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Remembering the Max Headroom Incident, One of the Creepiest Hacks Ever

I wrote a bit about the Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion for Wired today:

Around 9 o’clock on November 22, 1989, Chicago residents witnessed this epic hack. The evening news sportscast cut out, and a person in a strange mask appeared, dancing around in front of a spinning piece of metal—a rather dark incarnation of Max Headroom, the rather inexplicable character at the heart of the British TV series Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into The Future and two subsequent TV shows. On these shows, Headroom had a tendency to interrupt the broadcasts of the fictional TV station Network 23, but this wasn’t an authorized appearance by the character. It was a real pirate transmission.

After about 30 seconds, WGN’s technicians were able to override the pirate signal. “Well, if you’re wondering what’s happened, so am I,” the station’s sports anchor Dan Roan said when the signal was restored. But two hours later, PBS affiliate station WTTW’s broadcast of Doctor Who was similarly interrupted. This time, the pranksters were able to broadcast their entire video, complete with audio. And what nightmarish audio it was. “Yeah, I think I’m better than Chuck Swirsky!” the infiltrator announced in a high pitched, distorted voice, referring to the Chicago area sports announcer.

Full Story: Remembering the Max Headroom Incident, One of the Creepiest Hacks Ever

Vice Motherboard has the most in-depth look at the incident that I’ve seen, and those looking for something longer than my piece but shorter than the Vice piece should check out Chicago Radio and Media‘s article. And the Chicago Tribune‘s contemporaneous coverage is worth a read too.

Technoccult: The Game

technoccult-screenshot

Eliot Gardepe has released a computer game called Technoccult: Covenant. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with this site, and no I haven’t been in touch with the developer. I found it on Twitter.

I downloaded it, but haven’t had time to play it much, but it appears to be an interactive fiction/adventure game in the Maniac Mansion/Ultima/DejaVu style. (Oddly enough I’ve been thinking it would be fun to work in this medium myself). Oh, and it’s got a drum ‘n bass soundtrack.

Ridley Scott to produce adaptation of Jack Parsons biography for AMC

From Boing Boing:

The colorful life of Jack Parsons as revealed in the biography Strange Angel by George Pendle will appear on AMC in miniseries form, according to a Deadline report. Ridley Scott and David Zucker will executive produce the series, which will be written by Mark Heyman (Skeleton Twins, Black Swan).

Full Story: Boing Boing: Ridley Scott to produce miniseries on rocket scientist, occultist Jack Parsons

Previously:

Jack Parsons web comic

Make Magazine feature on Parsons

Stage play about Parsons

Audio play about Parsons

The Collected Writings of Jack Parsons

Mutation Vectors: Double Dose of Doom Edition

gamergate-flag

Status Update

Feeling exceptionally bitter this afternoon, and since I missed last week, you get a double-dose of doom this time around.

Browsing

Lots of good writing about GamerGate and trolling since last I posted:

And at least a couple answers to the question of what to do about it:

I don’t know really know what this and this are satirizing, but I found them funny anyway.

In local news: Oregon’s governor is corrupt and/or incompetent, but the Willamette Week makes a strong case that he’s still better than the alternative. Meanwhile, Rick Turoczy points out that Portland is becoming a marketing technology hub. Which makes sense since Webtrends is our one big tech startup success story (since SurveyMonkey moved away and Jive, which also moved, isn’t necessarily a success), and Wieden + Kennedy is a real anchor-company for the city. It also occurs to me that thinking of Portland as an ad agency town helps explain much of the city’s transformation over the past few years. Elsewhere, The Baffler editor John Summers said “When you’re in Portland and you don’t own your own house—if they’re bringing in tech people, you should just pack your bags.” And it’s not just tech bros coming. It’s ad tech bros. *shudder*

Meanwhile:

Oh, and the Washington Post reports that the Siberian Mystery Crater might have been created by thawing methane gas, and if that’s the case then we’re proper fucked.

A lot of people like this piece where Quinn Norton tries to find some hope in a doomed world, but I’m sorry, I just couldn’t get through it. But maybe you’ll find some comfort there? If not, perhaps Drunk Jeff Goldblum will cheer you up:

Watching

I rewatched Funky Forest and it gets better with every viewing. It’s pure mad genius. No, it doesn’t make any more narrative sense on rewatching, but it starts to make its own sort of internal sense, the way the most absurd of dreams make sense while you’re dreaming them.

Reading

The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things by Bruce Sterling

Listening

But I feel like I’m about to go through another doom metal phase.

Google Maps face blurring algorithms also blur the faces of statues

shiva

buddha

Many more pictures here

(Thanks Emily Dare)

Interview with critic and psychoanalyst Mikita Brottman about the terrors of reading

Mark Dery talks with Mikita Brottman, author of The Solitary Vice: Against Reading:

I live in an old hotel, and I’ve recently been researching old newspaper items about the suicides that happened here, and the notes people left. However brief, I find them infinitely suggestive. They’re little vignettes of private tragedy, windows onto the changing century. They contain snippets of peripheral history—the introduction of automobiles, the development of telegraph and telephones, the advent of Great Depression, the injustice of segregation, and the changing nature of the hotel trade. There are also insinuations about social class, alienated parents, sons with too much money, businessmen suffering from existential ennui. There’s a sense of nostalgia in these little case studies as well—of a Baltimore that was both genteel and bohemian, whose kings were society men, tobacco lords and bootleg emperors. Another interesting feature of these vignettes is their reliable supporting cast, consisting of desk clerks, bellboys, maids, doctors and coroners. I find the suicide notes especially touching, with their polite, self-deprecating apologies, often expressing regret to the hotel staff for the necessary cleanup job.

Full Story: Boing Boing: Solitary Vices: Mikita Brottman on the Books in Her Life

How Schools Groom Students for A Lifetime of Surveillance

Jessy Irwin writes:

Since 2011, billions of dollars of venture capital investment have poured into public education through private, for-profit technologies that promise to revolutionize education. Designed for the “21st century” classroom, these tools promise to remedy the many, many societal ills facing public education with artificial intelligence, machine learning, data mining, and other technological advancements.

They are also being used to track and record every move students make in the classroom, grooming students for a lifetime of surveillance and turning education into one of the most data-intensive industries on the face of the earth. The NSA has nothing on the monitoring tools that education technologists have developed in to “personalize” and “adapt” learning for students in public school districts across the United States.

Full Story: Model View Culture: Grooming Students for A Lifetime of Surveillance

Democratizing Drones

Artist Ingrid Burrington talks about the problems with “drones for good”:

The best possible scenarios for drone technologies being used in the future center on the question of who owns them? It’s mainly proprietary technology, mostly in the hands of the military, if we are talking about the large, heavy-duty, and weaponized drones, while the smaller hobbyist and consumer-grade drones still are beyond the price point of the average consumer. The concept of using drones for good, while very well intentioned, still feels very much like it’s coming from this neoliberal, nonprofit, industrial-complex mentality, which weirds me out. So the potential for drones having positive social impacts has to do with drones becoming an available tool to those who could use them for establishing equitable power relations. The problem is that drones are tools that by default operate with asymmetrical power relations: the operator can see lots of things that you can’t see. So improving the scenario becomes about allowing people to see what drones see.

Full Story: art21: Drones: An Interview with Ingrid Burrington

There are cheap drones like the Parrot AR, but I’m guessing she’s referring to ones that can fly further and longer. This brings to mind nanosattelites that let you rent time on them to do your own space research. Perhaps we need something similar but for drones?

This reminds me that I’ve been meaning to post this video of the drones panel at the Theorizing the Web conference:

The panel included The New Aesthetic coiner James Bridle, Weird Shift Con and Murmeration co-organizer Adam Rothstein, other Murmeration co-organizer Olivia Rosane and Briar developer Eleanor Saitta.

One of my favorite bits is Bridle saying “the history of all aerial stuff is the history of weaponization.” I thought he said the first military use of aerial weapons happened during a Russian attack on Vienna in 1790, but I’m not sure what battle he was referring to. Perhaps my notes are wrong. Wikipedia tells me that the first military use of observation balloons was by the French in 1794. Also, the Chinese were using paper lanterns for military signaling as far back as the 2nd century.

Neurosexism: Brains, Gender and Tech

Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett, authors of The New Soft War on Women, once again debunk the idea that there are important neurological differences between men and women:

Baron-Cohen based his ideas on a study done in his laboratory of day-old infants, male and female. He claimed that boy babies looked at mobiles longer, while girl babies looked at faces longer. Based on this study, Parents magazine informed its readers, “Girls prefer dolls [to blocks and toys] because girls pay more attention to people while boys are more enthralled with mechanical objects.”

But Baron-Cohen’s study had major problems. It was an “outlier” study. No one else has replicated these findings, including Baron-Cohen himself. It is so flawed as to be almost meaningless.

Full Story: Re/code: Neurosexism: Brains, Gender and Tech

Why rote memorization is still important for learning

Engineering professor Barbara Oakley explains how she rewired her brain for math at the age of 26:

When learning math and engineering as an adult, I began by using the same strategy I’d used to learn language. I’d look at an equation, to take a very simple example, Newton’s second law of f = ma. I practiced feeling what each of the letters meant—f for force was a push, m for mass was a kind of weighty resistance to my push, and a was the exhilarating feeling of acceleration. (The equivalent in Russian was learning to physically sound out the letters of the Cyrillic alphabet.) I memorized the equation so I could carry it around with me in my head and play with it. If m and a were big numbers, what did that do to f when I pushed it through the equation? If f was big and a was small, what did that do to m? How did the units match on each side? Playing with the equation was like conjugating a verb. I was beginning to intuit that the sparse outlines of the equation were like a metaphorical poem, with all sorts of beautiful symbolic representations embedded within it. Although I wouldn’t have put it that way at the time, the truth was that to learn math and science well, I had to slowly, day by day, build solid neural “chunked” subroutines—such as surrounding the simple equation f = ma—that I could easily call to mind from long term memory, much as I’d done with Russian.

Time after time, professors in mathematics and the sciences have told me that building well-ingrained chunks of expertise through practice and repetition was absolutely vital to their success. Understanding doesn’t build fluency; instead, fluency builds understanding. In fact, I believe that true understanding of a complex subject comes only from fluency.

Full Story: Nautilus: How I Rewired My Brain to Become Fluent in Math

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