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Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

Some of interest to movie fans

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David Silverberg reports at Motherboard:

“There has to be a better way.”

That’s what UK software developer Mike Fox thought last year when he was searching for blog posts about films he wanted to check out. But as much as he liked the curation and aggregation of reviews that gave each film a score, he was frustrated he couldn’t filter results based on the number of critic or audience reviews. He was also annoyed by the many articles about celebrities surrounding reviews, which cluttered and sullied the database.

So, like many intrepid developers, he built a better site.

Cinesift, which launched last September but was updated recently thanks to a popular post on reddit, aggregates the aggregators. It lists more than 21,439 films and includes data from Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, Letterboxd, IMDB and more. Fox created an algorithm that averages the score from each source to give each film a new rating, while also displaying if the film is available on DVD, Netflix and Amazon Prime.

While Fox’s idea isn’t entirely new— also lists films with Netflix/Amazon Prime availability—he developed a robust search engine that will make Cinesift incredibly popular with finicky movie lovers. The standard search options include the ability to find films based on year or decade, genre, the number of critic reviews, and whether it’s available on DVD, Netflix and/or Amazon Prime. The impressive Advanced Options let you filter results based on director, cast and even keyword within the plot description.

Got MLB fever and in the mood to catch a baseball-related movie? Type “baseball” into the Plot field and you’ll see results ranging from Moneyball to Sugar to Bull Durham.

Other Advanced Options for filtering let you toggle sliders for fields such as rating and number of audience reviews within each source, such as Metacritic and IMDB.

The coolest feature for those outside the U.S. is the ability to select on a drop-down list the Netflix availability for various regions, such as Canada, UK, Sweden and Australia. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2016 at 11:07 am

he First Big Company to Say It’s Serving the Legal Marijuana Trade? Microsoft.

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Nathaniel Popper reports in the NY Times:

As state after state has legalized marijuana in one way or another, big names in corporate America have stayed away entirely. Marijuana, after all, is still illegal, according to the federal government.

But Microsoft is breaking the corporate taboo on pot this week by announcing a partnership to begin offering software that tracks marijuana plants from “seed to sale,” as the pot industry puts it.

The software — a new product in Microsoft’s cloud computing business — is meant to help states that have legalized the medical or recreational use of marijuana keep tabs on sales and commerce, ensuring that they remain in the daylight of legality.

But until now, even that boring part of the pot world was too controversial for mainstream companies. It is apparent now, though, that the legalization train is not slowing down: This fall, at least five states, including the biggest of them all — California — will vote on whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

So far, only a handful of smaller banks are willing to offer accounts to companies that grow or sell marijuana, and Microsoft will not be touching that part of the business. But the company’s entry into the government compliance side of the business suggests the beginning of a legitimate infrastructure for an industry that has been growing fast and attracting lots of attention, both good and bad.

“We do think there will be significant growth,” said Kimberly Nelson, the executive director of state and local government solutions at Microsoft. “As the industry is regulated, there will be more transactions, and we believe there will be more sophisticated requirements and tools down the road.”

Microsoft’s baby step into the business came through an announcement on Thursday that it was teaming up with a Los Angeles start-up, Kind, that built the software the tech giant will begin marketing. Kind — one of many small companies trying to take the marijuana business mainstream — offers a range of products, including A.T.M.-style kiosks that facilitate marijuana sales, working through some of the state-chartered banks that are comfortable with such customers.

Microsoft will not be getting anywhere near these kiosks or the actual plants. Rather, it will be working with Kind’s “government solutions” division, offering software only to state and local governments that are trying to build compliance systems.

But for the young and eager legalized weed industry, Microsoft’s willingness to attach its name to any part of the business is a big step forward. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 June 2016 at 5:26 pm

Too much data undermines intelligence effort, UK spy agency warns

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The whole article by Ryan Gallagher in The Intercept is worth reading, but just look at the chart:


This shows the importance of developing pattern-recognition software that can trawl through the oceans of data to find significant connections to be reviewed in depth.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2016 at 9:38 am

Why Senators Burr and Feinstein are ignorant or stupid or both

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The video is via this Motherboard article by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:

For almost two years, the FBI has been trying to tell us that phones and computers that use hard-to-break encryption would doom us all to a future of unsolvable crimes and uncatchable criminals.

Earlier this year, when the FBI couldn’t get into the phone of a dead terrorist, the encryption debate, which has actually been going on and off for more than 20 years, finally had its moment in the sun. The debate is extremely complex, but the position of the FBI can be boiled down to a simple concept: There shouldn’t be unbreakable locks, because nobody is above the law. (By the way, that’s actually pretty much what a much-anticipated—and then much-ridiculedSenate bill says.)

But is that really true? And why should you, common law-abiding citizen care? John Oliver already did a pretty good job at answering that question, but a new animated video from CGP Grey might be the best simple explainer we’ve seen to date. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2016 at 12:02 pm

Senators Barr and Feinstein Promise to ‘Solicit Input’ for Anti-Encryption Bill

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Though so far the only input they seem interested to hear is from people who agree with them. Joshua Kopstein reports at Motherboard:

Senators Dianne Feinstein and Richard Burr have officially released a draft of their long-awaited encryption bill, which was met with widespread mockery and horrorfrom security experts when it leaked last week.

The bill’s official discussion draft is substantively identical to the leaked version, and would force companies to provide law enforcement with access to encrypted communications when they are compelled by a court—effectively mandating the creation of backdoors in their products and imposing a ban on end-to-end encrypted communications apps.

“Today, terrorists and criminals are increasingly using encryption to foil law enforcement efforts, even in the face of a court order,” wrote Feinstein in a press release Wednesday. “We need strong encryption to protect personal data, but we also need to know when terrorists are plotting to kill Americans.”

The senators also state they will “solicit input from the public and key stakeholders” before the bill is formally introduced in Congress.

But so far, the only “stakeholders” Feinstein and Burr seem interested in discussing the bill with are non-technical people who are already on their side. On Monday, the senators announced a briefing on the bill with a panel composed entirely of cops and prosecutors.

“You would think they would be interested in feedback from a more diverse set of stakeholders even before releasing the draft text, but here we are,” said Joseph Lorenzo Hall, Chief Technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology. “We will certainly give our feedback, and we always aim to be constructive, although it won’t be pretty and they won’t like it.”

Meanwhile, many tech experts and privacy advocates have already given theirunsolicited input, calling the proposal “ludicrous, dangerous” and “technically illiterate.”

“The essential contradiction here with Burr-Feinstein is that strong encryption is a creature of math, and relatively simple math at that, whereas court orders are legal instrument,” Hall told Motherboard in an email. “To say math can’t trump court orders doesn’t make sense. To say a business can’t offer a product that does complicated math is even less sensical.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2016 at 11:40 am

Lavabit’s Forgotten Encryption Fight Looms Over the Apple Case

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A very interesting article in Motherboard by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai that will be of interest to anyone following the government’s strenuous efforts to ensure that no citizen is immune from government spying and the government’s equally strenuous efforts to keep secret what they are doing.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2016 at 2:30 pm

‘Leaked’ Burr-Feinstein Encryption Bill Is a Threat to American Privacy

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Sean Vitka reports in Motherboard:

On Thursday, what appears to be a draft bill from Senators Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) and Dianne Feinstein (D-California) was uploaded by The Hill reporter Cory Bennett. The bill has not been confirmed as authentic, and even if it is authentic, may have changed since the version that was posted online. Regardless, it’s worth critiquing the draft that was published, which aspires to kill end-to-end encryption in America—a move that, to lift a phrase from former NSA director Michael Hayden, only North Korean hackers could love.

Allow me to explain.

The bill, the “Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016,” requires that all companies providing any kind communications or data service be able to give information to the government in an “intelligible format.” If the company made the data unintelligible, it must provide “technical assistance” to undo it. In case there is any question about the aim, the bill defines intelligible as “decrypted, deciphered, decoded, demodulated, or deobfuscated to its original form.”

Instead of learning from the Department of Justice’s ill-fated attempt to demonizeservices that rely on encryption to protect their customers and maintain user trust, these two Senators are doubling down. To make matters worse, Senators Burr and Feinstein chair the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which means they’re the very people tasked with overseeing overreach by intelligence agencies. The White House, increasingly anti-encryption since the Apple-FBI flop, is reportedly deeply spliton the proposal.

If this bill were to pass, it would outlaw secure communications, which are heavily—and increasingly—dependent on end-to-end encryption. By definition, end-to-end encryption cannot be decrypted except by the credentials of the senders and receivers. This is how information that truly needs to be secure is protected, because it minimizes the ways highly sensitive information can be decrypted.

Simply put, this bill would flat-tire end-to-end encryption within America. Every service, person, human rights worker, protester, reporter, company—the list goes on—will be easier to spy on. It jams a crowbar into the gut of Americans’ privacy andsecurity. It sets the precedent that the Department of Justice sought in the Apple-FBI case. And by crippling encryption, it risks turning those compromised products into new funnels of information for the never-ending haystack of information. After all, finding vulnerabilities like these are gold mines for hackers, and many of the world’s best work for American intelligence agencies. But, we’re told, it will make us more secure overall.

But, in fact, the impact on American security is one of the biggest threats of this bill. The notion of a backdoor, or what Senators Burr and Feinstein euphemistically call “technical assistance,” that can only be used by the government—whether law enforcement needs a warrant to do so or otherwise aside—has been unanimously rejected by every mathematician and cryptologist who studies it. That isn’t an exaggeration. You can’t have a backdoor that isn’t a security vulnerability. And Congress knows that. This same fight happened in the 90s, during the Crypto Wars. It was literally the exact. Same. Argument. Loathe as I am to say it, even Michael Hayden, who oversaw the agency’s rise to power and many, many disastrous decisions, agrees.

As far reaching as the effects of this bill would be on Americans’ privacy and safety, its jurisdictional narrowness is yet another catastrophic flaw. At the risk of stating the obvious, this is a proposed American law. It does not control Russian companies, or the North Korean government. It is the modern equivalent of Congress passing a law that bans the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles. “Have fun with that,” the rest of the world seems to say, while Senators Burr and Feinstein proclaim how much safer we are.

Even in draft form, this legislation is so short-sighted it calls into question the authors’ ability to lead the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which, again, Senators Burr and Feinstein chair. Their positions are singularly powerful in their ability to ensure that intelligence collection is done effectively and legally. This bill is powerful evidence that they are not up for the job.

As egregious as the Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016 is, it highlights . . .

Continue reading.

Dianne Feinstein is not running for re-election, thank God. She’s done enough damage. But this draft bill is highly disturbing in how it displays a complete and comprehensive ignorance of the field.

UPDATE: See also Joshua Koptstein’s aticle, “Congress’s New Encryption Bill Just Leaked, And It’s As Bad As Experts Imagined“.

See also Jenna McLaughlin’s article in The Intercept: “Bill That Would Ban End-to-End Encryption Savaged by Critics

Written by LeisureGuy

8 April 2016 at 6:23 pm


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