In this new roundup: sentences for both Jared Lee Loughner and Anders Behring Breivik, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, more on “trading robots”, security and the “clouds”, Internet Archive is on BitTorrent, David Pogue on Hollywood and online piracy, a provocative review of Beast of the Southern Wild (2012), storing data with DNA, intellectual integrity and stardom, Kodak is selling its printed film business while Samsara (2011) was entirely shot in 70mm (but will be shown exclusively in a digital format) and, finally, an excerpt from Burden of Dreams (1982), a making-of documentary about Werner Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo (1982).

• • •

  • The New York Times: “Life Term for Gunman After Guilty Plea in Tucson Killings” by Fernanda Santos, August 7, 2012.

    Jared L. Loughner pleaded guilty on Tuesday to killing six people and wounding 13 others last year during a meet-and-greet event here held by Gabrielle Giffords, then a member of the House of Representatives and the primary target of his rampage. The plea brought a sudden resolution to a case that seemed threatened by the fragility of Mr. Loughner’s mental state.

    The shooting occurred on January 8, 2011. With this verdict, the defense avoids the death penalty while prosecutors avoid the risk of having him declared legally insane (and therefor not responsible for his actions). Previously here: “Loughner’s Mental Competence Is Doubted” (The Wall Street Journal, May 17, 2011) and Jared Lee Loughner Not Competent to Stand Trial.

    Loughner Pleads Guilty

  • BBC: “Anders Behring Breivik: Norway court finds him sane” August 24, 2012.

    Breivik, who admitted killing 77 people when he bombed central Oslo and then opened fire at an island youth camp, told the court he would not appeal. He insisted he was sane and refused to plead guilty, saying last year’s attacks were necessary to stop the “Islamisation” of Norway. Prosecutors had called for him to be considered insane. Breivik was convicted of terrorism and premeditated murder, and given the maximum sentence of 21 years’ imprisonment. However, that can be prolonged at a later date if he is deemed to remain a danger to society.


  • NASA – Mars Science Laboratory: Images. With NASA’s new rover “Curiosity” safely arrived on Mars, we can all checked on the various updates (news, multimedia, images) at the NASA’s official webpage for the MSL’s mission.

    NASA Curiosity Mars

  • Technology Review: “Watch High-Speed Trading Bots Go Berserk” by Will Knight, August 7, 2012.

    The animated .gif above shows the rise of high-frequency trading across several U.S. stock exchanges over the last five years. You’ll notice that there’s relatively little activity in 2007, followed by spikes in activity at the opening and close of the market starting in 2008. And then, sometime around the start of 2010, activity becomes much, much more frenetic and erratic. The image was originally posted by Nanex, a company that provides market data to traders.

    Algorithmic trading lets financial firms to spot and exploit market patterns at lightning speeds. This can bring a tidy profit, but it also puts computers in charge of making decisions that can cost a company millions, and that may have an unpredictable effect on the rest of the market.

    The ascent of high-frequency trading has long been a concern within the financial industry (see “Trading Shares in Milliseconds”). But criticism reached a fever pitch last week when Knight Capital Group, a well respected and fairly conservative trading firm, suffered catastrophic losses when one of its algorithms went haywire for 30 minutes.

    Algorithmic trading

  • Wired: “How Apple and Amazon Security Flaws Led to My Epic Hacking” by Matt Honan, August 6, 2012.

    And it’s also worth noting that one wouldn’t have to call Amazon to pull this off. Your pizza guy could do the same thing, for example. If you have an AppleID, every time you call Pizza Hut, you’ve giving the 16-year-old on the other end of the line all he needs to take over your entire digital life.

    In a follow up video, Honan acknowledged one crucial aspect in this story:

    In the video above, Honan assumes partial responsibility for losing irreplaceable family photos in the attack. “Because I wasn’t backing up makes me feel a lot of this stuff I could have prevented, stuff that was my fault,” he says. “I’m a technology journalist — I’ve been a technology journalist since the ’90s — I know better than to not be backing up.”

    Anyone using a computer on a regular basis should have a rock solid backup strategy. External hard drives are affordable and the whole backup process can be automated so it doesn’t even have to be a hassle.

    Matt Honan 2012

  • Internet Archive Blogs: “Over 1,000,000 Torrents of Downloadable Books, Music, and Movies” August 7, 2012.

    The Internet Archive is now offering over 1,000,000 torrents including our live music concerts, the Prelinger movie collection, the librivox audio book collection, feature films, old time radio, lots and lots of books, and all new uploads from our patrons into Community collections (with more to follow). […]

    BitTorrent is the now fastest way to download items from the Archive, because the BitTorrent client downloads simultaneously from two different Archive servers located in two different datacenters, and from other Archive users who have downloaded these Torrents already. The distributed nature of BitTorrent swarms and their ability to retrieve Torrents from local peers may be of particular value to patrons with slower access to the Archive, for example those outside the United States or inside institutions with slow connections.

    Internet Archive

  • The Verge: “Japanese company will 3D print your fetus for $1,275” by Jeff Blagdon, August 8, 2012.

    Called Tenshi no Katachi or “Shape of an Angel,” the product is based on a digital model of the mother’s torso built from CT or MRI scans, reports DigInfo TV. That model then gets 3D printed with two resins simultaneously using a process called Bio-Texture, which Fasotec also uses to create medical models. The result is a scale reproduction of your unborn baby, composed of an opaque white fetus encased in the mother’s clear, colorless abdomen.

  • Slog: “Yesterday, I Went to the American Idol for Startups. It Made Me Want to Die” by Paul Constant, August 9, 2012.

    But, oh, my God, the terrible things these people do to words. It’s like watching some sadist work over a baby lamb with a rusty crowbar and a broken gin bottle. The names of these startups sound like the products of an aggressive brain tumor on the frontal lobe. Crowdegy, Placeling, Kouply, QuoteRobot, Appthwack, Makegood, Onthego, Nickler, Kahal, Tanzio, Taskk. They’re all whimsical and unique in exactly the same way. One of the judges works for Storenvy. The main corporate sponsor for Startup Riot is Mailchimp, along with a flock of smaller sponsors like Uber, Gist, and Twilio. I could staple the mismatched meat of syllables together all afternoon and you wouldn’t be able to tell the legitimate businesses from the illegitimate: Mehole, Kaprah, Yimmy, Blanter, Catzap, Dunzyinonezy, Simplert, Lustaminate.


  • “Hushpuppy, anarchist antihero?” Kelly Candaele’s review of Beasts of the Southern Wild (IMDb), August 9, 2012.

    The feeling of being disciplined and punished by cold and bureaucratic agents of social control seems to resonate with a good portion of moviegoers, not to mention voters. What social and psychological storms threaten us so much that even the technology of flood control can seem a “restrictive” interference with our freedom? Has the “State” truly become a self-perpetuating machine of repression, or are the burdens of modernity so inherently alienating that juvenile rebellion feels like liberty?

    In his new book The Age of Fracture, Princeton historian Daniel Rodgers suggests that post-World War II American history has seen a “disaggregation of the social,” where the broad social contract that had brought more and more Americans into the domain of full economic and political citizenship has dramatically shrunk. We are left with smaller and smaller visions of “community,” often being reduced to the level of a single “rights-holding self.“ In a sad way, the characters in the Bathtub are an artistic reflection of this fragmented world.

    Beast of the Southern Wild

  • ExtremeTech: “Harvard cracks DNA storage, crams 700 terabytes of data into a single gram” by Sebastian Anthony, August 17, 2012.

    A bioengineer and geneticist at Harvard’s Wyss Institute have successfully stored 5.5 petabits of data — around 700 terabytes — in a single gram of DNA, smashing the previous DNA data density record by a thousand times.

    The work, carried out by George Church and Sri Kosuri, basically treats DNA as just another digital storage device. Instead of binary data being encoded as magnetic regions on a hard drive platter, strands of DNA that store 96 bits are synthesized, with each of the bases (TGAC) representing a binary value (T and G = 1, A and C = 0).

    To read the data stored in DNA, you simply sequence it — just as if you were sequencing the human genome — and convert each of the TGAC bases back into binary. To aid with sequencing, each strand of DNA has a 19-bit address block at the start (the red bits in the image below) — so a whole vat of DNA can be sequenced out of order, and then sorted into usable data using the addresses.


  • Scientific American: “How Hollywood Is Encouraging Online Piracy” by David Pogue, August 21, 2012.

    And if you don’t make your product available legally, guess what? The people will get it illegally. Traffic to illegal download sites has more than sextupled since 2009, and file downloading is expected to grow about 23 percent annually until 2015. Why? Of the 10 most pirated movies of 2011, guess how many of them are available to rent online, as I write this in midsummer 2012? Zero. That’s right: Hollywood is actually encouraging the very practice they claim to be fighting (with new laws, for example).

    Online piracy Hollywood

  • Foreign Policy: “Intellectual power and responsibility in an age of superstars” by Daniel W. Drezner, August 23, 2012.

    I think there are three interlocking things going on that explain why everyone feels so cranky. The first, as I alluded to in my Zakaria post, is that the economics of superstars has now reached the world of public intellectuals. There’s been a lot of talk about “brands” recently, and it gets at how the rewards for intellectual output have expanded at the upper strata.

    See also: “Jonah Lehrer Resigns From The New Yorker After Making Up Dylan Quotes for His Book” (by Julie Bosman, The New York Times, July 30, 2012), “Malcolm Gladwell Unmasked: A Look Into the Life & Work of America’s Most Successful Propagandist” (by Yasha Levine, S.H.A.M.E., May 31, 2012) and “The Naked and the TED” (by Evgeny Morozov, The New Republic, August 2, 2012). While those are not identical cases, they all can be linked to the general topic regarding the relation between intellectual integrity and stardom.

  • CNET News: “End of an era: Kodak to sell its film business” by Lance Whitney, August 24, 2012.

    Or perhaps the reaction should be: what film business? Regardless, the company is auctioning off what’s left of its print film business and other segments amid its bankruptcy proceedings.

    Kodak film

  • Samsara (official website): “Note from Mark Magidson on 70mm film, digital projection, and Samsara, August 23, 2012.

    All three of the films Ron and I have made have been photographed in 70mm (65mm negative), a process that has become more and more difficult as time has gone by for our kind of filmmaking due to security issues and the need to move film stock in and out of so many locations without it being X-rayed. We have employed this rarely used format because we have no actors or dialogue in our films, image is the main character. 70mm brings an unsurpassed emotional impact to the viewing experience. […]

    We have chosen to output SAMSARA to DCP for digital projection rather than creating 70mm film prints this time. There are many reasons for this, but the bottom line is we believe a digital output from the high res scan of our film negative yields the best possible viewing experience. It is a combination of using a 50-year-old camera system and cutting-edge digital technology that works for our kind of filmmaking.

    So in all likelihood, if you goo see Samsara in a movie theatre, you’ll get to see it either in 2K or 4K. As always, if you care at all, you should ask what you’re being served.

  • YouTube: Excerpt from the documentary Burden of Dreams (1982) about the making-of of Werner Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo. If the footage looks and sound familiar, it’s because it was used in the Herzog’s excellent documentary My Best Fiend (1999, IMDb). Visit The Criterion Collection for more information about Burden of Dreams.


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