comScore Robert Quigley | The Mary Sue
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Posts by Robert Quigley

A Passing of the Torch

Though it might not appear to be so to the casual reader, should he or she bother to wonder where these neatly wrapped daily blog posts come from, running a site like this is a full-time job. Since Geekosystem launched a year and a half ago, I have written 2,716 posts, some of which are works of analysis and reportage that I'm quite happy with, some of which may mildly embarrass me should they come up when someone is Googling me a few years down the road, and some of which appear to consist of little more than thinly repackaged cat videos. Note that there is little if any overlap between these last two groups. But all good things must come to an end, and as I prepare to head back to school this coming fall, this is my last post as managing editor of Geekosystem. That duty will pass along to James Plafke, in whom I have the utmost confidence not to crush and ruin the site that I have poured my time and energy into since its birth. (In truth, James is great and the site is in capable hands.) 

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Spanish Police Reportedly Arrest 3 Men Suspected of PSN Hack

According to the New York Times, Spanish police have detained three men "suspected of computer hacking in connection with recent cyberattacks on Sony’s PlayStation Network as well as corporate and government Web sites around the world." Sony's PSN woes have been the tech security fiasco of the year to this point, with the online gaming network brought down for more than a month following a breach that may left "customer names, addresses, usernames, passwords and as many as 2.2 million credit card numbers" exposed.

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Challenge Accepted: NYC Bicyclist Only Rides in Bike Lanes, Crashes into Everything

When filmmaker and bicyclist Casey Neistat received a $50 fine for riding outside of a bike lane in New York City despite his protestations that the bike lane is often unsafe, he made this video in which he attempts to reduce the law to absurdity. So Neistat religiously sticks within the boundaries of the bike lane, even if they're blocked by trash, taxi, or trucks -- and if there's no way around them, he simply crashes spectacularly into them. It's not entirely clear that the ticketing Neistat describes is legal in the first place; what the law actually says is that "Bicycle riders must use bike path/lane, if provided, except for access, safety, turns, etc." [emphasis added], but NYC police have been aggressively ticketing cyclists this year, sometimes without regard for that caveat. New York City regulations also ban "parking, standing or stopping vehicles within or otherwise obstructing bike lanes." Neistat's point: Police can't fairly enforce the law with respect to cyclists without applying it to everyone else and making the lanes safe for use. (Consumerist via Boing Boing)

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Freedom of Information Request Reveals U.K. City Is Unprepared for Zombie Attack

Here's an occasion for political alarm if ever their was one: One citizen's Freedom of Information request to the city council of Leicester, England revealed that the city is woefully unprepared for a zombie attack. According to the "concerned citizen" who filed the request, a man by the name of Robert Ainsley, "Having watched several films it is clear that preparation for such an event is poor and one that councils throughout the kingdom must prepare for." BBC:

"We've had a few wacky ones before but this one did make us laugh," said Lynn Wyeth, head of information governance. The Freedom of Information Act allows a right of access to recorded information held by public authorities. Ms Wyeth said she was unaware of any specific reference to a zombie attack in the council's emergency plan, however some elements of it could be applied if the situation arose.
(via BBC, Telegraph)

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Playground Toy Looks Somewhat Unsafe [Video]

This type of violently whirling playground toy was apparently more common stateside in the old days, but it's pretty obvious why it wouldn't cut muster today. (The Daily What refers to it as a "spinning lawsuit factory.") The kids in the video do look like they're having fun, though. This video was taken at Skånegläntan Park in Stockholm, Sweden. (via Best of YouTube / The Daily What comments)

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Geekolinks: 6/9

In Honor of Les Paul’s Birthday, Google Logo Is a Playable, Recordable Guitar

The folks over at Google are becoming ever more ambitious with their famous Google doodles. Today's honors the birthday of Les Paul, often credited as the father of the solid body electric guitar. Paul, who would have been 97 this year, has his birthday marked with a fully-strummable Google logo. Paul's belief that artists would want an instrument like an electric guitar proved remarkably prescient and helped kick-off a revolution in music. In addition to his prowess as an inventor and technical tinkerer, Paul pushed forward some of the styles of playing that would later become standards of rock 'n roll. Google's homage to Paul is not only playable, but recordable as well. Click the little button, play your kickin' jam, and Google will play it back and provide you with a sharable link. If you manage to pull off any face-melting solos, drop them off in our comments section.

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Netherlands to Become First European Country to Enact Net Neutrality as Law

Telecom companies in The Netherlands must be kicking themselves now as the small European country, home to 16.7 million people, prepares to enact net neutrality principles into law. Yesterday, the Dutch Parliament agreed in a nearly unanimous vote that going forward, carriers must equally guarantee access to all web content and applications. Though they lobbied vociferously against the new law, telcos arguably brought this fate upon themselves discriminating against applications like VoIP and videochat service Skype and web-based text messaging service WhatsApp, among others. As these directly competed with their pricier packages for voice and texting services but could be used by customers who had bought data-only packages, Dutch telecom companies were rumored to throttle or even block them specifically. But when one company openly charged for these services, it triggered a backlash that led to the new net neutrality law.

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Tron Guy Auditions on America’s Got Talent, It Does Not Go Well [Video]

Before YouTube and Twitter, Jay Maynard, a.k.a. Tron Guy, was one of the first people to achieve Internet stardom of a sort after a somewhat unflattering series of pictures of him in a skintight Tron costume spread from Slashdot to the other recesses of the Internet. But when he recently tried to take his act to America's Got Talent, clad in his Tron outfit and all, he ran into a wall of hostility from the judges and audience that can only be described as bizarre, as seen in the video above. It feels like a Tim & Eric skit or a Neil Hamburger routine, but it seems to be real. Though he is quickly booed offstage, Maynard is the one who emerges victorious here simply for being willing to go through with this. "Greetings programs!" (h/t Laughing Squid)

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Geekolinks: 6/8

Senators Want an Investigation into Bitcoins

Since its inception, enthusiasts and watchers of virtual P2P currency Bitcoin have wondered aloud whether the government would tolerate a decentralized, difficult-to-track cryptocurrency which could in theory -- and in some cases even in practice -- be used to pay for illegal drugs and prostitution. As of this week, this question has become a less hypothetical one, with Senators Charles Schumer and Joe Manchin writing a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and DEA head Michele Leonhart expressing their concerns about Bitcoin. The senators' letter comes on the heels of a Gawker report on Silk Road, an online marketplace whose users can exchange Bitcoins for "any drug imaginable." Reuters:

"The only method of payment for these illegal purchases is an untraceable peer-to-peer currency known as Bitcoins. After purchasing Bitcoins through an exchange, a user can create an account on Silk Road and start purchasing illegal drugs from individuals around the world and have them delivered to their homes within days," the senators' letter states. "We urge you to take immediate action and shut down the Silk Road network." The DEA is "absolutely" concerned about Bitcoins and other anonymous digital currencies, agency spokeswoman Dawn Dearden said when asked for a response to the senators' concerns. "The DEA is constantly evaluating and analyzing new technologies and schemes perpetrated by drug trafficking networks. While we won't confirm or deny the existence of specific investigations, DEA is well aware of these emerging threats and we will act accordingly," she said.
While the senators notably do not appear to be advocating for a shutdown of Bitcoins themselves (should such a thing indeed be possible), Bitcoin users have expressed concern that a crackdown on Bitcoin exchanges with bank accounts -- the chokepoints where users trade cash for Bitcoins -- could be on the horizon. But government action isn't the only reason would-be early adopters should be cautious about Bitcoin: For a good general critique, see Adam Cohen's on Quora. (Reuters via Techmeme)

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Baby Pygmy Hippo

Adorable photo taken by zookeeper Bobby-Jo Vial at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia. The pygmy hippo is an endangered species native to West Africa, and it is one of only two living species in the Hippopotamidae taxonomicfamily, the other being the more familiar common hippopotamus.

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What Happens When You Buy Things from Spam E-Mails?

Since it's their job to protect customers from the darkest spawn of the Web, the brave, possibly foolhardy researchers at F-Secure decided to simply buy a bunch of products advertised in spam e-mails and see what happened. Though we don't recommend that you try this at home, the results were not what you might expect:

While doing some spam research a couple of years ago, we did a series of test purchases from spam e-mails. We bought pills, software, cigarettes, et cetera. We were a bit surprised that almost all of the orders went through and actually delivered goods. Sure, the Windows CD we got was a poor clone and the Rolex was obviously fake, but at least they sent us something. We were carefully watching the credit card accounts we created for our tests but we never saw any fraudulent use of them. The most surprising outcome from this test was that we didn't see more spam to the e-mail addresses we used to order the goods.
They offer this sad addendum, however: "P.S. We never actually got the Rolex we ordered. It was stopped and confiscated by local customs as a pirated product. They ended up destroying it. With a hammer." See also: This new study on the worldwide spam business. [pdf] (F-Secure via Marginal Revolution)

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10 Kids Who Discovered Horrifying or Adorable Monsters

This Power Grid is dedicated to all the little kids out there that managed to befriend the gamut of alien races and improbably survive because audiences don’t much like watching little kids succumbing to the true horrors of alien related deaths in science fiction.

No, the tropes at play in these movies are much more about friendship and accepting differences in others… except when they’re not, because the whole genre is being deconstructed by Jhonen Vasquez or K.A. Applegate. Or when the movie is just awfully, unforgivably, MST3Kingly bad.

But mostly, these extraterrestrially tinged bildungsroman play it straight, giving us some of the biggest tear-jerkers in kids' sci-fi. Enjoy!

>>>List at The Mary Sue.

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Steve Jobs Presents Spaceship-Shaped Apple Campus Plan to Cupertino Council

Now we know what Apple wants to do with some of those massive cash reserves: At a city council meeting in Apple's hometown of Cupertino, CEO Steve Jobs presented the plans for a massive new campus that looks "a little like a spaceship landed," to be built over the old 98-acre campus Apple purchased from HP last year. Jobs:

It's a pretty amazing building. It's a little like a spaceship landed. It's got this gorgeous courtyard in the middle... It's a circle. It's curved all the way around. If you build things, this is not the cheapest way to build something. There is not a straight piece of glass in this building. It's all curved. We've used our experience making retail buildings all over the world now, and we know how to make the biggest pieces of glass in the world for architectural use. And, we want to make the glass specifically for this building here. We can make it curve all the way around the building... It's pretty cool.
The new Apple HQ would be able to hold as many as 12,000 people, far more than the 2,800 currently fit into the current headquarters. (Another 6,700 employees work from rented office space.) Even when Jobs is pitching city councilpeople, he's still a pitchman: "We do have a shot at building the best office building in the world ... Architecture students will come here to see this," he said.

(via MacRumors)

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Geekolinks: 6/7

Terrifying Clown Is Terrifying

Artist Dave Kendall painted this disturbing portrait for the cover of a Stephen King fanzine some years ago. Fun for trypophobes and coulrophobes alike. In the interest of not terrifying all of our readers, full pic after the jump:

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Watch Nintendo’s E3 Presentation [Live Video]

Nintendo's E3 presentation is live and underway right now; though they've led off with small things, the two big questions on people's mind are 1. what Project Cafe, Nintendo's next-gen console, will be like, and 2. if there's any new magic in store for the 3DS, which lacked strong launch titles. We'll have a full recap later. Check it out postjump:

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Report: One Out of Four U.S. “Hackers” Is an FBI Informant

According to a report issued by The Guardian and backed by the publisher of hacker quarterly 2600, a whopping 25% of U.S.-based 'hackers' "may have been recruited by the federal authorities to be their eyes and ears." The reason is as old as crime movies: When a cybercriminal is busted, the feds have a lot of leverage in asking him or her to go turncoat, as the alternative may be a harsh legal sentence. The Guardian:

"Owing to the harsh penalties involved and the relative inexperience with the law that many hackers have, they are rather susceptible to intimidation," [2600 publisher Eric] Corley told the Guardian. "It makes for very tense relationships," said John Young, who runs Cryptome, a website depository for secret documents along the lines of WikiLeaks. "There are dozens and dozens of hackers who have been shopped by people they thought they trusted."
A quibble with this report, which may well be true with respect to cybercriminals, is the use of the word 'hacker' as synonymous with credit card thief or Sony breacher, when the more constructive sort of folks who hang around places like Hacker News who self-identify with the word see it quite differently. In the words of Eric S. Raymond, "Real hackers mostly think crackers are lazy, irresponsible, and not very bright, and object that being able to break security doesn't make you a hacker any more than being able to hotwire cars makes you an automotive engineer. Unfortunately, many journalists and writers have been fooled into using the word "hacker" to describe crackers; this irritates real hackers no end." (via The Guardian)

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British Teen Invents Doorbell That Calls Homeowner’s Cell Phone, Spooks Burglars

According to the Daily Mail, a 13-year-old by the name of Laurence Rook is in for a £250,000 payday thanks to a clever bit of engineering. When competing in a mock product design competition for school, Rook came up with the Smart Bell, a doorbell with a twist: When it's pressed, it calls up the homeowner's mobile phone and routes it over the intercom, allowing him or her to talk to whoever is outside the door. Rook: "At first I designed the idea because my mum was fed up going to the Post Office to collect deliveries made when we were not at home." But convenience isn't the only thing going for Rook's design: It also deters burglars.

'Most opportunist burglars ring the doorbell first to see if anyone is at home, but Smart Bell has the perfect way to counteract this. 'If you are out and a burglar comes up to your door and rings the doorbell, after ten seconds Smart Bell will ring through to your mobile phone and you will be able to answer. 'There is a small amount of white noise so it will sound like an intercom and the burglar will never know that you're not actually inside the house.'
20,000 units have already been purchased by British telco Commtel Innovate, and the Daily Mail reports that Rook is in negotiations to make 25,000 more for an unspecified other company. (Daily Mail via Slashdot)

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