Borrowed Time by Pixar

❝ Pixar Animation Studios is known for making surprisingly dark, bold storytelling choices in its movies. For movies that are meant to be accessible to children, they can be sharply daring in the directions they take…

❝ The piece certainly is more adult, but it still has the familiar Pixar look, with marvelously expressive characters and a tremendous attention to environment and modeling…And like so many Pixar features, Borrowed Time is expressly about family bonds, and how they heighten emotions — in this case, guilt and disappointment. This is a short vignette, but it’s effective and powerful.

❝ Granted, an actual Pixar film would certainly make a point of relieving the tension and sorrow this short sets up, and would use it to some spectacular end…Hamou-Lhadj…and Coats…have set up what feels like the beginning to a terrific story. Here’s hoping they keep it going, past this tragic moment and on to the rest of the story of this man’s life.

I’ll second that emotion.

Be warned – spiders can hear you

❝ While jumping spiders are known to have great vision, a new Cornell University study proves for the first time that spiders can hear at a distance.

The discovery runs counter to standard textbook wisdom that claimed spiders could only detect nearby sounds.

❝ A study describes how researchers used metal microelectrodes in a jumping spider’s poppy-seed-sized brain to show that auditory neurons can sense far-field sounds, at distances up to 3 meters, or about 600 spider body lengths.

In further tests, researchers stimulated sensitive long hairs on the spider’s legs and body – previously known to pick up near-field airflow and vibrations – which generated a response in the same neurons that fired after hearing distant sounds, providing evidence the hairs are likely detecting nanoscale air particles that become excited from a sound wave…

❝ The techniques open up studies that link neurology with behavior in all spiders, Ron Hoy said. Gil Menda has since found evidence of hearing in five different spider species: jumping spiders, fishing spiders, wolf spiders, netcasting spiders and house spiders.

Future work by Hoy’s lab will investigate audio perception from lyriform organs and will better investigate audio neurons in the brain. The findings could have applications for using hairlike structures for extremely sensitive microphones, such as in hearing aids.

I wonder if they’ll investigate Google spiders? Har.

Meanwhile, RTFA. A delightful tale of accidental discoveries and cross-discipline cooperation.

Younger adults more likely than seniors to prefer reading news


❝ When it comes to technology’s influence on America’s young adults, reading is not dead – at least not the news. When asked whether one prefers to read, watch or listen to their news, younger adults are far more likely than older ones to opt for text, and most of that reading takes place on the web.

❝ Overall, more Americans prefer to watch their news (46%) than to read it (35%) or listen to it (17%), a Pew Research Center survey found earlier this year. But that varies dramatically by age. Those ages 50 and older are far more likely to prefer watching news over any other method: About half (52%) of 50- to 64-year-olds and 58% of those 65 and older would rather watch the news, while roughly three-in-ten (29% and 27%, respectively) prefer to read it. Among those under 50, on the other hand, roughly equal portions – about four-in-ten of those ages 18-29 and ages 30-49 – opt to read their news as opt to watch it.

Most of that reading among younger adults is through digital text rather than print. About eight-in-ten (81%) of 18- to 29-year-olds who prefer to read their news also prefer to get their news online; just 10% choose a print newspaper. The breakdown among 30- to 49-year-olds is similar. News readers who are ages 50-64, on the other hand, are more evenly split between a preference for the web (41%) and print paper (40%), while those 65 and older mostly still turn to the print paper (63%).

❝ There is also evidence that younger adults who prefer to watch their news are beginning to make the transition to doing so on a computer rather than a television. While 57% of 18- to 29-year-old news watchers prefer to get their news via TV, 37% cite the web as their platform of choice. That is far more than any other age group, including double the percentage of 30- to 49-year-old news watchers.

Just a little bit of info; but – interesting. I wonder what the average education levels are in the comparison populations? More cultural factors – effects as much as causes – should be worth noting in Pew’s inevitable follow-on studies.

The Feds secretly subpoenaed the chat app Signal earlier this year

❝ Earlier this year, Open Whisper Systems was served with a federal subpoena for records on its users, according to documents published today. Prosecutors were seeking data on two suspects who used Signal, an encrypted chat app produced by Open Whisper. Unfortunately for the government, Signal keeps only minimal logs on users, so the vast majority of the requested information was unavailable.

❝ The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Open Whisper Systems in the fight, has published a number of court filings related to the the request. Portions of the filings are redacted and much about the subpoena is still secret — including the case number, the date it was served, and the details of the underlying case — but it’s clear that the government sought detailed information on the users including subscriber name, payment information, and associated IP addresses.

It’s also clear that almost none of that information was ultimately produced. One of the phone numbers named by the government did not correspond to a Signal account, and logs on the other number showed only when the user first signed up for the service and when they most recently logged in.

❝ Crucially, the request was filed under gag order, and Open Whisper was only able to publish the documents after a significant legal fight. That has become standard practice for such requests, although many legal scholars believe widespread use of the tactic presents a threat to free speech.

Not that the Department of Justice or any US government I can recall – liberal or conservative – cares a rat’s ass about Constitutional rights when the secret police boffins declare an event to be a question of national security. The creeps get to redefine the rules governing themselves. No democracy, no oversight, no transparency.

Cripes! Even America’s favorite cons are being outsourced

❝ Police in India say they have arrested 70 call centre workers on suspicion of tricking American citizens into sending them money by posing as US tax officials.

A total of 772 workers were arrested on Wednesday in raids on nine fake call centres in a Mumbai suburb…

An estimated $36.5 million was extorted from Americans, police said.

❝ Seventy were placed under formal arrest, 630 were released pending questioning over the coming days, and 72 were freed without further investigation.

“The motive was earning money,” said Parag Marere, a deputy commissioner of police. “They were running an illegal process, posing themselves as officers of the [US] Internal Revenue Service.”

Marere said the year-long scam involved running fake call centres that sent voicemail messages telling US nationals to call back because they owed back taxes.

Those who called back and believed the threats would fork out thousands of dollars to “settle” their case, he said. The scam brought in more than $150,000 a day…

Americans are so fracking gullible. You get a voicemail telling you to callback the IRS – without ever checking on the phone number. You’re only calling back – much of the time – because you know you’ve been Trumping your tax bill, anyway. If they can pump you for how much you think you owe – it’s only a matter of playing the fish until you’re landed. You can go higher or lower. It’s all in the game.

Somewhere along the line you might notice your IRS agent has an accent. Perfectly reasonable in a nation of immigrants. If the boiler room is like most I’ve heard, you should also detect conversational background noise. And if everyone has the same accent – you’re in trouble, Bubba. The IRS doesn’t restrict hiring to any one ethnicity. 🙂

Yahoo scanned all incoming customer emails for US intelligence

❝ Yahoo last year secretly built a custom software program to search all of its customers’ incoming emails for specific information provided by U.S. intelligence officials…

The company complied with a classified U.S. government demand, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said three former employees and a fourth person apprised of the events.

Some surveillance experts said this represents the first case to surface of a U.S. Internet company agreeing to an intelligence agency’s request by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time…

❝ Reuters was unable to determine what data Yahoo may have handed over, if any, and if intelligence officials had approached other email providers besides Yahoo with this kind of request.

❝ According to two of the former employees, Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer’s decision to obey the directive roiled some senior executives and led to the June 2015 departure of Chief Information Security Officer Alex Stamos, who now holds the top security job at Facebook…

RTFA. It’s long and detailed – and I haven’t had a boatload of trust in the integrity of Yahoo in years. All credit to Alex Stamos for walking out.

After coppers were given body cameras complaints fell 98%

❝ Cameras worn on police uniforms have been lauded as a possible solution to many of the problems facing officers in the line of duty, from violence against law enforcement to the unnecessary use of force. The US Department of Justice recently announced a plan to spend $20 million on body cameras for cops in 32 states.

❝ The cameras are controversial, as all surveillance technology tends to be. And until recently, there’s been little hard evidence about how effective body cameras actually are. According to new research from the University of Cambridge, which studied seven police forces in the US and the UK, the answer is that they are transformative in at least one way.

Researchers used complaints against police as a proxy for the effect of the cameras, hypothesizing that one major reason for complaints is that cops behaved in a negative, avoidable way…

Compared to the previous year when cameras were not worn, complaints across the seven regions fell by 98% over the 12 months of the experiment. The study encompassed nearly 1.5 million officer hours across more than 4,000 shifts…

❝ The theory is that cameras make police officers more accountable for their actions, because people tend to change their behavior when they believe they are being observed. At the same time, this also limits non-compliance from people with whom the police interact…

They also noted that there was a reduction in the amount of complaints against officers who didn’t wear cameras but were working in the same forces among those who did. The researchers called this “contagious accountability.” All officers were acutely aware of being observed more closely, whether they were wearing a camera or not.

Nothing new about the result. Folks often forget about the Hawthorne effect because it’s been decades since it was noted in the results of a number of experiments at one location. The Hawthorne Works in Cicero, Illinois.

Knowing that is fun. The result is what’s important, however.

Teleportation — the next generation moves closer

❝ Chinese and Canadian scientists say they have successfully carried out a form of teleportation across an entire city.

The two teams working independently have teleported near-identical versions of tiny particles called photons through cables across Calgary in Canada and Hefei in Anhui province.

The forms of teleported photons were destroyed in one laboratory and recreated in another more than 8km apart in the two cities through optical fibre.

Similar experiments have been carried out before, but only within the same laboratory.

❝ A physicist not involved in either of the studies said the research was a step forward in the development of a “quantum internet”, a futuristic particle-based information system that could be much more secure than existing forms of digital data.

Quantum networks make eavesdropping almost impossible because the particles used cannot be observed without being altered…

❝ Teleportation, the foundation for such a network, has largely been the realm of science fiction, and other scientists say the research is still a very long way from teleporting people or objects.

But in his commentary on the research in the scientific journal Nature Photonics, French physicist Frederic Grosshans said the two experiments clearly showed that teleportation across metropolitan distances was technologically feasible.

❝ The research was carried out by scientists at the University of Science and Technology of China and the University of Calgary and their papers were published in the journal on Monday, 19 September.

There are differences in approach between the two groups of researchers. RTFA for details – and a pleasant nudge to your imagination, eh?