' castle full of dogs wanting pats and you're the one to pet them. Sorry, they jump up on you, I hope you don't mind dog paw prints on your jeans. Just pat them and they'll fall asleep pretty quick.

Windows only! My son installed the game on his Windows PC and we played it, and I was surprised to find that it's actually kind of hard -- I'd expected that the dogs just, y'know, licked you or stuff, but it turns out they also jump on you and deplete your health, so you can be licked to death, I guess. They do seem to fall asleep pretty quickly with a pat or two, though.

There's some fun in-game art, too ...

Facebook fallout: How to protect your data [Published articles]

Is it time to end your Facebook life? At the very least, it's time to check Facebook privacy settings/audit apps/turn off API sharing.

Rapper covers Dr. Seuss' "There's a Wocket in My Pocket!" with a Migos beat [Published articles]

Rapper Win Nevaluze (along with Jay Lava aka ScatterBrains News) rhymed Dr. Seuss' There's a Wocket in My Pocket! over the beat of Migos' and Drake's “Walk It, Talk It”.

How fun!

(Neatorama)

Programmer Unveils OpenGL Bindings for Bash [Published articles]

Slashdot reader silverdirk writes: Compiled languages have long provided access to the OpenGL API, and even most scripting languages have had OpenGL bindings for a decade or more. But, one significant language missing from the list is our old friend/nemesis Bash. But worry no longer! Now you can create your dazzling 3D visuals right from the comfort of your command line! "You'll need a system with both Bash and OpenGL support to experience it firsthand," explains software engineer Michael Conrad, who created the first version 13 years ago as "the sixth in a series of 'Abuse of Technology' projects," after "having my technical sensibilities offended that someone had written a real-time video game in Perl. "Back then, my primary language was C++, and I was studying OpenGL for video game purposes. I declared to my friends that the only thing worse would be if it had been 3D and written in Bash. Having said the idea out loud, it kept prodding me, and I eventually decided to give it a try to one-up the 'awfulness'..."

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The Universe Is Not a Simulation, but We Can Now Simulate It [Published articles]

Computer simulations have become so accurate that cosmologists can now use them to study dark matter, supermassive black holes, and other mysteries of the real evolving cosmos.

'The Grand Tour' confirmed for Season 4 and 'years to come' [Published articles]

By Zac Palmer The boys are back on Amazon, but with a different show format.The Grand Tour is set to be on Prime Video for years to come, but it will be different, with Jeremy, Richard and James exclusively working on road trip specials. That means...

The EFF Gift Guide: What’s Creeping Us Out [Published articles]

EFF doesn’t endorse products. But as Internet-connected products proliferate, ads for them bombard holiday shoppers with promises of a more streamlined life. And they do so without always divulging that they’re tracking you more than a jolly fat man who sees when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake.

So, we are taking a different approach to the holiday gift guide: highlighting products that raise red flags for us, as privacy-conscious digital advocates. Here are some gifts being pushed this year that, from a privacy or security standpoint, are on our naughty list.

Facebook’s Portal

You’ve probably seen the ads for Facebook’s in-home camera, Portal, which it’s advertising as a way to keep in touch via video call with friends and loved ones wherever they are. “If you can’t be there, feel there,” is the maudlin tagline for the camera—which can follow you around the room during video-conferences.

Facebook has made some nods to privacy with this product, namely including a camera cover and a promise that it’s not using the company’s facial recognition technology to identify you. And Portal itself doesn’t serve you ads.

Still, Facebook has already had to change its tune about the extent to which it uses Portal data for advertising, first saying that no data would be used to serve Facebook users ads, and then being forced to clarify.

Data from Portal does, in fact, inform ads. This includes “the fact that you logged into your account or how often you use a feature or app.” What does that mean? Facebook offers the example that if you make a lot of video calls, you may see ads related to video calling.

It’s also collecting everything that Messenger collects, including “usage data such as length of calls, frequency of calls,” along with “aggregate usage” of ads, which could also inform your advertising profile.

Facebook has a history of changing the terms of how it uses your data, which is worth keeping in mind as you consider giving it a place in your home. The company’s practices have drawn its fair share of trust issues this year, to say the least, and have shown a certain disregard for notifying people of how it’s using their data.

The Portal name suggests opening a door; anyone considering it should remember that you’re not only opening up lines of communication, but also a connection between Facebook and your home.

 Smart Home Hubs From Google, Amazon and Others

 Alexa, who else are you talking to? Home hubs in general deserve a critical eye, given the wealth of data they collect, the frequency with which they collect it, and their intimate placement in our lives.

Smart home hubs, including those from Google and Amazon, reserve the right to share data collected from their products for advertising, as well as with companies who make the apps or skills you install on those devices. In Google’s case, it will use data from Home to “show you ads that are relevant and useful.” In Amazon’s case, while it also won’t share actual voice recordings with advertisers, it could share the content of requests for information such as ZIP codes, the New York Times reported.

Law enforcement is also certainly not shy about asking for data from smart home appliances as part of their investigations. Police have asked for data from smart home hubs, fitness trackers, and even pacemakers, The Washington Post reported.

Even seemingly benign data, particularly when collected frequently, can tell someone a lot about what you do. The Seventh Circuit ruled earlier this year that the Fourth Amendment specifically applies to smart meters—which measure electricity use frequently throughout the day—in part because the “ever-accelerating pace of technological development carries serious privacy implications.”

Verizon Phones with AppFlash Spyware

We continue to have concerns about Verizon’s AppFlash app, which the company describes as an app launcher that provides a universal search function on your phone. We call it spyware.

The company uses the information collected from the app to track what you’ve installed on your device and uses that intel to serve you ads based on what apps you’ve put on your phone.

Verizon does ask for users’ permission to collect information. What it doesn’t make clear, even in its own FAQ about the product, is how much information it’s collecting or how it’s going to use it. As we said in April 2017—and continue to say now—this is a problem. The apps people download onto their phones can reveal a lot of deeply personal information. Knowing that you’ve download, for example, a fertility app, could cause spark some awkward conversations when a diaper coupon pops up in front of someone else.

In addition to privacy, we’re also concerned that broad data collection makes the app—and, by extension, you—a major target for hackers.

Phone owners can disable, but not delete, this app but that requires a) heading into your phone’s settings and b) knowing what it does in the first place. Consider this a warning.

 The Elf on the Shelf

We’re getting into killjoy territory now, but winter is a time for cold truths: the phenomenon of the Elf on the Shelf—or its Hanukkah counterpart, the Mensch on a Bench— is whimsical, yet deeply creepy. For those who don’t know, these characters are supposed to be placed around the house to “monitor” children’s behavior to see if they’ve been good. The doll is to be moved around at random every day, to keep the kids on their toes.

While there’s nothing invasive about the products themselves—they’re dumb toys in multiple senses of the word—the ideas they set down are troubling. Making surveillance part of a holiday tradition is essentially setting up a plush police state in your own home. We’re never on board with normalizing the idea that constant surveillance is okay, even if it is a good opportunity to take a lot of Instagram pictures.

But What About…?

There are many, many more products that we could talk about here: smart toys, baby monitors, fitness trackers and more. Overall, there are a few things to think about when you’re looking at buying a smart gift but trying to balance privacy.

Consider carefully what features a product has, and what that means in terms of data collection. Anything with a microphone, for example, can record what you’re saying—and may record something you don’t expect it do, as was the case for one Amazon Echo owner this May. Opting for a smart vacuum also means letting a company like iRobot, maker of the Roomba, map out your house.

Second, use your settings. A new smart device will probably have a lot of sharing options on by default, and set-up is a good time to go through the settings and figure out what you actually want to be exposing to companies and others.

Finally, it’s always good to take a spin through a product’s privacy policy and attempt to understand what data it collects on you and how that information gets shared with others—that is, if a company has taken the advice of EFF and other privacy groups and bothered to write a policy that a normal person can understand. Mozilla, in a privacy-focused gift guide of its own, determined many tech products have policies that are at a college reading level or higher.     

Socks and books aren’t looking so bad now, are they?

Fixing bufferbloat on your home network with OpenBSD 6.2 or newer [Published articles]

One word. [Published articles]

Classic Sci-Fi Star Systems Keep Getting Ruined by Science [Published articles]

Having recently discussed some possible SF solutions to the vexing problems posed by red dwarf stars, it makes a certain amount of sense to consider the various star systems that have served as popular settings for some classic science fiction—even if science has more or less put the kibosh on any real hope of finding a habitable planet in the bunch.

In olden days, back before we had anything like the wealth of information about exoplanets we have now1, SF authors playing it safe often decided to exclude the systems of pesky low-mass stars (M class) and short lived high-mass stars (O, B, and A) as potential abodes of life. A list of promising nearby stars might have looked a bit like this2

 

Star System Distance from Sol
(light-years)
Class Notes
Sol 0 G2V
Alpha Centauri A & B 4.3 G2V & K1V We do not speak of C
Epsilon Eridani 10.5 K2V
Procyon A & B 11.4 F5V – IV & DA
61 Cygni A & B 11.4 K5V & K7V
Epsilon Indi 11.8 K5V
Tau Ceti 11.9 G8V

After Tau Ceti, there’s something of a dearth of K to F class stars until one reaches 40 Eridani at about 16 light-years, about which more later. And because it is a named star with which readers might be familiar, sometimes stories were set in the unpromising Sirius system; more about it later, as well.

There are a lot of SF novels, particularly ones of a certain vintage, that feature that particular set of stars. If one is of that vintage (as I am), Alpha Centauri, Epsilon Indi, Epsilon Eridani, Procyon, and Tau Ceti are old friends, familiar faces about whom one might comment favourably when it turns out, for example, that they are orbited by a pair of brown dwarfs or feature an unusually well-stocked Oort cloud. “What splendid asteroid belts Epsilon Eridani has,” one might observe loudly, in the confident tone of a person who never has any trouble finding a seat by themselves on the bus.

In fiction, Procyon is home to L. Sprague de Camp’s Osiris, Larry Niven’s We Made It, and Gordon R. Dickson’s Mara and Kultis, to name just a few planets. Regrettably, Procyon A should never ever have been tagged as “possesses potentially habitable worlds.” Two reasons: solar orbits and Procyon B’s DA classification.

Procyon is a binary star system. The larger star, Procyon A, is a main-sequence white star; its companion, Procyon B, is a faint white dwarf star. The two stars orbit around each other, at a distance that varies between 9 and 21 Astronomical Units (AU).

Procyon A is brighter than the Sun, and its habitable zone may lie at distance between 2 and 4 AU. That is two to four times as far from Procyon A as the Earth is from our Sun.

Procyon B is hilariously dim, but it has a very respectable mass, roughly 60% that of our Sun. If Procyon A were to have a planet, it would be strongly affected by B’s gravitational influence. Perhaps that would put a hypothetical terrestrial world into an eccentric (albeit plot-friendly) orbit…or perhaps it would send a planet careening outside the system entirely.

But of course a hypothetical planet would not be human- or plot-friendly. B is a white dwarf. It may seem like a harmless wee thing3, but its very existence suggests that the whole system has had a tumultuous history. White dwarfs start off as regular medium-mass stars, use up their accessible fusion fuel, expand into red giants, shed a surprisingly large fraction of their mass (B may be less massive than A now but the fact that B and not A is a white dwarf tells us that it used to be far more massive than it is now), and then settle down into a long senility as a slowly-cooling white dwarf.

Buy it Now

None of this would have been good for a terrestrial world. Pre-red giant B would have had an even stronger, less predictable effect on our hypothetical world’s orbit. Even if the world had by some chance survived in a Goldilocks orbit, B would have scorched it.

This makes me sad. Procyon is, as I said, an old friend.

[I’ve thought of a dodge to salvage the notion of a potentially habitable world in the Procyon System. Take a cue from Phobetor and imagine a planet orbiting the white dwarf, rather than orbiting the main(ish) sequence star. We now know that there are worlds orbiting post-stellar remnants. This imaginary world would have to be very close to Procyon B if it is to be warm enough for life, which would mean a fast orbit. It would have a year about 40 hours long. It would be very, very tide-locked and you’d have to terraform it. Not  promising. Still, on the plus side, the planet will be far too tightly
bound to B for A’s mass to perturb it much. Better than nothing—and much better than the clinkers that may orbit A.]

A more reasonable approach might be to abandon Procyon as a bad bet all round and look for a similar system whose history is not quite as apocalyptic.

It’s not Sirius. Everything that is true of Procyon A and B is true for Sirius A and B as well, in spades. Say goodbye to Niven’s Jinx: if Sirius B didn’t flick it into deep space like a bleb of snot, it would have cinderized and evaporated the entire planet.

But…40 Eridani is also comparatively nearby. It is a triple star system, with a K, an M and a DA star. Unlike Procyon, however, B (the white dwarf) and C (the red dwarf) orbit each other 400+ AU from the interesting K class star. Where the presence of nearby Procyon B spells complete annihilation for any world around Procyon A, 40 Eridani B might only have caused a nightmarish apocalypse of sorts. The red giant might have pushed any existing world around A from ice age into a Carnian Pluvial Event, but it would not have gone full Joan of Arc on the planet. The shedding of the red giant’s outer layers might have stripped some of the hypothetical world’s atmosphere…but perhaps not all of it? The planet might have been turned from a volatile rich world into a desert, but life might have survived—it’s the kind of planetary backstory Andre Norton might have used.

 


1: We had Peter Van de Kamp’s claims about planets orbiting Barnard’s Star, Lalande 21185, 61 Cygni, and others but those failed to pan out.

2: With slightly different values for distance and type, but I don’t have any of my outdated texts handy. Also, ha ha, none of the sources I had back then ever mentioned the ages of the various systems, which (as it turns out) matter. Earth, after all, was an uninhabitable armpit for most of its existence, its atmosphere unbreathable by us. The ink is barely dry on Epsilon Indi and Epsilon Eridani. Don’t think Cretaceous Earth: think early Hadean.

3: Unless you know what a Type 1a supernova is.

In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviewsand Young People Read Old SFF (where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He is surprisingly flammable.

Bash QDB - 962113 [Published articles]

<@realitygaps> english - the php of spoken languages

Check Out This Artist's Adorable Mashup of Doctor Who and Star Wars [Published articles]

Artist Brian Kesinger isn’t just known for his decades of work on Disney films, ranging from Atlantis: The Lost Empire to Frozen 2. He’s also the creator of iconic fan art mashups, like the Kylo Ren Calvin &amp; Hobbes parody series. Now, he’s working on a series of upcoming projects, and he’s also got a bunch of new and…

Read more...

Rhode Island lawsuit argues that the Constitution guarantees a right to sufficient education to be an informed citizen [Published articles]

In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution does not guarantee Americans "equal" education (which would require similar per-student funding in both rich and poor neighborhoods), merely "adequate" education.

Even that adequacy standard has weakened over the years, as right-wing governments have systematically gutted education budgets, and in 20 states, the state supreme court will not hear challenges to education cuts that argue that these cuts undermine an "adequate" education.

Now, a suit in Rhode Island is asking the state court to rule that underfunded education is unconstitutional because it denies pupils the opportunity to be sufficiently well-educated to be citizens in a democracy, something the framers of the Constitution were very explicit about.

The case just filed in Rhode Island seeks to avoid that trap by doing something completely new. It focuses on the civics knowledge and skills that our democratic form of government demands of citizens – a topic with deep historical roots. My recent research demonstrated that our founders intended public education to be a core aspect of the “republican form of government” that our federal Constitution demands.

Our republican form of government began as an experiment in the idea that everyday citizens could govern themselves. But our founders – people like George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – emphasized that public education was necessary for those governments to work. In legislation that would dictate how the western territory would be divided up and later become states, Congress in the Northwest Ordinances of 1785 and 1787 mandated that each township reserve a central lot for public schools and that the states use their public resources to “forever encourage” those schools.

Fight for federal right to education takes a new turn [Derek W. Black/The Conversation]

(via Naked Capitalism)

Voyager 2 probe 'leaves Solar System' [Published articles]

Doom is 25 and co-creator John Romero is putting out a giant expansion for it [Published articles]

Twenty-five years ago, anyone old enough to navigate DOS was likely playing Doom every spare minute, assuming their parents weren’t around. A quarter of century after its release, the game’s legacy is unquestionable — but it could always use a few new levels. So co-creator John Romero made some. They come with a silver statue of his head impaled on a spike.

There’s not a lot one can say at Doom’s 25th anniversary that one couldn’t at its 20th, so I’ll spare you the big retrospective. Suffice it to say that Doom still rules, and if you’ve never played it, you’ve got a treat ahead of you. And at this point there’s enough of it to rival modern games in length and challenge.

What has happened in the intervening five years is the release of… well, Doom, AKA Doom 2016. This gory, kinetic remake charmed (and tore out) the hearts of millions, reigniting interest in a franchise that had seen better days.

Seeing this renewed interest, and with the 25th anniversary, approaching, co-creator John Romero decided he wanted to dive back into making maps for the game that made him.

I'm excited to announce the project that I've been working on: SIGIL, an unofficial spiritual successor to The Ultimate DOOM's 4th episode! Read about it here: https://t.co/bVDrRntSqG #johnromero #romerogames #sigil #doom#pcgaming #pcgames #buckethead #retrocollection

— 𝕵𝖔𝖍𝖓 𝕽𝖔𝖒𝖊𝖗𝖔 (@romero) December 10, 2018

“I worked on it part time during 2017 and 2018, mostly while I was on vacation or in the evenings,” Romero explained in an interview, apparently with himself, posted on his website. “For me, making this whole episode was a labor of love and a reminder of all the amazing times that we had at id working on the original. I was fortunate to be a part of such a great team and a foundational game.”

Sigil is a pack of nine levels that are an unofficial, but probably as official as we’re likely to get, fifth “episode” of Doom.

“I wanted the levels to feel like they belong to the original game as if they were a true fifth episode,” Romero told himself. “There’s more detail in the levels than episodes 1-4, but not overly so. The boss level is terrifying. There’s a massive room in E5M6 that is the coolest room I’ve created in any map.”

Many will remember the synth-metal soundtrack to the original, and to match that Romero tapped legendary metal guitarist Buckethead to contribute a song to Sigil. The catch is that the song doesn’t come with the free version of the expansion.

See, Sigil will release as a megawad — a wad of .wad (“where’s all the data?”) files, the original format for Doom expansions and mods. You’ll be able to download that for free and play it on your original copy of Doom; if you don’t have one, you can buy one for $5, and should.

But true Doom megafans will want to go with a boxed edition. The standard one comes with a 3.5″ floppy disk-shaped USB drive with the game on it, but the “Beast Box” has a bunch of extra gear inside the giant box: a booklet and print, an XL Sigil shirt and, most tempting of all, “a pewter statue of John Romero’s head on a spike.” This is a reference to a famous Doom Easter egg, but honestly would have made perfect sense anyway.

“I believe the most important legacy of Doom is its community, the people who have kept it alive for 25 years through the creation of mods and tools,” said Romero. “It’s not at all lost on me that I have gone from a creator to a part of the community in that space of time, and I love that.”

Sigil comes out mid-February. I can’t wait. If you’re interested in the more modern Doom stuff, though, keep an eye out for Doom Eternal, the sequel to the 2016 hit. More of the same? Sounds good to me. Rip and tear!

Coding for the World's Trickiest Chip – SEGA's Saturn DSP [video] [Published articles]

Literal breadboarding, with toast and Vegemite [Published articles]

Vegemite has enough salt to be conductive, and is viscous enough to draw distinct traces with on suitable medium (say, toast that has been cooked such that most of the water has evaporated, making it a good insulator), as Luke Weston has ably demonstrated.

NASA's InSight Lander Captures First 'Sounds' of Wind On Mars [Published articles]

NASA's InSight lander, which touched down on Mars less than two weeks ago, has recorded vibrations -- low-pitched, guttural rumblings -- caused by wind blowing across the science instruments on the spacecraft's deck. NBC News reports: Unaltered, these vibrations are barely audible, because they were recorded at a frequency of 50 hertz, at the low end of what the human ear can detect, according to Thomas Pike, the lead scientist for InSight's Short Period Seismometer, one of two instruments that picked up the subtle movements. NASA also released a sample of the same audio file that was shifted up about six octaves, to within a range audible to humans. That recording -- which at times sounds like a regular blustery day on Earth and other times has the muted, hollow quality reminiscent of being underwater -- would essentially be what a person would hear if they were sitting on the InSight lander on Mars, said Don Banfield, the science lead for InSight's air pressure sensor and a planetary scientist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. NASA believes the wind in the recordings was blowing at 10-15 miles per hour from northwest to southeast.

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How Myst Taught a Generation of Gamers to Explore New Worlds [Published articles]

TSA’s Roadmap for Airport Surveillance Moves in a Dangerous Direction [Published articles]

The Transportation Security Administration has set out an alarming vision of pervasive biometric surveillance at airports, which cuts against the right to privacy, the “right to travel,” and the right to anonymous association with others.

The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, which included language that we warned would provide implied Congressional endorsement to biometric screening of domestic travelers and U.S. citizens, became law in early October. The ink wasn’t even dry on that bill when the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) published their Biometrics Roadmap for Aviation Security and the Passenger Experience, detailing TSA’s plans to work with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to roll out increased biometric collection and screening for all passengers, including Americans traveling domestically.

This roadmap appears to latch on to a perceived acceptance of biometrics as security keys while ignoring the pervasive challenges with accurately identifying individuals and the privacy risks associated with collecting massive amounts of biometric data. Furthermore, it provides no strategy for dealing with passengers who are unfairly misidentified.

Worst of all, while the roadmap explicitly mentions collaborating with airlines and other partners inside and outside the government, it is alarmingly silent on how TSA plans to protect a widely distributed honeypot of sensitive biometric information ripe for misuse by identity thieves, malicious actors, or even legitimate employees abusing their access privileges.

 TSA PreCheck is Not a Blank Check

The roadmap proposes significant changes to what the government can do with data collected from more than 5 million people in the TSA PreCheck program. It also proposes new programs to collect and use biometric data from American travelers who haven’t opted into the PreCheck program.

The TSA PreCheck program has long been billed as a convenient way for travelers to cut down on security wait times and speed through airports. All a traveler has to do is to sign up, pay a fee, and allow TSA to collect fingerprints for a background check. However, the roadmap outlines TSA’s plans to expand use of those prints beyond the background check to other uses throughout the airport, such as for security at the bag drop or for identity verification at security check points.

TSA has already rolled this out as a pilot program. In 2017, at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and Denver International Airport, TSA used prints from the PreCheck database and a contactless fingerprint reader to verify the identity of PreCheck-approved travelers at security checkpoints at both airports. TSA now proposes to make the pilot program permanent and to widen the biometrics used to include face recognition, iris scans, and others.

Even more concerning, the roadmap outlines a strategy to capture biometrics from American travelers who haven’t enrolled in PreCheck and who never consented to any biometric data collection from TSA. Instead of giving passengers the option to opt in, TSA plans to partner and share information with other federal and state agencies like the FBI and state Departments of Motor Vehicles to get the biometric information they want.

While Congress has authorized a biometric data collection exit program for foreign visitors—supposedly to help monitor visa compliance by using biometrics to track foreigners leaving the country—the roadmap explicitly outlines plans for TSA and CBP to collect any biometrics they want from all travelers—American or foreign, international and domestic—wherever they are in the airport. That data will be stored in a widely shared database could be used to track people outside the airport context. For example, TSA’s Precheck as well as Clear have already begun using their technology at stadiums to “allow” visitors a faster entry.

This is a big, big change. It is unprecedented for the government to collect, store, and share this kind of data, with this level of detail, with this many agencies and private partners. We know that security lines are a huge pain, but we are concerned that travelers getting used to biometric tracking in the airport context will be less concerned about tracking in other contexts and eventually throughout society at large.

Device Security and National Security Are Not the Same

The roadmap also makes the huge assumption that people will not object to this expanded collection. It states that “popular perceptions [of biometrics] have evolved to appreciate the convenience and security biometric solutions can offer in the commercial aviation sector.” In other words, it claims that travelers using biometrics like fingerprints and facial recognition programs to unlock their phones and laptops, will be less concerned about Department of Homeland Security agencies collecting biometrics to store in government databases for unspecified, myriad uses.

The problem with this claim is that those two things are not the same.

Apple software, for one example, allows consumers to use biometrics (currently, fingerprints and faceprints) to unlock their devices. However, Apple has specifically built in privacy and security protections that prevent the biometric data from being stolen. Apple does not enable third party software to access the original biometric data. Plus, unlike federal agencies, Apple stores the original biometric information on your phone, not in a central, searchable database intended for use by multiple government and private partners over many years.

Additionally, TSA seems to be ignoring the risk that relying heavily on biometric data for identification may actually create new national security risks that the federal government is ill-equipped to handle. For example, India’s infamous Aadhaar biometric database, which was built by the Indian government to reduce corruption and expanded for use by other public and private groups, keeps getting hacked. It is not only cheap to buy the information of one of the 1.19 billion people in the database, but the hacks also allow for new information to be entered into the database. Rather than increasing security, India’s biometric database created more problems and opportunities for corruption.

Implementation Issues and Cost Overruns

 Finally, this roadmap glosses over the weaknesses of facial recognition technology as a means to identify travelers and ignores the challenges CBP has already faced rolling out their biometric exit program.

We’ve written many times before about the significant accuracy problems with current face recognition software, especially for non-white and female people. For example, earlier this summer the ACLU published a test of Amazon’s facial recognition program, comparing the official photos of 435 Members of Congress with publicly available mugshots. The ACLU found 28 false matches, even in this relatively small data set.

CBP has claimed to have a 98% accuracy rating in their pilot programs, even though the Office of the Inspector General could not verify those numbers. According to the FAA, 2.5 million passengers fly through U.S. airports every day, meaning that even a 2% error rate would cause thousands of people to be misidentified every day. 

TSA’s roadmap does not acknowledge these accuracy problems, much less outline an efficient way to allow wrongly identified travelers to complete their trips. Additionally, the roadmap does not acknowledge the need to allow travelers to opt out of the system.

But even if the claims about the advances in biometric software and technology are true, the Office of the Inspector General has also reported that CBP consistently and substantially underestimated the cost of their biometric exit program to the American taxpayer. To close some of the funding gaps, CBP would have to depend on the airports and airlines to purchase the necessary biometric equipment and to provide staff to implement the program. In short, for CBP and TSA to achieve their goals, they must force American travelers to hand over their biometric data to private companies.

What’s Next

TSA should not move forward on this plan without addressing the serious security concerns and without providing a reliable, convenient way for travelers to opt out of the program. Even if biometrics provided a reliable identification system for travelers, the kind of system and database the roadmap outlines could make it more difficult for people to travel, in direct conflict with the agency’s mission “to protect the nation's transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce.”

Developer Shows How To Write Good Game Dialogue Using Blade Runner [Published articles]

At last month’s AdventureX 2018 conference, game developer and Inkle Studios co-founder Jon Ingold offered a practical skills workshop about writing better dialogue for games. It involved a lot of Blade Runner.

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How A Mysterious Tech Billionaire Created Two Fortunes -- And a Global Software Sweatshop [Published articles]

An anonymous reader writes: Forbes magazine has an in-depth piece on Joe Liemandt. As you may be aware, Liemandt was the founder of Trilogy, a startup which has been credited to help put Austin on the tech map. He is also founder of ESW Capital, a private equity firm that is scooping up software startups left and right. Forbes called him "one of the most mysterious and innovative figures in technology." But the story explores the approach Liemandt and his team took to acquire enterprise software companies, install new leadership, lay off staff and hire significantly cheaper tech labor abroad. And the numbers are compelling -- $15 an hour C++ programmers. Those are Amazon warehouse wages -- and those $15 programming gigs don't come with much for benefits. Plus, they require you to install software to your computer that tracks surfing, keystrokes and even takes screen grabs and photos via your computer's camera -- and this is typically on a gig worker's personal computer, not an employers' machine. The story opens with this: From an office suite on the 26th floor of the iconic Frost Bank Tower in Austin, Texas, a little-known recruiting firm called Crossover is searching the globe for software engineers. Crossover is looking for anyone who can commit to a 40- or 50-hour workweek, but it has no interest in full-time employees. It wants contract workers who are willing to toil from their homes or even in local cafes. "The best people in the world aren't in your Zip code," says Andy Tryba, chief executive of Crossover, in a promotional YouTube video. Which, Tryba emphasizes, also means you don't have to pay them like they are your neighbors. "The world is going to a cloud wage." Tryba's video has 61,717 views, but he is no random YouTube proselytizer. He worked in sales at Intel for 14 years before serving in the White House as an advisor to President Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. Since 2014, Tryba has been the right-hand man of Joe Liemandt, one of the most mysterious and innovative figures in technology. In the 1990s Liemandt was the golden boy of enterprise software, a 30 Under 30 wunderkind before there was a Forbes 30 Under 30 list. Like Bill Gates before him, he dropped out of college, in his case Stanford, to start a company, Trilogy, and build his fortune. In 1996, at the age of 27, he made the cover of Forbes, and a few months later he appeared as the youngest self-made member of The Forbes 400, with a $500 million net worth.

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Fish-controlled car. [Published articles]

Standing Desks Are Overrated [Published articles]

Standing desks have become trendy in recent years -- so much so that they have been promoted by some health officials as well as some countries. Research, however, suggests that warnings about sitting at work are overblown, and that standing desks are overrated as a way to improve health. From a report: Dr. David Rempel, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who has written on this issue, said, "Well-meaning safety professionals and some office furniture manufacturers are pushing sit-stand workstations as a way of improving cardiovascular health -- but there is no scientific evidence to support this recommendation." Let's start with what we know about research on sitting, then explain why it can be misleading as it relates to work. A number of studies have found a significant association between prolonged sitting time over a 24-hour period and increased risk for cardiovascular disease. A 2015 study, for instance, followed more than 150,000 older adults -- all of whom were healthy at the start of the study -- for almost seven years on average. Researchers found that those who sat at least 12 hours a day had significantly higher mortality than those who sat for less than five hours per day. For convenience and comfort, it's nice to have options if you have various aches and pains -- "Alternating standing and sitting while using a computer may be useful for some people with low back or neck pain," he said -- but people shouldn't be under the illusion that they're getting exercise. A 2012 study in JAMA Internal Medicine followed more than 220,000 people for 2.8 years on average and found similar results. Prolonged sitting over the course of a day was associated with increased all-cause mortality across sexes, ages and body mass index. So did a smaller but longer (8.6 years on average) study published in 2015 in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health. Another study from 2015, which followed more than 50,000 adults for more than three years, also found this relationship. But it found that context mattered. Prolonged sitting in certain situations -- including when people were at work -- did not have this same effect.

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The birthplace of the modern apple [Published articles]

Archive of 15,000+ Golden Age Comics [Published articles]

The Digital Comics Museum has over 15,000 Golden Age comic books (all in the public domain). It's a treasure trove of clip art and inspiration for designers and artists.

[via Open Culture] Read the rest

The Surprising Depth of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving [Published articles]

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is the least of the Big Three Peanuts holiday specials. The Peanuts Gang’s take on Halloween gave us The Great Pumpkin, and A Charlie Brown Christmas became the standard by which all other Christmas specials were judged. When the Gang tackled Thanksgiving, however, there just wasn’t as much to dig into.

Or so I remembered.

But when I rewatched this one I found that the show packed a surprising amount of depth in between all the Snoopy shenanigans and toast-buttering montages. In fact if you look closely enough, I think you might find a statement about what it means to be an American.

 

Whither Lucy?

Lucy and the Football

Lucy appears in the opening of the special. She waxes poetic about the tradition of Thanksgiving football, then yanks the ball away before Charlie Brown can kick it. And then? She disappears. She is banished from the special, and doesn’t return for the climactic meal. I’m going to assume that the producers were worried she’d throw off the delicate balance they’d set up between Charlie Brown, Patty, and Marcie, but it becomes increasingly unsettling to watch her little brother spend Thanksgiving alone with the Browns.

 

After His Flirtation with The Great Pumpkin, Linus Returns to Form

Linus at Thanksgiving

Our thumb-sucking prophet returns! Linus, having shaken off the Great Pumpkin’s betrayal, is once again ready to help his friends with historical factoids and inclusive theology. When Charlie Brown is overwhelmed by the thought of unexpected guests, it is Linus who tells him to eat two dinners, thus appeasing everyone. When Patty points out that they should say grace before eating, it is Linus who just happens to have memorized the prayer said by Elder William Brewster over the first-ever Thanksgiving feast. And when Patty erupts in rage at Charlie Brown’s incompetence, it is Linus who puts their argument in a historical context, reminding everyone that while Thanksgiving dinners come and go, the imperfections of human nature are eternal.

 

I Find the Lack of Grown-Ups DisturbingPeanuts Gang singing

OK, so it makes sense that there are no visible grown ups in the Halloween special—adults are there to dispense candy. That is all. And in A Charlie Brown Christmas, the kids are putting on a pageant seemingly on their own, which can be interpreted as the community encouraging the kids to take responsibility for the show. Fine. But Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is explicitly a family holiday. The pop culture narrative of Thanksgiving is all about trying to get home, having to suppress their own personality once you get home, squeezing every possible drop of comfort (and cash) out of your parents, or hosting (disastrous) dinners of your own.

Parents are always absent in the Peanuts universe, but in the Thanksgiving special their absence becomes eerie. And it isn’t just Charlie Brown’s pocket of the universe. Peppermint Patty calls, invites herself over, then tells ol’ Chuck that two more of her friends, Marcie and Franklin, have been given the OK to come over as well. So… this is three separate families who choose to set their children loose on a major holiday? And more unnerving, no one drops the three kids off at the Brown home – there’s no honk from a parent, or wave goodbye. Did they walk? Bike? Take a bus all the way across town on a day when most people are settling in around a table or in front of a TV? Then Charlie Brown, Sally, and Linus all take part in the 2:00 PM meal, so presumably the adult Browns (provided they’re not figments of Charlie Brown’s tortured imagination) are watching these proceedings from inside the house, but what of the Van Pelts? As I mentioned, Lucy disappears from this special, so is she just home with the Van Pelt parents, eating a traditional meal at their dining table? Helping her mother cook a turkey that Linus will soon dismiss in favor of a trip to Charlie Brown’s grandma’s place?

 

Somewhere in the Mists of Time, a Young Wes Anderson is Weeping

Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

I love Wes Anderson. I don’t care about the fussiness, the repetitive plots, the twee, unrealistic dialogue, I just love him, and I have ever since I saw Rushmore. I believe that Anderson’s whole, multi-film project is to distill the emotion created by a Peanuts special and somehow build a movie around it, and it never fails to work on me. I would argue that it’s the Thanksgiving special above all that inspired him, because, well, look at that color palette.

Those clouds are the exact color of seasonal depression. But now, contrast with these two scenes from the end of the special, when it’s supposed to be about 4:30 in the evening:

Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

Look at that amazing mauve! And this orange below, as the last bit of sunlight fades behind Snoopy and Woodstock:

Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

Where the Halloween special gave us vibrant autumn colors, and the Christmas special contrasts Charlie Brown’s sadness with bright lights and starry skies, the Thanksgiving special fully submits to the muted colors and wistfulness of late November. Even though the special never reaches the heights of the Halloween and Christmas outings, the aesthetic here is by far my favorite.

 

Maybe a Little Too Much Snoopy?Snoopy vs. The Chair

I know, I know, heresy. I thought the Red Baron stuff in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was odd, but at least it had real personality, and contributed an interesting moodiness to the special. Here, Snoopy gets in a fight with a garage door, then he gets in a fight with a lawn chair. He cooks most of the meal for the kids. He bullies Woodstock into cosplaying as a Pilgrim. Basically, he gets wayyy more setpieces and slapstick than any of the human characters, at the expense of three newer characters, Patty, Marcie, and Franklin, who could have been given more distinctive roles. Having said all of that, even I have to bow before Snoop’s toast-buttering skills:

Snoopy butters toast

 

Which Leads Us To: The Feast!A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Feast

There’s a reason the Peanuts specials have endured while others have fallen by the wayside. Part of that reason is that thanks to their underlying strain of depression, they reward repeat viewing by adults. But the bigger reason is that they capture the loopy, indirect way children think. When Patty invites herself over, Charlie’s first response isn’t “Why aren’t you spending this national holiday with your family?” It’s “I can’t cook a Thanksgiving dinner. All I can make is cold cereal and maybe toast.” And following on that logic, that’s exactly what they make. Toast, popcorn, jellybeans, pretzels, and something that’s either an ice cream sundae or a milkshake. And despite Patty’s disapproval, this is a perfect Thanksgiving feast. Just as the Pilgrims cobbled together whatever food they could, and took handouts of venison from Indigenous people, so the Peanuts Gang forages for a perfect kid-friendly meal, and is reminded that what truly matters is celebrating the holiday together, surviving the harsh New England winter, avoiding smallpox, and not being executed by King James I.

 

A Surprisingly Woke Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

Peppermint Patty, Marcie, and Franklin

Patricia “Peppermint Patty” Reichardt was Schulz’ conscious response to the feminist movement of the 1960s. When she was introduced in 1966, she was the first female character to wear shorts and a t-shirt instead of a dress, and she defies the dress code (and cold weather) by wearing sandals every day. While a lot of the Peanuts girls play baseball, Patty loves sports, and is both the coach of her baseball team and an avid figure skater. She has a close relationship with her single, widowed father, and she waits up for him to get home from his late shift each night despite the fact that it exhausts her. She does terribly in school, maybe because of this. So right here we have a portrait of a working-class, iconoclastic, proto-feminist girl. And then we can look at her relationship with Marcie and bask in the glory of an aced Bechdel Test. Because while we see Lucy pal around with Frieda and Violet and the other girls, we more often see her acting as antagonist to Linus and Charlie Brown, and Sally is the eternal baby sister, tagging along with the bigger kids. But in Patty and Marcy we get a pair of equal female friends, who may fall into the roles of “brash tomboy” and “quiet nerd” most of the time, but who can also throw those roles out the window to have real conversations with each other.

Marcie, as a straight-up nerd, is also a new female character for the Peanuts world. She does well in school, she’s quiet and thoughtful, and seems to accept people. (Well, most people. She did punch a boy named Thibault in the face once for telling her that girls shouldn’t play baseball, and “should learn their proper place.”) She also takes Linus’ usual place as the moral center of the special. She calls Patty out for being rude, and then agrees to play peacemaker.

I think it’s also worth noting that Woodstock, the loopy bird who is still far more sensible and in touch with reality than his buddy Snoopy, was named for the concert, a nod to the hippies that many men of Schulz’ age would have just feared. Instead, Schulz extended an olive branch.

And finally, Franklin. Franklin was introduced in 1968, about three months after Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered. Schulz was urged to include an African-American character by a teacher named Harriet Glickman, who not only wrote to Schulz the first time, but also followed up with supportive letters from her black friends after Schulz worried that creating a character would be condescending. Once he came around, though, Schulz stuck to his principles; threatening to quit when an editor wanted him to remove the character, and depicting Franklin sitting with Patty and Marcie at school despite angry letters from segregationist Southerners.

Franklin is given very little to do in the Thanksgiving special. He asks if he should wear a tie, and gets a tiny moment of slapstick when Snoopy seats him in the evil lawn chair, but other than that he’s just… quiet. Patty is the real engine of the special, with Linus and Marcie as its moral voice. Franklin and Sally just kind of hang back and watch. Now, in 1973 this was still pretty groundbreaking, but as U.S. society has slowly, through gritted teeth, accepted that maybe sometimes progress happens, people have pointed out that the special may have perpetuated some of the racism it was trying to combat:

Franklin and Racism

While I doubt this was intentional on the animators’ part, it is an interesting moment. Even as the special tries to embrace diversity, and reflect America as it is, it unintentionally highlighted the loneliness and tokenism of being the one POC at the table. It’s also interesting to note that if you search for A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, you’ll find images for the Google Play interactive version of the special that change the seating arrangements:

Google Play Interactive Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

There is one unambiguously cool moment, though, when Charlie Brown and Franklin greet each other with an elaborate handshake.

Charlie Brown and Franklin

This moment more than any other highlights the fact that Franklin and Charlie do have a real relationship outside of this Very Special Special.

 

But Ultimately, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is the Perfect Expression of this Holiday.

Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is always a tense holiday. As Linus tells us, the United States was the first nation to devote a holiday to Thanksgiving, which on its surface is great. But it also means that depending on your religious and ethnic background, you could feel a terrible pressure to conform to an ideal “American” performance of the holiday. This holiday trades on a shallow and stereotypical view of Indigenous people without truly engaging with the history of colonialism. The idea of fighting over politics at the dining table is so ingrained that jokes about inappropriately intoxicated aunts and uncles have been staples of the holiday for decades. And obviously, if you’re a vegetarian, Thanksgiving is a minefield. Upon rewatching the special, I was happy to find that this tension is precisely where A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving shines. The kids gather around the table, reject the “traditional” meal for a far more whimsical one. Charlie Brown overcomes his fear of humiliation to offer his guests hospitality, and Linus and Snoopy come through by helping with the toast and the popcorn. They all gather together regardless of ethnicity, gender, or species. They’re seemingly all pleased with the nondenominational prayer Linus comes up with: “We thank God for our homes and our food and our safety in a new land. We thank God for the opportunity to create a new world for freedom and justice.” When one person (one of the most “progressive” members of the group) gets mad and demands her traditions back, she’s called out by her friend for her rudeness. And this is when the Thanksgiving miracle occurs: Patty realizes she’s been wrong and apologizes to ol’ Chuck. And as a reward for this open-mindedness, everyone is welcomed to the ultimate in tradition, a meal with all the trimmings at Grandma Brown’s. Has there ever been a Charlie Brown special with a happier ending?

Except, hang on, this isn’t the perfect Norman Rockwell painting you were imagining, because GRANDMA BROWN LIVES IN A CONDOMINIUM.

You may deny the future, but you can’t stop it from happening.

Originally published November 2016

Leah Schnelbach still hasn’t finished eating all of her Halloween candy, but that doesn’t mean she can’t make room for stuffing. And mashed potatoes. And cranberry sauce. And pumpkin pie. Come, feast with her on Twitter!

Rowhammer Data Hacks Are More Dangerous Than Anyone Feared [Published articles]

Researchers have discovered that the so-called Rowhammer technique works on "error-correcting code" memory, in what amounts to a serious escalation.

Ajit Pai Isn't Saying Whether ISPs Deliver the Broadband Speeds You Pay For [Published articles]

An anonymous reader shares a report from Ars Technica, written by Jon Brodkin: Nearly two years have passed since the Federal Communications Commission reported on whether broadband customers are getting the Internet speeds they pay for. In 2011, the Obama-era FCC began measuring broadband speeds in nearly 7,000 consumer homes as part of the then-new Measuring Broadband America program. Each year from 2011 to 2016, the FCC released an annual report comparing the actual speeds customers received to the advertised speeds customers were promised by Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, AT&T, and other large ISPs. But the FCC hasn't released any new Measuring Broadband America reports since Republican Ajit Pai became the commission chairman in January 2017. Pai's first year as chair was the first time the FCC failed to issue a new Measuring Broadband America report since the program started -- though the FCC could release a new report before his second year as chair is complete. For more than three months, Ars has been trying to find out whether the FCC is still analyzing Measuring Broadband America data and whether the FCC plans to release any more measurement reports. SamKnows, the measurement company used by the FCC for this program, told Ars that Measuring Broadband America is still active and that a new report is forthcoming, hopefully next month. But whether the report is released is up to the FCC, and Chairman Pai's public relations office has ignored our questions about the program. Because of Pai's office's silence, we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) request on August 13 for internal emails about the Measuring Broadband America program and for broadband speed measurement data since January 2017. By law, the FCC and other federal agencies have 20 business days to respond to public records requests. The FCC has denied Ars' request for "expedited processing," which "was warranted because the broadband measuring data is out of data, depriving American consumers of crucial information when they purchase broadband access," writes Brodkin. The FCC said, "we are not persuaded that the records you request are so urgent that our normal process will not provide them in a timely manner."

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DARPA uses a remote island to stage a cyberattack on the US power grid [Published articles]

It enacted a worst-case, "black start" scenario: swaths of the country's grid offline for a month, battery backups exhausted.

Gen Con interview: Mercedes Lackey [Published articles]

 

One of the featured guests at Gen Con this year was Mercedes Lackey, returning for the second Gen Con in a row after she and her husband Larry Dixon were with Zombie Orpheus Entertainment last year. Unfortunately, Larry Dixon was not able to make it this year after all, due to recovering from a shoulder injury. Mercedes Lackey attended her panels on Thursday; however, Friday morning she had to be hospitalized due to an allergic reaction to paint fumes in her recently renovated hotel room. She had to stay overnight at the hospital, but recovered enough to come back to the convention on Sunday, where I caught up with her for a very brief interview.

Me: This is Chris Meadows here with Mercedes Lackey, who I am very happy to see is all right after she gave us all a scare this weekend.

Mercedes Lackey: It’s alive!

Me: This is the second year in a row you’ve been here with Zombie Orpheus Entertainment. That’s kind of unusual.

M.L.: That’s because my husband Larry Dixon is doing screenwriting for them.

Me: So it’s is continuing for the foreseeable future?

M.L.: Oh yes, he’s definitely on The Gamers screenwriting room. Gamers has been rebooted with the old characters coming back; you can get episode zero called “The Gamers: The Shadow Menace.” You can find it on the Zombie Orpheus website and you can find it on Amazon [Prime Streaming Video].

Me: When I spoke to you last year, you said that your Hunter trilogy was not going to go anywhere because Disney wasn’t interested in continuing it further?

M.L.: This is true. Disney only wanted the trilogy. So, unfortunately, unless I can get them to agree to let me publish independently, that’s probably going be it. Unless suddenly it decides to take flight and become an enomous hit again.

Me: You never know.

M.L.: You never know.

Me: But what else do you have planned for these days.

M.L.: Well, the last book of The Secret World Chronicle is out, Avalanche, and it wraps up all of the plot loose ends and a huge number of reveals. So, that’s out in August. And then in October is The Bartered Brides, which is the next Elemental Masters book. That’s another one with Sherlock Holmes and Nan and Sarah, except Sherlock doesn’t appear in this book because it takes place shortly after the infamous at the Reichenbach Falls. And I’m currently working on another book for Disney, which is called Godmother’s Apprentice—at least it’s called that right now—which is more of a standard fantasy. It’s kind of a Disney Princess for young adults rather than little girls, and I’m outlining the next of the Mags [Valdemar] books. This one is [about] his daughter Abby, who is an artificer.

Me: You already did one thing with godmothers back in your Five Hundred Kingdoms books.

M.L.: Right, this is a little different, this is more classic fairy godmothers.

Me: So, apart from the thing with the hotel, how has the con been for you this year?

M.L.: It’s been lots of fun. I’ve had a great time.

Me: It’s kind of like saying, “Apart from that Mrs. Lincoln…”

M.L.: Exactly!

Me: But do you think you will be back for the next year?

M.L.: I don’t know. We haven’t planned that far ahead.

Me: We’d certainly like to see you.

M.L.: I do know the next convention we’re doing is in the middle of September, it’s Salt Lake Comic Convention. We haven’t been anywhere near there, ever, so it will be a whole new group of fans.

Me: Well, that’s gonna be pretty neat. Have you any further plans for any self published items?

M.L.: No, at this point I have so many contracts to write out that I literally don’t have any time to write anything to self-publish.

Me: I guess it’s better to have too much work than not enough.

M.L.: Oh yeah, we constantly need need to do the mortgage payments still.

Me: Is there anything else you’d like to say before I close it down?

M.L.: Yes, I really really appreciate all the incredible outpouring of concern when I went down. You really know how wonderful the fan community is when there are seven hundred messages on Larry’s Twitter all asking about it.

Me: Well, I think I can speak for all of us fans when I say that I’m really glad that you’re doing well. And I hope we will see you back again here next year.

M.L.: I hope so, too


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Snowden Files Declaration in NSA Spying Case Confirming Authenticity of Draft Inspector General Report Discussing Unprecedented Surveillance of Americans, Which He Helped Expose [Published articles]

EFF filed papers with the court in its long-running Jewel v. NSA  mass spying case today that included a surprising witness: Edward Snowden. Mr. Snowden’s short declaration confirms that a document relied upon in the case, a draft NSA Inspector General Report from 2009 discussing the mass surveillance program known as Stellar Wind, is actually the same document that he came upon during the course of his employment at NSA contractor. Mr. Snowden confirms that he remembers the document because it helped convince him that the NSA had been engaged in illegal surveillance. 

Mr. Snowden’s declaration was presented to the court because the NSA has tried to use a legal technicality to convince the court to disregard the document. The NSA has refused to authenticate the document itself. This is important because documents gathered as evidence in court cases generally must be authenticated by whoever created them or has personal knowledge of their creation in order for a court to allow them to be used. The NSA is claiming that national security prevents it from saying to the court what everyone in the world now knows: that in 2009 the Inspector General of the NSA drafted a report discussing the Stellar Wind program. The document has been public now for many years, has never been claimed to be fraudulent, and was the subject of global headlines at the time it was first revealed. Instead of acknowledging these obvious facts, the NSA has asserted that the plaintiffs may not rely upon it unless it is confirmed to be authentic by someone with personal knowledge that it is.

 Enter Mr. Snowden. The key part of his five paragraph declaration states:

During the course of my employment by Dell and Booz Allen Hamilton, I worked at NSA facilities.  I had access to NSA files and I became familiar with various NSA documents.  One of the NSA documents I became familiar with is entitled ST-09-0002 Working Draft, Office of The Inspector General, National Security Agency, dated March 24, 2009.  I read its contents carefully during my employment.  I have a specific and strong recollection of this document because it indicated to me that the government had been  conducting illegal surveillance.


The government took a similar unfounded position with regard to another document – an Audit Report by the NSA in response to a secret FISA Court Order – that it produced to the New York Times in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The Vice President and Deputy General Counsel of the New York Times David McCraw, provided a simple declaration to authenticate that document.

“Everyone knows that the government engages in these surveillance techniques, since they now freely admit it. The NSA’s refusals to formally ‘authenticate’ these long-public documents is just another step in its practice of falling back on weak technicalities to prevent the public courts from ruling on whether our Constitution allows this kind of mass surveillance of hundreds of millions of nonsuspect people,”  said Cindy Cohn, EFF’s Executive Director. 

Mr. Snowden and Mr. McCraw’s Declarations are part of EFF’s final submission to the court to establish that its clients have “standing” to challenge the mass spying because it is more likely than not that their communications were swept up in the NSA’s mass surveillance mechanisms. These include telephone records collection, Internet metadata collection, and the upstream surveillance conducted, in part, at the AT&T Folsom Street Facility in San Francisco.  Mr. Snowden’s declaration joins those of three additional technical experts and another whistleblower whose declarations were filed in September. The court has not set a hearing date for the matter.

 

Related Cases: 

Moral Kombat: How Narnia and Harry Potter Wrestle with Death and Rewrite Christianity [Published articles]

Hagrid carries Harry's body

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has been on Broadway for about six months and collected six Tonys after a successful run in London. I was lucky enough to see the play a few months ago, and while I liked it enormously, I can’t stop thinking about how odd it is. With Cursed Child, Rowling foregoes the possibility of a simple fun adventure and instead adds a coda to the series-long meditation on death, and continues her ongoing tickle fight conversation with the moral fantasy of C.S. Lewis.

Has there ever been a blockbuster/franchise/pop-culture-phenomenon more death-obsessed than Harry Potter? The Narnia books at least give us pages full of whimsy and adventure before cranking the stakes up. Death looms over The Hunger Games, obviously, but the books are also about political strife and governmental overthrow and class warfare. Star Wars tends to sanitize its deaths, with lightsabers cauterizing wounds and Jedi masters literally disappearing so there isn’t any gore to confront. And when you look at The Lord of the Rings? Sure, death is pretty much Mordor’s Big Mood—but Tolkien’s books are as much about hope and battle and honor and gardening and the powerful love between an elf and a dwarf as they are about mortality.

The Harry Potter books are about death in a way that the others are not, and about the different ways of responding to its inevitability: a villain whose entire life revolves around finding immortality no matter the cost; a hero haunted by witnessing his parents’ deaths; a wizard supremacist cult literally called the Death Eaters; the endless speculation that began just before Book 4 came out about WHO WOULD DIE; the dawning realization that at least one beloved character was going to die in each book from #4 onwards; horses that were only visible to people who have lost loved ones; gallows humor throughout; and three magical MacGuffins called The Deathly Hallows.

Rowling begins her story mere minutes after James and Lily’s murders with a focus on Harry’s scar—his death, really, waiting in his head—and ends it with a resurrected hero who goes out of his way to destroy magical access to immortality. And hovering around all of this is the question of what comes after death—whether the ghosts of Lily and James are truly conscious ghosts or just a sort of echo, and what it will mean for Harry to fulfill his destiny and die.

Which makes it all the more interesting that the HP series is resolutely, gloriously secular. The magic the wizards and witches use is hard work, and requires training and homework. There are few miracles, aside from the occasional assist from the Sorting Hat or Fawkes; the students and their teachers have to rely on themselves to defeat evil. Prophecies are potential futures to be dealt with, not Capital-A apocalypses. Where many fantasy series either encode Christianity into their DNA (The Lord of the Rings, Narnia) or create religions for their characters to follow (The Stormlight Archive, Star Wars) the characters of the Potterverse celebrate Christmas and Halloween as cultural holidays with trees for one, pumpkins for the other, and chocolate for both. There is never any sense that the kids practice the Christianity of Christmas or the Celtic Paganism of Samhain. There’s no mention of High Holy Days or Ramadan fasts. There are no non-denominational chapels in Hogwarts. The one wedding we attend is at the Burrow, and someone described only as a “small, tufty-haired wizard” presides over the lone funeral.

But in the midst of this secularism, Rowling uses Christian imagery, returning to them over and over again and infusing them with new meanings each time. She riffs on them in ways that startled me when I read the series the first time, and I was astonished when she returned to them and remixed them again for Cursed Child. When I watched the play I found myself thinking again and again about the stark contrast between Rowling and C.S. Lewis.

Though The Last Battle wasn’t published until 1956, Lewis finished the Chronicles of Narnia before he met, married, and lost Joy Davidman. He explored the liminal time of mourning in A Grief Observed, publishing the book in 1961 under the pseudonym N.W. Clerk—he didn’t want people who read his apologetics or his children’s fantasies stumbling across such a raw, painful work. (It was only after his own death in 1963 that the book was republished under his name.) While I don’t feel that I’m qualified to psychoanalyze Lewis, I do think it’s worth noting that The Last Battle, with its hardline theological attitude toward Susan, and its conception of Tash as simply evil, was written before Lewis’ spirituality was reshaped by grief, whereas Rowling wrote the Harry Potter series largely in direct response to nursing her mother through a long final illness. She was still reeling from that loss (as well as the ending of her first marriage and the birth of her first daughter) when she began writing a series about the consequences of trauma, and the ongoing pain of mourning. So why am I dragging Lewis into this?

He and Rowling each wrote hugely popular—and completely different—rewrites of Christianity.

Rowling has spoken about her uneasiness with the way Lewis encodes a theological agenda into his books. Because Lewis’ books, much like Tolkien’s, don’t just toss in a Nativity or a general idea of sacrificing oneself for the greater good—they entwine hardcore theology and theodicy into the entire series, and create action that hinges on that theology.

Hang on, does everyone know what theodicy is? It’s basically “the problem of evil” or the study of why an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent God would allow evil in the world It created. The term was coined by Gottfried Leibniz (one of the two men who invented calculus!) in 1710, in a book helpfully titled Théodicée, but the idea has been around much, much longer. There are many different schools of theodicy and anti-theodicy (some which sprung up as direct responses to the horror of the Holocaust, for instance) and C.S. Lewis dug into it with several books, specifically Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and A Grief Observed. Mere Christianity, for instance, tackles free will by comparing God to a mother who tells her child to clean its room. Sure, this might fail—the child might ignore its mom, leave the room messy and never learn the value of cleanliness—but by offering the child the choice to clean its room or not, the mother is allowing the kid to grow up, determine its own living space, take pride in its cleanliness, and generally become a better, more responsible adult. C.S. Lewis applies the same logic to God, saying: “It is probably the same in the universe. God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right” and even though humans can do evil things, and create great suffering, having free will is better than the alternative because “free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”

This idea is baked into every page of the Narnia books.

Narnia is essentially a series explaining free will, the problem of pain, and faith to children through exciting stories and cute animals. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe starts off fun and whimsical: Lucy finds the cupboard! Beautiful snowy woods! Lamppost! Tumnus! But soon it’s revealed that the kids have stumbled onto a cosmic battle. Edmund shows us the dark side of free will (and the need to remain morally vigilant in the face of Turkish Delight) by using his freedom to betray his siblings and Aslan, while the White Witch shows us the evil of ultimate selfishness, and Aslan presents another side of free will. The mighty lion, who has seemed comforting and omnipotent to the abandoned children, hands himself over to the Witch so he can be a willing sacrifice in exchange for the traitorous Edmund. Though he could easily escape, he chooses to be tortured, to allows them to manhandle him and shave his mane. He allows himself to be humiliated.

Susan and Lucy, having followed Aslan, are asked to act as silent, helpless witnesses. Finally, once Aslan is really most sincerely dead, the White Witch and her followers gloat over his corpse, and leave it to rot. Lucy and Susan stand watch over Aslan’s ruined body, and their loyalty is rewarded when they are the first witnesses to his resurrection. This is all, note for note, the arc of Gethsemane, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection, with Edmund playing the Judas role and the girls standing in for the various Marys and Magdalenes. And as in the Christian story, the important part is the willingness of the sacrifice. Lucy and Susan are seeing someone with enormous power relinquish that power for a larger purpose, but they don’t know that a long-game scenario is playing out, they just know that they love their friend and they’re going to stay with him until he gets a proper burial.

Aslan dead

Then their faith in Aslan is confirmed when he comes back even stronger than before. Death doesn’t win—and Aslan reveals that there is a “deeper magic from before the dawn of time” (a magic the White Witch knows nothing about) which will resurrect an innocent being who has given his life for a traitor. This is only the barest allegorical gloss slapped over Christian theology, with Aslan acting as a stand-in for Christ, and the human race being a big bunch of Edmunds, betraying each other and ignoring moral law in favor of all the Turkish Delight life has to offer.

Aslan is presented as a deity figure who is actually worshipped, not just loved—he appears as a lamb in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and is revealed to have created Narnia itself in The Magician’s Nephew. He also appears as a supernatural bogeyman to the followers of Tash—Aslan’s power simply translates into its evil counterpoint for them. When the series culminates in The Last Battle, it’s revealed that faith in Narnia/Aslan has allowed all the “Friends of Narnia” to return (and that Susan’s lack of such faith left her on Earth), and that all “good” followers of Tash get to come along to a Heaven that is sort of a deluxe Narnia: “I take to me the services which thou hast done to Tash… if any man swear by him and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him.”

In this way Lewis creates a stand-in messiah, twines the quasi-Jesus story around the core of his fantasy series, and riffs respectfully on Christian theology. He takes the somewhat liberal (and controversial, in some theological circles) Inclusivist stance that good works can get people into paradise apart from their conscious faith in his specific savior figure. He also obliquely returns to the idea of pain as a force for growth with the character of Susan.

How could Aslan allow Susan to survive the train crash that kills her entire family? Well, if you want to a theodical interpretation, grief will teach her more about the importance of faith in her life, until she’s ready to come back to Aslan, believe in Narnia, and rejoin her family. Unnecessarily harsh for a series of children’s books, you say? Lewis was trying to put forth a very specific theological idea, which was that having free will meant you had the ability to fuck up as Edmund and Susan both do. As a true Friend of Narnia, you need to keep faith with Aslan, and be obedient to him. Lewis’ moral lesson is to trust your elders and your God, and his books are essentially softening his young readers’ hearts for lives spent believing in Christianity.

Sometime early in the writing of her Harry Potter books, Rowling also decided to weave Christian symbolism into the story, but arrived at a very different moral conclusion than Lewis.

Rowling effectively collapses the Nativity and the Crucifixion into one scene: Harry as an infant is helpless in his crib when Voldemort comes to visit. (An inversion of the Three Kings? Or maybe a nod to Maleficent.) James tries to stop him and is easily cast aside (the human father, like Joseph, being a background character compared to the Chosen One’s mother), and it’s Lily who steps up and sacrifices her life for Harry’s. She replaces her son’s death with her own, and invokes a type of love that is a deeper magic than Voldemort can understand. This mirrors the “deeper magic from before the dawn of time” that brings Aslan back to life, to the chagrin of the White Witch.

This is the moment that makes Harry Potter who he is. Not just in the sense that he’s a celebrity orphan, but that he is now on a path created by a sacrifice that will lead to a second sacrifice. It began with a green flash that meant his death, and it ends in facing that death all over again. Rowling seeds this throughout the series: the Mirror of Erised shows him his family, whole and happy. The Dementors force him back into a memory of his last moments with his parents—and in a fantastic twist, he realizes that he almost welcomes the Dementor’s Kiss because it triggers those memories. When Harry faces Voldemort for the first time in Goblet of Fire, the shades of his parents emerge from the wand and protect him.

In almost every book Rowling finds a way to check back in with that origin scene, reworking it from different angles, refracting it through different lenses. Harry’s parents’ deaths are interrogated repeatedly, much as the Nativity is relived through the Peanuts gang, and generations of Sunday School Christmas pageants, and the Crucifixion is reinterpreted through Passion Plays, productions of Jesus Christ Superstar, and the occasional Martin Scorsese film. Just as every Midnight Mass homily revisits the Nativity, so all the major Harry Potter characters find ways to retell stories about The Boy Who Lived. Just as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice, and Nikos Kazantzakis each retell Jesus’ crucifixion through the point of view of Judas, so Rowling shows us Harry’s memories of that day, Sirius’ memories of being the Potters’ Secret Keeper, Hagrid’s first moments with Baby Harry, Aunt Petunia’s insistence that her sister died in a car crash. This eternal return begins to feel like an obsession by Prisoner of Azkaban, but Rowling was just getting started.

With Goblet of Fire, Rowling backs off (slightly, temporarily) on reliving That Day, and instead kicks the series into high gear with a remorseless killing spree. Harry watches Cedric die, then Sirius, then Dumbledore, then Dobby, then Snape. Bill Weasley is maimed and George loses an ear in Death Eater attacks. The Ministry falls, and the wizarding world collapses into Magical Fascism. Harry even gets his own Judas figure in Peter Pettigrew, who betrays the Son as he betrayed the Parents. Throughout all of this, with the terrifying wizard of our collective nightmares gaining more and more power, at no point does anyone offer any sort of religious structure, theology, belief system, theodicy, nothing. Or, well, almost nothing.

story of the Deathly Hallows

We get the stories of the Deathly Hallows themselves, in which Rowling teases real magical artifacts in the Tales of Beedle the Bard—which most mature wizards think of as bedtime stories for their children. (This in itself is an interesting twist: the stories Ron dismisses as juvenile fables turn out to not only be true, but vitally important to Voldemort’s defeat.)

Finally, Rowling makes a point of intersecting her Wizarding story with the Muggle world by placing James and Lily’s house in Godric’s Hollow, across the street from a church. She shows us the gravestones of the Dumbledore family and the Potters, which read “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” and “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death,” respectively. The first is a memorial to Dumbledore’s mother and sister, an acknowledgement of his love for them despite all of his ambition and a life spent at Hogwarts. It’s also a quote from the New Testament: Matthew 2:21. The Potters’ shared stone is a nod to the Deathly Hallows (and a slightly on-the-nose reference to the theme of the entire series) but it’s also 1 Corinthians 15:26. Given that up to this point the series has been resolutely secular, I still remember having to reread that passage a few times. Rowling gave us an unchurched world, without even a perfunctory Church of England Midnight Mass, but suddenly Corinthians is relevant? Albus Dumbledore likes the Gospel According to St. Matthew enough to put it on his family grave? (I mean, unless he’s a Pasolini fan, but there’s no textual evidence for that.)

James Potter Lily Potter grave

Of course the next notable thing to me is that Harry and Hermione seemingly have no idea what these quotes are. Neither of them have been raised with Christianity, or even a passing knowledge of the Hebrew Bible or New Testament, so this whooshes right over their heads. It’s a fascinating choice to create the alternate wizarding world, make it secular, and then, in the last book, imply that at least some people from that world also value one of the religions of the Muggle world. Especially while also making the explicit point that the two quotes are meaningless to the two main characters. Who chose the inscription for the Potters? Was it Dumbledore? The Dursleys? Some rando vicar?

But all of those questions fade into the background as Rowling uses the end of the book to dive into her second great religious remix—in this case, riffing on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’s version of the Crucifixion. 

Just as Lewis did, Rowling rewrites Jesus’ dilemma at the Garden of Gethsemane. Harry hears Voldemort’s offer—he’ll end the assault on Hogwarts if Harry surrenders—and then he watches Snape’s memories in a Pensieve in Dumbledore’s office. He finally sees Dumbledore’s full plan, and realizes that his mentor had been planning his sacrifice from the beginning. Snape even accuses Dumbledore of fattening him for slaughter like a pig. Harry has to reckon with the fact that, at 17 years old, his life is over. Everything since his first birthday has been borrowed time.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Dumbledore Pensieve

This digs into an interesting debate about free will. On the one hand, Harry’s fate was sealed when Voldemort cursed him as a baby and locked him into life as the Chosen One. But on the other, Harry has to make the free, unforced choice to walk to his execution. He has to allow Voldemort to torture him, humiliate him, make him beg—no matter what, Harry, like Aslan, has to remain passive for the sacrifice to work. But this is Harry, who runs toward trouble, who jumps into action and looks for danger later, who doesn’t ask permission, who doesn’t consult teachers, who risks his life for his friends every year like it’s nothing. Harry doesn’t do passive. And we, as readers, have been trained to expect last-minute acts of derring-do (or last-minute Hermione-ideas that save the day) so it comes as a bit of a shock when Harry accepts this, works through his anger at Dumbledore, and chooses to die a second time.

Part of the point of Gethsemane is that Jesus explicitly asks to opt out of the sacrifice he’s being asked to make—theologically, this is emphasizing the human side of his nature, and giving the mortals reading/hearing the story a moment to relate to. To make it even worse, he explicitly asks his disciples—his friends—to stay up with him so he doesn’t have to spend his last night alone. They immediately pass out, which serves a ton of narrative purposes: it leaves Jesus even more bereft, demonstrates the weakness of human flesh, foreshadows the betrayals of both Judas and Peter, and serves as a symbolic warning against sleeping through a shot at redemption. (The other fascinating thing here is that you, the reader/hearer, are now essentially put in the place of either a disciple who managed to stay awake, or, if you want to be a bit more pretentious about it, God. After all, you’re the one hearing the request, right? And rest assured Rowling tweaks this element in a fascinating way that I’ll look at in a few paragraphs.)

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Gethsemane is sort folded into the Crucifixion, as Aslan doesn’t have any visible moment of doubt, he simply asks Lucy and Susan to stay quiet and watch his execution. (I’ll risk the assumption that Lewis wasn’t comfortable making his Jesus Lion look weak, even for a larger theological purpose.)

Rowling’s rewrite confronts this scene much more boldly. First, unlike Jesus—but like Aslan—Harry never asks to get out of his sacrifice. He wants to, desperately, but he never quite succumbs to the temptation to ask for help. Part of that could just be that Rowling has created a universe that doesn’t seem to have any sort of deity or ultimate boss to appeal to—Dumbledore is the last authority, and he’s already made it clear that he needs Harry to die. Second, unlike Aslan (and, probably, Jesus) Harry has no guarantee that he’ll be coming back—quite the opposite. He assumes he’s going to die as a Horcrux, that he’ll be completely destroyed. He accepts his own death because it makes narrative sense, basically. By dying, he can fulfill Dumbledore’s plan. Unlike Jesus, Harry at least gets to look through his history in the Pensieve, learn Dumbledore’s entire long game, and see that his loved ones will go on to live their lives free of Voldemort’s evil at last. He can choose to be angry at Dumbledore, or he can rationalize that the Headmaster hid the plan in order to allow Harry seven happy-ish years at Hogwarts—it was the only gift he could offer to make up for Harry’s miserable life with the Dursleys, and the sacrifice that lay ahead.

Harry doesn’t ask any of his friends to stay and keep him company. He explicitly avoids speaking to them because he knows that will destroy his resolve and instead visits them under the invisibility cloak so he can have a last moment of seeing them. He drops the cloak long enough to warn Neville that Nagini must be killed if Voldemort is going to be defeated, knowing that he won’t be there to see the defeat. Then he walks into the forest.

Rowling is nicer than both God and C.S. Lewis, however, because Harry isn’t completely abandoned: once again, the shades of his parents accompany him, as they did during his first real fight with Voldemort. This time they’re joined by Sirius and Lupin. The ghosts assure him that death doesn’t hurt, and that they’re proud of him. I would argue that this is the emotional climax of the series, where Harry gets all the love and validation he’s craved while coming full circle to face Voldemort. This is also a perfect narrative move on Rowling’s part, as it shows Harry in a liminal space between life and death—he makes himself a ghost with the invisibility cloak, then he is guarded by ghosts as he goes to his sacrifice in the forest. He’s being eased into death, which creates a very particular tone to the chapter. For a reader, these pages feel like taking a moment to breathe after the anger and shock of learning Harry’s destiny.

And then Harry faces Voldemort.

Harry reenacts his ancestor Ignotus Peverell’s meeting with Death when he throws the cloak off—but obviously Voldemort, who has spent his unnatural life enacting the follies of the other two brothers, does not meet Harry like an old friend. The calm atmosphere is destroyed, the ghosts are gone, and he is mocked as the Death Eaters hurl abuse at him. Worst of all, Harry sees Hagrid, the man who rescued him from the Dursleys and introduced him to a new life, abused mercilessly. He is powerless to help.

Hagrid tied up

Harry is finally killed—Rowling has Voldemort finish him off with a simple Avada Kedavra, avoiding the protracted torture of Jesus or Aslan.

Of course, it’s possible to see Harry’s torture woven into his life—through Snape’s punishments, through Umbridge’s punishments, through all the painful Horcrux searches—underlining the idea that pain is simply part of life to be dealt with, not a teaching tool or a punishment from On High.

After Harry decides to come back from (ahem) King’s Cross, all the pain of being alive comes back, too; and he has to try to stay calm and play dead as the Death Eaters throw his body around like a toy—again, as with Aslan, the most important element here is humiliation, and Rowling uses this term several times. The only way to break the spirit of Dumbledore’s Army is to show them their leader broken. This was why crucifixion particularly was used on people who broke societal laws or tried to lead uprisings—not just Jesus, obviously, but Spartacus and his followers, Peter, and plenty of other would-be messiahs and revolutionaries—and why similarly horrific tortures were visited on people like civil rights workers in the 1960s, and protesters around the world today.

Simply beheading someone, or hanging them, or standing them before a firing squad isn’t going to break a movement, and martyrs only strengthen movements. You have to show the martyr’s followers that there is no hope. This is what the Romans were doing when they left people hanging on crosses for days in the sun, what kings were doing when they left heads on pikes. This is what the White Witch is doing by leaving Aslan’s body out to decay on the stone tablet. This is what Voldemort is doing when he casts Crucio on Harry’s body and flings it around like a broken doll. Voldemort orders one of the Death Eaters to replace the glasses on Harry’s face so he’ll be recognizable, which, in a single offhand sentence gives us some idea of how battered his body is. Harry can’t just be dead—he has to be desecrated. In a grotesque mirroring of the night Hagrid took Harry from the Nativity/Golgotha of Godric’s Hollow, he is forced to carry what he believes is Harry’s corpse back to Hogwarts.

Rowling has commented that she wanted the man who brought Harry into the Wizarding World to be the one who carries his body back to his true home, Hogwarts. She’s also continuing her Crucifixion imagery by riffing on the Pietá, and of course underscoring the evil of the Death Eaters, that they would make Hagrid do this. She dwells on this section, making it incredibly hard to read, I think to grind it into her young readers’ minds that this is the risk you’re taking when you resist evil. She did, after all, spend her youth working for Amnesty International—she has an intimate knowledge of the sorts of horrors tyrants visit upon dissenters. She’s showing her readers exactly what can happen when you rebel against someone who doesn’t see you as truly human. She stays in this moment far longer than I would expect from what is, essentially, a children’s book, before reassuring her readers that there’s still hope.

Harry had told Neville that someone needed to dispatch Nagini to make Voldemort vulnerable, but Neville himself still has no reason to believe they will win when he draws Gryffindor’s sword. He has every reason to believe that he is dooming himself by attacking—especially seeing what’s been done to Harry. All of them fight together, while Harry, invisible under his cloak, acts as a sort of protective angel during the last battle of Hogwarts. He defeats Voldemort with all of his friends around him, using a disarming spell to the last, and still imploring his nemesis to repent. And this is the last great subtle point Rowling makes with her main series: rather than waiting for a savior or tying everything to one guy, the Wizarding world unites into a collective to fight the Death Eaters, even in the face of impossible odds. Rather than seeking simple vengeance, her hero fights to protect his loved ones, all the while trying to turn his enemies to a better life.

Which is why his side wins.

Hang on, let’s have a brief note about REMORSE, shall we?

Kings Cross afterlife Harry Potter

It’s in King’s Cross that we get the sense of what Rowling means by “remorse.” At first it seems like just a casual phrase. Of course Sirius is filled with remorse over his pact with Pettigrew. Of course Snape is filled with remorse when he learns that it was his intel that led to Lily’s death. But as the references accumulate it becomes clear that “remorse” is a moral, expiatory force in the Potterverse. Albus’ remorse over his mother’s and sister’s deaths is actively repairing the damage that he did to his soul when he dabbled in dark arts with Grindelwald. Snape is repairing the damage done by his Death Eater days, and the fact that he takes the hit by killing Dumbledore so Draco won’t have to probably does more good than harm:

“That boy’s soul is not yet so damaged,” said Dumbledore. “I would not have it ripped apart on my account.”

“And my soul, Dumbledore? Mine?”

“You alone know whether it will harm your soul to help an old man avoid pain and humiliation,” said Dumbledore.

So when Harry gets to King’s Cross and hashes things out with Dumbledore, the tiny mewling creature he sees is what’s left of Tom Riddle’s murderous, furious, Horcrux-bitten soul. Dumbledore explicitly says he can’t do anything for him. But of course this is Harry we’re talking about. So naturally Rowling, unlike Lewis, makes a point of having her Jesus figure reason with the devil. After he sees what becomes of the man’s soul in King’s Cross, Harry faces Voldemort a final time and speaks to him as a person, calling him Tom, and imploring him to think about consequences:

It’s your one last chance, it’s all you’ve got left… I’ve seen what you’ll be otherwise… Be a man… try… Try for some remorse.

And then Harry doesn’t die in battle, and he doesn’t kill Voldemort. The Dark Lord’s own curse rebounds on him, and Rowling again departs from Lewis. Where the Pevensies live in Narnia as kings and queens, and then turn out to be teens in the regular world before the train wreck in The Last Battle, Rowling allows Harry to grow up—or maybe the truer thing to say is that she forces him to grow up. He doesn’t get to die a hero. In the Deathly Hallows epilogue, we see that his life is still largely defined by That Night—his life, and the health of the wizarding world, is characterized not by joy or contentment but by a lack of pain: “The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.”

And now fast forward nine years to the 2016 premiere of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and give yourself a moment to think of what the play could have been:

  • The trio needs to reunite to rescue Hagrid!
  • The trolls are having an uprising!
  • Harry’s kid becomes an exchange student at Beauxbatons!
  • There’s a new Death Eater/a Voldemort follower/a Grindelwald follower/a monster of some sort!
  • Something something centaurs!
  • AAARRRGGHHHH!

Do you see what I mean?

It could have been anything. Any plot, any adventure. But instead Rowling and her author, Jack Thorne, choose to revisit her great obsession: death in general, and the moment of Harry’s parents’ deaths in particular—until the play becomes a four-and-a-half-hour-long memento mori. As we hop across timelines, we learn that almost every character we’ve loved has died. Draco Malfoy’s wife dies. Muggles are tortured off-stage. An alternate-universe Snape succumbs to a Dementor’s Kiss. Most interesting, Rowling and Thorne also refract Cedric Diggory’s death in exactly the way Rowling did Harry’s parents’: Now it is Amos Diggory’s grief for his son, and his son’s life and death, that become a crux point for the main plot as Harry and Draco’s sons team up to try to save Cedric’s life, and then have to deal with the consequences of their actions when they screw up their timelines. By the end of the play we seem to be learning a darkly beautiful lesson: Cedric’s death was necessary. Even though Voldemort refers to him as “the spare,” the play shows us that his death was just as vital a sacrifice as Lily’s or Dumbledore’s.

The play is awash in death.

And there’s no relief once we finally come back to the “correct” universe—once Albus and Scorpius are kidnapped, we learn that it’s only a matter of time before Delphini fulfills her own prophecy, and snuffs out an entire timeline.

But this is all child’s play compared to adult Harry’s arc. We watch as The Thirtysomething-Who-Lived reckons yet again with the tragedy that has defined his life. Throughout the play he’s plagued by nightmares of Voldemort. This is an obvious narrative choice, as it leads into the dramatic reveal that his scar is hurting again, but many of the nightmares and flashbacks are not necessary to the story.

Twice, in apparent memories, we go back to Harry’s childhood as a boy under the stairs. In one, a nested-Voldemort-nightmare scares him so badly he wets the bed, which leads to Aunt Petunia screaming at him in disgust while also insisting that the flash of light he’s remembering was the car crash that killed his parents. This deepens our view of Petunia as an abuser—it’s one thing to try to hide magic from a child, especially in light of what a magical life did to your sister, but it’s quite another to gaslight that child about his parents deaths while humiliating him for wetting the bed. (She even makes him wash the sheets. It’s horrific.)

This is followed by an even worse memory: Petunia decides to be just kind enough to take Harry to visit his parents’ grave in Godric’s Hollow. For a second you might feel a bit of warmth toward her, since Vernon certainly wouldn’t approve of this outing. But of course she spends the entire visit sniping about the bohemian town and insisting that the Potters didn’t have any friends despite the piles of flowers on their tombstone. Even something that looks like decency is revealed to be an excuse to alienate Harry, lie to him about his parents, and crush his spirit.

Again, this is a play for kids. It didn’t have to show us the wizarding world’s savior drenched in his own piss. It didn’t have to show us Petunia lying to Harry in order to keep him submissive. It goes to extremely dark places to show us just how abused Harry was, and just how much trauma he still lives with, as a man pushing 40, with a wonderful partner, wonderful children, a better job than he could have dreamed of as a child. Harry’s a broken mess. The greatest dramatic moment in the play is not, I would argue, the battle with Delphi, it’s a much quieter moment in Harry and Ginny’s home. We learn that each year, on that anniversary, he sits with his baby blanket and meditates on his parents, and the life he might have had. When Albus and Scorpius go missing in time, he still tries to honor his tradition, but has reached a breaking point.

Ginny comes in and finds him weeping into the blanket. “How many people have to die for The Boy Who Lived?” he asks her.

It’s a horrifying, dark twist on the opening chapter of the Harry Potter series. It’s a moment that expects people who grew up with Harry to grapple with his entire history, all the people he’s survived, and the pain of being the Chosen One. It expects the younger ones to watch someone who’s maybe more of a parent figure completely break down. This scene highlights Harry’s vulnerability, his fear and guilt that his own life is not worth the ones that were lost. This is an astonishing, raw scene, and Rowling and Thorne allow it to go on for a while. Just like Harry’s protracted walk into the forest, here we sit with him and Ginny for long minutes while he sobs. His breakdown leads directly into the parents’ discovery of Albus and Scorpius’ message written on the baby blanket. Harry’s emotional damage is revealed to be utterly necessary to the play’s plot.

While the play’s narrative climaxes with the Delphi fight, and the moment when Harry chooses, once again, not to kill, the emotional climax is once again his parents’ death. Obviously, inevitably, the big confrontation with Voldemort’s daughter has to come at Godric’s Hollow, on October 31, 1981. After all the years of nightmares and flashbacks, Harry must physically witness the death/rebirth moment with his own adult eyes. The eyes of a father and a son.

I read the play before I got to see it, and I assumed that it would be staged so we, the audience, were behind Harry and his family, kept at a discreet distance, allowing him the privacy of his grief. To complete Rowling’s religious riff, she’d be enacting a medieval-style Mass: Harry as priest observing a holy moment, while the rest of us congregants watched from over his shoulder. Instead, it’s staged like a Passion Play.

For those of you who have never attended—generally, the audience of a Passion Play is cast as the crowd outside of Pontius Pilate’s palace. When Pilate comes out to ask which prisoner should be released, it’s often on the audience to chant “Barabbas”—thus dooming Jesus, and underscoring the idea that human sin is truly responsible for his death—which is a damn sight better than the ancient tradition of blaming the nearest Jewish person. This tactic was employed in NBC’s staging of Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, for instance, where the audience cheered like crazy for Alice Cooper’s fabulous Herod and Ben Daniels’ somehow-even-fabulouser Pilate, only to realize they’ve been cheering for the torture and death of John Legend once he’s dragged out and beaten to a pulp.

In Cursed Child, Harry, Ginny, Draco, Albus, and Scorpius are all staring out into the audience as the lights flicker and we hear the screams of Lily and James, the cackle of Voldemort. They’re staring at us, as we allow it to happen. We are implicated in these deaths. And once again Harry has to live through the worst moments of his life—the difference being that this time he isn’t alone, as he explicitly states in the battle with Delphi. His disciples have never fallen asleep. They help him defeat her, underlining Rowling’s usual theme of friends and found families being stronger than individual posturing. They’re also there to stop him from killing Delphi. Evil is complex. There are reasons for it. Every single person on this earth who has ever had the label “evil” attached to them has been brought to that state by pain. Maybe a few months, maybe a lifetime’s worth, but something hurt them, and they turned that hurt on the rest of the world. Just as in Deathly Hallows when Harry asked Voldemort to “try for some remorse,” so he also speaks to Delphi as a person, orphan to orphan:

You can’t remake your life. You’ll always be an orphan. That never leaves you.

Harry Potter isn’t a symbol of good—he’s a living, breathing human who was saved by love, and he’s doing everything he can to save the rest of the orphans who were ruined by the pain of previous generations. Even though Delphini tried to undo all of his work and sacrifice his children to her plan, he’s still going to reach out to her.

Of course, it doesn’t always work. But there’s hope in the play that Harry and Draco might form some sort of non-hatred-based relationship. There’s certainty that his son will be supported by Draco’s son, just as he was supported by Ron, Hermione, Luna, Neville.

And most crucially, his partner and child hold him up while he has to once again relive the deaths of his parents, the moment that cursed him to a life of trauma and survivor’s guilt.

Rowling revisits the scenes again, collapses the Nativity and Crucifixion into one moment, structures it like a Passion Play, and sets the whole thing in a Muggle’s Christian church. But again, she veers away from Lewis’ authoritarian themes: Harry is no Aslan. He doesn’t lecture, he doesn’t deliver messages from on high. He’s a fucked up, emotionally damaged adult dealing with PTSD, avoiding adult responsibility because he craves adrenaline, alienating his son, compartmentalizing memories and nightmares that would turn most peoples’ hair white. He’s not a savior anymore, he’s part of a family, and he only succeeds by allowing them to hold him up.

After all that, the play ends in a graveyard. Underlining Cedric’s importance, Cursed Child reveals Harry’s other ritual: whenever he can get away from work, he travels to a graveyard on the Hogwarts grounds to visit Cedric’s grave. After all the anger and pain between Harry and Albus, after the fight with Delphi, after witnessing his parent’s deaths again, The Boy Who Lived has a father-son bonding session in a graveyard. And Albus, for the first time in his life, allows himself to bend a little bit toward his famous father:

Albus: Dad? Why are we here?

Harry: This is where I often come.

Albus: But this is a graveyard…

Harry: And here is Cedric’s grave.

Albus: Dad?

Harry: The boy who was killed—Craig Bowker—how well did you know him?

Albus: Not well enough.

Harry: I didn’t know Cedric well enough either. He could have played Quidditch for England. Or been a brilliant Auror. He could have been anything. And Amos is right—he was stolen. So I come here. Just to say sorry. When I can.

Albus: That’s a—good thing to do.

So we learn that Harry’s life isn’t just shot through with PTSD, or a constant longing for his parents—it is, in fact, haunted by death. He doesn’t give himself just one day a year to remember all the people he’s lost—he heads back to alma mater whenever he can to apologize to A Boy He Couldn’t Save.

Harry Potter and Cedric Diggory

Again, we could have gotten a centaur war or something. The Great Wizarding Bake Off films its new season at Honeydukes! Albus and Scorpius fall in love, but they can’t admit it ’cause their dads hate each other? …OK, that one kind of does happen. But instead of going on a more obvious, fun, “Let’s return to Hogwarts!” path, Rowling and Thorne used their story to deal honestly with the legacy of the books, and to keep building the moral framework established with Sorcerer’s Stone.

Rowling’s moral universe doesn’t depend on unwavering faith, nor on the idea that your elders are right. What Dumbledore does to Harry is not OK—and Dumbledore himself isn’t a holy Aslan figure, either. He’s a grief-stricken old man who’s haunted by the death of his sister, and terrified by his own youthful willingness to follow Grindelwald to the brink of evil. He sends a helpless child into the waiting arms of Voldemort without ever giving that boy a real choice. And Rowling makes sure to present us with Harry’s rage at this. She takes us through Harry’s own Gethsemane scenes so we can see the life he’s choosing to walk away from. She shows us all of Dumbledore’s doubt and fear when the two meet in King’s Cross during Harry’s “death.”

And then, 19 years later, we revisit Harry and find that her Boy Who Lived, and died, and lived again fucks up, and it nearly costs him his son. The wizard messiah isn’t a Christ stand-in—he was a frightened boy who did his best, and who grew into a traumatized man. He who needs to reckon with his nightmares and the abuse he suffered, so he can be honest with himself and his kids. Harry’s grief hasn’t made him stronger. It isn’t a thing he needs to endure, so he can join all of his dead friends in Wizard Narnia. His grief he will always carry with him, and he needs to find a way to talk about it, to explore it with his family and friends, so they can all be stronger together.

Leah Schnelbach is so excited she got to explain theodicy! And if you’re still willing to talk to her after that sentence, you can discuss Wizard Death with her over on Twitter!

SNES.party lets you play Super Nintendo with your friends [Published articles]

Hot on the heels of the wonderful NES.party comes Haukur Rosinkranz’s SNES.party, a site that lets you play Super Nintendo with all your buds.

Rosinkranz is Icelandic but lives in Berlin now. He made NES.party a year ago while experimenting with WebRTC and WebSockets and he updated his software to support the SNES.

“The reason I made it was simply because I discovered how advanced the RTC implementation in Chrome had become and wanted to do something with it,” he said. “When I discovered that it’s possible to take a video element and stream it over the network I just knew I had to do something cool with this and I came up with the idea of streaming emulators.”

He said it took him six months to build the app and a month to add NES support.

“It’s hard to say how long it took because I basically created my own framework for web applications that need realtime communication between one or more participants,” he said. He is a freelance programmer.

It’s a clever hack that could add a little fun to your otherwise dismal day. Feel like a little Link to the Past? Pop over here and let’s play!

The Digital Gap Between Rich and Poor Kids Is Not What We Expected [Published articles]

Corporate Speech Police Are Not the Answer to Online Hate [Published articles]

A coalition of civil rights and public interest groups issued recommendations today on policies they believe Internet intermediaries should adopt to try to address hate online. While there’s much of value in these recommendations, EFF does not and cannot support the full document. Because we deeply respect these organizations, the work they do, and the work we often do together; and because we think the discussion over how to support online expression—including ensuring that some voices aren’t drowned out by harassment or threats—is an important one, we want to explain our position.

We agree that online speech is not always pretty—sometimes it’s extremely ugly and causes real world harm. The effects of this kind of speech are often disproportionately felt by communities for whom the Internet has also provided invaluable tools to organize, educate, and connect. Systemic discrimination does not disappear and can even be amplified online. Given the paucity and inadequacy of tools for users themselves to push back, it’s no surprise that many would look to Internet intermediaries to do more.

We also see many good ideas in this document, beginning with a right of appeal. There seems to be near universal agreement that intermediaries that choose to take down “unlawful” or “illegitimate” content will inevitably make mistakes. We know that both human content moderators and machine learning algorithms are prone to error, and that even low error rates can affect large swaths of users. As such, companies must, at a minimum, make sure there’s a process for appeal that is both rapid and fair, and not only for “hateful” speech, but for all speech.

Another great idea: far more transparency. It’s very difficult for users and policymakers to comment on what intermediaries are doing if we don’t know the lay of the land.  The model policy offers a pretty granular set of requirements that would provide a reasonable start. But we believe that transparency of this kind should apply to all types of speech.

Another good feature of the model policy are provisions for evaluation and training so we can figure out the actual effects of various content moderation approaches.

So there’s a lot to like about these proposals; indeed, they reflect some of the principles EFF and others have supported for years.

But there’s much to worry about too.

Companies Shouldn’t Be The Speech Police

Our key concern with the model policy is this: It seeks to deputize a nearly unlimited range of intermediaries—from social media platforms to payment processors to domain name registrars to chat services—to police a huge range of speech. According to these recommendations, if a company helps in any way to make online speech happen, it should monitor that speech and shut it down if it crosses a line.

This is a profoundly dangerous idea, for several reasons.

First, enlisting such a broad array of services to start actively monitoring and intervening in any speech for which they provide infrastructure represents a dramatic departure from the expectations of most users. For example, users will have to worry about satisfying not only their host’s terms and conditions but also those of every service in the chain from speaker to audience—even though the actual speaker may not even be aware of all of those services or where they draw the line between hateful and non-hateful speech. Given the potential consequences of violations, many users will simply avoid sharing controversial opinions altogether.

Second, we’ve learned from the copyright wars that many services will be hard-pressed to come up with responses that are tailored solely to objectionable content. In 2010, for example, Microsoft sent a DMCA takedown notice to Network Solutions, Cryptome’s DNS and hosting provider, complaining about Cryptome’s (lawful) posting of a global law enforcement guide.  Network Solutions asked Cryptome to remove the guide.  When Cryptome refused, Network Solutions pulled the plug on the entire Cryptome websitefull of clearly legal content—because Network Solutions was not technically capable of targeting and removing the single document.  The site was not restored until wide outcry in the blogosphere forced Microsoft to retract its takedown request. When the Chamber of Commerce sought to silence a parody website created by activist group The Yes Men, it sent a DMCA takedown notice to the Yes Men’s hosting service’s upstream ISP, Hurricane Electric.  When the hosting service May First/People Link resisted Hurricane Electric’s demands to remove the parody site, Hurricane Electric shut down MayFirst/PeopleLink’s connection entirely, temporarily taking offline hundreds of "innocent bystander" websites as collateral damage

Third, we also know that many of these service providers have only the most tangential relationship to their users; faced with a complaint, takedown will be much easier and cheaper than a nuanced analysis of a given user’s speech. As the document itself acknowledges and as the past unfortunately demonstrates, intermediaries of all stripes are not well-positioned to make good decisions about what constitutes “hateful” expression. While the document acknowledges that determining hateful activities can be complicated “in a small number of cases,” the number likely won’t be small at all.

Finally, and most broadly, this document calls on companies to abandon any commitment they might have to the free and open Internet, and instead embrace a thoroughly locked-down, highly monitored web, from which a speaker can be effectively ejected at any time, without any path to address concerns prior to takedown.

To be clear, the free and open Internet has never been fully free or open—hence the impetus for this document. But, at root, the Internet still represents and embodies an extraordinary idea: that anyone with a computing device can connect with the world, anonymously or not, to tell their story, organize, educate and learn. Moderated forums can be valuable to many people, but there must also be a place on the Internet for unmoderated communications, where content is controlled neither by the government nor a large corporation.

What Are “Hateful Activities”?

The document defines “hateful activities” as those which incite or engage in “violence, intimidation, harassment, threats or defamation targeting an individual or group based on their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, immigration status, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability.”

We may agree that speech that does any of these things is deeply offensive. But the past proves that companies are ill-equipped to make informed decisions about what falls into these categories. Take, for example, Facebook’s decision, in the midst of the #MeToo movement’s rise, that the statement “men are trash” constitutes hateful speech. Or Twitter’s decision to use harassment provisions to shut down the verified account of a prominent Egyptian anti-torture activist. Or the content moderation decisions that have prevented women of color from sharing the harassment they receive with their friends and followers. Or the decision by Twitter to mark tweets containing the word “queer” as offensive, regardless of context. These and many other decisions show that blunt policies designed to combat “hateful” speech can have unintended consequences. Furthermore, when divorced from a legal context, terms like “harassment” and “defamation” are open to a multitude of interpretations.

If You Build It, Governments Will Come

The policy document also proposes that Internet companies “combine technology solutions and human actors” in their efforts to combat hateful activities. The document rightly points out that flagging can be co-opted for abuse, and offers helpful ideas for improvement, such as more clarity around flagging policies and decisions, regular audits to improve flagging practices, and employing content moderators with relevant social, political, and cultural knowledge of the areas in which they operate.

However, the drafters are engaging in wishful thinking when they seek to disclaim or discourage governmental uses of flagging tools. We know that state and state-sponsored actors have weaponized flagging tools to silence dissent. Furthermore, once processes and tools to silence “hateful activities” are expanded, companies can expect a flood of demands to apply them to other speech. In the U.S., the First Amendment and the safe harbor of CDA 230 largely prevent such requirements. But recent legislation has started to chip away at Section 230, and we expect to see more efforts along those lines. As a result, today’s “best practices” may be tomorrow’s requirements.

Our perspective on these issues is based on decades of painful history, particularly with social media platforms. Every major social media platform sets forth rules for its users, and violations of these rules can prompt content takedowns or account suspensions. And the rules—whether they relate to “hateful activities” or other types of expression—are often enforced against innocent actors. Moreover, because the platforms have to date refused our calls for transparency, we can’t even quantify how often they fail at enforcing their existing policies.

We’ve seen prohibitions on hate speech employed to silence individuals engaging in anti-racist speech; rules against harassment used to suspend the account of an LGBTQ activist calling out their harasser; and a ban on nudity used to censor women who share childbirth images in private groups. We’ve seen false copyright and trademark allegations used to take down all kinds of lawful content, including time-sensitive political speech. Regulations on violent content have disappeared documentation of police brutality, the Syrian war, and the human rights abuses suffered by the Rohingya. A blanket ban on nudity has repeatedly been used to take down a famous Vietnam war photo.

These recommendations and model policies are trying to articulate better content moderation practices, and we appreciate that goal. But we are also deeply skeptical that even the social media platforms can get this right, much less the broad range of other services that fall within the rubric proposed here.  We have no reason to trust that they will, and every reason to expect that their efforts to do so will cause far too much collateral damage.

Given these concerns, we have serious reservations about the approach the coalition is taking in this document. But there are important ideas in it as well, notably the opportunity for users to appeal content moderation decisions, and expanded transparency from corporate platforms, and we look forward to working together to push them forward.

Perhaps the greatest timelapse ever taken. 4 years of an exploding star. [Published articles]

submitted by /u/crgnxn to r/nasa
[comments]

Snapshot from the heroic era of mobile computing [Published articles]

MJ Carlson calls this photo from a 1980s computer science textbook "the most glorious stock photo of all time." She is correct.

How The Shining's Camera Creates Constant Unease [Published articles]

The Shining is a brilliant film, and it’s a scary film, and those two things are for the same reason.

Read more...