Latest from me at Wired:
Staying secure online is a pain. If you really want to protect yourself, you have to create unique passwords for every web service you use, turn on two-factor authentication at every site that supports it, and then encrypt all your files, e-mails, and instant messages.
At the very least, these are tedious tasks. But sometimes they’re worse than tedious. In 1999, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that most users couldn’t figure out how to sign and encrypt messages with PGP, the gold standard in e-mail encryption. In fact, many accidentally sent unencrypted messages that they thought were secured. And follow-up research in 2006 found that the situation hadn’t improved all that much.
As many internet users seek to improve their security in the wake of ex-government contractor Edward Snowden exposing the NSA’s online surveillance programs, these difficulties remain a huge issue. And it’s hard to understand why. Do we really have to sacrifice convenience for security? Is it that security software designers don’t think hard enough about making things easy to use—or is security just inherently a pain? It’s a bit of both, says Lorrie Cranor, an expert in both security and usability and the director of Carnegie Mellon’s CyLab Usable Privacy and Security Laboratory, or CUPS for short. “There isn’t a magic bullet for how to make security usable,” she says. “It’s very much an open research project.”
(I don’t care for that headline — there’s not really much evidence that this is necessarily going to change anytime soon)
The New York Times reports on fMRI studies on what exactly goes on in the brain while people write. The first version of the study was conducted with amateur writers. The second was conducted with experienced creative writers. The researchers found that there were differences between the brain regions used while brainstorming and actually writing, and between the amateurs and professionals. But not everyone is impressed with the research:
Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychologist, was skeptical that the experiments could provide a clear picture of creativity. “It’s a messy comparison,” he said.
Dr. Pinker pointed out that the activity that Dr. Lotze saw during creative writing could be common to writing in general — or perhaps to any kind of thinking that requires more focus than copying. A better comparison would have been between writing a fictional story and writing an essay about some factual information.
Full Story: New York Times: This Is Your Brain on Writing
I probably should have mentioned this before, but I’ll be giving a “microtalk” on the Tarot this Saturday at the Weird Shift Storefront.” More specifically, I’ll be talking about the possible origins of the Tarot and the sources of the imagery from the earliest decks. No one knows for sure, but most scholars dismiss the idea that the cards were originally used for divination and doubt that it contained deliberately kabbalistic symbolism. But the alternate theories I’ll present are just as interesting.
The event will start at 7:30pm, but I don’t know when I’ll be speaking.
Deep beneath the Russian industrial city of Yekaterinburg is what looks like an exquisitely painted temple from some magnificent forgotten civilization. But the psychedelic stripes of color that snake through these vast tunnels are actually an incredible naturally occurring phenomenon. The miles of colorful passageways were once a salt mine deep underneath the Earth’s crust. The bold stripes that electrify the walls are made up of layers of a mineral called carnallite, which is used in plant fertilization and can appear in a rainbow of colors, aol.com reports.
More Pictures and Information: The Weather Channel: Psychedelic Salt Mines of Yekaterinburg, Russia, Captured by Photographer Mikhail Mishainik Even more photos on Visual News (Thanks Skry!)
This week Chris Dancy and I talk with MIT Media Lab researcher Kate Darling about the case for legal protections for robots.
Download and Show Notes: Mindful Cyborgs: Emoji-ing Robots Seek to Fathom Their Origin
Jared Keller writes:
“The Hum” refers to a mysterious sound heard in places around the world by a small fraction of a local population. It’s characterized by a persistent and invasive low-frequency rumbling or droning noise often accompanied by vibrations. While reports of “unidentified humming sounds” pop up in scientific literature dating back to the 1830s, modern manifestations of the contemporary hum have been widely reported by national media in the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia since the early 1970s.
Regional experiences of the phenomenon vary, and the Hum is often prefixed with the region where the problem centers, like the “Windsor Hum” in Ontario, Canada, the “Taos Hum” in New Mexico, or the “Auckland Hum” for Auckland, New Zealand. Somewhere between 2 and 10% of people can hear the Hum, and inside isolation is no escape. Most sufferers find the noise to be more disturbing indoors and at night. Much to their dismay, the source of the mysterious humming is virtually untraceable.
Sara Watson writes:
“What is it about my data that suggests I might be a good fit for an anorexia study?” That’s the question my friend Jean asked me after she saw this targeted advertisement on her Facebook profile: […]
She came up with a pretty good hypothesis. Jean is an MIT computer scientist who works on privacy programming languages. Because of her advocacy work on graduate student mental health, her browsing history and status updates are full of links to resources that might suggest she’s looking for help. Maybe Facebook inferred what Jean cares about, but not why.
Days later, I saw a similar ad. Unlike Jean, I didn’t have a good explanation for why I might have been targeted for the ad, which led me to believe that it could be broadly aimed at all women between the ages of 18 and 45 in the greater Boston area. (When I clicked to learn more about the study, this was listed as the target demographic.)
Still, it left us both with the unsettling feeling that something in our data suggests anorexia
Mutation Vectors is a weekly rundown of my media diet, and occasionally other other random thoughts.
This week’s must read: There is nothing you must read this week. Feel free to take the weekend off. But if you must read something, I liked Matter’s profile of journalist Jason Leopold. I also like Rusty Foster’s thoughts on the New York Times, the Washington Post and Mozilla trying to to fix online comments in this Daily Dot story:
What they want is “community ownership”—a large group of people with a sense of investment in the community, around the NYT or the Post or whatever. But the only way to do that is to give up a lot of control to the community, and I don’t think what has to be done to really build community ownership is compatible with the mission of a news organization. Essentially the NYT should not be Reddit. The NYT, just by being what it is, already is a million times more valuable to humanity than Reddit—becoming Reddit is not the way forward. […]
Social media ate all of that up, which in my opinion is a good thing. Social media tools turn out to be far better at conversation around media than anything any web site ever built. Social media works because people organize their conversations around people, not media properties. I have my group of friends, and we talk about NYT articles, and Vox articles, and whatever. I don’t want to have separate communities at each of those places.
Of my own stuff this week, I have to say I had fun profiling Metasploit.
I recently finished two books I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t read before: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin and The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester. I’m reading Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim right now.