Tag Archives: technology

Review: Spirits of Place

I’ve just finished reading Spirits of Place, edited by John Reppion, the Daily Grail-published collection of writings on place, narrative, history and spirit. I was not disappointed.

Reppion opened by – among other things – describing an event of the same name he organized earlier in 2016 hosted on the same site as a degraded Neolithic tomb. The event itself raised sacred space in spectacular fashion and is, perhaps, a lesson and charge for the coming year without the participants having known just how stark it feels. As Reppion states, “To create a space that is emphatically ‘anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-sexist’ on the grounds of so malevolent an enterprise and to fill it with events for young people does seem redemptive. Yet to perform in such a space can never be lighthearted.”

There’s a bit too much to unpack in a proper review – the collection is part essay grouping, part philosophical studies journal, part occult newsletter – but the essays in each case stand proudly for themselves with each raising their own space. Whether it’s Gazelle Amber Valentine talking idenity, Warren Ellis writing on radio signal as bomb blast radius, Maria J. Perez Cuervo illustrating the process of secret, dangerous and necessary libraries growing seemingly of their own magnetism or Vajra Chandrasekera on fascism, nationalism and grief, the contents are topical and fascinating and juggle between dreamily speculative and heartbreakingly eloquent. Chandrasekera’s contribution in particular felt crucial and grounding, setting the tone almost as clearly as Reppion’s introduction:

In our periodic riots, Sinhala mobs in search of Tamil or Muslim people to assault but still unable to identify them on sight (because we all pretty much look the same) would demand that potential targets perform their Sinhala-ness or Buddhist-ness with shibboleths: pronouncing particular words to test for accents, or reciting Buddhist prayers that people of other religions were unlikely to know. For example, the ඉතිපිසෝ, which in a great irony is a recitation of the virtues of the Buddha, probably including suitably incongruous things like kindness and compassion. I say probably even though I know it by heart (I suspect my not-particularly-pious parents insisted on me learning these prayers by memory in anticipation of future riots) because the prayer is in Pali, not Sinhala, and I’ve long since forgotten what the words mean: to me, it’s just a string of sounds that represent thuggish fanaticism.

With my breath fully taken away by lines like:

Grief is a nation, like the dead are a nation. These are the nationalisms I can get behind.

I name only a few here not to suggest they held themselves over the rest, but precisely because I could go on and on about the other writers included and so bore you to death and draw my review out to outlandish and unhelpful proportions.

I do want to single out the piece by Damien Patrick Williams, one of the primary reasons I picked up this book (along with the topic itself and work by luminaries like Ellis and Alan Moore). In addition to being a friend, Williams has been quoted in WIRED magazine and interviewed on the Flashforward and Mindful Cyborg podcasts on the intersection between magic and technology, one of my primary interests. His contribution to this book excelled my expectations as it seamlessly covered biographical explanation, philosophical exploration, virtual space and place, mythology and psychology. He covers two more of my favorite topics, ravens and synchronicities, and pulls apart the phenomenons of my experience masterfully:

But the concept structure of ritual space can be applied to any time or place which, for reasons of mentality and mood, must be set apart. In sociological and trauma studies, we discuss this idea in terms of “safe spaces”; in martial arts, we have the dojo; in magic, the drawing of the circle. In all of these instances, we use words, or a knife, or chalk, or a song, and we carve out something sacred from within the profane, and the 1990s Internet was pretty much a perfect expression of this. The complex protocols to log-in, the aforementioned terminology and conceptual framing, all of it conjured an intentional Otherness of place and mind.

The ever-magical Alan Moore closes out the collection with a fantastic and thoroughly electrifying piece that serves, as Reppion laments not doing with the actual event in April, as a closing ritual for the book. And as many of the other pieces do, spiraling ever outward from Reppion’s convocation, Moore’s entry exists in a sort of trifold space; it covers the past, it applies to the present, and reaches out to the future with a mystical, speculative beckoning:

Everywhere the grind and rumble of epochal gears, the flat stones of Satanic mills as they commence to turn. A creaking at the limits, at the edge of our condition, a raw frontier of our lust and fear and capability.

The topics truly covered across the book are legion; if your interests cover anything around philosophy, place, folklore, magic, immediate urban experience, history and future of politics, this book will absolutely have something for you. My suggestion: seek the book out, raise your own space, read it and proceed from there. It’s easily one of my favorite books of 2016.

Errata: Megacity Fighting, EU Citizenship, Georgia v. DHS, South Korea,

Military Contingencies in Megacities and Sub-Megacities – “After elucidating the nature of urbanization and developing a typology in terms of smart, fragile, and feral cities, we give consideration to the kinds of contingencies that the U.S. military, especially the Army, needs to think about and prepare for. Understanding the city as a complex system or organism is critical and provides the basis for changes in intelligence, recruitment, training, equipment, operations, and tactics.” – I’m reading this later today.

EU negotiators will offer Brits an individual opt-in to remain EU citizens, chief negotiator confirms – As @ManMadeMoon said, “Step 1 to a new, non-geographical nationhood! This is getting really interesting.”

Georgia Secretary of State aggressively confronting DHS over a “penetration of [Georgia’s] firewall.”

Finally seeing a bill to impeach the South Korean president (this whole saga is fascinating to me).

From the International Spectator, the world’s most frequent flight paths.

NASA finally has its own Giphy page.

Via Karen James: “Hey neuroscientists & neuroscience-inspired artists, check out this pattern around a rock in a pond in @AcadiaNPS as it begins to freeze.”

And finally, via ars technica: Millions exposed to malvertising that hid attack code in banner pixels – “The malicious script is concealed in the alpha channel that defines the transparency of pixels, making it extremely difficult for even sharp-eyed ad networks to detect. After verifying that the targeted browser isn’t running in a virtual machine or connected to other types of security software often used to detect attacks, the script redirects the browser to a site that hosts three exploits for now-patched Adobe Flash vulnerabilities.”

DIY Combat Drones

Popular Mechanics highlighted a few stories in the world of DIY weapons lately that’re worth looking at. Sort of a mashup, but to distill down: an ISIS workshop in Mosul was found with a number of DIY weaponized drones. This follows a February find of a workshop in Ramadi complete with vehicles constructed of plywood and styrofoam. The Mosul site included a peculiar model that looked to be a fixed-wing drone with attached quadrotor and PM speculated that it was either a mothership kind of design or for dropping boobytrapped quadrotors.

I’m left wondering if it was some sad attempt to create a fixed wing/VTOL hybrid, able to elevate vertically without runway or human launch but then take advantage of fixed-wing speed and stability like a Harrier.

Another part of the Popular Mechanics story was from Syria, where a refugee camp was hit by miniature guided bombs that appeared to be at least partially 3D-printed. They lacked engines but did apparently have working servos to operate fins and provide mid-course correction or at least stabilization, reportedly dropped from drones. I’ve been expecting sophisticated 3D-printed ordnance from insurgencies for a while but assumed they’d be in rocket form – perhaps it’s just easier to drop from above and guide in than launch and propel, plus the launch site has a better chance of staying undetected. The problem with assuming these latter are insurgent bombs though – aside from the fact that the Syrian regime is happy to kill refugees at their leisure – is that the height you’d need to drop them from to allow for any kind of vertical guidance is considerable, higher than the typical quadrotor. ISIS obviously has fixed wing dronecraft but the level of sophistication involved has me wondering.

Given the previous evolution I talked about involving ipad accelerometers to aim mortars in Syria and Raspberry Pi-powered missile launchers in Ukraine, when we were barely producing single-shot 3D printed firearms a decade ago, we’re likely to see more innovation in this area and to terrible effect.

Some Bits and Pieces

via @m1sp,

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via @robertloerzel,

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via @science_hooker, @lornalou92‘s ‘A Scot’s Lament for Americans, Oan their election of a tangerine gabshite walloper.’

via @museumarchive, a 6th century Buddha statue found in a Viking grave in Sweden.

via @valaafshar, what happens when you toss a pot of boiling water in -25 degree air.

and via Bill Tozier, an intriguing question that’s gripped my brain since he asked it:

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And to finish off for the evening: Kate McKinnon opens SNL by singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” That broke me a bit in a lovely and haunting way.

The Explosive Trajectory of Technology

Jon Jeckell tweeted a Popular Mechanics piece showing what appeared to be a Ukrainian prototype shoulder-fired missile with a guidance system powered by the Raspberry Pi microcomputer. The inclusion of the Pi makes it a seeming next-step from the much shared image of Syrian rebels in Jobar in 2013 using an iPad to angle mortar fire. We are using our new off-the-shelf street-level tools to build the complex weapons systems out of most people’s reach for the past half-century or more.

Just as notable as the idea that it uses the hobbyist computer is that it’s apparently guided by sound, making it the first sound-homing ground-based weapon. This dovetails neatly with another trend I’ve been tracking and laid out a bit in The Renewed Importance of Sound – an exploration and exploitation of a much different sensory domain than we’re used to engaging with.

Mortars have been around since the 14th century or so – unsurprisingly (due to the history of gunpowder), first appearing in east/southeast Asia. It took 500 years to go from massive, unwieldy field artillery pieces to the compact Stokes trench mortar in the first World War that could be carried and crewed by a single soldier. Less than fifty years later, engineers successfully managed to link hardware and firing control computers in such a way that they could achieve MRSI or Multiple Round Simultaneous Impact, a devastating deployment of ordnance in which multiple weapons in different places fire in such a way that their rounds reach the target at the same time. With minimal human input, which seems to be the way our weapons trend.

Shoulder-fired missiles have a similar line of development. Traced back to ancient Chinese arrows loaded with black powder and a fuse, they evolved then into multiply-crewed weapons systems that looked like a collection of tubes on a single wheel axle that could be fired in quick succession but not aimed particularly well. Fast forward roughly equivalent to the above and you get to the Panzerfaust of World War II and similar rocket-propelled weapons systems that were much more practical and stable, if not necessarily accurate. And again, in less than 10% of the time between the real inception of the weapon and its 20th century jump, the technology jumped again. As just one example, Britain developed the MBT-LAW shoulder-fired “fire and forget” system that tracks moving targets on its own, making autonomous corrections to its flight path and speed. Also consider MANPAD (man-portable air defense systems) like the Stinger missile.

At first glance the Jobar case and the Ukrainian prototype seem disconnected. After all, the former involves using the accelerometer of a separate, unlinked device whereas the missile integrates the technology. But consider the similar technological trajectories of the weapons systems and the fact that people without access to Pentagon engineers can now not only use computers to deliver ordnance accurately but can relatively easily link them similar to the MRSI concept explained above. Once an abstract concept, ballistic computers are now so natively and immediately understood that in the absence of them we appropriate our own, integrate them how we can, and deploy.

Security & Tech Briefs: Chrome, Trump, Smartwatches, Mac Exploit

Detectify Labs shared a clever way to deactivate security (or any) chrome plugins with a simple ping.

Donald Trump’s website was hacked, likely due to a CMS that hadn’t been patched in five years.

The insurance industry is concerned about smartwatches, the Internet of Things, big data and information security.

Ars Technica on a major 0day Mac exploit that’s already being seen in the wild.

Briefs: Women in Combat, NYSE, AI and Legal Work, OPM, Rothfuss

NYSE being vague about yesterday’s major trading glitch. I’m not convinced, but I’ve got no evidence to the otherwise.

Two lawyers talking about how artificial intelligence may affect legal work.

The Daily Beast on how OPM’s IT security department had no one with IT security experience.

The parody DPRK News twitter account ended up as a Fox News reference.

Excellent TED talk highlighting American women on the front lines in Afghanistan.

Of special note:

Author and all-around awesome person Patrick Rothfuss has started a new podcast with Max Temkin of Cards Against Humanity fame (or infamy). Really loved their first conversation – check it out here.

The Renewed Importance of Sound

There’s been an uptick in our recognition of the value of sound lately. Might be surprising in a world dominated by folks staring at phones and monitors all day – or make perfect sense, given that sound allows us to enter and engage with a different sensory domain than the visual in a world so visually busy.

Take Microsoft’s Cybercrime Center identifying infected computer network (botnet) communications by sound rather than signal.

The stew of infections in New York has a signature honk. The stew in Tokyo sounds almost like human voices. But what can sound really tell us about cybercrime?

Rubin, the designer, says the sound patterns “might prompt someone to ask a question or wonder about something that hadn’t previously been noticed before. Why are there all these hits coming in from this particular slice of the globe?”

Or consider the new field of soundscape ecology, in which scientists measure environmental changes and ecosystem health through analyzing its sounds. Here’s a short NOVA video on the subject.

Sound has also become a popular subject for TED conferences. Widen the perspective from ecosystem to everything and you get Physicist Janna Levin’s TED talk on exploring the universe through sound. It’s garnered nearly a million views since 2011.

We think of space as a silent place. But physicist Janna Levin says the universe has a soundtrack — a sonic composition that records some of the most dramatic events in outer space. (Black holes, for instance, bang on spacetime like a drum.)

Or dial your perspective straight into the personal experience of sound and you find Daniel Kish’s talk about using sonar by tongue clicks to navigate a world he can’t see. 800,000 views since March – it was ubiquitously shared across most of my feeds.

There are, of course, many more examples across technology and culture, especially recently. I’m left wondering at this point: is the resurgence of sound a reaction to a world so visually busy, or is it the next step in learning to augmenting ourselves and our systems now that we’ve got a better handle on the sighted world?

News Briefs: Reddit, Wifi, Comey’s Conflating, Combat troops vs. ISIS, more

Surprising news that Reddit nearly decentralized last year. Guessing after last week we’re about to see a reconcentration of authority.

Rob Graham on Google’s ‘Project Fi’ virtual mobile phone.

Motherboard on a fantastic long-range wifi proxy.

Milton Security: Harvard University breached.

Susan Landau at Lawfare with a great post on FBI Director Comey conflating the lone wolf threat and the encryption issue.

Brookings debate on whether to put boots on the ground to fight ISIS. Incredibly important conversation to engage in, and on an intelligent, mutually respecting basis. Need more conversations like these across our society.

Piketty on Germany and Greece. And an amazing project trying to crowdfund Greece’s 1.6B Euro payment.

Slate on Greece’s rejection of austerity through its referendum.

On a similar point, here’s the Guardian on where Greek bailout money went.

And from the FT via Tyler Cowen,

The Shanghai Composite has now fallen 12.1 per cent since Monday, its third consecutive week of double-digit losses since hitting a seven-year high on June 12.

The Shanghai index is firmly in bear market territory, down 28.6 per cent since the June peak, while the tech-heavy Shenzhen Composite has fallen 33.2 per cent.

There were also signs on Friday that the stock market turmoil is beginning to reverberate beyond China. The Australian dollar, often traded as a proxy for China growth, is down 1.2 per cent to a six-year low of US$0.7539.

The 21st Century Business Herald, a Chinese daily newspaper, on Friday quoted multiple futures traders as saying they had received phone calls from the China Financial Futures Exchange instructing them not to short the market.

Security & Tech Briefs: Routers, Dockets, Pita Pockets and more

Brian Krebs on appearances of hacked routers in the delivery of malware as well as a roundup of recent cases involving cybercriminals.

Delightfully pun-filled piece on a new, smaller and non-contact way to use radio emissions from a CPU to capture and derive cryptographic keys. Amused at the “can fit in a pita bread” metric.

Motherboard on a researcher working to identify malicious exit nodes in the Tor network by determining which ones are harvesting and using juicy-looking login credentials.

Hacker News on an unknown vulnerability being used to steal credit card information from sites using the e-commerce solution Magento.

Expert Rob Graham on why the new “Government Cyber Underwriter Lab” is a bad idea. I pretty thoroughly disagree but that’s no reason to not ponder some of the truths Graham laid out.

Great news, everyone: the ridiculously expensive, over-budget, behind-schedule, plagued-with-problems F35 just got bested in a dogfight with an F16 designed over 40 years ago.