Smart Device Security, Neil Armstrong, Andes Trees, More: Thursday ResearchBuzz, November 15, 2018


Mashable: Is that fancy smart gadget a privacy nightmare? A new guide has answers.. “As the inevitable creep of ‘smart’ features and products continues to turn everything from your refrigerator to your thermostat into a connected device, it’s worth taking a moment to consider just what you’re giving up in exchange for this wannabe Jetsons future. Thankfully, Mozilla has done a lot of that work for you with a new guide dedicated to just how insecure many smart devices are.”

Discover Magazine: A Peek at the Real Neil Armstrong. “‘First Man’ gave us a look at a side of Neil Armstrong we don’t see too often, focusing on the family side of his life over the science element, but even that only gave us a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes home and family life of the notoriously stoic first man on the Moon. Now, the brand new Armstrong-Engel Family Gallery has published personal, never-before-seen images of Neil and his family beginning in 1955 during his Edwards days gong all the way to 1969 and the Moon landing.”

Science Daily: Tropical trees in the Andes are moving up — toward extinction. “… UM researchers joined forces with 18 other researchers from around the world to create a new database that tracks the livelihoods of thousands of highland trees in 186 plots of land situated throughout what is known as the Tropical Andes Biodiversity Hotspot. Sitting at elevations from 300 to over 3,000 meters above sea level, most of the plots are about the size of an American football field and have been inventoried multiple times over the past couple decades. Collectively, these forest plots contain an astonishing diversity — a total of 120 different plant families, 528 genera, and more than 2,000 tree species.”

InSight Crime: Can a New Database Help Tackle Argentina Police Corruption?. “The launch of a new registry detailing thousands of corrupt officers removed from Argentina’s largest police force could signal a fresh effort to clean up the institution, but questions remain as to whether it will be effective, or even sufficient. The registry, which contains the names of 8,500 officers discharged since 1966, was announced this past month by María Eugenia Vidal, governor of the Province of Buenos Aires.” Unusually, this database is open to the public, which is why I include it here. Most of the database page translates from Spanish except the database itself, I think because it’s embedded. Look for the “Accede a los datos completos en” link at the bottom of the embedded data and that’ll open a new page which you can translate.


CNET: Facebook shares some yanked posts that may be linked to Russian trolls. “Earlier this month, ahead of the US midterm elections, Facebook said it had pulled down more than 100 accounts that may be linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency. On Tuesday, the world’s largest social network shared a sample of seven posts from the accounts it yanked for ‘inauthentic behavior.’ Some of the fake accounts posted about LGBT pride, women’s rights or black communities. ”

The Verge: One of the best podcast apps, Pocket Casts, just got a big redesign. “Several months after the podcast app Pocket Casts was acquired by a mix of public radio stations, today marks the release of a major update. Version 7.0 brings with it a revamped design and a handful of new features that I’ve really come to appreciate in the couple weeks I’ve spent testing it. The look of the app has changed up quite a bit, but it still feels like Pocket Casts.”

Google Assistant picks up a few new tricks
. “Google Assistant, the voice-driven AI that sits inside Google Home (plus Android phones, newer Nest cameras and a bunch of other devices) and awaits your ‘Hey, Google’ commands, is already pretty clever. That doesn’t mean it can’t learn a few new tricks. In a quick press briefing this week, Google told us a couple of new abilities Assistant will pick up in the coming weeks.”


The Atlantic: Custom Photo Filters Are the New Instagram Gold Mine. “‘Influencers’ are people who have established credibility in a specific realm or industry, and who leverage a social-media following to exert influence and, usually, make money. Scroll through many of their Instagram feeds, and you’ll begin to notice something: The photos all look vaguely the same. Maybe every image seems washed in pink, or the blues are all the same, or every image is just the right amount of faded. That’s not an accident, or an example of photographic mastery; it’s a preset.”

The Oxford Student: The Pixelated Revolution: The Power Of Hand-Held Footage To Change Political Narratives. “Recently, as digital photography has become better quality and developed to look more and more like its analogue counterpart, an idea has formed: that the clearer and the higher the resolution of the image we are being shown is, the more reflective of reality it is. Thus, a hierarchy of good versus bad images has established itself in our culture. This bad or ‘poor image’ is what artist Hito Steyerl describes as the ‘lumpen proletariat in the class society of appearances, ranked and valued according to its resolution.’ However, in the last few years, it is this blurred, shaky and pixelated image, resulting from the rise of the smartphone, that has become the most powerful.”

Washington Post: Quitting Instagram: She’s one of the millions disillusioned with social media. But she also helped create it.. “… [Bailey] Richardson isn’t a bystander reckoning with the ills of technology: She was one of the 13 original employees working at Instagram in 2012 when Facebook bought the viral photo-sharing app for $1 billion. She and four others from that small group now say the sense of intimacy, artistry and discovery that defined early Instagram and led to its success has given way to a celebrity-driven marketplace that is engineered to sap users’ time and attention at the cost of their well-being.”

New York Times: Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis. “This account of how Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg navigated Facebook’s cascading crises, much of which has not been previously reported, is based on interviews with more than 50 people. They include current and former Facebook executives and other employees, lawmakers and government officials, lobbyists and congressional staff members. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity because they had signed confidentiality agreements, were not authorized to speak to reporters or feared retaliation.” I read this article right after supper, which is too bad because it made me sick to my stomach.


Ars Technica: Spectre, Meltdown researchers unveil 7 more speculative execution attacks. “A research team—including many of the original researchers behind Meltdown, Spectre, and the related Foreshadow and BranchScope attacks—has published a new paper disclosing yet more attacks in the Spectre and Meltdown families. The result? Seven new possible attacks. Some are mitigated by known mitigation techniques, but others are not. That means further work is required to safeguard vulnerable systems.” Good morning, Internet…

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