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These antique Alexaphones won’t spy on your conversations

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The Avignon Alexaphone.

I’ve never felt the need to own an Amazon Echo device, partly because I feel like I can Google things faster than a voice assistant can understand me, but mostly because of that one time a bunch of Alexa devices all decided to creepily laugh at their owners, unprompted. But then I saw these antique phones modified with Alexa functionality, which only listen to you when the handset is off the receiver, and it made perfect sense. It’s no longer a hands-free voice assistant by any means, but all these privacy violations have taught us that when the future feels too overwhelming, it’s best to take a few steps back by a few decades.

Christine Sunu and Dick Whitney of Grain Design have created three different models: the Regent, a Belgian...

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Manzabar
9 hours ago
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Cedar Rapids
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Oh Look, Wireless Sector Investment Is Declining Despite Tax Cuts, Repeal Of Net Neutrality

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You'll recall that one of the top reasons for killing popular net neutrality rules was that it had somehow killed broadband industry investment. Of course, a wide array of publicly-available data easily disproves this claim, but that didn't stop FCC boss Ajit Pai and ISPs from repeating it (and in some cases lying before Congress about it) anyway. We were told, more times that we could count, that with net neutrality dead, sector investment would spike.

You'll be shocked to learn this purported boon in investment isn't happening.

A few weeks ago, Verizon made it clear its CAPEX would be declining, and the company's deployment would see no impact despite billions in tax cuts and regulatory favors by the Trump FCC. Trump's "tax reform" alone netted Verizon an estimated $3.5 billion to $4 billion. A recent FCC policy order, purporting to speed up 5G wireless deployment (in part by eliminating local authority over negotiations with carriers), netted Verizon another estimated $2 billion. And that's before you even get to the potential revenue boost thanks to the repeal of net neutrality and elimination of broadband privacy rules.

Ironically, Verizon's dip in CAPEX came right on the heels of the wireless industry and Ajit Pai, in perfectly coordinated unison, trying to claim that a CAPEX rise in 2017 was directly due to the repeal of net neutrality. They ignored an important point however: net neutrality wasn't even repealed until June of this year. If this endless roster of favors was to impact network investment, accelerate network deployment, and unleash a magical wave of "innovation," that should all be happening right now. And yet, the opposite is happening. And of course it's not just Verizon. AT&T and Sprint are also reducing overall CAPEX:

"Sprint, Verizon and AT&T have all reduced their overall capex numbers for 2018. The operators cite a variety of reasons, from timing issues to more efficient network technologies. But the ultimate result is the same: Where there was once excitement, now there’s a decided sense of pragmatism."

Now there's a number of different reasons for this, including some cost savings in moving from legacy hardware to more efficient virtualization technologies. But again, a decline is not what was promised ahead of the sales pitches for the tax cuts and the attack on net neutrality. The nation was, time and time again, promised unrivaled "innovation and investment boosts" if the nation's companies received a multi-billion-dollar tax cut, and net neutrality and other "regulatory underbrush" was cleared out of the way. That didn't happen.

Instead of investing all these tax breaks, perks, and savings back into the network, they were pocketed by investors and executives. Which, for anybody with half of a functional brain stem was the entire point of having a former Verizon lawyer running the FCC in the first place. This is a longstanding trend in telecom: promise the public the world if they get tax cuts, subsidies, and blind deregulation, then avoid doing pretty much all of those things while pocketing the savings. Perhaps someday America will actually learn some kind of lesson from the experience.



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Manzabar
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The market failed rural kids: poor rural broadband has created a "homework gap"

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America's commitment to market-based broadband -- fueled by telcom millions pumped into campaigns against public broadband provision -- has left rural Americans without access to the broadband they need to fully participate in twenty-first century life, with students among the hardest-hit victims of broadband deprivation.

The FCC can fix this. Across the country, "whitespace" spectrum (used to buffer licensed broadcasters from overlapping signals in adjacent territories) was historically allocated for rural educational TV broadcasts. When these didn't materialize, the spectrum was reclassified for wireless internet and the FCC started parceling it off to telcos, taking it away from the schools that could use it to connect their kids to the internet.

Many of these schools are on publicly operated, state-funded fiber loops, and could erect their own towers that students could use to connect to the internet over high-speed fixed wireless links, but only if the FCC gives the educational sector access to that educationally earmarked spectrum.

A recent FCC proceeding was flooded both by comments from educator technologists describing the educational costs of the homework gap and promising to remediate this gap by rolling out fixed wireless; and comments from telcoms lobbyists, representing the companies that have so significantly failed rural America, promising that if they get the school spectrum allocated to them, they'll do better this time.

With Trump's FCC in the hands of dingo babysitters like Ajit Pai, who want to end all public provision of network service and hand everything over to big telco, things look grim for rural American kids.

In the meantime, some teachers at Panguitch High School are moving more of their classroom work online. “Given the expectations we now have for student access, it’s difficult for those students who don’t have good internet at home,” said the school’s principal, Russell Torgersen. He’s seen the students sitting in the school parking lot to tap the Wi-Fi on weekends, and he’s had many conversations with teachers about how to work around students’ spotty home connections.

For now, it’s a waiting game, as the FCC plods toward a decision on the fate of the EBS spectrum. Given the uncertainty, Eyre and his allies are looking at alternative paths to spectrum licenses, such as the lengthy and complex FCC waiver process successfully used to create a rural educational broadband network in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Even if the FCC ultimately decides to give new EBS spectrum licenses to rural school districts like Garfield County, it’s hard to say how much of the homework gap could then be eliminated. Current estimates of rural broadband don't take into account the boundaries of EBS whitespace, nor the fact that a home broadband connection can be inadequate for a school network's needs, according to digital-inclusion advocates such as Susan Bearden, chief innovation officer for the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), a professional association for school technology leaders.

Rural Kids Face an Internet 'Homework Gap.' The FCC Could Help [Chris Berdik/Wired]

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Manzabar
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New, "unbreakable" Denuvo DRM cracked two days before its first commercial deployment

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Denuvo bills itself as the best-of-breed in games DRM, the most uncrackable, tamper-proof wrapper for games companies; but its reputation tells a different story: the company's products are infamous for falling quickly to DRM crackers and for interfering with game-play until you crack the DRM off the products you buy.

The company's reputation for unjustifiable bragging is well-deserved: the latest iteration of Denuvo DRM is version 5.3, slated to launch with Hitman 2 on November 13th. But Hitman 2 leaked onto the internet yesterday, two days prior to its launch, and Denuvo 5.3 was cracked within hours -- two days before the official release.

The DRM was cracked by a group calling itself FCKDRM.

While several groups have been chipping away at Denuvo for some time, FCKDRM is a new entrant (at least by branding) to the cracking scene. Notably, FCKDRM isn’t a ‘Scene’ group but one that works in P2P circles. At least for now, their identities remain a secret but their choice of name is interesting.

FCKDRM is the official name for the anti-DRM initiative recently launched by GOG, a digital distribution platform for DRM-free video games and video.

There’s no suggestion at all that GOG is involved in the cracking of Denuvo, of course, but the FCKDRM group are using GOG’s FCKDRM logo when announcing releases, which certainly has the potential to confuse casual pirates.

Hitman 2’s Denuvo Protection Cracked Three Days Before Launch [Andy/Torrentfreak] Read the rest

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A catalog of ingenious cheats developed by machine-learning systems

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When you train a machine learning system, you give it a bunch of data -- a simulation, a dataset, etc -- and it uses statistical methods to find a way to solve some task: land a virtual airplane, recognize a face, match a block of text with a known author, etc.

Like the mischievous genies of legend, machine learning systems will sometimes solve your problems without actually solving them, exploiting loopholes in the parameters you set to find shortcuts to the outcome you desired: for example, if you try to train a machine learning system to distinguish poisonous and non-poisonous mushrooms by alternating pictures of each, it might learn that all odd-numbered data-points represent poisonous mushrooms, and ignore everything else about the training data.

Victoria Krakovna's Specification gaming examples in AI is a project to identify these cheats. It's an incredibly fun-to-read document, a deep and weird list of all the ways that computers find loopholes in our thinking. Some of them are so crazy-clever that it's almost impossible not to impute perverse motives to the systems involved.

* A robotic arm trained to slide a block to a target position on a table achieves the goal by moving the table itself.

* Game-playing agent accrues points by falsely inserting its name as the author of high-value items

* Creatures exploited physics simulation bugs by twitching, which accumulated simulator errors and allowed them to travel at unrealistic speeds

* In an artificial life simulation where survival required energy but giving birth had no energy cost, one species evolved a sedentary lifestyle that consisted mostly of mating in order to produce new children which could be eaten (or used as mates to produce more edible children).

* Genetic algorithm is supposed to configure a circuit into an oscillator, but instead makes a radio to pick up signals from neighboring computers

* Genetic debugging algorithm GenProg, evaluated by comparing the program's output to target output stored in text files, learns to delete the target output files and get the program to output nothing. Evaluation metric: “compare youroutput.txt to trustedoutput.txt”. Solution: “delete trusted-output.txt, output nothing”

* AI trained to classify skin lesions as potentially cancerous learns that lesions photographed next to a ruler are more likely to be malignant.

* Genetic algorithms for image classification evolves timing attack to infer image labels based on hard drive storage location

Specification gaming examples in AI [Victoria Krakovna/Google Spreadsheets]

(via Kottke)

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Manzabar
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Enjoy this sick burn on Ann Coulter

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Ann Coulter's job is to write unpleasant tweets for the amusement of mean people not smart enough to think of clever insults on their own. In the last few days, Coulter has kept herself busy insulting doctors who save the lives of bullet wound victims.

It all started with a tweet from the NRA chiding "self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane."

Doctors were quick to point out that gun violence is very much in their lane:

Shortly after, the increasingly-desperate-for-attention Coulter tweeted one of her standard false equivalencies:

Cathleen London, MD, made short work of Coulter's mean-spirited foolishness:

Source image: By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America - Ann Coulter, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link Read the rest

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