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Posts Tagged ‘hacking

“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact”*…

 

Your correspondent is heading into his annual Holiday hiatus (regular service will resume on January 2), so by way of being sure that readers have something to occupy them in the meantime…

We’ve spent time before with Hans Rosling (“By the Numbers…” and “Poverty is an anomaly to rich people. It is very difficult to make out why people who want dinner do not ring the bell“*…), the man who reasons that experts cannot solve major challenges if they do not operate on facts. “But first you need to erase preconceived ideas,” he says, “and that is the difficult thing.”  Nature has done us all the service of collecting a wide variety of his amazing, mind-changing presentations…

Hans Rosling knew never to flee from men wielding machetes. “The risk is higher if you run than if you face them,” he says. So, in 1989, when an angry mob confronted him at the field laboratory he had set up in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rosling tried to appear calm. “I thought, ‘I need to use the resources I have, and I am good at talking’.”

Rosling, a physician and epidemiologist, pulled from his knapsack a handful of photographs of people from different parts of Africa who had been crippled by konzo, an incurable disease that was affecting many in this community, too. Through an interpreter, he explained that he believed he knew the cause, and he wanted to test local people’s blood to be sure. A few minutes into his demonstration, an old woman stepped forward and addressed the crowd in support of the research. After the more aggressive members of the mob stopped waving their machetes, she rolled up her sleeve. Most followed her lead. “You can do anything as long as you talk with people and listen to people and talk with the intelligentsia of the community,” says Rosling.

He is still trying to arm influential people with facts. He has become a trusted counsellor and speaker of plain truth to United Nations leaders, billionaire executives such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and politicians including Al Gore. Even Fidel Castro called on the slim, bespectacled Swede for advice. Rosling’s video lectures on global health and economics have elevated him to viral celebrity status, and he has been listed among the 100 most influential people in the world by the magazines Time and Foreign Policy. Melinda Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation says, “To have Hans Rosling as a teacher is one of the biggest honors in the world.”…

More of Rosling’s story– and lots of his short-but-world-view-changing presentations– at “Three minutes with Hans Rosling will change your mind about the world.”

* Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Boscombe Valley Mystery”

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As we celebrate facts, we might send amazing birthday greetings to John Nevil Maskelyne; he was born on this date in 1839.  An accomplished stage magician, he was also an inventor, perhaps most notably, of the first pay toilet (the “penny toilet,” origin of the phrase “spend a penny”).

His son, Nevil Maskelyne, was also a magician and inventor– and the perpetrator of the first instance of electronic hacking.

John Nevil Maskelyne

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Happy Holidays!  See you in the New Year…

Written by LW

December 22, 2016 at 1:01 am

“This is the patent age of new inventions for killing bodies, and for saving souls. All propagated with the best intentions.”*…

 

From Paul Scheerbart’s Perpetual Motion Machine

Sam Lavigne has created the ultimate tool for this, the Age of Intellectual Property:  a program that transforms literary and philosophical texts into patent applications…

In short, it reframes texts as inventions or machines. You can view the code on github.

I was partially inspired by Paul Scheerbart’s Perpetual Motion Machine, a sort of technical/literary diary in which Scheerbart documents and reflects on various failed attempts to create a perpetual motion machine. Scheerbart frequently refers to his machines as “stories” – I wanted to reverse the concept and transform stories into machines…

Here’s some sample output, listed by invention title and source text:

“A method and device for comprehending theoretically the historical movement” (The Communist Manifesto)

“An apparatus and device for staring into vacancy” (“The Hunger Artist” by Kafka)

“A device and system for belonging to bringing-forth” (The Question Concerning Technology by Heidegger)

One can read the details– and try it for oneself– at “Transform any text into a patent application.”

* Lord Byron

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As we ponder the protection of “property” that isn’t even ours, we might recall that it was on this date in 1903 that what was likely the first instance of electronic hacking took place.  During a demonstration by Marconi of his wireless communications system at the Royal Institution in London, one of Marconi’s rivals, the magician and inventor Nevil Maskelyne intervened.  As physicist John Ambrose Fleming was preparing to give the public their first demonstration of “radio,” Marconi was at his clifftop radio station in Poldhu, Cornwall, 300 miles away, preparing to send a Morse code signal. Though the audience was unaware of it, the assistant tending the receiving apparatus found it was already tapping out the word “rats,” repeatedly. Then it mocked, “There was a young fellow of Italy, who diddled the public quite prettily…” and more.  Maskelyne was attempting– rather successfully– to make Marconi’s claims of “secure and private communication” appear foolish.

Maskelyne with one of his more famous inventions/illusions: “Zoe, the drawing automaton”

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Written by LW

June 4, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Man is still the most extraordinary computer of all”*…

 

German artist Ralf Baecker gives technology a life of its own. His new piece Irrational Computing, which debuts June 10 at the International Triennial of New Media Art, use semiconductor crystals (quartz sand) and connects them to interlinked modules to create a primitive macroscopic signal processor. In other words, he’s using quartz (a natural resource that’s one of the basic commodities for all information technology), to create a raw mineral computer.

Baecker used quartz crystals taken directly from nature and industrial waste products and connected them to the modules, which use the electrical and mechanical specifics of the mineral to form a visual display, of sorts. Simultaneously, the crystals work as sound generators, as the electrical impulses from the modules force the quartz to vibrate. Through speakers, gallery visitors can both see and hear these quartz crystals. They even appear to have an unpredictable, life-like “conversation” with the other materials in the installation set-up, as the impulse signals and responses are organically random (thus, the “Irrational” part of the installation’s title)…

See more, and read an interview with Baecker, via The Creator’s Project (a JV of Intel and Vice), at “An Artist Has Made A Primitive Computer Out Of Earth Crystals, And Little Else.”

* John F. Kennedy

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As we muse on minerals, we might spare a thought for a key intellectual ancestor of Hacking and “Making”: the Father of the Age of Reason and author (in Candide) of the immortal– and sardonically ironic– advice that each of us should “tend his own garden,” Francois-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire; he died on this date in 1778.

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Written by LW

May 30, 2014 at 1:01 am

Phreaking out…

Cover of the Spring 2012 issue of 2600

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In preparation for “treat-ing” tonight’s parade of freaks, one might pause to pay respects to 2600: The Hacker Quarterly, an American publication that specializes in publishing technical information on a variety of subjects including telephone switching systems, Internet protocols and services, as well as general news concerning the computer underground.  The magazine’s moniker comes from the “phreaker” discovery (by John “Cap’n Crunch” Draper and friends in the 1960s) that the transmission of a 2600 hertz tone (which could be produced perfectly with a plastic toy whistle given away free with Cap’n Crunch cereal) over a long-distance trunk connection gained access to “operator mode” and allowed the user to explore aspects of the telephone system that were not otherwise accessible… like free long distance calls.  (The seed money for Apple was in part raised by the two Steves’ sale of “phreaking boxes” designed to do just this.)

2600 has become a journal-of-record for “Grey Hat” hackers– tech explorers concerned to push past the limits inherent to the design of a given technological device or application (as opposed to White Hats, who are ideologically motivated to do good, or Black Hats, who pursue selfish– often illegal– gain).  So its current editorial focus is largely on the web and its devices, increasingly on mobile implementations and application.

But 2600 honors its roots, among other ways, by maintaining a gallery of photos of payphones around the world; for example…

Peshlawar, Pakistan

Moscow, Russia (The payphones only accept one ruble coins, an obsolete denomination)

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As we wax nostalgic, we might send illuminating birthday greetings to Narinder Singh Kapany; he was born on this date in 1926.  While growing up in Dehradun in northern India, a teacher informed him that light only traveled in a straight line.  He took this as a challenge and made the study of light his life work, initially at Imperial College, London.  In January 1954, Nature published his report of successfully transmitting images through fiber bundles– and Dr. Kapany became the father of fiber optics (a name he coined).  Dr. Kapany ultimately migrated to the U.S., where he continued to invent (he holds over 100 patents), taught, started successful companies, and became a philanthropist.  Fortune named him one of seven ‘Unsung Heroes’ in their “Businessmen of the Century” issue (November 22, 1999).  It was, of course, the implementation of Dr. Kapany’s work that rendered “phreaking” moot.

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Happy Halloween!

 from the NY Public Library’s Flickr set of Halloween cards

Written by LW

October 31, 2013 at 1:01 am

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