Architechnosecurigeek. Tinkerer. General trouble maker.
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The Stylish & Colorful Computing Machines of Yesteryear

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Holy moly, these photographs of vintage computers & peripherals by “design and tech obsessive” James Ball are fantastic.

Ball Computers

Ball Computers

Ball Computers

He did a similar series with early personal computers subtitled “Icons of Beige”.

Ball Computers

(via @mwichary)

Tags: computing   James Ball   photography
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petrilli
8 days ago
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I miss the distinctive style of early computers.
Arlington, VA
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cinebot
8 days ago
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you're beautiful
toronto.

A Voting Disaster Foretold

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The 2018 Texas general election is going to be a disaster, and that's independent of who wins or loses. To be more precise, I should say "who appears to win or lose", because we're never really going to know. Despite more than 15 years of warnings, Texas still uses DRE (Direct Recording Electronic) voting machines, where a vote is entered into a computer and there is no independent record of how people actually voted. And now, with early voting having started, people's votes are being changed by the voting machines.

This isn't the first time votes have been miscounted because of DRE machine failures. In 2004, "Carteret County lost 4,438 votes during the early-voting period leading up to Election Day because a computer didn't record them." Ed Felten has often written about the machines' own outputs show inconsistencies. (For some reasons, images are not currently showing on those blog posts, so I've linked to a Wayback Machine copy.)

It doesn't help that the problem here appears to be due to a completely avoidable design error by the vendor. Per the Texas Secretary of State's office, bad things can happen if voters operate controls while the page is rendering. That's an excuse, not a reason, and it's a bad one. Behavior like that is completely unacceptable from a human factors perspective. If the system will misbehave from data entry during rendering, the input controls should be disabled or inputs from them should be ignored during that time-- period, end of discussion. There is literally no excuse for not doing this correctly. Programming this correctly is "hard"? Sorry; not an acceptable answer. And judging from how quickly Texas officials "diagnosed" the problem, it appears that they've known about the issue and let it ride. Again, this is completely unacceptable.

I've been warning about buggy voting machine software for more than 10 years:

Ironically, for all that I'm a security expert, my real concern with electronic voting machines is ordinary bugs in the code. These have demonstrably happened. One of the simplest cases to understand is the counter overflow problem: the voting machine used too small a field for the number of votes cast. The machine used binary arithmetic (virtually all modern computers do), so the critical number was 32,767 votes; the analogy is trying to count 10,000 votes if your counter only has 4 decimal digits. In that vein, the interesting election story from 2000 wasn't Florida, it was Bernalillo County, New Mexico; you can see a copy of the Wall Street Journal story about the problem here.
I haven't changed my mind
Bellovin is "much more worried about computer error -- buggy code -- than cyberattacks," he says. "There have been inexplicable errors in some voting machines. It's a really hard problem to deal with. It's not like, say, an ATM system, where they print out a log of every transaction and take pictures, and there's a record. In voting you need voter privacy -- you can't keep logs -- and there's no mechanism for redoing your election if you find a security problem later."

Others agree. A recent National Academies report noted long-standing concerns about DRE machines:

The rapid growth in the prominence of DREs brought greater voice to concerns about their use, particularly their vulnerability to software malfunctions and external security risks. And as with the lever machines that preceded them, without a paper record, it is not possible to conduct a convincing audit of the results of an election.
and recommended that
4.11 Elections should be conducted with human-readable paper ballots. These may be marked by hand or by machine (using a ballot-marking device); they may be counted by hand or by machine (using an optical scanner). Recounts and audits should be conducted by human inspection of the human-readable portion of the paper ballots. Voting machines that do not provide the capacity for independent auditing (e.g., machines that do not produce a voter-verifiable paper audit trail) should be removed from service as soon as possible. 4.12 Every effort should be made to use human-readable paper ballots in the 2018 federal election. All local, state, and federal elections should be conducted using human-readable paper ballots by the 2020 presidential election.

This election will undooubtedly end up in court: there's a hotly contested Senate race, and both campaigns are very well-funded. Whatever the outcome, many people will feel that they were disenfranchised--and it didn't have to happen.

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petrilli
19 days ago
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Arlington, VA
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Alzheimer’s and Infectious Disease: For Real

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I’ve written a couple of times over the years about the idea that Alzheimer’s disease might have an infectious component to it. That’s been proposed many times, but it’s fair to say that it’s never caught on. For one thing, the amyloid hypothesis has always had a lot more going for it. I realize that I’ve poured scorn on that one in recent years, but that’s after a string of massive clinical failures based on it being right. It started out as by far the most plausible mechanism around, and even now, any further explanation of the disease is going to have to include an amyloid component, in much the same way that Einstein’s relativity also included an explanation of why Newtonian mechanics was so workable so much of the time.

A new paper in Neuron, though, looks to be the most unignorable one yet with evidence that there’s some sort of viral/bacteial/fungal component to the disease. A team led out of a Mt. Sinai research group has gone over a pretty large sample of Alzheimer’s brain tissue (622 patients who died with the disease, and over three hundred control brains as well), sequencing infectious organism DNA, looking for changes in the proteome, etc. They find that aging brains in normal patients display plenty of viral signatures (as indeed is probably the case in many other tissues). But the AD samples were particularly enriched in herpesviruses 6A and 7, a result that repeated across three independent cohorts from different geographical locations (the brain tissue collections were from more than one previous effort). According to Stat, there’s a paper coming out next month from another group entirely that also implicates HHV6.

But are these viruses a cause of the disease, or are they something that shows up later? That is, do HHV 6A/7 give you Alzheimer’s, or does having Alzheimer’s bring on those viral infections? This has been the problem with many previous proposals for an infectious agent, and it’s a very difficult objection to overcome. I think that this is the first study, though, that has made it over that hurdle. The paper shows that viral DNA is, in fact, incorporated into neurons from the affected regions of the brain. What’s more, analysis of both protein and mRNA levels suggest that such infection produces changes in several transcriptional regulators (specifically, a set of zinc-finger transcription factors and G-quadraplex-associated proteins) that in turn affect expression of a number of very suggestive proteins downstream:

We found that multiple viruses interact with AD risk genes. HHV-6A stood out as notable with significant overlap (FDR < 3e-3) between the set of host genes it collectively induces across all tissues and AD-associated genes (Figure 5D, Table S7). This includes several regulators of APP processing and AD risk-associated genes, including gamma-secretase subunit presenilin-1 (PSEN1), BACE1, amyloid beta precursor protein binding family B member 2 (APBB2), Clusterin (CLU), Bridging Integrator 1 (BIN1), and Phosphatidylinositol Binding Clathrin Assembly Protein (PICALM). We also found that several other viruses regulate, or are regulated by, AD risk genes, including: (1) HAdV-C-induced expression of Complement Receptor 1 (CR1), and inhibition of Solute Carrier Family 24 Member 4 (SLC24A4), (2) inhibition of KSHV by Fermitin Family Member 2 (FERMT2), and (3) inhibition of HSV-2 by Translocase of Outer Mitochondrial Membrane 40 (TOMM40). These findings indicate multiple points of overlap between virus-host interactions and AD risk genes.

There’s also an association with neuronal loss, and this and other pathways seem to converge on miR-155 as an important factor (HHV6A inhibits its expression). The team then crossed a mouse strain that’s knocked out for this microRNA with one of the APP/presenilin mutant mouse lines that is susceptible to amyloid problems. And indeed, the resulting mice  show significantly more amyloid plague formation at four months, and significantly more amyloid 1-42 in the brain.

This gets right at what I mentioned above: any alternate theory of Alzheimer’s will have to explain why there are so many apparent connections to amyloid handling. So this might well be real, and if it is, it really does open up a whole new set of mechanistic (and even therapeutic) possibilities. Although I don’t keep up with the literature in this field as well as I would were I still working in it, I think that this is one of the most significant Alzheimer’s papers I’ve seen in years. A mechanism through viral disturbance of transcription factors, miRNAs, and other such gene-expression pathways would fit well with the variations seen in the incidence and severity of the disease, because that lands you right into the mess of environmental factors, immune system variations, and so on.

The integrated findings of this study suggest that AD biology is impacted by a complex constellation of viral and host factors acting across different timescales and physiological systems (Figure 8B). This includes host mucosal defense and modulation of innate immune response by virus and host. It also includes disturbance of core biological processes, including some that are well described in AD (e.g., APP processing, cytoskeletal organization, mitochondrial respiration, protein synthesis, and cell-cycle control) and some that are less well characterized (e.g., widespread shifts in G4 activity and C2H2-TF regulatory programs). We note potential mechanisms (and candidate molecular mediators) that we find perturbed by viral species and that have known impacts on these altered processes, for instance, virally driven changes in protein synthesis machinery, tRNA synthetase activity, and nucleotide pool maintenance, which collectively exert complex effects on G4 regulation and C2H2-TF activity.

This paper immediately suggests several lines of research. HHV6A needs to be studied in more detail (and distinguished from HHV6B, which current tests don’t always do). Viral mechanisms of transcriptional disruption have already been investigated in other contexts, but there’s a lot to be done in the Alzheimer’s territory. We need to see if miR-155 is a real node in the system, and so on. And it wouldn’t do any harm to look at the effects of existing antiviral drugs on these HHV strains, would it? After years of writing about amyloid-centric disappointments, I think it’s great to have some new hypotheses to test!

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acdha
147 days ago
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Washington, DC
petrilli
147 days ago
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Arlington, VA
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glenn
147 days ago
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As a layman, the article referenced here was helpful as well.

https://www.statnews.com/2018/06/21/herpes-viruses-alzheimers-disease-role/

Also mentions a Taiwan study that a herpes-infected group was 2.6 times as likely to develop dementia. But in people treated with antiviral drugs, that risk was reduced by 90 percent!

Waterloo, Canada

Trump on Jeff Bezos: ‘How Can I Fuck With Him?’

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Gabriel Sherman, writing for Vanity Fair:

Now, according to four sources close to the White House, Trump is discussing ways to escalate his Twitter attacks on Amazon to further damage the company. “He’s off the hook on this. It’s war,” one source told me. “He gets obsessed with something, and now he’s obsessed with Bezos,” said another source. “Trump is like, how can I fuck with him?” […]

Even Trump’s allies acknowledge that much of what’s fueling Trump’s rage toward Amazon is that Amazon C.E.O. Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, sources said. “Trump doesn’t like The New York Times, but he reveres it because it’s his hometown paper. The Washington Post, he has zero respect for,” the Republican close to the White House said. While the Post says that Bezos has no involvement in newsroom decisions, Trump has told advisers he believes Bezos uses the paper as a political weapon. One former White House official said Trump looks at the Post the same way he looks at the National Enquirer. “When Bezos says he has no involvement, Trump doesn’t believe him. His experience is with the David Peckers of the world. Whether it’s right or wrong, he knows it can be done.”

Josh Marshall, earlier this week, in an excellent column at Talking Points Memo:

Having a sitting President launching scathing personal attacks on a federal law enforcement officer and demanding his firing or imprisonment for personal and political motives is wildly outside the norms that govern the American system. Similarly, a President who routinely threatens prosecutorial or regulatory vengeance against private companies because they are not sufficiently politically subservient to him personally is entirely outside of our system of governance. At present, Donald Trump is an autocrat without an autocracy.

Can you even imagine the reaction from Republicans if Barack Obama had gone after, say, Rupert Murdoch in this way? And of course, Trump’s main beef with Amazon, that the U.S. Post Office is losing $1.47 on every package they deliver for Amazon, is complete bullshit. How anyone supports this president at this point is beyond my comprehension.

Amazon’s stock is taking a hit as a result of Trump’s rhetoric, but if I were an Amazon investor, I wouldn’t worry. Jeff Bezos is very, very smart. Donald Trump is not.

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petrilli
226 days ago
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Trump believes Bezos uses it as a political weapon because HE would use it as a political weapon, and he's incapable of imagining that anyone could possibly make better decisions.
Arlington, VA
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Vulture interviews Quincy Jones

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every line of this interview is unreal, a man who truly has no fucks to give

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petrilli
282 days ago
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*head spinning*
Arlington, VA
rosskarchner
283 days ago
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whut
DC-ish
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Just watch this

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It’s a good, no, great talk about principles of leadership by Bryan Cantrill. At turns hilarious, angry, and poignant, it is quite simply one of the best talks I have ever seen about what we’re building in tech and why and how to do better. We need to move forward, take responsibility and begin to tear down a culture in which “always be hustlin'” is a leadership principle. A frank, harsh look at Amazon, Uber, and techbro thinking, with some eulogy to Sun baked in. It’s a great talk. Please watch it.

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petrilli
343 days ago
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Worth a watch.
Arlington, VA
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jonwreed
343 days ago
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could be good
Northampton, MA
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