Errata: In-game Nuke Disarmament,VR, Toy Hack, Smart TV hack, Trump & Heller

Ars TechnicaThe worldwide effort to disarm Metal Gear Solid V’s nuclear weapons – ‘As Konami recently officially announced, a “secret nuclear disarmament event” will be triggered for all players only when “All nuclear weapons on the regional server corresponding to your console or platform must have been dismantled. In other words, the amount of nukes on your platform’s server must be equal to 0.”‘ – This is going to be fascinating to watch play out – principle-driven or benefit-driven disarmament leaving parties at a tactical disadvantage, and how that’ll affect gameplay. Factions already rising.

Motherboard One of the Largest Hacks Yet Exposes Data on Hundreds of Thousands of Kids – “The personal information of almost 5 million parents and more than 200,000 kids was exposed earlier this month after a hacker broke into the servers of a Chinese company that sells kids toys and gadgets…” – Why you should rethink buying your kid internet-connected toys (they almost invariably require giving up personal information). Info included headshots of kids as well as their chat logs. Good god.

Motherboard Real Drugs, Virtual Reality: Meet the Psychonauts Tripping in the Rift – ‘ “Soon after dosing I had forgotten that I had the Rift on. The simulation was a grasslike landscape but I was too tripped out to actually walk around using the controller. I was sitting in my desk chair which has rubbery armrests. At some point I started to think I was a rabbit bunny thing, and started biting the rubbery armrests of my chair like a maniac thinking it was a carrot.”’

MotherboardSex Ed in VR Can Prepare Young Women for Actual Sex – “Using Oculus technology, users would enter dozens of lifelike scenarios to role-play consent, proper contraception use and other components of safe sex from a first-person perspective.”

Universe TodayEarth May Be “Hairy” with Dark Matter – “Prézeau used computer simulations to discover that when dark matter stream passes through a planet — dark matter passes right through us unlike ordinary matter — it’s focused into an ultra-dense filament or hair. Not a solo strand but a luxuriant crop bushy as a brewer’s beard.” – I always knew the universe approved of my beard. Now I have proof.

Security LedgerRansomware Works on Smart TVs, Too!Spent a chunk of this weekend (in a Manhattan hotel) pondering Smart TVs as a platform to eavesdrop on people using insecure hotel wifi and pass on infections. More to come later – maybe in fiction, maybe just pondering.

Finally, was reading the fantastic comic Transmetropolitan in some downtime and was reminded of just how much Ellis foresaw Trump and his fans through the guise of Bob Heller:



Competing Magics and Fiction Conditions

Leaving my mid-Manhattan hotel to write at the Starbucks across the street: almost a smart idea.

Almost because: it is blasting Christmas music on November 29th. An impossibly young-sounding baby wails from the lower level trying to make its discomfort heard over the louder wail of festive saxophones.

I hear you, kid. I hear you.

Headphones are an option for me of course. One I’ve chosen. But there’s a problem: I’m primed to attend to underlying patterns and background stimuli. With that priming background music pops out from behind whatever I have playing.

I attend to the background. It’s a defense mechanism since that’s where my comfort lies. Conversations filter through even as I try to meld into the wall. Festive saxophones switch out for playful trumpets and well-meaning crooners intruding on my playlist.

Every time Christmas comes around I end up thoughtful about the period when Christianity overtook Paganism, especially through Briton eyes. The pagans saw it as a landscape of competing magics, according to archaeologist Barry Cunliffe among others. That war all but ended as Saint Patrick defied tradition to light the signal fire on the Hill of Slane first – rather than that on the Hill of Tara, as an insult to the primacy of the pagan nobility of Tara.

Magics never stop competing. They change and morph and adapt – or they’re not magics. More than fifteen hundred years after Patrick’s king-of-the-hill game I am surrounded by the recent trappings of his faith – now manifested in a jolly piano tune about travel, snow, something about a fire. The front window of this Starbucks is pasted with holly and mistletoe decals. Someone somewhere is upset that my coffee cup is red and lacks overt deference to the upcoming holiday.

Most people don’t give a shit.

Magics never stop competing, especially in New York City, I’ve found. This is my second trip here in three months – and the twenty years before that. The personal enterprise and entrepreneurship on display still hasn’t ceased to amaze me. Every corner in Manhattan someone else trying to make it work, but even more than that, trying to make it look like it’s working. The appearance, the display, the forward-looking optimism that whatever magic they’re weaving is working. That the mere portrayal that it’s working adds to its arcane power and future momentum.

British writer Warren Ellis recently charged an audience to act like they live in the Science Fiction Condition – “like you can do magic and hold séances for the future and build a brightness control for the sky. Act like you live in a place where you could walk into space if you wanted.” Britons have excelled at that kind of projection for ages. They used to toss all manner of weapons, coinage and other riches into various lakes not just as religious tribute but as a forward-looking projection of how they wanted deceased to appear in the afterlife. Not to indicate current status – but to display their own sort of Fiction Condition even to the gods.

And as magics go, so this went – the conquering Romans later sold interests in British lakes to entrepreneurs looking to recover their riches. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords may be no basis for a system of government, but it seemed to work fine as a basis for speculative investment. It can’t be any sillier than the securitization of mortgage clearing-house fraud that exploded in 2008, anyway.

Paradigms change – entire worldviews – and we’re all still looking to show the future how great we are there, even if we’re not quite there yet.

Someone a few tables over is talking about an app they’re building. The speakers are promising good times to come through happy, sentimental jazz. I’m maintaining my own Fiction Condition for the moment.

And still wondering what lake to drain for my treasure.

Review: Coming Out Like A Porn Star

Just finished reading my nineteenth book of the year, Coming Out Like a Porn Star: Essays on Pornography, Protection, and Privacy edited by Jiz Lee. On its face the book consisted of, as the description says, “personal stories of porn performers “coming out” to family, friends, partners, lovers and community.” Beyond the immediate experiences of that were intricate, complex portrayals of identity and self that quickly serve to shatter the stereotype of shallow or uneducated porn performers and sex workers.

In part the book serves as a new call to justice – a rallying cry for an end to the stigma around such sex work. The book itself is performative – as Dr. Mireille Miller-Young notes the history of Stonewall and similar acts as “the mounting awareness and activism of a new generation of queer people who did not wish or were not able to keep their sexual and gender identities and expressions “in the closet.” They bravely defied abuse by eschewing the tactics previous generations of queer people employed to survive harassment.” Careful to explain she’s not drawing an equivalency between sex work and racism, sexism or homophobic oppression, Miller-Young emphasizes that “these oppressive forces overlap and intersect in important ways” and such work has begun “claiming visibility as a tactic for gaining freedom.” The essays therein serve a dual purpose – some make bold, unapologetic, damn strong arguments for the destigmatization of sex work.

Others simply and heartbreakingly examine the penalties society levies for engaging in such work. Cyd Nova laid out one of the clearest and most stark visions – stalking, disownment, firing or objectification and estrangement. Nova condensed the threat of coming out perfectly: “This is the real grip of the painful coming-out narrative. It interrupts the concept that certain types of love are unconditional. In our society, it is considered acceptable for someone’s family to decide to take away their love for their child because of a choice they make.”

Emma Claire provided a related poignant moment in explaining how even less-harsh family narratives served to hurt more than help. ‘I heard, “We will love you no matter what” when I came out as a woman, which kind of sounded like I did something wrong rather than, “I have unconditional love for you and celebrate you.”’

So many other good points were made throughout the book. Tobi Hill-Meyer’s calling out of the ways porn is treated differently, as it’s criticized for rampant sexism while so much more popular media and even “educational” material got a pass. Both Tina Horn and Milcah Halili Orbacedo joining Jiz Lee in highlighting that their activities in porn were products of informed, negotiated consent and control, pleasure and performance combining with the personal agency long mythologized as absent from sex workers. AliceInBondageLand on getting into porn because she couldn’t find any that represented her identity. Zahra Stardust on how sex workers are “not a walking research project to appease the voyeurism and sexual tourism of middle-class careerist professionals who want access to our sexual communities while avoiding stigma and protecting their reputation” – something that struck me I had spent most of the book doing, to my discredit.

The other theme that struck me as both important and lovely were the ways in which contributors wrote about their own identity. Identity’s a funny thing with me as I’ve been through many of them over my thirty plus years, less sexual than existential, and multiple essays spoke to that idea in incredibly eloquent ways. Gala Vanting’s loving exploration of her “multi-whore identity” as central and normal, capped off with “What if I concerned myself more with coming in to me than on how best to come out to you?” Hayley Fingersmith’s incredible description of wearing masks. James Darling’s countless coming-outs amidst a certain amount of holding back. Lorelei Lee on truth and names.

There is no better topic to end on, I think, than the hopes and wishes of authors in Lee’s ‘Coming Out Like a Porn Star.” Amidst their past hurts and elations, alongside how they carry themselves presently, many covered how they’d like dialogue to continue. How they want to see it – or how they are consciously trying to shape it through they way they live. Which goes back to Miller-Young, destigmatization and defying a culture that requires sex workers to adhere to victimhood and shame. Lee’s own point about not subscribing to spectrums of shame, that “it doesn’t help to throw other kinds of porn or sex work under the bus,” stands out. Andre Shakti’s commonsense approach to treating “a supposedly radical issue (queerness, nonmonogamy, atheism, gender nonconformity) with the same nonchalance as you would a less controversial topic (accounting, marriage, cooking, the weather).” Drew DeVeaux on recognizing that porn stars, trans folks and others are not only recipients of care or services but also providers – that they have agency, goddammit. They not only play important, active roles in their own lives but those of many others as well.

(I spent ten minutes on that last sentence – “but those of” threw me off, which is sort of the point. How do I articulate that sex workers or other marginalized people are a massive force in the world at large without using a marginalizing term like “mainstream society?” Or by using “but those of many cisgendered folks as well” suggesting that services towards cisgendered folk are inherently different, in a separate category? I am so new to all this.)

To sum all this up bluntly – Jiz Lee’s “Coming Out Like a Porn Star” allowed me to enter a lot of personally painful areas of those involved with no threat to myself, other than to my preconceived notions. The essays were not just accessible but often brilliantly written and covered depth I hadn’t even conceived of surrounding the issues involved. I recommend it to everyone. Five stars, no bullshit.

I’ll leave off with one of my favorite quotes of the book, from Cinnamon Maxxine: “Fuck that. Fuck them. Do you.”

Errata: iPhone hack bounty, Unclaimed Dead, Fire Ant Swarms, Nanoparticles, Cancer-killing Viruses, more

Million-dollar bounty paid out for iPhone hack.

Fascinating article from the Journal of Forensic Sciences: “Who are the Unclaimed Dead?

Fascinating Motherboard article on the liquid properties of fire ant swarms.

Emergent Futures relaying studies on the neurological aspects of mystical and mysterious experiences.

The runaway billion-dollar JLENS blimp was finally downed thanks to hundreds of shotgun blasts from Pennsylvania police.

Engadget: HTC has begun refusing to offer guidance on its corporate future. Also, Seattle cop who developed transparency-oriented software has left the force, apparently due to departmental politics.

Also Engadget: how medicine-covered nanoparticles could help stroke victims.

Ars Technica on cancer-killing viruses.