Elon Musk Teased on Twitter with Ideas for SNL Comedy Sketches (sfgate.com) 65

"Always the innovator, Elon Musk is crowdsourcing ideas for his upcoming Saturday Night Live appearance," writes USA Today.

SFGate reports: Both Musk fans and critics weighed in, with the tweet drawing over 4,500 quote tweets at time of publication (and 113,000-plus likes from his devotees). One of the top responses skewered his recent move to Texas.

"How about a skit where a selfish billionaire has a tantrum and makes a showy to-do about moving his factory to another state, but that new state is so dysfunctional it has a third-world power grid and runs out of electricity to run his factories and cars? That would be hilarious...."

As a result of his controversial image, "SNL" announced that cast members will not be required to act alongside him if it makes them uncomfortable. No cast member has publicly decline to perform yet, but cast member Chris Redd did jump into the Twitter fray to correct Musk on his use of the word "skit."

Page Six describes more of the suggestions from Twitter: Some commenters suggested ideas, including, "Extraterrestrials found your Tesla Roadster sent to space in 2018 & are trying to figure out what it is," "You play Chris Hansen on "To Catch a PP loan" with Ross Gerber," and, "Something about how it is all a simulation," while many of the responses to Musk's tweets were real zingers.

"You meeting with SNL writers using the same motivational techniques you use with $TSLA engineers. Elon: I need this done tomorrow or you're fired. SNL Writer: In your dreams a-hole," one user responded.

United States

'Burning Man' Festival Cancelled Again, Goes Virtual For a Second Year (npr.org) 61

"There are simply too many points of uncertainty for us to move forward with confidence right now," explains a FAQ addressing this year's cancellation for the annual Burning Man festival.

"The physical, psychic, and emotional impacts of this pandemic are real and the recovery from this experience will happen at different rates of speed," organizers said in an announcement. "This is the time to gather with our friends, crews, families and communities..." They also argued that in an abstract sense, "Burning Man is happening right NOW, all around you," urging people to create experiences, opportunities and connection at the local level. (Their suggestions include planning to join a mass "Burn Night" livestreaming event on September 4, or preparing for "Virtual Burning Man" from August 21 to September 5, 2021.)

Last year's virtual event drew 165,000 participants, reports NPR, adding that this year's cancellation of a mass real-world gathering "has put many people in the event's host community at ease." Wary of a trend of rising coronavirus cases in some parts of the region, Washoe County's district health officer Kevin Dick said "the right call was made," in order to lower the risk of spreading infection.
And SFist also notes the festival's "Invitation to the Future" program "where $2,500 buys you a reservation to buy tickets whenever they do announce the event — but that $2,500 does not get you a ticket." "This is a reservation that will guarantee someone the ability to purchase a regular priced ticket for the next two editions of Black Rock City," the Burning Man Project communications team says in an email to SFist...

Per the fine print of this arrangement, there will be only 1,000 of these $2,500 reservations that are essentially tickets to buy tickets... "It's going very well!," Burning Man's communications team tells us. "We're so grateful for our generous community. As of this writing, we have only a few hundred left...."

Burning Man has to get creative, and maybe perks for big spenders is an acceptable one-time trade-off to ensure its ongoing solvency. The project has gone nearly two years since its last infusion of direct ticket revenue, and the permits and attorney fees necessary to pull off this event on federal land have not gotten any cheaper despite the pandemic.

The Almighty Buck

Edward Snowden's NFT Self-Portrait Sells for $5.4 Million in Charity Auction (gizmodo.com) 28

Gizmodo reports: The latest big name to get in on the NFT craze is former intelligence contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, who on Friday auctioned off an original NFT art piece for roughly $5.4 million worth of the cryptocurrency Ether. Titled "Stay Free", it's a digital self-portrait made out of pages from a U.S. Court of Appeals decision that ruled the National Security Agency's widespread surveillance of phone records violated the law, a practice Snowden brought to light in 2013 by leaking classified NSA secrets to journalists...

The NFT sold for 2,224 Ether, worth just over $5.4 million at the time of publishing. All proceeds from this sale will go to the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a non-profit that develops open-source tools for whistleblowers and works to shield journalists from state-sponsored hackers and government surveillance. Snowden has led the organization as president since 2017.


iCloud Allegedly Locked Out User Whose Last Name is a Boolean Value (engadget.com) 208

"iCloud has had the occasional service issue, but its latest problem appears to be highly... specific," writes Engadget: Actor and author Rachel True claims iCloud has effectively locked her out of her account due to the way her last name was written. Reportedly, her Mac thought lower-case "true" was a Boolean (true or false) flag, leading the iCloud software on the computer to seize up. The problem has persisted for over six months, she said.

True said she'd spent hours talking to customer service, and that Apple hadn't stopped charging her for service. She could switch to the free tier, although she'd also lose most of her online storage if she did.

True has apparently resorted to imploring desperately in tweets to both @Apple and @AppleSupport. "Now that I a layman have explained problem to you a giant computer company, could u fix...?"

"A thing I've learned about life so far is I hate being the test case."

"When I get a dog I'm naming it Boolean Bobby Drop Tables True"

The First AI-written Play Isn't Shakespeare - but It Has Its Moments (sciencemag.org) 56

Science magazine describes what happens when a robot writes a play: The 60-minute productionAI: When a Robot Writes a Play — tells the journey of a character (this time a robot), who goes out into the world to learn about society, human emotions, and even death.

The script was created by a widely available artificial intelligence (AI) system called GPT-2. Created by Elon Musk's company OpenAI, this "robot" is a computer model designed to generate text by drawing from the enormous repository of information available on the internet. (You can test it here.) So far, the technology has been used to write fake news, short stories, and poems. The play is GPT-2's first theater production, the team behind it claims...

First, a human feeds the program with a prompt. In this case, the researchers — at Charles University in Prague — began with two sentences of dialogue, where one or two characters chat about human feelings and experiences... The software then takes things from there, generating up to 1000 words of additional text.

The result is far from William Shakespeare. After a few sentences, the program starts to write things that sometimes don't follow a logical storyline, or statements that contradict other passages of the text. For example, the AI sometimes forgot the main character was a robot, not a human. "Sometimes it would change a male to female in the middle of a dialogue," says Charles University computational linguist Rudolf Rosa, who started to work on the project 2 years ago... As it keeps going, there is more room for nonsense. To prevent that, the team didn't let GPT-2 write the entire play at once. Instead, the researchers broke the show down into eight scenes, each less than 5 minutes; each scene also only contained a dialogue between two characters at the same time. In addition, the scientists sometimes changed the text, for example altering the passages where the AI changed the character's gender from line to line or repeating their initial text prompt until the program spat out sensible prose.

Rosa estimates that 90% of the final script was left untouched, whereas 10% had human intervention.

It's a thought-provoking experience. (You can watch the whole play online -- with English subtitles.) The play's first lines?

"We both know that I'm dying."
"How do you know that you're dying?"
"I will die very soon."

And within seconds, the protagonist has asked the question: "How can you love someone who dies?"

Twitch Censors Live Metallica Performance with Dorkiest Music Imaginable (avclub.com) 43

In the year 2000, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich answered questions from Slashdot's readers.

Late Friday night, the AV Club described Metallica's appearance at the opening ceremonies for the (now online) version of Blizzard Entertainment's annual event BlizzCon: The opening ceremonies were being broadcast online, both through the official BlizzCon page, YouTube, and Twitch. And you know what happens when licensed music gets played on the internet, don't you, folks? That's right: Copyright issues!

Per Uproxx, the audio of James, Lars, and the boys' performance apparently went out as per usual on YouTube and the BlizzCon page — although the whole thing appears to have been excised from the YouTube upload of the event. But on Twitch... On Twitch, things did not go so well. Which is to say that, even though it was being hosted on the company's official twitchgaming channel, the performance was ominously preceded by a chyron noting that "The upcoming musical performance is subject to copyright protection by the applicable copyright holder."

And then this happened....

Can we prove that someone at Twitch intentionally picked the dorkiest, most Zelda forest-ass music imaginable to have Metallica rock their little hearts out to, instead of broadcasting their extremely copyrighted music (and thus having to deal with the possibility of issuing one of their ubiquitous DMCA takedown notices to themselves)? Obviously not.... On the other hand, we can prove that it is extremely funny to watch this happen, especially — as many people have pointed out — since Metallica is at least partially responsible for the restrictive character of many online musical streaming laws that dominate the internet today, after their high-profile campaign against Napster way back at the dawn of the MP3.

In other news, Diablo II is being remastered and re-released later this year.

How the NSA-led US Cyber Command Wishes You a Happy Valentine's Day (twitter.com) 88

Slashdot reader DevNull127 writes: The U.S. Cyber Command, headed by the National Security Agency's director, has been a part of America's Department of Defense since 2009.

Today this unified combatant command wished its followers on Twitter a happy Valentine's Day, adding "As our gift to you, we present 12 crypto challenges designed by the information security community.

"Love is in the air, find it if you can. #BeOurValentine #cryptochallenge #VDayGifts."

They shared a link to the official U.S. Cyber Command Valentine's Day 2021 Cryptography Challenge Puzzles.

There are 12 tricky puzzles in all — 3 .jpgs, 6 .pngs, 2 .mp3s and a .bmp file — and I couldn't solve a single one of 'em.

Each one has a hint — though that hint is just the number of words in the answer, as well as its number of characters.

Can Artificial Intelligence Restore 85-Year-Old Popeye Cartoons? (youtube.com) 61

A Slashdot reader shared an anonymous tip about "new consumer-grade artificial intelligence employed to restore 85 year-old Popeye cartoons, using only the available digital copies as sources for the remastering."

It's eerie to see vintage cartoons like Popeye the Sailor meets Sindbad the Sailor upgraded to high resolution. It's apparently the work of Cartoon Renewal Studios, a group "Dedicated to the loving and careful preservation of classic off-copyright animation" (according to its web site).

There's not much information, but Jim Ames of Cartoon Renewal Studios turned up in an online forum promising "we're restoring ALL the classic cartoons to brilliant 1080 HD so they can be enjoyed forever." I've been dreaming of this project for some time... We will be posting THOUSANDS of off-copyright cartoons digitally remastered and upscaled to 1080 HD. We can process about 50 cartoons a month, at this time... Hoping to scale up to 100 cartoons a month processing capability next month.

We could finish 1000 cartoons in 2021... stay tuned...


Can You Tell a Programming Language Inventor From a Serial Killer? (vole.wtf) 61

Slashdot reader DevNull127 writes: A new web quiz challenge visitors, "Can you tell a coder from a cannibal? A mathematician from a murderer? Try to spot who liked hacking away at corpses rather than computers."
One commenter on BoingBoing says the quiz brought back memories of doing IT recruitment in the 1990s. "After a few months at that job, I started to wonder if spending so much time staring at soulless equipment wasn't affecting people. Too many candidates were completely humorless, culturally clueless, or sporting a thousand-yard stare..."

Google Employees Try Baking Recipes Created by AI (foodandwine.com) 27

"Behold the cakie: It has the crispiness of a cookie and the, well, 'cakiness' of a cake."

So says a triumphant blog post by Google Cloud's developer advocate and an applied AI Engineer for Google's Cloud AI. "We also made breakies, which were more like fluffy cookies, almost the consistency of a muffin" (or bread).

Food and Wine explains the project (in an article shared by Slashdot reader John Trumpian): Inspired by the pandemic-spawned spike in searches for baking, the team at Google Cloud "decided to dive a little deeper into the trend and try to understand the science behind what makes cookies crunchy, cake spongy and bread fluffy," according to a post on their blog. Then, once armed with that machine learning knowledge, they attempted to mix these attributes into what they bill as "two completely new baking recipes...."

[T]hese Google Cloud employees organized about 700 recipes covering cookies, cakes, and breads — standardizing measurements, isolating the key ingredients, and re-categorizing things like banana breads that aren't really "breads." Then, they fed them into a tool called "AutoML Tables" to create a machine learning model that was able to predict whether a recipe was a cookie, cake, or bread based on its ingredient amounts. ["If you've never tried AutoML Tables, it's a code-free way to build models from the type of data you'd find in a spreadsheet like numbers and categories — no data science background required," explains the blog post.]

Of course, recipes don't necessarily fit perfectly into one category. As Sara Robinson, who led the project, explained, a recipe might come back as 97 percent bread, 2 percent cake, and 1 percent cookie. So what if she asked the model to create its own recipe: something that's 50 percent cookie and 50 percent cake?

That's how the Cakie was born. And she was happily surprised by the results. "It is yummy," Robinson said. "And it strangely tastes like what I'd imagine would happen if I told a machine to make a cake cookie hybrid." Based on that success, she and colleague Dale Markowitz continued to tweak their model — which resulted in the Breakie.

"We should caveat that while our model gave us ingredients, it didn't spit out any baking directions, so we had to improvise those ourselves," the blog post explains. "And, we added chocolate chips and cinnamon for good measure." Robinson also built a prediction-making web app to help quickly experiment with different ingredient ratios.

They ultimately identified which ingredients were the biggest "signal" of cake-ness, cookie-ness, and bread-ness, concluding that "In our case, the amount of butter, sugar, yeast and egg in a recipe all seemed to be important indicators..."

Can Chatbots Simulate Conversations with Dead People? (mit.edu) 68

The author of the book Online Afterlives describes the unusual projects of people like Eugenia Kuyda, co-founder of Luka, an AI-powered chat simulator that books restaurant reservations and makes recommendations. Kuyda worked with computer scientists to convert several thousand text messages between deceased tech entrepreneur Roman Mazurenko and his friends and relatives into a chatbot simulation: "How are you there?" asks a friend. "I'm OK. A little down. I hope you aren't doing anything interesting without me," Roman responds. His friend replies that they all miss him. Another acquaintance asks him if God and the soul exist. Having probably indicated his atheism in chats while he was alive, he says no. "Only sadness."

Not content with Luka, Eugenia also designed a chatbot called Replika. A cross between a diary and a personal assistant, Replika asks users a series of questions, eventually learning to mimic their personalities. The goal is to get closer to creating a digital avatar that would be able to reproduce us and replace us once we're dead, but also one that is able to create "friendships" with humans. Since the second half of 2017, over two million people have downloaded Replika onto their mobile devices...

Luka and Replika are not the only inventions designed to give a voice to the digital ghosts of the deceased. A few years ago, James Vlahos, an American journalist who has been an AI enthusiast since childhood, created what he calls a "Dadbot." It all started on April 24, 2016, when his father John was diagnosed with lung cancer. Upon learning of his father's illness, James began recording all of their conversations with the idea of writing a commemorative book after his father's death. After 12 sessions, each an hour and a half, he found himself with 91,970 words. The printed transcripts filled around 203 pages...

He decided to use the recordings of his father to create something other than a commemorative book. He remembered writing an article that discussed PullString (previously known as ToyTalk), a program designed to create conversations with fictional characters... James used PullString to reorganize the MP3 recordings of his father. He also used it to create his Dadbot, software that works on his smartphone and simulates a written conversation with John, based on the processing of almost 100,000 recorded words... The tone of the conversations reflects the personality of the deceased: "Where are you now?" asks James. "As a bot I suppose I exist somewhere on a computer server in San Francisco.

"And also, I suppose, in the minds of people who chat with me."


How The Band Phish Played Chess Against Its Fans on New Year's Eve (jambands.com) 14

An anonymous reader writes: So on New Year's Eve, the "jam" rock band Phish re-broadcast their legendary 1995 performance on New Year's Eve -- while playing a game of chess against the audience. (Just as they'd done in 1995 -- although during that tour they'd made two just moves during each show.) In a video promoting this year's event, a chess "historian" remembers "No single band in the '90s was playing better chess against their audience" and shares an alleged conspiracy theory that they were being coached by Garry Kasparov. And yet, "Midway through the second of two nights at Madison Square Garden, the audience takes Phish's queen" -- and the band resigned.

This had left their ongoing audience-versus-band match with a score (one game apiece). So 25 years later, for New Year's Eve, Phish finally staged the great re-match.

"However, just as it was time to begin the game (and as the show kicked off with opener "Punch You In The Eye"), Chess.com, the popular chess site hosting the online game, crashed," reports JamBands.com.

Thinking quickly, the band announced on Twitter that "We're making a quick pivot, 2020 style, to live chess mode. We will be using a moderator from Chess.com who will take feedback on the move within the chat and then complete the audience move."

JamBands.com explains how the long-awaited match finally culminated: In between sets, the broadcast cut to a live zoom call between all four band members, during which they discussed their next moves in the game and chatted. At various points, Gordon and Anastasio picked up guitars, and Gordon had a surreal projection of a chess board floating behind him at times. During the first break, McConnell referenced the technical difficulties. "I'm sorry this didn't work out to plan, but nothing this year did," he said with a laugh.

During the break between the second and third sets, the shenanigans increased, with drummer Jon Fishman following through on an off-hand promise to shave his head. (At first, the other three band members didn't even notice.) Ultimately, the band defeated the audience... Down to just their king, queen and a few pawns, the audience resigned as the band was up a pawn and still had a rook and queen on the board...

Phish raised funds for a charity during the broadcast. "For this final webcast of the year, our beneficiary will be none other than The WaterWheel Foundation itself," the band wrote prior to the stream. "Since 1997, the band and their fans have collaborated on a nationwide charitable endeavor by raising funds and donating the proceeds across the country. This year alone, collectively we have raised and donated nearly $750,000 to 27 different nonprofits during the Dinner And A Movie series. Join us in continuing to support those in need...."

You can watch the entire four-and-a-half-hour webcast on YouTube.

The Further Adventures of that Monolith Stolen in Utah (fox13now.com) 57

A Utah newstation interviewed the men claiming responsibility for removing the original monolith in Utah, who reveal where, why, and how they took it: Homer Manson described how they brought tools, but in the end they were able to simply push the monolith over and it fell on the ground... "We actually passed another crew on the way out, they were going in to destroy it," Any Lewis recounted...

"That's exactly what we didn't want to happen, is somebody of that mentality to get a hold of it and completely lose the message behind it," Sylvan Christensen relayed.

The monolith was in pieces, but the three men talked about how they rebuilt it. They described how it took a few weeks between consulting with lawyers and speaking with the BLM [America's federal-lands administrating Bureau of Land Management], to bring the monument back to the agency. Lewis posted a video on his Instagram, showing the monolith standing tall in a yard. Just this last Friday [the 18th], they said they drove the monument on a trailer with a tarp to conceal it to deliver it to the BLM.

Lewis explained that they donated it back to the BLM in good faith, to help with the investigation. It's their understanding, they indicated, that the monolith will end up on display again. "That's kind of the discussion," Christensen said. "It's ultimately up to the BLM as to where they put it, but that was kind of the gentleman's agreement is that it would get put at Red Butte Garden." If and when this international monolith of mystery ends up back in the public eye — perhaps, according to the guys, at Red Butte Garden in Salt Lake City — they explained how they want it to spark discussion about art on public lands, and responsible land use. Lewis said he wants to use this as a "togetherness moment," where people can come together to make a proposal to the BLM and have a public decision on if there should be a place where people can place art on public lands, and figure out if that's a proper use of art space. He said it would be nice to use the Utah Monolith to present this as a positive story, and show people how to display this art...

The BLM said it is still investigating the illegal installation along with the San Juan County Sheriff's Office.

The BLM "doesn't want to set a precedent that people can just go out onto public lands and take things away," according to a report from Outside magazine.

But Sylvan Christensen points out to the magazine that "We didn't destroy the art. We kind of changed its direction and made it a bigger thing that surrounds environmental awareness and ethical land recreation."
The Almighty Buck

Elon Musk Tweeted About a Bitcoin Rival. It Soared 20% (cnn.com) 43

"Bitcoin is almost as bs as fiat money," Elon Musk tweeted on Sunday, and then followed it up with another tweet. "One Word: Doge."

"The tweet sent shares of Dogecoin up nearly 20% and landed it on the list of trending Twitter topics," reports CNN. (Later that day Musk tweeted "i love all u crazy ppl out there.") The tech billionaire even went as far as updating his Twitter bio with the title "Former CEO of Dogecoin..."

This isn't the first time Musk has tweeted about Dogecoin, the bitcoin descendant. The SpaceX CEO mentioned the digital coin in July when he tweeted "It's inevitable" with an image depicting the dogecoin standard engulfing the global financial system. The tweet sent shares up 14% at the time.

Dogecoin was created in 2014 as a parody to a popular internet meme "doge", which involved a picture of a Shiba Inu dog.

Although the virtual coin started off as a joke, it currently has a market value of nearly $570 million.

Classic Games (Games)

Winner Announced In the World's First 'Quantum Chess' Tournament (arstechnica.com) 25

Aleksander Kubica is a postdoctoral fellow at Canada's Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and Institute for Quantum Computing. And he's also the winner of the world's first quantum chess tournament. (It's now available for streaming on Twitch, and begins with a clip of the late Stephen Hawking playing a 2016 game against Ant-Man star Paul Rudd.)

"It's a complicated version of regular chess that incorporates the quantum concepts of superposition, entanglement, and interference," explains Ars Technica (in an article shared by John Trumpian): In quantum chess, there are multiple boards on which the pieces exist, and their number is not fixed. Players can perform "quantum moves" as well as regular chess moves; players just need to indicate which type of move they're performing. Any quantum move will create a superposition of boards (doubling the number of possible boards in the superposition with each quantum move), although the player will see a single board representing all boards at the same time. And any individual move acts on all boards at the same time.

Pawns move the same as in regular chess, but other pieces can make either standard moves or quantum moves, such that they can occupy more than one square simultaneously. In a 2016 blog post, Chris Cantwell of Quantum Realm Games offered the example of a white queen performing a quantum move from D1 to D3. "We get two possible boards. On one board the queen did not move at all. On the other, the queen did move. Each board has a 50 percent chance of 'existence'..."

In 2016 Stephen Hawking had played a game of quantum chess against Paul Rudd in a video which also featured both Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter, stars of the "Bill and Ted" movies.
Christmas Cheer

A Stranger Crowdsourced $1,700 For a Mistreated Fast-Food Worker (cnn.com) 50

Slashdot reader DevNull127 writes: At a McDonald's restaurant in Georgia, an angry customer in the drive-through lane threw his drink at the pregnant fast-food worker who had served him. "She was crying and covered in ice and soda and syrup..." remembers another driver in the next car parked in the line. "[C]overed in syrup all over her shoes, pants, and shirt."

That driver created an online fundraiser for the fast-food worker, ultimately raising $1,700 within 24 hours which was later presented to the fast-food worker. "She gave me the envelope and I couldn't do nothing but cry," the worker told CNN later, "because I wasn't expecting that."

The driver also publicized a registry for baby supplies (along with the Cash App handle for future donations), but insisted to CNN that it wasn't doing anything special. "I just saw somebody being mistreated and I didn't like what I saw."

Christmas Cheer

Nathan Myhrvold's Dazzling High-Resolution Photographs of Snowflakes (fastcompany.com) 58

Nathan Myhrvold is a former CTO of Microsoft, co-founder of the equity company Intellectual Ventures, and the founder of "food innovation lab" Modernist Cuisine (which among other things resulted in book of remarkable food photography).

But he's now photographing the intricate designs of snowflakes, reports Fast Company: Over the span of 18 months, Myhrvold built a camera with a microscopic lens and then shot in the freezing locales of Fairbanks, Alaska, and Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada. All to capture individual snowflakes — millimeters across — in sparkling, high-res detail.

Myhrvold captured his snowflake specimens by setting out black foam core when snow was falling. He then used a tiny watercolor brush to grab individual snowflakes and place them on a "cooling stage" under the camera. Cold is key — even the camera itself and the plate he places the snowflake on must be left outside and chilled in order to photograph the snowflake before it melts. But that's not the only element to keep those snowflakes cool: He also uses special, high-speed LED lights that don't generate as much heat. The cold is also important to a snowflake's shape, says Myhrvold, who shot his specimens at temperatures between -15 and -20 degrees F. You might call this the snowflake sweet spot: They form into the "best," most complex designs between these temperatures.

The results are simply dazzling... "Sometimes to see nature's beauty you have to travel to the Grand Canyon or get up late at night to see the stars," Myhrvold says. But with snow, all you have to do is pause and look down at your mitten. "It's a beautiful thing."


Third Monolith Reappears, Fourth and Fifth Monoliths Discovered (insider.com) 103

"People taking a stroll on Sunday morning stumbled upon another mysterious monolith," reports Insider.com. "This one was found in a northern province of the Netherlands." The monolith was covered in ice and surrounded by a small pool of water, according to local reports. The hikers told the Dutch paper Algemeen Dagblad that they're not sure how the monolith got there. They said they found no footprints around it that would indicate someone placed it there intentionally.
And that monolith that disappeared in Atascadero, California has not-so-mysteriously re-appeared, as a group of three local artists takes credit for both creating the original and for successfully retrieving it to restore it to its former glory. "After learning of the second monolith, Travis Kenney had a thought," writes the relationship site Your Tango. "There were three monoliths in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Why not build the third themselves and make the triad complete...?"

"It was meant to be something fun, a change of pace from the kind of conversations 2020 has been plagued with — so much negativity and separation among the people in our country."
All the thanks these men really needed was delivered in the positive energy that quickly took hold of their home town. The presence of this now internationally followed mysterious object brought with it an uplifting local pride, as well as a sense of childlike wonder... The monolith's creators quietly made the hike back up to observe people's reactions throughout the day. When they arrived at the top each time, they found themselves soaking in the glow of the many smiles they encountered on faces of visitors. some of whom drove for hours to see the shining obelisk for themselves...

While you may think of these monoliths as another square on your 2020 bingo card, it's worth noting that the purpose of the monoliths in 2001: A Space Odyssey was to further the advancement of intelligent life. Cynics can say that sounds cheesy, but for the sake of full disclosure, I know McKenzie personally and can affirm without doubt or irony that they wanted nothing more than to offer their fellow humans some joyful light in these dark times.

"There was no esoteric agenda," said McKenzie.

"Our topline," added Jared Riddle, "Let's get outside and laugh."

70 miles away yet-another monolith "was discovered by campers on Saturday in San Luis Obispo County in Los Padres National Forest," reports a California newspaper. "We were super happy that someone/group went to all that work," Matt Carver wrote in a Facebook message to The Tribune. "It really did make our day to find it! I think we had huge smiles on our faces for the rest of the ride home."

The second monolith resembles the monolith in Atascadero, but the structure's top features "CAUTION" written in red and a picture of a UFO beaming in a human.

But wait! Insider.com reports that another mysterious monolith has appeared in Pittsburgh — "intentionally placed outside a candy shop by an owner who was trying to attract attention to his small business." Christopher Beers, owner of Grandpa Joe's Candy Shop, asked a friend to make the 10-foot-tall structure and placed it outside his store as a marketing ploy.

Grandpa Joe's Candy Shop shared the news using a 30-minute video on Facebook. In a Facebook post on Friday, the shop said: "Come see the Monolith before it mysteriously disappears!"

Within one day someone did in fact steal the monolith, reports the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. But Grandpa Joe's owner Beers whipped up another one to replace it. "This one is much heavier and bolted into the ground. That's not a challenge. That's just a statement." Beers said he didn't report the theft to police because they have more important things to deal with... "That's not the story," Beers said of the theft. "The story is I built something fun and made people laugh and we put Pittsburgh on the map. I'm not worried about whoever took it."

Beers said the new monolith will stay up for a couple a days before "it'll mysteriously disappear just like all the others."

Business Insider reports that monolith jokes have now also appeared in tweets from a wide variety of brands, including Walmart, Southwest Airlines, Ocean Spray, McDonald's, Steak-umm, and MoonPie.

And meanwhile, the headline at one Denver news site reports that "Monolith mania comes to Colorado as local businesses report structures 'appearing' outside shops," citing the arrival of a monolith outside McDevitt Taco Supply and on the patio of Morrison Holiday Bar.

The Best Way To Win a Horse Race? Mathematicians May Have the Answer (sciencemag.org) 52

sciencehabit summarizes a new article from Science magazine: Attention racehorse jockeys: Start fast, but save enough energy for a final kick. That's the ideal strategy to win short-distance horse races, according to the first mathematical model to calculate how horses use up energy in races. The researchers say the approach could be used to identify customized pacing plans that, in theory, would optimize individual horses' chances of winning.

The team took advantage of a new GPS tracking tool embedded in French racing saddles. The trackers let fans watch digital images of the horses move across a screen, and they gave the researchers real-time speed and position data. The scientists studied patterns in dozens of races at the Chantilly racetracks north of Paris and developed a model that accounted for winning strategies for three different races: a short one (1300 meters), a medium one (1900 meters), and a slightly longer one (2100 meters), all with different starting points on the same curved track. The model takes into account not just different race distances, but also the size and bend of track curves, and any slopes or friction from the track surface.

The results might surprise jockeys who hold horses back early for bursts of energy in the last furlough. Instead, a strong start leads to a better finish, the team found. That doesn't mean those jockeys are wrong, though. Too strong of a start can be devastating as well, leaving the horse 'exhausted by the end,' one of the researchers says.

Even so, "We can't truly model performance," argues a veterinarian at the University of Sydney with over 30 years of experience working at horse racetracks. But he also asks Science, "Do we really want to?

"For people who love horse racing, the uncertainty provides the excitement, and the actual running of the horses provides the spectacle and the beauty."

All Three Monoliths Gone -- Two Removed By Activist Vandals (eastbaytimes.com) 119

A Reddit user found Google Earth photos showing the Utah monolith may have appeared in its canyon up to five years ago, according to The Daily Beast. But it's gone now: Last week, a team of four people removed the Utah obelisk. One of them, a Utah adventure guide, explained their actions in an Instagram post. "We removed the Utah Monolith because there are clear precedents for how we share and standardize the use of our public lands, natural wildlife, native plants, fresh water sources, and human impacts upon them. The mystery was the infatuation and we want to use this time to unite people behind the real issues here — we are losing our public lands — things like this don't help," Sylvan Christensen wrote.

Although the statue had damaged some of the surrounding rock formations, its real cost came when hordes of tourists drove cars and rode helicopters to the remote canyon to see it, Christensen said. "This land wasn't physically prepared for the population shift (especially during a pandemic)," he wrote. "People arrived by car, by bus, by van, helicopter, planes, trains, motorcycles and E-bikes and there isn't even a parking lot. There aren't bathrooms — and yes, pooping in the desert is a misdemeanor. There was a lot of that."

"The group of four took the big pieces of the monolith and placed them in a wheelbarrow and said 'leave no trace' as they rolled it away," reports CNN, citing a photographer who witnessed the event.

The second mysterious monolith that appeared in Romania has also been "removed by parties unknown," reports the Bay Area Newsgroup. But a third monolith also mysteriously appeared 200 miles south of San Francisco in the small town of Atascadero on Tuesday, according to SFGate. Though their reporter has a theory as to why: Atascadero is a handy place. There's plenty of rugged cowboy types, and plenty of people with the room and machinery to weld and rivet some sheets of metal together. The local band when I was in high school was in fact known for riveting metal parts and tubing onto stages and cars and painting the whole thing silver...

[W]hen Atascadero saw this monolith trend hitting, someone took note of the importance of getting in fast, went out into their garage and built a monolith.

"And then, overnight, it was gone," notes the Bay Area News Group. Forbes describes the young men responsible as "Dressed in camo gear, armed with night-vision goggles and energy drinks," and at least once referencing the QAnon conspiracy theory. "One of the men even states: 'We don't want illegal aliens from Mexico, or outer space.'"

The Bay Area News Group writes: The revelation that the culprits drove five hours from Southern California to tear it down, live-streaming the trek, has angered Central Coast residents. Video shows the four young men chanting "Christ is king" as they tear down the monolith and replace it with a plywood cross. They also made racist and anti-immigrant statements...

In a statement Thursday, Atascadero Mayor Heather Moreno said: "We are upset that these young men felt the need to drive 5 hours to come into our community and vandalize the Monolith.

"The Monolith was something unique and fun in an otherwise stressful time."

United States

That Mysterious Silver Monolith In the Utah Desert Has Disappeared (cnn.com) 73

A Slashdot reader quotes CNN: A tall, silver, shining metal monolith discovered in the desert in southeastern Utah — which prompted theories of alien placement and drew determined hikers to its secret location — has now disappeared, the state's Bureau of Land Management said Saturday.

The monolith was removed by an "unknown party" sometime Friday night, the agency said in a Facebook post.

"We have received credible reports that the illegally installed structure, referred to as the 'monolith,' has been removed" from BLM public lands, the post said. "The BLM did not remove the structure, which is considered private property."

The monolith was first discovered November 18 by officers from the Utah Department of Public Safety's Aero Bureau. They were flying by helicopter, helping the Division of Wildlife Resources count bighorn sheep in southeastern Utah, when they spotted something that seemed right out of "2001: A Space Odyssey..." Pilot Bret Hutchings guessed it was "between 10 and 12 feet high..."

In an official statement, the Utah Department of Public Safety emphasized that it's still illegal to install structures or art on public lands, "no matter what planet you're from."

New Videogame Bug Turns Spider-Man Into a Trash Can (gamespot.com) 52

A new bug in the PlayStation game Spider-Man: Miles Morales "turns Miles into various inanimate objects, including bricks, cardboard boxes, and even a trash can," reports GameSpot: Despite Miles' changed appearance, he can still perform many of his heroic antics, including web-swinging and beating up bad guys. It's an important lesson to all of us in these trying times: You might look like trash, but you can still do your job.
Today Engadget reports that the glitch even turns Spider-Man into a patio heater: If you've ever wanted to keep people toasty warm while fighting crime, now's your chance.

We've asked [the game's creator] Insomniac Games for comment, although it already tweeted that the hiccup was "equally embarrassing as it is heart-warming." Into the Spider-Verse's Phil Lord joked that the heater would find its way into the sequel if the team had "any self respect at all."

Social Networks

Kickstarter Mistakenly Emails Responses To Complaints From Seven Years Ago (bbc.com) 8

The BBC reports: Crowdfunding website Kickstarter has surprised some of its users by replying to complaints they made seven years ago.

Users who received responses to long-expired projects from 2013 took to Twitter to congratulate the company on its response times.

Kickstarter said the emails were "auto-generated in error... The emails folks received yesterday was due to an unfortunate human error while working on a clean-up task completely unrelated to the ticket from 2013," a company spokeswoman said.

"It's important to remember we are still a small team at Kickstarter and mistakes can happen."

The Internet

UK Agency Demands Company Stop Using Name Which Includes an HTML Closing Tag (msn.com) 107

A British software engineer came up with "a fun playful name" for his consulting business. He'd named it:


Unfortunately, this did not amuse the official registrar of companies in the United Kingdom (known as Companies House). The Guardian reports that the U.K. agency "has forced the company to change its name after it belatedly realised it could pose a security risk." Henceforward, the software engineer's consulting business will instead be legally known as "THAT COMPANY WHOSE NAME USED TO CONTAIN HTML SCRIPT TAGS LTD." He now says he didn't realise that Companies House was actually vulnerable to the extremely simple technique he used, known as "cross-site scripting", which allows an attacker to run code from one website on another.
Engadget adds: Companies House, meanwhile, said it had "put measures in place" to prevent a repeat. You won't be trying this yourself, at least not in the U.K.

It's more than a little amusing to see a for-the-laughs code name stir up trouble, but this also illustrates just how fragile web security can be.


Tesla Tequila Sells Out Within Hours, Triggers Bidding Wars on eBay (electrek.co) 72

Thursday Tesla's web site began selling $250 bottles of Tesla-branded tequila, describing it as a "small-batch premium 100% de agave tequila anejo made from sustainably sourced highland and lowland agaves."

Electrek explores the frenzy that followed: The product sold out in hours after it appears on Tesla's website and even before Elon Musk could tweet a link to the Tesla Tequila to his close to 40 million followers... Electrek's own article about the launch of Tesla Tequila was read by over half a million people within a day of posting about it.

The product is not even in the hands of consumers just yet, but some people who placed reservations for it are trying to resell them already. Based on some listings on eBay, people are asking between $400 to $1,500 for a bottle of Tesla Tequilla. Some are even selling empty bottles and still asking for up to $1,000....

We don't even know if the tequila is any good.

This is purely selling on the strength of Tesla's brand.


Soccer Telecast Ruined When AI-Controlled Camera Mistakes Ref's Bald Head For Ball (futurism.com) 59

Futurism reports: Fans of the soccer team Caledonian Thistle FC from Inverness, Scotland, experienced something hilarious this week when the robot camera operator — automatically trained to keep the lens trained on the soccer ball using AI — kept mistaking the linesman's bald head for the ball, as IFL Science reports.

The result: angry (or amused) soccer fans kept losing track of the game because the camera kept swiveling to zoom in on the referee's hairless head, as seen in a video uploaded to YouTube (bonus points for the excellent soundtrack).

The Almighty Buck

A Few Trick-or-Treaters in Canada Receive a Surprising Treat: Bitcoin (cointelegraph.com) 37

Cointelegraph reports: While many children dressed as ghosts, goblins, and witches last night may have been disappointed to find an inedible thin piece of cardboard left out in a goodie bag, a lucky few recognized the treat as a Bitcoin prize.

According to an October 31 tweet from Brad Mills, the crypto user filled a Halloween candy box with more than just chocolates and sweets — he also added $200 in Bitcoin (BTC) cards. Mills posted a video of him adding the two gift cards, each worth roughly 0.007 BTC following the coin's rise to $14,000, and filmed the reactions of trick or treaters in his Canadian neighborhood.

One boy in a white costume was the first to meticulously dig through the box before saying to his group of friends, "I just got a $100 Bitcoin gift card!"


Tesla Owner: I Butt-Dialed a $4,280 Autopilot Upgrade -- And They Haven't Refunded Me (cnbc.com) 104

CNBC reports: On September 24th, physician Dr. Ali Vaziri was unpleasantly surprised by a mobile alert from his bank, which said he had just purchased a $4,280 upgrade for his Tesla Model 3. The large transaction, he quickly surmised, was a "butt dial" or accidental purchase made through the Tesla app on his iPhone. "My phone was in my jeans," Vaziri told CNBC. "I took it out, put it on this charger that comes with your Tesla and that's it. A minute later? I got the text. I've never purchased anything through the Tesla app before...."

Moments after he received the mobile alert from his bank, Vaziri called his local Tesla store and service center. They couldn't help directly, but gave him the number for a customer service hotline. He called the number, and requested a refund. Instead of processing the doctor's refund request on the spot, the customer service rep told Vaziri to click on the refund button in his Tesla app to process his request. Vaziri informed them there was no such button in the Tesla app, just some text and a link to the refund policy. An e-mail he received from Tesla confirming the unauthorized purchase contained only vague information about a refund, and no buttons to click or links to a page where he could process a refund request either. The email, which Vaziri shared with CNBC, drove him to Tesla's support web site, which in turn told him to call his local service center.

To this date, Vaziri says, Tesla customer service has not provided him with a refund, nor has the call center provided him with so much as a confirmation number or e-mail to acknowledge his calls about the refund. Instead, he processed a stop payment request through his credit card company.


Could Our Entire Reality Be Part of a Simulation Created by Some Other Beings? (gizmodo.com.au) 203

Sam Baron, associate professor at Australian Catholic University, focuses on the connection between key topics in the philosophy of mathematics and the philosophy of time concerning temporal ontology.

In a recent article in Gizmodo, he answers the ultimate question: Could our entire reality be part of a simulation created by some other beings? Let's assume these extraterrestrial beings have a computer on which our universe is being "simulated". Simulated worlds are pretend worlds — a bit like the worlds on Minecraft or Fortnite, which are both simulations created by us. If we think about it like this, it also helps to suppose these "beings" are similar to us. They'd have to at least understand us to be able to simulate us. By narrowing the question down, we're now asking: is it possible we're living in a computer simulation run by beings like us? University of Oxford professor Nick Bostrom has thought a lot about this exact question. And he argues the answer is "yes". Not only does Bostrom think it's possible, he thinks there's a decent probability it's true...

According to Bostrom, if these simulated people (who are so much like us) don't realise they're in a simulation, then it's possible you and I are too. Suppose I guess we're not in a simulation and you guess we are. Who guessed best? Let's say there is just one "real" past. But these futuristic beings are also running many simulations of the past — different versions they made up. They could be running any number of simulations (it doesn't change the point Bostrom is trying to make) — but let's go with 200,000. Our guessing-game then is a bit like rolling a die with 200,000 sides. When I guess we are not simulated, I'm betting the die will be a specific number (let's make it 2), because there can only be one possible reality in which we're not simulated.

This means in every other scenario we are simulated, which is what you guessed. That's like betting the die will roll anything other than 2. So your bet is a far better one.

Professor Baron notes there's also two factors that decrease the likelihood of this hypothesis:
  • How likely is it there are beings so advanced they can run simulations with people who are "conscious" like us in the first place?
  • How likely is it such beings would run simulations even if they could? Maybe they have no interest in doing this.

"Sadly, we don't have enough evidence to help us decide."

Gizmodo doesn't indicate that professor Baron's came from a 9-year-old (as part of a series called "Curious Kids".) The 9-year-old's original wording of the question:

"Is it possible the whole observable universe is just a thing kept in a container, in a room where there are some other extraterrestrial beings much bigger than us?"


13 Scientists Troll Scientific Journal With a Bogus Paper about Earth's Black Hole (popularmechanics.com) 65

"They're trolling us... we think. But how the hell did this get published?" asks Popular Mechanics.

Slashdot reader worldofsimulacra shares their report: Scientists have uncovered a bizarre, indefensible paper that squeaked through peer review at what appears at first pass to be a legitimate medical journal... 13 listed authors from wildly different fields throw together a series of escalating falsehoods. "Recently, some scientists from NASA have claimed that there may be a black hole like structure at the centre of the earth," the abstract begins. It only gets crazier from there:

"The earth's core is the biggest system of telecommunication which exchanges waves with all DNAs and molecules of water. Imaging of DNAs on the interior of the metal of the core produces a DNA black brane with around 109 times longer than the core of the earth which is compacted and creates a structure similar to a black hole or black brane. We have shown that this DNA black brane is the main cause of high temperature of core and magnetic of earth...."

One of the theories to explain the paper is that it was generated using "peer-review-tricking" artificial intelligence, which shuffles key terms and phrases and glues them together into something almost coherent.

Apparently you can't trust everything you read in the Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences. The paper's title? "A Black Hole at the Center of Earth Plays the Role of the Biggest System of Telecommunication for Connecting DNAs, Dark DNAs and Molecules of Water on 4+N- Dimensional Manifold."

At the top of the paper, the journal has since appended a retraction, leading to a page warning "An internal investigation" has "raised sufficient evidence" that the paper is "not directly connected with the special issue Global Dermatology and contain inconsistent results...

"We apologize to our audience about this unfortunate situation."

Researcher Discusses Whether Time Travel Could Prevent a Pandemic (popularmechanics.com) 145

University of Queensland student Germain Tobar who worked with UQ physics professor Fabio Costa on a new peer-reviewed paper "says he has mathematically proven the physical feasibility of a specific kind of time travel" without paradoxes, reports Popular Mechanics: Time travel discussion focuses on closed time-like curves, something Albert Einstein first posited. And Tobar and Costa say that as long as just two pieces of an entire scenario within a closed time-like curve are still in "causal order" when you leave, the rest is subject to local free will... In a university statement, Costa illustrates the science with an analogy

"Say you travelled in time, in an attempt to stop COVID-19's patient zero from being exposed to the virus. However if you stopped that individual from becoming infected, that would eliminate the motivation for you to go back and stop the pandemic in the first place. This is a paradox, an inconsistency that often leads people to think that time travel cannot occur in our universe. [L]ogically it's hard to accept because that would affect our freedom to make any arbitrary action. It would mean you can time travel, but you cannot do anything that would cause a paradox to occur...."

But the real truth, in terms of the mathematical outcomes, is more like another classic parable: the monkey's paw. Be careful what you wish for, and be careful what you time travel for. Tobar explains in the statement:

"In the coronavirus patient zero example, you might try and stop patient zero from becoming infected, but in doing so you would catch the virus and become patient zero, or someone else would. No matter what you did, the salient events would just recalibrate around you. Try as you might to create a paradox, the events will always adjust themselves, to avoid any inconsistency."


639-Year Organ Performance Changes Chords for the First Time in Seven Years (theguardian.com) 105

"Fans have flocked to a church in Germany to hear a chord change in a musical composition that lasts for 639 years," reports the BBC. "It is the first change in the piece, As Slow As Possible, in seven years."

The Guardian reports: The performance of the composition began in September 2001 at the St Burchardi church in the eastern town of Halberstadt and is supposed to end in 2640 — if all goes well.

The music piece by the American composer John Cage is played on a special organ inside the medieval church... A compressor in the basement creates energy to blow air into the organ to create a continuous sound. When a chord change happens, it's done manually. On Saturday, soprano singer Johanna Vargas and organist Julian Lembke changed the chord.

The BBC notes the score for the 639-year composition is just eight pages long. But though the piece was written in the 1980s, it wasn't until nine years after the composer's death in 1992 that anyone dared to attempt playing it. That performance then began — with a pause that lasted nearly 18 months.

The next chord change is scheduled for February 5 of the year 2022.

Major League Baseball Games are Experiencing 'Drone Delays' (cbssports.com) 31

CBS Sports reports: Wednesday's game between the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays was stopped in the bottom of the first because of a "drone delay." After the second base umpire pointed to something in the sky and motioned for teams to leave the field, the cameras picked up an identifiable flying object hovering over the field during the game.
CBS reports it's the third drone delay experienced by Major League Baseball this year: The first came in a Twins-Pirates game in early August, and the second happened just a week later in a game between the Red Sox and Rays...

This move isn't just a hazard for those on the field, it's actually outright illegal. The Federal Aviation Administration's rules state that drones and other "unmanned aircraft systems" are prohibited from flying within a radius of three nautical miles of any MLB stadium starting one hour before a game's scheduled start and ending one hour after the game's end. This isn't just exclusive to baseball, as it also applies to NFL games, top-tier NCAA football games and auto racing events.


Drone Drops Hundreds of Marijuana Bags On Tel Aviv (gizmodo.com) 40

Long-time Slashdot reader destinyland writes: A drone over Tel Aviv's Rabin Square dropped hundreds of bags of weed on Thursday, setting off a mad scramble by onlookers to stock up, the Jerusalem Post reported.

According to the Post, the giveaway was orchestrated by a Telegram group called Green Drone that advocates for the legalization of marijuana throughout Israel. (Medical marijuana is legal in Israel and a major export as of May; the Ministry of Security partially decriminalized recreational marijuana use in 2017 but full legalization efforts are still being negotiated.) The group told followers on Telegram that this was just the start of an ongoing "rain of cannabis...."

The Times of Israel, however, reported that the weed-dropping drone might have had more to do with viral marketing than activism: the Green Drone channel is also a marijuana delivery service. The bags dropped also contained business cards with a contact number for potential customers... Police arrested two individuals on suspicion of having operated the drone.


How Bill Gates Celebrated Warren Buffett's 90th Birthday (cnn.com) 40

The seventh-wealthiest man in the world, Warren Buffett, turns 90 today. Famously the tycoon/philanthropist pledged to give away 90% of his wealth, founding with Bill and Melinda Gates "The Giving Pledge," a campaign urging the world's wealthiest individuals to dedicate the majority of their wealth to giving back. Over $1.2 trillion has now been pledged, with participants including Elon Musk, Ted Turner, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, and Microsoft's other co-founder, Paul Allen.

CNN reports that Gates "offered a sweet and funny video tribute to his billionaire pal," who besides drinking six cans of Coke each day is also "a notorious dessert-a-holic." Doing his best Martha Stewart impression, and with Randy Newman's "You Got a Friend" playing in the background, Gates made a delicious-looking Oreo cake, complete with Buffett's face on the top, drawn in chocolate icing. In the end of the 60-second video, Gates cuts a slice, puts it on a plate with a fork, and leaves the message "Happy 90th birthday Warren" in Oreo dust...

The cake was a special tribute to Gates' friendship with Buffett. In 2016, Gates recounted a story on his blog about how he caught Buffett eating his favorite dessert for breakfast: Oreos. "One thing that was surprising to learn about Warren is that he has basically stuck to eating what he liked when he was six years old," Gates wrote. "I remember one of the first times he stayed at our house and he opened up a package of Oreos to eat for breakfast. Our kids immediately demanded they have some too. He may set a poor example for young people, but it's a diet that somehow works for him."

The editor of Forbes also joined the celebration: Next year will mark a decade for the Forbes 400 Summit on Philanthropy, our annual meeting of 150 or so of the world's biggest givers and greatest problem-solvers. The impact is enormous, and it wouldn't happen without today's birthday boy, 90-year-old Warren Buffett. In 2011, I pitched the most generous philanthropist ever the idea of turning our definitive wealth ranking from a static list into a club for good. Warren being Warren, he embraced it immediately, strategically and wholeheartedly, and the Summit was born...

The highlight each year is a talk that Warren and I have, usually during lunch... For Warren's big birthday, we dug through nine years of Forbes 400 Summit on Philanthropy video archives to find some of his most inspiring and obscure gems, [each] edited down to 90 seconds or so. Happy Birthday, Warren!

Open Source

Remembering the Golden Age of Computer User Groups (arstechnica.com) 55

Slashdot reader #16,185 wrote regularly for the newsletter of a small-town computer users group. Now they've written an article for Ars Technica reminding readers that "The Homebrew Computer Club where the Apple I got its start is deservedly famous — but it's far from tech history's only community gathering centered on CPUs." Throughout the 70s and into the 90s, groups around the world helped hapless users figure out their computer systems, learn about technology trends, and discover the latest whiz-bang applications. And these groups didn't stick to Slacks, email threads, or forums; the meetings often happened in real life. But to my dismay, many young technically-inclined whippersnappers are completely unaware of computer user groups' existence and their importance in the personal computer's development. That's a damned shame... Computer groups celebrated the industry's fundamental values: a delight in technology's capabilities, a willingness to share knowledge, and a tacit understanding that we're all here to help one another...

Two things primarily made user groups disappear: first was the Internet — and the BBSes that preceded them. If you could articulate a question, you could find a website with the answer. But computers also became easier to use. Once personal computers went mainstream, troubleshooting them stopped being an esoteric endeavor.

The typical computer user group is gone now. For the exceptions, you can find an incomplete and mostly out-of-date list via the Association of PC User Groups, though online exploration may lead you to more options. For example, the Toronto PET Users Group (TPUG) is the longest continually operating Commodore user group. Washington Apple Pi is still going strong, as is the Triangle Linux Users Group. IBM's user group, SHARE, began in the 1950s and continues to support enterprise users, though it's primarily a conference these days...

Hopefully tech will continue to inspire ways to get together with other people who share your enthusiasm, whether it's Raspberry Pi meetups, Maker days, or open source conferences such as Drupalcon or PyCon. You also continue the computer user group ethos by finding ways to help other tech enthusiasts locally. For example, Hack Club aims to teach skills to high school students. Hack Clubs are already in two percent of US high schools across 35 states and 17 countries, with about 10,000 students attending clubs and hackathons each year.

So even if computer user groups largely are a thing of the past, their benefits live on. User groups were the precursor to the open source community, based on the values of sharing knowledge and helping one another. And who knows, without user groups promoting a cooperative viewpoint, the open source community might never have taken off like it did.

The article includes photographs of the OS/2 community's magazine Extended Attributes, the M.A.C.E. Journal (for Atari users), the Commodore Eight Bit Boosters newsletter, and the 1979 publication Prog/80 ("dedicated to the serious programmer.")

And it also includes video of a 1981 visit to the Boston Computer Society by a 25-year-old Bill Gates.

A Covid-Friendly Wearable Shocks You With 450 Volts When You Touch Your Face (medium.com) 78

A reporter for Medium's tech site OneZero recently spotted an especially bizarre ad on Instagram: The ad features a GIF of a person wearing a Fitbit-style wristband, with the text "Eliminate Cravings." Across the frame from their hand sits a giant slice of cake. As the person reaches towards the cake, the wristband turns red and zaps them with electricity. You can tell it's zapping them because the whole frame vibrates, and little lightning bolts shoot out of the wristband, like in an old-school Batman movie. All that's missing is an animated "POW!"

At first, I thought it must be either a joke or a metaphor...

Nope. It turns out the Pavlok is exactly what the ad suggests: a Bluetooth-connected, wearable wristband that uses accelerometers, a connected app, and a "snap circuit" to shock its users with 450 volts of electricity when they do something undesirable. The device costs $149.99 and is available on Amazon. The company says it has over 100,000 customers who use the device to help kill food cravings, quit smoking, and to stop touching their face... I immediately saw two fundamental truths at the exact same time. Firstly, the mere existence of an automated self-flagellation wristband is proof that we've reached Peak Wearables. And second, this is the perfect device for Our Times...

Pavlok's founder says he came up with the idea for the company after paying an assistant to slap him every time he went on Facebook.... Through a Chrome extension, it can also (Doom scrollers rejoice) automatically punish actions like spending too much time on Facebook, Twitter, and other potentially time-wasting websites. It can zap you when you open too many Chrome tabs — a use case I'd love to recommend to several programmer friends... But perhaps the most relevant feature for today's world is the ability to program the device to shock you every time you touch your face. This is something which humans do alarmingly often — up to 16 times per hour. The practice has been implicated in spreading coronavirus, or at least contaminating face masks and leading to wasted PPE...

Pavlok may sound bizarre, but it's just the logical extension of an overall trend toward using tech to tweak and prod our brains into new ways of thinking... Pavlok acts as the metaphorical stick to these apps' carrots, giving you the option to beat your brain into submission instead of just tweaking it.

In 2016 Mark Cuban called Pavlok "everything but a legitimate product" in what was probably one of the least-success Shark Tank appearances ever. But Medium's reporter seems convinced it's the appropriate response to this moment in time. "I only need to look at Twitter to feel that I'm being jolted awake with a powerful electrical shock...

"The real thing feels kind of appropriate."

Steve Wozniak Turns His 70th Birthday Into a Charity Event (wozbday.com) 18

In 2000 Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak answered questions from Slashdot readers. More than 20 years later, CNET writes: Party on, Woz. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak turned 70 on Tuesday, and invited the world to his virtual birthday party. The event raised funds for singer Jewel's Inspiring Children Foundation, which provides mentorship and mental health resources for at-risk youth. And while the star-studded event is over, you can watch the replay online.

Wozniak and his wife, Janet, can be seen in party footage watching the event from their Northern California home. The celebration featured recorded performances and birthday greetings from such celebrities as William Shatner, Kristi Yamaguchi, Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Rick, Nancy Pelosi, Emmylou Harris and more.

There's now a three-hour-plus video of the party, complete with comments from those who already watched, available to view online. If you want it in shorter slices, Wozniak has been sharing brief videos from the party on his Twitter account...

The party may be over, but it was the kickoff event for "11 Days of Wozdom," a series of social media challenges, with prizes for some participants.

There's also a terrific biographical video on the site — plus a link to 24 special auctions supporting Woz's favority charity. Bid on a dinner with both Woz and comedian Drew Carey, a tour with Woz of comedian Jay Leno's classic car garage, or a private concert with Jewel that's hosted by Woz. (And there's also a meeting with Woz on Zoom, and a chance to have him record a personalized video message.)

It looks like everyone's celebrating. In 2010 Jonathan Mann, who writes a song a day, recorded the viral hit "That's Just the Woz" to celebrate Steve Wozniak's 60th birthday. This week -- now up to song #4,235 -- Mann recorded a follow-up song, also pointing his viewers to the URL for Woz's favorite charity.

"Instead of presents, help save and transform children's lives," Woz tweeted on Monday.

New Free Software Foundation Video Mocks Proprietary Remote-Learning Software (fsf.org) 50

"Computer user freedom is a matter of justice," argues a new video released Friday by the Free Software Foundation: The University of Costumed Heroes is an animated video telling the story of a group of heroes falling prey to the powers of proprietary software in education. The university board acquires cutting-edge remote learning software that enables them to continue their operations online, but -- [SPOILER ALERT] -- it may sow the seeds of their downfall.

This video is the second in a series of animated videos created by the Free Software Foundation (FSF), and this one is themed around our campaign against the use of proprietary remote education software. We must reverse the trend of forsaking young people's freedom, which has been accelerating as corporations try to capitalize on the need to establish new remote education practices. Free software not only protects the freedoms of your child or grandchild by allowing people to study the source code for any malicious functionalities, it also communicates important values like autonomy, sharing, social responsibility, and collaboration.

"Help give students #UserFreedom," reads a tagline below the video, which shows what happens when the university forsakes an ethical remote-learning platform that safeguards computer user freedom for a proprietary AI-powered alternative. But don't worry, the bad guys eventually learn their lesson.

"Noo!! Defeated by the Free Software Foundation once again!"

Tesla Engineer Reinvents Chocolate Chip for Maximum Taste and Melt (nypost.com) 86

"Silicon Valley, long obsessed with computer chips, is now disrupting chocolate ones," writes the New York Post: Remy Labesque, a Los-Angeles based industrial engineer working for Elon Musk's Tesla, has re-engineered the chocolate chip for the optimization-obsessed set.

Thirty bucks gets you 17.6 ounces, or about 142, of the expertly forged chocolate geodes, which are molded to "melt at the right rate," according to Todd Masonis, co-founder of San Francisco's Dandelion Chocolate, which makes and sells the chips... Labesque's flattened pyramid-like structures feature thick middles and thinly tapered edges. A 15-degree slope, according to blueprints for the morsel, creates a glossy finish when baked.

Masonis said it took years to realize Labesque's original multifaceted mold. "We did 3-D renderings of different options for shapes, test prints of a few molds and, of course, baking tests," he said. The goal? To emphasize the complex chips' cacao bean essence, which is said to have notes of chocolate buttercream frosting and banana. "We found that if you take a huge chunk of chocolate and put it in your mouth, that taste can be overwhelming," said Masonis. "The flat shape helps slow down the experience."

The single-origin chocolate is carefully tempered — a process where chocolate is heated then cooled to create a hard shell — and is designed to melt without ruining the structural integrity of its mold-cast hard edge.

The perfect chip weight, according to the engineers, is 4.05 grams.

The primitive shape of our current chocolate chips "isn't a designed shape," Labesque tells Bloomberg. "It's a product of an industrial manufacturing process."

Vigilante Sabotages Malware Botnet By Replacing Payloads With Animated GIFs (zdnet.com) 16

An anonymous reader writes: An unknown vigilante hacker has been sabotaging the operations of the recently-revived Emotet botnet by replacing Emotet payloads with animated GIFs, effectively preventing victims from getting infected. The sabotage, which started on July 21, has grown from a simple joke to a serious issue impacting a large portion of the Emotet operation, reducing the biggest malware botnet today to a quarter of its daily capabilities.

Since the attack started, the vigilante has replaced Emotet payloads with this Blink 182 "WTF" GIF, a James Franco GIF, and the Hackerman GIF from the Kung Fury movie.

The article points out this is all possible because Emotet stashes its malware on Wordpress sites they've breached with web shells — all of which have the exact same password.

John McAfee Loses Bet: Bitcoin Hasn't Hit $500K (mashable.com) 49

Slashdot reader Charlotte Web quotes Mashable: Three years ago on this date, on July 17, 2017, McAfee, the eccentric founder of the antivirus software company bearing his name, made the bet of a lifetime. McAfee made a bet that in three years a single bitcoin (1 BTC) would be worth $500,000.

Now while most people would throw down money to make this bet, McAfee had a very different idea. "if not, I will eat my **** on national television...."

Fast forward to July 17, 2020, three years from the day McAfee made his bet. Today, a bitcoin is worth around $9,150. It's certainly up from three years ago, sure. But we're far away from $500,000. The world may be very different from the one we were living in three years ago, but a bet is a bet.

Many on Twitter reminded McAfee that it was time to make good on his bet.

McAfee's response? He appears to be chickening out... "The bet was the end 8f 2020."

McAfee also tweeted that at the end of 2020, he'd still honor the bet.

"Myself, or, perhaps, a subcontractor :)"
Social Networks

Woman Who Harassed Starbucks Barista Now Wants Half the Money He Raised (nytimes.com) 229

destinyland writes: Amber Lynn Gilles walked into a Starbucks without a mask, later complaining on Facebook about the server who'd asked her to wear one. ("Next time I will wait for cops and bring a medical exemption!") She says she's surprised by the attention "my little review" attracted. A GoFundMe campaign supporting the Starbucks barista who had to deal with her has now raised $105,450.

So she now says she wants at least half of that money, "because they're using me to get it." She complained to the New York Times that "They're using my name, they're using my face, and they're slandering me."

Meanwhile Lenin Gutierrez, the Starbucks barista, is meeting with a financial adviser to discuss the generous donations he's received from all around the world. Though he's still working at Starbucks, with these donations, he tells a local newscast, he'll now be able to go to college and pursue a degree in kinesiology (the scientific study of human movement). But he also plans to donate some of the money to charity. "I can't be grateful enough," he adds, saying he hopes to show back some of the kindness that people have shown to him.

The GoFundMe page supporting him adds, "Thank you CNN and Chris Cuomo for closing out Cuomo Prime Time with Lenin's story and the GoFundMe." And the page also calls attention to what it sees as the larger theme in this incident. "In the words of Chris Cuomo: 'This is not about your freedom. Your freedom to wear, or not wear a mask, ends where it encroaches on somebody else's freedom not to get sick from you. Surrender the me to the we.'"

Social Networks

Starbucks Worker Insisting Customers Wear Masks Rewarded With $70K On GoFundMe (washingtonpost.com) 331

"Masks are stupid and so are the people wearing them," posted one San Diego woman on Facebook (who is also an anti-vaxxer). "She has also shared previous posts expressing her refusal to wear masks, and her belief that those who wear them are 'not thinking clearly,'" reports the Washington Post.

Here's what happened next... Amber Lynn Gilles walked into a Starbucks in San Diego without a mask and was declined service, according to a Facebook post on her page. She took a photograph of the barista who didn't serve her... Her post backfired.

It quickly collected more than 100,000 reactions and comments, as well as nearly 50,000 shares. Many Facebook users defended the barista, Lenin Gutierrez, and some called Gilles a "Karen" — a name coined to describe an entitled white woman making inappropriate remarks. One Facebook user wrote: "There's no reason to publicly shame a kid who's trying to work his shift like any other day...." That's when Matt Cowan, a man who doesn't know Gutierrez but stumbled upon the post, decided to start a virtual tip jar for the barista on GoFundMe. Cowan called the donation page "Tips for Lenin Standing Up To A San Diego Karen..."

"Everybody is rallying around somebody for doing what they're supposed to do and trying to protect everyone else," Cowan said in an interview with KGTV. "It just goes to show you there are a lot of good people out there and that outweighs the bad...."

By Saturday the original Facebook post criticizing the Starbucks barista had brought him over $70,000 in donations through the GoFundMe campaign.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports, "In an interview with KNSD-TV Channel 7 in San Diego, Gilles said she's received 'thousands' of death threats since the post went live."

Can Stadiums Replace Fans With Cardboard Cutouts and Avatars? (thehustle.co) 167

A new article on The Hustle tries to explain why sports stadiums are suddenly full of fans made out of cardboard: Back in March, a German filmmaker and soccer aficionado named Ingo Müller was sitting at home, complaining to his wife about not being able to attend the matches of his favorite club team, Borussia Mönchengladbach. "She said, 'If you're really pissed about not going to the stadium, just take a photo and send it there,'" Müller tells The Hustle. So Müller contacted a local printer and a team to build a portal where fans could upload photos of themselves. For a sum of €19 ($21 USD), he'd print out each photo on a cardboard cutout and install it in the stadium, with the permission of club owners. Originally, he anticipated between 500 and 2k orders. So far, 21k+ people have purchased a cutout.

All the proceeds go back to charities associated with the team, including a portion to fans impacted by the pandemic. Now, Müller has received inquiries from sports teams in "at least 15 countries," including Sweden, Colombia, China, Russia, Serbia, and Austria, about setting up their own cardboard fan project. He's even decided to apply for a Guinness World Record. And Müller isn't the only one tapping into the trend. Cardboard fans are lining the stands at baseball games in Taiwan and South Korea, and soccer matches all over Europe. Shaquille O'Neal's cardboard likeness even turned up for a soccer match in Northampton, England. At least 8 Premiere League teams have been in talks to fill their stands with cutouts. Turkish soccer clubs are trying a model with two price tiers: 123 liras ($18) for season ticket holders and 149 liras ($22) for regular fans...

For sports teams trying to recoup ticket revenue, cardboard fans aren't the only idea in the mix. Using AR, an Iceland-based company, OzSports, is trying to project avatars of fans into seats. In Denmark, one team brought 10k fans into its stadium with Zoom. In South Korea, a soccer team filled its fan seats with actual sex dolls — a move that earned them widespread criticism and an ~$81k fine.

United States

After 10 Years, Hidden $1M Treasure Chest Finally Found (theguardian.com) 78

89-year-old Forrest Fenn had a secret, reports the Guardian. He'd hidden a treasure chest worth over $1 million somewhere in America's Rocky Mountains: For more than a decade, he packed and repacked his treasure chest, sprinkling in gold dust and adding hundreds of rare gold coins and gold nuggets. Pre-Colombian animal figures went in, along with prehistoric mirrors of hammered gold, ancient Chinese faces carved from jade and antique jewelry with rubies and emeralds.
For more than 10 years, "hundreds of thousands" of fortune-hunters searched for his hidden treasure chest, according to the Guardian (adding "Some have said it was a hoax and pursued lawsuits.") Fenn posted clues online, and included nine hints in a 24-line poem in his 2010 autobiography, The Thrill of the Chase. Many quit their jobs to dedicate themselves to the search and others depleted their life savings. At least four people are believed to have died searching for it.

Fenn, who lives in Santa Fe, said he hid his treasure as a way to tempt people to get into the wilderness and give them a chance to launch an old-fashioned adventure and expedition for riches.

"There seemed to be despair everywhere," Fenn told Business Insider in 2018. "I wanted to give people some hope and something to believe in... I hope parents will take their children camping and hiking in the Rocky Mountains. I hope they will fish, look for fossils, turn rotten logs over to see what's under them, and look for my treasure."

So where was it? "It was under a canopy of stars in the lush, forested vegetation of the Rocky Mountains," Fenn posted coyly on his web site, "and had not moved from the spot where I hid it more than 10 years ago."
Social Networks

Will The Pandemic Force Us to Learn How to Cook? (nytimes.com) 236

"In one recent survey, 54 percent of respondents said they cook more than before the pandemic," writes a clinical associate professor at NYU's business school: 75 percent said they have become more confident in the kitchen and 51 percent said they will continue to cook more after the crisis ends. Interest in online cooking tutorials, recipe websites and food blogs has surged. Dozens of recipe writers and cookbook authors such as Alison Roman, Jet Tila, and Julia Turshen are frenetically posting ideas and answering questions on Twitter and Instagram. "I feel like this virus is a conspiracy to make me learn how to cook," Eliza Bayne, a television producer tweeted... The search term "online cooking classes" saw a fivefold increase on Google over the past four weeks, and the search title "cook with me" saw a 100 percent increase in average daily views on YouTube in the second half of March.

This surge in cooking is meaningful, as people who frequently cook meals at home eat more healthfully and consume fewer calories than those who cook less, according to multiple studies.

One of the biggest barriers to cooking frequently is that it takes practice and time to gain proficiency and ease. That initial training time has simply not been available to most Americans, as the pace of life has intensified over the decades. Nor has there been a perceived need to cook because prepared and fast foods were readily available. The pandemic has put everything on pause, and almost every "nonessential" worker, employed or unemployed, is now enrolled in a de facto home economics course... [W]e are acquiring an ancient skill that has been shown to help people live better and longer. If we apply that skill with greater frequency over the long run, it could reduce our risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke...

Once life rebounds, we may go back to our previous ways, but our palates will have experienced a reset and our hands would have acquired an artful skill... There will be many lessons from the coronavirus pandemic, but we would be wise not to forget this one. This newfound proficiency could be lifesaving.

Of course, he also notes that sales are also up for Hamburger Helper (and other packaged good). But what's your experience been like.

Are any Slashdot readers doing more cooking?
United States

'Burning Man' Festival in Nevada Cancelled This Year, Will Move Online (sfgate.com) 45

"We don't think it's practical for us to continue waiting and hoping for the best," explains the official Burning Man site, adding "public health and the well-being of our participants, staff, and neighbors in Nevada are our highest priorities."

And thus, SFGate reports that the 2020 festival's communal creation of Black Rock City scheduled to begin August 30th "will now be built virtually after organizers decided Friday to cancel this year's Burning Man event due to the coronavirus pandemic." "After much listening, discussion, and careful consideration, we have made the difficult decision..." the organizers said in a statement online. "Given the painful reality of COVID-19, one of the greatest global challenges of our lifetimes, we believe this is the right thing to do." While building the physical city in the Nevada desert is off, the event itself is still on, with this year's "Multiverse" theme taking place online.

"On a virtual playa, there's no limit to who can participate," organizers said. "Like That Thing in The Desert, we will have costs and will need to create some kind of 'ticket.' We're working out those details and will share them as soon as we can."

The official Burning Man site seems energized by the uncertainty: We're not sure how it's going to come out; it will likely be messy and awkward with mistakes. It will also likely be engaging, connective, and fun.

Some of you who already purchased a ticket for the playa may need that money now more than ever. We're committed to providing refunds to those who need them, but we're also committed to keeping Burning Man culture alive and thriving, and to ensuring our organization stays operational into next year's event season — which will require substantial staff layoffs, pay reductions, and other belt-tightening measures. Burning Man Project's survival is going to depend on ingenuity and generosity. Luckily, our community is rich in both.

Whether you have already purchased a ticket, have been waiting for the Main Sale, or are simply supportive of our vision and mission — if you have the means, it is our sincerest hope that you will consider donating all or a portion of your ticket value, and/or making a tax-deductible donation to Burning Man Project. This is going to be a tough year for us, as we know it will be for you, but we will get through it together...

We will tackle this challenge the same way humans across the globe are doing right now — by drawing strength and inspiration from one another. We are all Burning Man."


What It's Like To Attend a Conference -- in Person -- in the Age of Covid-19? (fastcompany.com) 35

What happens when no one shows up for a tech conference?

Fast Company's technology editor harrymcc writes: From Apple to Microsoft to Google, major tech companies have responded to the coronavirus crisis by either canceling their 2020 conference or making them purely virtual. But one well-established event — Vancouver's CanSecWest — went ahead earlier this month, with streaming as an option but not mandatory. Only three attendees showed up in the flesh. But so did security reporter Seth Rosenblatt, who wrote about the eerie experience for Fast Company.
They were outnumbed by the six staffers at the event -- "there to run the online component" -- but the article notes that the conference's organizer and founder promised all attendees "infrared body temperature checks, on-site coronavirus testing, ample supplies of disposable face masks and hand sanitizer, and restrictions on physical contact and interaction..."

"Empty hallways and escalators echoed with every footstep, and it smelled empty, the ventilation system circulating unused air. At the conference registration desk, I was offered a disposable surgical face mask and gloves."

Was Magellan's Voyage Riskier Than Sending Humans to Mars? (forbes.com) 153

A Portuguese historian argues that Magellan's famous trip around the world in 1522 was much harder than sending humans to Mars: Tens of guys died making this crossing; of 250 crew, only 18 returned, Henrique Leitao, a historian at the University of Lisbon, told me... [O]nce NASA or other space agencies or private entities actually launch humans on a six month trajectory to the Red planet, they will likely have mitigated the lion's share of risks to the crew. In contrast, Magellan's crew realized that at least a third of them would likely never survive their journey, says Leitao...

Is there a comparison between the Age of Discovery and drivers for the exploration and commercialization of space? One could argue that minerals on asteroids could be seen as the present-day equivalent of the Age of Discovery's highly-prized Asian spices. And that actually getting these 16th century spices back to Europe was arguably just as arduous and seemingly difficult as any initiative to return exotic materials from a near-Earth asteroid... Risk is inherent in any off-world human voyage. But when it comes to safety, today's technology and current knowledge of in situ conditions on Mars itself will arguably give future explorers an inherent edge over Magellan's generation.

The article also summarizes Leitao observation that one of the crew members who died on the trip was Magellan. "For 40 days Magellan walked around The Philippines; gets involved in a completely absurd fight with locals on a beach and is killed."

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