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andrewducker July 10 2014, 17:22

Solving the newspapers' money problem.

Reading this story about the New Yorker changing its online strategy is puzzling for me.

Because, once again, they're going for a variant of "We'll give you some stuff for free, and then when you're hooked, charge you for full access."

And that's a strategy that seems completely mired in the past. It assumes that a reasonable response to "You've read 9 articles in the last month, so the 10th requires you to sign up/hand over cash." is to do so - because clearly if you read ten articles on the New Yorker you're a budding New Yorker reader, ready to pledge your allegiance and wear the t-shirt.

Whereas my reaction to hitting a paywall is to sigh, and go check who else has the same story. Because I wasn't convinced that _that_ article was going to be great, I just wanted to read about the particular news event, and so long as I'm reading somewhere vaguely reputable* I don't really care who it is that's telling me what happened.

So the time to drop the paywall in front of me is not when I arrive at your site for the first time - it's a quarter of the way through every article. Once I've had a chance to get into it and decide that it's worth reading the rest of it.

And then (and this is the important bit) you have to make it _really_ easy for me to pay you. Not with a micropayment system that's specific to your site - because frankly I've never read the Minnesota Examiner before, and am not likely to again, so I'm not wasting three minutes on the sign-up dance. But with a system that covers hundreds of newspapers, if not thousands of them.**

I want something that essentially asks "Are you a subscriber to the gold-plated read-any-newspaper-you-like system?" - and if so lets you in to read as you like, collects a bunch of stats centrally, and then divides up my $50/month based on what I read where. Or tells me that this article is 5 cents and lets me click ok to carry on, again using a centralised system shared between hundreds of newspapers that I only have to sign up to once.

Because I don't mind paying for news, but I'm not a reader of any single newspaper- I'm a reader of _the media_. And so, frankly, are most online paper readers nowadays. The days of following a single paper of record are, if not dead, then on the way out swiftly***. And if you want to make money off of me directly (rather than through advertising to those people that don't use AdBlock) then that's something the newspapers need to take into account.

So once I'm signed into AllMyNewspapers.Com I never want to see another advert or paywall ever again. If they don't make it that easy, I really can't see it working****.

*By which I mean that they only lie 5% of the time, and I know where their biases are. :->
**I know I'm suggesting a massively centralised system here. I'd rather there were multiple competing ones here, but I suspect that "paying for content" is something that's going to swiftly become a monopoly.
***So far as I can tell the majority of people get their news through people linking to things on social networking sites,emailing them round, and other sharing methods. Some people, obviously, have to go to the site directly in the first place, but I strongly suspect that that's rapidly becoming a minority sport.
****Excepting specialist content. The Financial Times can get away with it. Or The Economist. Or even places like Ars Technica, which I pay for.

Original post on Dreamwidth - there are comment count unavailable comments there.
andrewducker July 10 2014, 13:09

Coin locks and supermarket trolleys

BBC article here, talking about Morrisons removing all of the coin locks on their trolleys.

And I have mixed feelings. Because it is a pain having to ensure you have a pound coin with you whenever you go shopping*. And I don't like being treated as if I'm going to steal a trolley.

On the other hand, I do remember when they first came in, and we went from never being able to find a small trolley, to suddenly there being a load of them available at all times...

*Or constantly carrying a thing which is the same shape as one. and also seems to always cost £1.

Original post on Dreamwidth - there are comment count unavailable comments there.
andrewducker July 10 2014, 11:00

Interesting Links for 10-07-2014

Original post on Dreamwidth - there are comment count unavailable comments there.
bruce_schneier July 9 2014, 18:49

NSA Spied on Prominent Muslim Americans


The latest story from the Snowden documents is about five prominent Muslim Americans who were spied on by the NSA and FBI. It's a good story, and I recommend reading it in its entirety. I have a few observations.

One, it's hard to assess the significance of this story without context. The source document is a single spreadsheet that lists 7,485 e-mail addresses monitored between 2002 and 2008.

The vast majority of individuals on the "FISA recap" spreadsheet are not named. Instead, only their email addresses are listed, making it impossible in most cases to ascertain their identities. Under the heading "Nationality," the list designates 202 email addresses as belonging to "U.S. persons," 1,782 as belonging to "non-U.S. persons," and 5,501 as "unknown" or simply blank. The Intercept identified the five Americans placed under surveillance from their email addresses.

Without knowing more about this list, we don't know whether this is good or bad. Is 202 a lot? A little? Were there FISA warrants that put these people on the list? Can we see them?

Two, the 2008 date is important. In July of that year, Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act, which restricted what sorts of surveillance the NSA can do on Americans. So while this story tells us about what was happening before the FAA, we don't know what -- if anything -- changed with the passage of the FAA.

Three, another significant event at the time was the FBI's prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation on terrorism charges. This brought with it an overly broad investigation of Muslim Americans who were just associated with that charity, but that investigation came with approved warrants and all the due process it was supposed to have. How many of the Americans on this list are there as a result of this one case?

Four, this list was just the starting point for a much broader NSA surveillance effort. As Marcy Wheeler pointed out, these people were almost certainly associationally mapped. CAIR founder Nihad Awad is one of the NSA targets named in the story. CAIR is named in an EFF lawsuit against the NSA. If Awad had any contact with the EFF in 2008, then they were also being spied on -- that's one hop. Since I had lots of contact with the EFF in the affected time period, I was being spied on as well -- that's two hops. And if any of you e-mailed me around that time -- well, that's three hops. This isn't "just metadata"; this is full-take content that's stored forever. And, yes, the president instructed the NSA to only spy people up to two hops away this January, but that was just one program under one authority.

This is a hard story to analyze, because it's more anecdote than data. I much preferred last Saturday's story that tried to analyze broad trends about who the subjects of NSA surveillance are. But anecdotes are more persuasive than data, so this story might be more compelling to a mainstream audience.

Other commentary: EFF, Ben Wittes, the Director of National Intelligence. I'm curious to watch how this story unfolds in the media.

One final note: I just couldn't think of a headline more sensationalist than the descriptive one.

bruce_schneier July 9 2014, 13:19

Here's How Brazilian Crooks Steal Billions


Man-in-the-middle attack against a Brazilian payment system:

Brazil has an extremely active and talented cybercrime underground, and increasingly Brazilian organized crime gangs are setting their sights on boleto users who bank online. This is typically done through malware that lies in wait until the user of the hacked PC visits their bank’s site and fills out the account information for the recipient of a boleto transaction. In this scenario, the unwitting victim submits the transfer for payment and the malware modifies the request by substituting a recipient account that the attackers control.

This is the sort of attack that bypasses any two-factor authentication system, since it occurs after all authentication has happened. A defense would be to send a confirmation notice to another device the account-owner owns, confirming the details of the transaction.

andrewducker July 9 2014, 11:00

Interesting Links for 09-07-2014

less_wrong July 9 2014, 00:37

Effective Altruism Summit is One Month Away


Submitted by Nevin • 7 votes • 3 comments

This is a followup to Ben's post announcing the 2014 EA Summit.

The Effective Altruism Summit is now exactly one month away.

This year, 175 EAs will gather in Berkeley, CA for a two-day conference -- the largest gathering of people in the EA movement to date.

We still have spots left, and we are especially interested in having people who are new to the movement and aren't yet working on something related to EA full-time. The event is a great place to meet everyone who is serious about EA, learn a whole lot about the different projects people are working on, build friendships, and start collaborations.

There will be people there from:
  • The Center for Applied Rationality
  • GiveWell
  • GiveDirectly
  • The Machine Intelligence Research Institute
  • The Future of Humanity Institute
  • The Life You Can Save
  • 80,000 Hours
  • Giving What We Can
  • Leverage Research
-- and others.

The event costs $600, but we can offer discounted tickets to people who can't pay full price. If you are interested in coming but money is a barrier, please don't be shy -- let us know through the form on the website and we will do everything we can to get you a spot. If you can pay full price, you'll be helping to cover other EAs. None of the organizations involved will profit from the event.

You can get more info and register to attend by filling out the form on the summit website.

The Retreat, mentioned in Ben's previous post, is full. If you note interest in the retreat on your Summit registration, we'll let you know if any space opens up last-minute.

Questions? Email effectivealtruismsummit@gmail.com for fastest response, or post in this thread for public response.
andrewducker July 8 2014, 16:35

Greetings from the wilds of almost-but-not-quite Wales

We are on Holiday! We left on Friday morning, and following a change in Crewe that had us dashing up and down a bridge in under three minutes (with me carrying both suitcases), arrived safely in Hereford at 4-ish.

We are staying here*, in a very nice cottage, with my parents, both my brothers, and my nephew Noah. Meredith sensibly claimed lack-of-holiday and stayed up in Edinburgh to go dancing and spend a whole week in blissful solitude.

The food has been its usual awesomess**, particular as on Monday we celebrated our wedding anniversary by abandoning everyone else and heading to the Bell at Skenfrith, which is fully deserving of its high ratings. I started with the seared pigeon breast with a beetroot slaw, and then Julie went for a straighforward rib-eye, and I had a braised pork belly that was perfectly crunchy on top and then melted in my mouth. I finished with "textures of strawberry and cream" which consisted of both tiny wild strawberries and normal-sized ones, along with a variety of tiny dollops of whipped cream, ice-cream and white chocolate. Julie had the dark chocolate cremaux, pistachio ice cream and chocolate parfait, which I sampled and adored. Should you find yourself in the area, I recommend it.

Other than that, things have been blissfully quiet. We've played several games each of Agricola and Dominion, played in the garden with the dogs a lot, visited the odd ruined castle and gone for a few walks. From today's one, these pictures:
BigCollapse )

The first two of which are panoramas of the area, as seen as we wandered around the hilltop of Ysgyryd Fawr. The third was one of many places where there was a two-hundred-year-old wall, collapsed, with trees growing through it. There clearly used to be more farmland atop it, now collapsed back into woodland, and rather beautiful for it.

Now, of course, my legs ache. But in a good way :->

We left Julie behind this morning when we went for the walk. She's on a three week break from her chemo drugs while they switch her to new ones which don't cause her to be exhausted all the time. We've dragged her out on several occasions so far, including to a horse and pony rescue center, and this morning she decided to have a lie in. Which was interrupted by scrabbbling sounds that turned out to be a shrew. The came to an arrangement by which she would go and get a cup of tea, and in exchange it would vacate the premises before she returned. And so nobody got hurt.

*I am, in fact, sittting at the kitchen counter in the third photo, waiting for potatoes to parboil.

**Not for nothing did one ex of Mike's refer to the annual Ducker gathering as MeatFest.

Note: Depending on your layout, browser, etc. those panoramas may be huge,or not. If not, I recommend opening them in a separate tab, they're very wide!

Original post on Dreamwidth - there are comment count unavailable comments there.
bruce_schneier July 8 2014, 11:42

These Pickpocket Secrets Will Make You Cry


Pickpocket tricks explained by neuroscience.

So while sleight of hand helps, it's as much about capturing all of somebody's attention with other movements. Street pickpockets also use this effect to their advantage by manufacturing a situation that can't help but overload your attention system. A classic trick is the 'stall', used by pickpocketing gangs all over the world. First, a 'blocker', walks in front of the victim (or 'mark') and suddenly stops so that the mark bumps into them. Another gang member will be close behind and will bump into both of them and then start a staged argument with the blocker. Amid the confusion one or both of them steal what they can and pass it to a third member of the gang, who quickly makes off with the loot.

I've seen Apollo Robbins in action. He's very good.

andrewducker July 8 2014, 11:00

Interesting Links for 08-07-2014

bruce_schneier July 7 2014, 19:11

The Simple Trick that Will Keep You Secure from Government Spies


Last week, the German government arrested someone and charged him with spying for the US. Buried in one of the stories was a little bit of tradecraft. The US gave him an encryption program embedded in a -- presumably common -- weather app. When you select the weather for New York, it automatically opens a crypto program. I assume this is a custom modification for the agent, and probably other agents as well. No idea how well this program was hidden. Was the modified weather app the same size as the original? Would it pass an integrity checker?

Related: there is an undocumented encryption feature in my own Password Safe program. From the command line, type: pwsafe -e filename

monbiot July 7 2014, 19:07

The Elixir of Life – In a Poisoned Chalice?



Is life extension science an astonishing promise or an astonishing threat? Or both?

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 8th July 2014

It was once a myth, now it’s dream; soon it will become an expectation. Suddenly the science of life extension is producing some remarkable results. New papers hint at the possibility of treatments that could radically increase human longevity(1,2,3,4).

So much is happening that it’s hard to know where to begin. But I’ll pick just two of the gathering developments. The first concerns a class of enzymes called sirtuins. This month’s Trends in Genetics states that the question of whether these enzymes could increase longevity in mammals “has now been settled decidedly in the affirmative”(5).

Last month a new paper in the journal Aging Cell showed how synthetic small molecules (in other words, potential drugs) can stimulate the production of sirtuins in mice(6). This both extends their lifespan and improves their health. These results show, the paper says, that it’s “possible to design a small molecule that can slow aging and delay multiple age-related diseases in mammals, supporting the therapeutic potential … in humans.”

The second development I’ve plucked from the tumult of extraordinary new science concerns an external hormone (a pheromone) secreted by nematode worms, called daumone. A new paper reports that when daumone is fed to elderly mice, it reduced the risk of death by 48% across five months(7). “Daumone could be developed as an anti-aging compound.”

There are still plenty of missing steps, not least clinical trials and drug development, but there’s a strong sense that we stand at an extraordinary moment.

Who would not want this? To cheat the gods and mock the reaper? The benefits are so obvious that one recent article insists political leaders who fail to provide sufficient funding for life extension science should be charged with manslaughter(8). It’s thrilling, dazzling, awe-inspiring. And rather alarming.

The most visible champion of life extension science, Aubrey de Grey, contends that “a lot of people alive today are going to live to 1,000 or more”. He lists four common concerns, that he rejects as “unbelievable excuses … for aging”, “ridiculous” and “completely crazy, when you actually remember your sense of proportion.”(9) On the first count – “wouldn’t it be crushingly boring?” – he’s right. Life, if you have a degree of economic choice, is as exciting as we choose to make it. If it becomes too dull, well, you can just stop taking your medicine.

The other concerns are not so easily dismissed. “How would we pay the pensions?” is the second question he ridicules. I would rephrase it: “how would the very old support themselves without crushing the young?”. Even today, there are major distributional problems in countries like the UK. Wealthy elderly people, enjoying the compound interest from investments accumulated across decades, preside over a rentier economy that’s devastating to the young and poor, as house prices and rents become unaffordable(10). The inequality and the potential for exploitation that would emerge if people lived twice, not to mention ten times, as long can only be boggled at.

This takes us to another concern he dismisses: “dictators would rule forever”. Is this proposition (if not taken literally) ridiculous? They hang on long enough already, with the help of the best healthcare their stolen billions can buy. Match the political power longevity offers with the economic power, and it’s not impossible to see how a thousand-year life could lead to a thousand-year reich.

de Grey’s mockery becomes most offensive when invoked by his fourth rhetorical question: “what about starving Africans?”. Yes, what about them? What if, beyond a certain point, longevity becomes a zero-sum game? What if every year of life extension for those who can afford the treatment becomes a year or more of life reduction for those who can’t?

Already, on this planet of finite resources, rich and poor are locked into unacknowledged conflict, as hyperconsumption reduces the planet’s capacity to sustain life. Grain is used to produce meat rather than feeding people directly; the safe operating space for humanity is narrowed by greenhouse gases, industrial pollutants, freshwater depletion and soil erosion(11). It’s hard, after a while, to see how this could produce any outcome other than a direct competition for the means of life, which some must win and others must lose. Perhaps the rich must die so that the poor can live.

It’s true that the price of possible longevity treatments, which will be astronomical at first, would soon start to plummet. But this is a world in which many can’t afford even antiseptic ointment; a world in which, even in the rich countries, universal access to healthcare is being slowly throttled by a selfish elite; in which a new era of personalised medicine coincides, by unhappy accident, with a new era of crushing inequality. The idea that everyone would soon have access to these therapies looks unfeasible. It’s possible, as an article in Aeon magazine speculates(12), that two classes of people – the treated and the untreated – could pull inexorably apart, the first living ever longer, the second dying even younger than they do today.

I don’t know the answers to these questions, and I’m far from being able to propose solutions. It’s all unknown from now on. But I do know that it’s foolish to dismiss them.

Life extension science could invoke a sunlit, miraculous world of freedom from fear and long-term thinking. Or a gerontocratic tyranny. If it’s the latter, I hope I don’t live long enough to see it.



1. See for example (among thousands of possibilities): Alexey A Moskalev et al, June 2014. Genetics and epigenetics of aging and longevity. Cell Cycle 13:7, 1063–1077. http://dx.doi.org/10.4161/cc.28433

2. Akiko Satoh and Shin-ichiro Imai, 26 June 2014. Systemic regulation of mammalian ageing and longevity by brain sirtuins. Nature Communications, 5, #4211. doi:10.1038/ncomms5211. http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/140626/ncomms5211/full/ncomms5211.html

3. Dena B. Dubal et al, May 2014. Life Extension Factor Klotho Enhances Cognition. Cell Reports, Volume 7, Issue 4, p1065–1076. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2014.03.076

4. http://www.digitalafro.com/real-fountain-of-youth-scientists-able-to-turn-off-the-aging-gene-in-mice/

5. William Giblin, Mary E. Skinner, and David B. Lombard, July 2014. Sirtuins: guardians of mammalian healthspan. Trends in Genetics, Vol. 30, No. 7, pp271-286. doi: 10.1016/j.tig.2014.04.007

6. Evi M. Mercken et al, 16 June 2014. SRT2104 extends survival of male mice on a standard diet and preserves bone and muscle mass. Aging Cell, doi: 10.1111/acel.12220. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/acel.12220/pdf

7. Jong Hee Park, 6th May 2014. Daumone fed late in life improves survival and reduces hepatic inflammation and fibrosis in mice. Aging Cell, doi: 10.1111/acel.12224

8. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-transhumanist-philosopher/201401/when-does-hindering-life-extension-science-become-crime

9. http://www.ted.com/talks/aubrey_de_grey_says_we_can_avoid_aging#t-174230

10. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/02/housing-tax-property-help-to-buy-government-schemes

11. See http://www.kateraworth.com/doughnut/

12. http://aeon.co/magazine/being-human/will-new-drugs-mean-the-rich-live-to-120-and-the-poor-die-at-60/

charlies_diary July 7 2014, 13:45

Some rambling thoughts on region restrictions


I think at this point in the century, everyone reading this blog—with the [possible] exception of certain lurkers who are required by virtue of their position within their company to toe the Party Line and therefore may not be free to say what they really think—is clear on the drawbacks of DRM.

But regional restrictions make me wince, because from an author's point of view the situation is a bit more complicated.

In principle, I oppose region restrictions. As a reader, they make me itch. But in practice, the way book distribution works across international borders is worse than imperfect: it's broken. If I sell world English language rights to one of my books to a publisher, that publisher can't just print and distribute the book everywhere in the English-speaking world. Publishers used to be regional, not global, players. And even in the wake of the wave of takeovers that resulted in the Big Six Five owning about 70% of the business, mergers between publishing houses are incredibly slow and complicated due to contractual encumbrances. As a result, publishers generally don't have the branding, imprint, and corporate connections to sell books in more than one territory. Let me emphasize this: they're regional, not global, operations.[*] So if they find they've got publishing rights to territories where they don't have printing and distribution arrangements they generally sub-license the rights to other, local, publishers who've got the connections to sell books to the local trade channels.

This means that they can't offer me a bigger book advance for world rights than they would for their own regional rights (because they might not succeed in licensing those territorial sub-rights—this has bitten me in the past). If they paid a world-rights-sized advance for what turned out to be regional sales they'd make a huge loss, which in turn would make them very leery about doing repeat business with me. Consequently we end up with different editions published by local publishers at different prices, with regional distribution restrictions.

Also, when publishers sell sub-licenses, the contract side is generally handled by clerical staff who handle the sub-rights for hundreds of books a year, with no particular incentive for prioritizing my work.

Consequently I prefer to get my literary agent to split the various regional rights up and sell them separately, so I get paid for North American rights by my US publisher and UK/Commonwealth (except Canada) rights by my UK publisher. This results in more money for me. It also results in better royalty contracts—my agent takes a 15% commission, so the bigger the deal the more money she gets (and the more money I get).

But from a book-buying reader's point of view ...

This was fine in the old paper book days—books were uneconomical to bulk-ship internationally, and thanks to the first sale doctrine readers who really wanted foreign editions could legally mail-order them and pay for shipping. What the casual buyer doesn't see on the shop shelves they don't feel the lack of: so everybody was happy, more or less.

But in the age of ebooks, borders are increasingly porous. And Brits can see what is in the Kindle store on Amazon.com, and Americans can see what's in the Kindle store on Amazon.co.uk, and British and American publishers can see how each others' titles are doing. Regional publishers are jealous of their regional sales—nobody wants a big rival from another country to kick down the door and eat their lunch—so they enforce contractual terms on the ebook stores that lock in territoriality. The ebook stores for the most part are more than happy to go along with this: it gives them a valuable lever for selling their DRM-enforced walled garden model of ebook publishing to publishers. The walled gardens in turn lock end-customers into the e-book store's platform, be it Kindle or iBooks or Adobe Digital Editions.

So what started out as a natural side-effect of books being heavy and not worth shipping across oceans has turned into a royal pain in the ass for readers—but where the desired solution for the readers (global sales, a flat worldwide market) will cause significant pain to the authors in the medium term (and by "pain" and "medium", I invite you to consider how you'd reply to a proposal that you take a 20-40% pay cut for 3-5 years).

What I'd like is a publisher who could genuinely operate globally—that is, publish a single edition throughout the English-speaking world, offering advances for my books that reflected global sales potential rather than regional, and removing the need for regional restrictions and DRM completely. And indeed—you saw that [*] footnote asterisk up top?—such a global publisher exists within my field. But it's Orbit ... a subsidiary of Hachette, and while there are a lot of good things I can say about Hachette their corporate high-level policy makes DRM mandatory, no exceptions. (Digression: Don't be fooled into thinking that Tor are a global player. While Tor US and Tor UK are both subsidiaries of Macmillan, which operates worldwide, they are entirely separate companies. Turns out, sibling rivalry is a thing: they're as jealous of their regional rights as any other rival companies.) So right now I can have my books published without DRM, in return for putting up with lots of regional messing-around (which is why the new Merchant Princes omnibuses won't be available on paper in North America until the back end of this year, a year after their UK publication). Or I can have a single publisher who operates globally ... but insists on DRM. Shorter Charlie: you can't win.

Hopefully the situation will improve in the medium term—meaning before the end of the decade. But your guess is as good as mine. And this is by way of explaining why you'll see different covers for my books, and different prices and publication dates and ISBNs, in different countries. Globalization: nice theory, shame about the practice.

bruce_schneier July 7 2014, 11:41

NSA Employee Flees to Hong Kong -- You Won't Believe What Happens Next


The latest story from the Snowden documents analyzes a large cache of intercepted conversations -- actual operational data -- and concludes that 90% of the individuals eavesdropped on were not the targets of the surveillance.

Many of them were Americans. Nearly half of the surveillance files, a strikingly high proportion, contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents. NSA analysts masked, or “minimized,” more than 65,000 such references to protect Americans’ privacy, but The Post found nearly 900 additional e-mail addresses, unmasked in the files, that could be strongly linked to U.S. citizens or U.S.residents.


Many other files, described as useless by the analysts but nonetheless retained, have a startlingly intimate, even voyeuristic quality. They tell stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes. The daily lives of more than 10,000 account holders who were not targeted are catalogued and recorded nevertheless.

Note that this is data that the NSA has repeatedly assured us that Snowden did not have access to.

EDITED TO ADD (7/7): Benjamin Wittes has a good commentary on this.

andrewducker July 7 2014, 11:00

Interesting Links for 07-07-2014

andrewducker July 6 2014, 11:00

Interesting Links for 06-07-2014

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