The Null Device
Windows worm infects teller machines, in the first documented incidence of the sort. The Windows XP-based ATMs were made by Diebold (of dodgy voting-machine fame), connected to standard TCP/IP-based networks, and have been replacing legacy OS/2-based machines on proprietary networks.
An interesting look at the recent rise of anti-semitism in Europe:
The forum asserts that the most dangerous strand has its roots in Islam and that the rising number of Muslims in Europe is responsible for fuelling terror attacks, street violence and general harassment of Jews... it was revealed that the EU's racism watchdog has suppressed a report on anti-semitism because it concluded that Muslims were behind many incidents.
Deborah Lipstadt, the academic who won a libel victory after describing the rightwing historian David Irving as a Holocaust denier, this month described the "new" anti-semitism as directed at the "Rambo Jew, the Jew who is the aggressor".
"Sharon has a long record of calling Israeli critics of his policies traitors, and foreign critics anti-semites. The left is concerned that Sharon's policies are endangering Israel's future by fuelling virulent and violent anti-semitism."
The question arises of how closely criticism of Israeli policies (which, it must be said, have been somewhat hard-line in recent years) is connected with anti-semitic ideology. On one hand, it's implausible to assume that ideological anti-semites haven't jumped on this bandwagon (after all, there were reports of neo-Nazis joining the radical vegetarian/animal-rights movement looking for sufficiently zealous extremists to network with, a somewhat more bizarre scenario; closer to the situation, there were reports of neo-Nazi front groups joining the anti-capitalist protest movement, and trying to replace criticism of globalisation with discussion of "globalism", aka the cosmopolitan Elders-of-Zion bête noire). On the other hand, tarring all criticism of Israel with the brush of anti-semitism is obviously absurd, as much as accusing all critics of the Bush administration of despising Americans.
A new Ku Klux Klan recruit has been critically wounded when a bullet fired into the air fell on his head, penetrating his skull. Champagne comedy, folks...
About 10 people, including two children, had gathered for the ceremony. The man who was being initiated was blindfolded, tied with a noose to a tree and shot with paintball guns as Freeman fired a pistol in the air to provide the sound of real gunfire, Sheriff Fred Phillips said.
Freeman fled the ceremony but was arrested near his home, authorities said. He was released on $7,500 bail.
Ah, those Klansmen. Every bit as brave as they are smart.
Contrarian idea of the day: genetically engineered organisms may be our best hope for averting environmental catastrophe: (via worldchanging)
In 2001 a group of scientists announced that they had engineered a transgenic tomato plant able to thrive on salty water--water, in fact, almost half as salty as seawater, and fifty times as salty as tomatoes can ordinarily abide.
Salt-tolerant crops might bring millions of acres of wounded or crippled land back into production. "And it gets better," Alex Avery told me. The transgenic tomato plants take up and sequester in their leaves as much as six or seven percent of their weight in sodium. "Theoretically," Alex said, "you could reclaim a salt-contaminated field by growing enough of these crops to remove the salts from the soil."
most agronomists agree that some substantial yield improvements are still to be had from advances in conventional breeding, fertilizers, herbicides, and other Green Revolution standbys. But it seems pretty clear that biotechnology holds more promise--probably much more. Recall that world food output will need to at least double and possibly triple over the next several decades. Even if production could be increased that much using conventional technology, which is doubtful, the required amounts of pesticide and fertilizer and other polluting chemicals would be immense. If properly developed, disseminated, and used, genetically modified crops might well be the best hope the planet has got.
Of course, to the Khmer Vert that is the dogmatic wing of the Green movement, any tampering with Mother Gaia's blessing is anathema and an absolute evil, so they won't have a bar of this. Though hopefully more neophilic heads will prevail, when people realise that we can't return to an idealised, "natural" hunter-gatherer subsistence lifestyle. Human civilisation, in its present form, is deeply unnatural and dependent on technology, and the only way to reduce its footprint on the planet will be by technological means.
The Internet Archive have announced that they intend to host the MP3.com collection. The mp3.com domain name was sold recently, but all data on the servers has been condemned to destruction. mp3.com founder Michael Robertson is involved in negotiations with Vivendi Universal to save it; though given the mp3.com owners' hostility to nontraditional ideas of intellectual property, they may not have much of a chance. (via TechDirt)
It looks like the company that bought SpamCop is in the "bulk email tools" business. We'll see if they end up compromising SpamCop or turning it into a racket, selling favoured spammers safe passage to your inbox.
I picked up the Kill Bill vol. 1 soundtrack CD today. Like film soundtrack CDs (well, the better ones, anyway), it's a bit of a mixed bag, though has enough good moments to make it worthwhile. Nancy Sinatra's Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) is, of course, beautiful and haunting, and Bernard Herrmann's Twisted Nerve is a very stylish piece of retro ambience. Luis Bacalov's The Grand Duel (Parte Prima), taken from the score of some old film, is spaghetti-Western music in the Morricone tradition, and I'm sure I have heard Zamfir's The Lonely Shepherd before. I wasn't too fond of RZA's contributions, particularly Ode to Oren Ishii, a rather gratuitous piece of gangsta rap. (I suppose it makes marketing sense to have it there, though, and it probably beats having LL Cool J rapping about whatever cardboard-cutout character he played in his latest film.) The CD is padded out with loops of drumming and sound effects created by RZA for combat sequences; listening to them is not unlike listening to an electronic-music magazine CD of free samples.
One annoyance: they only put a bit over a minute of Neu!'s Super 16 on the CD. Given that the disc clocks in at 59 minutes, they could have fit the whole track on it. Though perhaps it'd have cost them higher licensing fees or something.
Consciousness researcher Christof Koch claims that we are almost zombies, or rather, that the vast majority of our lives are spent unconsciously, on autopilot: (via bOING bOING)
You drive to work on autopilot, move your eyes, brush your teeth, tie your shoelaces, talk, and all the other myriad chores that constitute daily life. Indeed, he says, Any sufficiently well-rehearsed activity is best performed without conscious, deliberate thought. Reflecting too much about any one action is likely to interfere with its seamless execution.
Given the range and effectiveness of these zombie agents, Koch believes the great mystery is why we are not complete zombies. Or to put it another way: What purpose does consciousness serve? Why does it exist at all?
Consciousness, Koch argues, is a local phenomenon, residing in a specific part of the brain, and serving a specific purpose, and not an emergent property of a complex system, as some have claimed:
In principle, Koch says, there is no reason why consciousness is necessary to life. With enough input sensors and output effectors, it is conceivable that A zombie could pretty much do anything. But since every zombie behavior must be hard-wired, the more situations it must respond to, the more complex its internal mechanism must become. Instead, Evolution has chosen a different path, synthesizing a much more powerful and flexible system that we call consciousness. The main function of this innovation, he and Crick propose, is to enable organisms to deal rapidly with unexpected events and to plan for the future. As Koch likes to say, consciousness puts us online, allowing us to override our instinctual offline programming.
Which lends itself to a possible test for detecting consciousness, and thus differentiating between humans and zombies and other unconscious life:
Since zombie agents operate purely according to preprogrammed rules, a zombie would have no need for short-term memory, and hence Koch believes the absence of this feature would serve as an indication that consciousness was also missing. Consider the following situation: You see an outstretched hand, but instead of shaking it immediately, which instinct would dictate, you are required to close your eyes and wait several seconds before doing so. Koch and Crick suspect that without a short-term memory, a zombie could not do this task, or any other in which an artificial delay was imposed between an input and the associated motor output.
For the moment, he is concentrating not on humans but on biologys most common test subject, the mouse. He and his colleagues are trying to develop a mouse model of consciousness, a rigorous way of determining if and when a mouse is aware. Over the past decade, biologists have learned how to turn individual genes on and off in the developing rodent fetus. With a mouse model of consciousness, Koch could begin to explore what genes are essential for this phenomenon. One question he would like to pursue is whether it is possible to genetically engineer an animal without conscious awareness -- a zombie mouse.
Big Issue sacks staff, plans to outsource content. Wonder if it'll be assembled in data-processing sweatshops in Bangladesh or wherever and beamed to automated, union-free printing plants, as MX is rumoured to be. Oh, and the thing about the one remaining staff member being an ad executive seems a bit dubious. Still, it's all part of the guilt-assuagement industry. (via Ben's journal)
The NYTimes has a piece on Vocaloid, the new singing voice-synthesis program that could automate the last part of music performance still done by humans. Vocaloid is interesting because voices are stored as interchangeable "fonts" of vast numbers of samples and articulation data. The first fonts coming out (from British samplemongers Zero-G) are a pair of soul-singer voices, Leon and Lola:
In the case of Leon and Lola, session singers were hired to record what Mr. Stratton calls "generic soul-singing voices." The decision to start with soul was purely a marketing calculation: Mr. Stratton figured that the most common use of Vocaloid, at least in its early stages, would be to serve as background singers. With a soulful sound, the company could target a commercial market that ranges from Justin Timberlake to Jay-Z.
(Bugger soul singers, I say, just give me Liz Fraser. Or Ian Curtis. A generic French-accented female voice could also be useful for all the post-Stereolab acts.)
The process, of course, could be exploited for mischief, as described below. Though doing so would require a vast amount of raw data, work and expertise to prepare the voice font, something beyond the reach of casual pranksters.
What's to stop dilettantes from creating their own fonts? Could it be long before falsified but entirely convincing clips of Britney Spears begging for Justin's forgiveness circulate on the Web to say nothing of George Bush conspiring with Tony Blair about weapons of mass destruction?
The major market will be celebrity voices, undoubtedly priced beyond the reach of mere mortals, and giving Fortune 500 corporations that touch of class that comes with having Frank Sinatra sing the company song:
Licensing Elvis for Vocaloid would be a different matter, though, says Gary Hovey, vice-president of entertainment for Elvis Presley Enterprises. "If someone came to us and said, `We want Elvis to sing this new song,' we'd have a lot to contemplate," he said. "We tried to retain the integrity of his original song with the remixes. Now you're talking about a whole new vocal performance of a song he never sang or knew? How do we know he'd want to sing it?" "Believe me, that would go all the way to Lisa," he added, referring to Elvis's daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, who owns Elvis's estate.
Once a full palette of vocal fonts is available (or once Yamaha allows users to create their own), the possibilities become mind-boggling: a chorus of Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra; Marilyn Manson singing show tunes and Barbra Streisand covering Iron Maiden. And how long before a band takes the stage with no human at the mike, but boasting an amazing voice, regardless?
The article then points out that, with this in place, the entire process of song production could be automated. Lyrics could be pieced together from a database of stock phrases or using a narrative engine (though, then again, given how songs can succeed without the lyrics making sense (look at any 90s Eurodance hit), that may not be necessary); instruments can be synthesised (this includes guitars; I have in my collection a program named Virtual Guitarist which does just that, passably if inflexibly in places, though certainly well enough for pop songs), and the mixing can be automated. Finally, the hit quality of the finished product can be mathematically assessed using the Hit Song Science algorithm, and a genetic algorithm used to evolve the catchiest song. All stages of the process (from instrumentation/lyrical content to final scoring) could be tweaked using market research ("Electroclash is out, booty bass is coming back ironically, chip tunes are the dog's bollocks, and 90s grunge retro is due any day now"). And then we may all end up living in a Greg Egan story.