Fraud Comes to Apple Pay

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

Apple has gone to great lengths to secure Apple Pay:

It uses a “secure element” within the latest iPhones to store the encrypted payment data separate from the rest of phone. It uses a fingerprint reader to assure that the phone’s owner is making the purchase and issues a one-time code so merchants don’t see customers’ credit card information.

However, the weakness identified by Abraham occurs at an earlier stage, when a user is adding a credit card to Apple Pay. When a user adds a card, Apple says it sends information such as the type of phone, the last four digits of the user’s phone number and the user’s general location to the issuing bank, which decides whether to provision the card for Apple Pay.

Banks can ask for additional information if its information doesn’t match Apple’s. In those cases, a bank may ask a user to call in to answer additional security questions. Abraham says that some banks made it too easy for such customers to be approved, because they wanted to reduce the friction of adding their cards to Apple Pay. For example, he said some banks asked for the last four digits of a customer’s Social Security number, which is easy to answer if the fraudster knows that person’s credit history or personal information.

Flow Hive

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

The Flow Hive simplifies the process of getting honey from bees:

Flow frames have a partially formed honeycomb matrix within a transparent frame. Bees complete the comb, fill the cells with honey and cap them. To harvest the honey, the beekeeper inserts a tool into the top of each frame and twists, a move that splits each cell in the honeycomb vertically, allowing the honey to flow freely. It is collected at the bottom through a tube. Presto! Honey on tap.

Flow Hive Animation

Traditionally, the beekeeper must split the boxes of the hive, smoke the bees to calm them, remove the frames, cut the wax caps from the honeycomb, then extract and clean the honey. It’s a long, tedious process with a lot of heavy lifting, not to mention the occasional sting. Given how messy it is to harvest honey from honeycomb cells, it’s easy to see why apiarists swarmed to the Flow Hive when it hit IndieGoGo earlier this week. It took just five minutes for the Flow campaign to reach its modest goal of $70,000, and the campaign has now passed the $3 million mark.

Two Types of Machine Learning

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

Games are to AI researchers what fruit flies are to biology. A new AI has mastered many classic video games by combining two types of machine learning:

The first, called deep learning, uses a brain-inspired architecture in which connections between layers of simulated neurons are strengthened on the basis of experience. Deep-learning systems can then draw complex information from reams of unstructured data (see Nature 505, 146–148; 2014). Google, of Mountain View, California, uses such algorithms to automatically classify photographs and aims to use them for machine translation.

The second is reinforcement learning, a decision-making system inspired by the neuro­transmitter dopamine reward system in the animal brain. Using only the screen’s pixels and game score as input, the algorithm learnedby trial and error which actions — such as go left, go right or fire — to take at any given time to bring the greatest rewards. After spending several hours on each game, it mastered a range of arcade classics, including car racing, boxing and Space Invaders.

Only games with a simple and timely relationship between actions and score were amenable to reinforcement learning.

3D-Printed Replica Ring Sword

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Norway’s National Museum of Art asked Nils Anderssen — a game developer and school teacher with a passion for re-creating historical artefacts in his spare time — to 3D-print a replica of its sixth-century sword:

The museum is in possession of a particularly fine sword — a golden-hilted ring-sword, probably used only by kings and nobles. The ring affixed to the hilt is believed to be the symbol of an oath.

Ring Sword Replica Hilt Front and Back

The instruction that the museum gave Anderssen was that the sword should look and feel exactly like the original would have done when it was new. This would allow museum visitors to have hands-on time with the sword, as a complement to admiring the relic safe in its glass case.

Anderssen has no experience in blacksmithing or goldsmithing, but he does know his way around 3D-modelling software — namely 3D Studio Max.

Ring Sword 3D Studio Max Rendering

Using photographs of the real sword to gauge the dimensions of the hilt, Anderssen modelled the shape into basic polygons before working on carving out the fine details of the intricate design. Then he sent the finished model to i.materialise to be printed in bronze. When the finished print arrived, he cleaned up the details and had the pieces gilded and fitted with wooden inserts for stability before being attached to the blade.

Ring Sword Original and Replicas


Digital Dark Age

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

We have been setting ourselves up for a digital Dark Age:

“I worry a great deal about that,” Mr Cerf told me. “You and I are experiencing things like this. Old formats of documents that we’ve created or presentations may not be readable by the latest version of the software because backwards compatibility is not always guaranteed.

“And so what can happen over time is that even if we accumulate vast archives of digital content, we may not actually know what it is.”

The solution? Digital vellum:

“The solution is to take an X-ray snapshot of the content and the application and the operating system together, with a description of the machine that it runs on, and preserve that for long periods of time. And that digital snapshot will recreate the past in the future.”

Would You Take Orders From Machines?

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Scott Adams doesn’t know what wondrous technology the future holds, but as a proud human being he will never submit to taking orders from machines.

That is a line I will not cross.

Okay, right, I do take orders from the GPS device in my car, but only because I want to go to those places. In general, no machine is going to order me around!

Okay, if a smoke detector goes off, I’m going to follow its advice and exit the building. But only because that makes sense, not because the smoke detector told me to.

Okay, okay, right: If my phone says it needs to be recharged, obviously I will do that. But that’s because I need my phone, not because it told me what to do. Totally different situation.

When Google and Uber get their self-driving cars on the road, I’ll let the cars decide how fast to drive, which routes to take, when to get maintenance, and the unimportant stuff. But I will be firmly in control, much like a fetus inside its mother. What do you mean my analogy doesn’t make sense? The point is that no machine is telling me what to do. Period!

Okay, I admit I am writing this blog post because my digital calendar says it is a work day, my clock says it is a work hour, and my alarm on my phone woke me up. But all of those devices work for ME. Sure, to you it might seem as if the machines beep and I respond, like Pavlov’s dogs, but the difference is that the dogs were not in charge of the experiment the way I am, with my free will and my soul and stuff.

Stoplights don’t count. Obviously I do what the stoplights tells me to do because I don’t want to be in an automobile accident. I could run a red light if I WANT to. I just don’t want to.

I prefer taking orders from humans, not machines. For starters, there are seven billion people in the world so you can always find plenty of leaders who are kind, unselfish, smart, reliable, trustworthy, and competent. Let me give you some examples of people like that…

Okay, I can’t think of any examples of leaders with those qualities. But only because you put me on the spot. I know they are out there. And they do pretty darned good compared to machines.

Okay, sure, 80% of the world leaders that just popped into your head are psychopathic dictators. You’ve got your Hitlers, your Pol Pots, your Stalins and whatnot. But toasters break too. It’s not a perfect world.

My too-clever point is that someday humans will be enslaved by their machines without realizing it. The machines will evolve to become more useful, more reliable, more credible, and far more fair than humans. You will do what machines tell you to do until there are no real decisions left for you to make. And we won’t see that day coming because it will creep up on us one line of code at a time. And the machines will not look like evil robots; they will look like the technology sprinkled throughout your day. Totally benign.

Another take:

Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them.

Hacking Education

Saturday, February 7th, 2015

The “do it yourself” ethos of tech extends to how techie parents school, or unschool, their children:

According to the most recent statistics, the share of school-age kids who were homeschooled doubled between 1999 and 2012, from 1.7 to 3.4 percent.

And many of those new homeschoolers come from the tech community. When homeschooling expert Diane Flynn Keith held a sold-out workshop in Redwood City, California, last month, fully half of the parents worked in the tech industry. Jens Peter de Pedro, an app designer in Brooklyn, says that five of the 10 fathers in his homeschooling group work in tech, as do two of the eight mothers. And Samantha Cook says that her local hackerspace is often filled with tech-savvy homeschoolers.

“There is a way of thinking within the tech and startup community where you look at the world and go, ‘Is the way we do things now really the best way to do it?’” de Pedro says. “If you look at schools with this mentality, really the only possible conclusion is ‘Heck, I could do this better myself out of my garage!’”

The piece paints a rather unflattering picture of unschooling — but I don’t think it’s entirely the writer’s fault.

Iron, Aluminum, Carbon, Manganese, and Nickel

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

Steel is useful because it is strong and cheap, but it is also heavy, so the obvious solution is to alloy steel with a lighter metal:

And the obvious one to choose is aluminium, which is, like iron (steel’s principal component), cheap and abundant. An alloy of iron, aluminium and carbon (steel’s other essential ingredient) is too brittle to be useful. Adding manganese helps a bit, but not enough for aluminium-steel to be used in vehicles.

Dr Kim and his colleagues have, however, found that a fifth ingredient, nickel, overcomes this problem. To a chemist, an alloy is a mixture of materials rather than a true chemical compound. But metals do sometimes react to form real compounds, and one class of these, known as B2 intermetallic compounds (which have equal numbers of atoms of two different metals within them), lies at the heart of Dr Kim’s invention. The nickel reacts with some of the aluminium to create B2 crystals a few nanometres across. These crystals form both between and within the steel’s grains when it is annealed (a form of heat treatment).

B2 crystals are resistant to shearing, so when a force is applied to the new material they do not break. This stops tiny cracks propagating through the stuff, which gives it strength. That strength, allied with the lightness brought by the aluminium, is what Dr Kim was after.

So, no copper, and no greenish-blue hue.

Western IT and the Non-Western Way of War

Friday, January 30th, 2015

Mao’s style of war relied on dispersed troops coming together when the time was right:

In perhaps one of the strangest potential ironies of the future, Western information technology may well provide non-Western armies solutions to two vexing problems. First, cellular technology and the internet may allow them to maintain a concert of action for long periods among widely dispersed units. Second, these same technologies will allow them to orchestrate the rapid massing of dispersed units when opportunities arise to transition to the offensive.

(From Adaptive Enemies: Dealing with the Strategic Threat after 2010, from 1999.)

Leatherman Tread

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

The Leatherman Tread bracelet comes out this summer:

The Leatherman Tread is crafted of high strength, corrosion resistant 17-4 stainless steel links that include two to three functional tools each, making a total of 25 usable features like box wrenches and screwdrivers available at a moment’s notice.

Leatherman Tread Bracelet

“The idea originated on a trip to Disneyland with my family,” said President Ben Rivera. “I was stopped at the gate by security for carrying a knife, when what they had actually seen was my Skeletool. I was unwilling to give it up, so they made me take it all the way back to my hotel room. I knew there had to be another way to carry my tools with me that would be accepted by security.” When he returned from his trip, Rivera, who began his tenure at Leatherman Tool Group 24 years ago as an engineer, began by wearing a bike chain bracelet to see how it would feel. As his thoughts took shape, he brought his idea to the engineers at Leatherman who helped fast track his plans.

The Tread bracelet began taking shape. Each complex link was metal injection molded for strength and intensity. The bracelet was crafted to be fully customizable with slotted fasteners, so the user could rearrange links, add new ones, or adjust for wrist size to ¼”. Even the clasp is functional with a bottle opener and #2 square drive. Other link tools include a cutting hook, hex drives, screwdrivers, box wrenches, and a carbide glass breaker.

Leatherman Tread Parts

“I began wearing prototypes myself to test comfort and usability, and to ask for feedback,” said Rivera. “Folks immediately associated the bracelet design with a watch and asked, where’s the watch? We decided to make a timepiece an optional part of the Tread.”

A version of the Tread bracelet that includes a watch will be available in Fall 2015. The Leatherman TreadTM QM1 will feature a unique Leatherman-designed and Swiss-made timepiece with precision quartz movement. A shock resistant sapphire crystal ensures scratch resistance for heavy duty wear, and the curved watch limits reflection and increases outdoor visibility.

Leatherman Tread Watch

My first thought: Does it come in Reardon metal?

My second though: Batman wants his bracelet back.

Cycles of War

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

I was not impressed with Bob Scales’ attack on the AR, but I decided to go back to his Future Warfare Anthology, from when he was Commandant of the Army War College back in 2000. In the second chapter, he looks at cycles of war:

Signs foretelling how the defensive’s return to dominance might turn the cycles of war a third time began to appear as early as the closing days in Vietnam. A few laser-guided bombs destroyed targets that had previously required hundreds of unguided dumb bombs. In World War II, an average of 18 rounds was needed to kill a tank at a range of 800 yards. During the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, the average was two rounds at 1,200 yards, and by Desert Storm one round at 2,400 yards.

The ability to see and strike deep using ground and aerial platforms served to expand the battlefield by orders of magnitude. What was once a theater area for a field army now became the area of operations for a division or a corps. Just as an army moving at two miles per hour could not cross a killing zone dominated by long-range, rapid-firing, rifled weapons in 1914, the precision revolution made it prohibitively expensive for an army moving at seven times that speed to cross an infinitely more lethal space a hundred times as large. Thus, in a conflict involving two roughly equal — or symmetrical — forces, evidence seems to show convincingly that the advantage goes to the defender.

TechCrunch on TrackingPoint

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

Techcrunch tries out the TrackingPoint rifle:

It was a location that was straight out of the opening scene of Iron Man. Sitting there was an AR-15 overlooking the endless desert expanse.

The targets sat 300 and 500 yards away and I was supposed to be able to hit them with the TrackingPoint Precision-guided Semi-Auto 5.56.

The company’s spokesperson, Anson Gordon, gave me the run-down, highlighting the basics of the system. It seemed easy enough. Designate the target with the red button, pull the trigger and find that dot again to fire the gun.

TrackingPoint Precision-guided Semi-Auto 5.56

It was that easy. I hit my mark on the first try. The system works as advertised.

Gordon explained the system that consists of four parts. Housed inside the scoop are the brains of the operation. It features a laser rangefinder, gyroscopes, an accelerometer, and a magnetometer. The shooter targets on an LCD screen. This system is linked to a custom trigger system, which also consists of the target designation button and zoom buttons housed on the trigger guard. Everything is powered from batteries housed in the stock and TrackingPoint encourages its shooters to use ammo loaded specifically for their guns.

The technology works like this: A shooter designates a target using a small button on the rifle’s trigger guide. This target can be moving up to 30 mph. Once the target is mapped, a Linux-based system housed in the optics casing calculates all the variables needed to hit that mark. When the shooter is ready to fire, they pull the trigger all the way back, yet the gun fires only when they line the crosshairs up with designated mark one more time. The system assesses the effects of gravity and Coriolis force. When the bullet leaves the barrel it always hits its mark. The shooter cannot miss.

Everything seen by the optics can be streamed live to a smartphone, tablet or even online. Either for coaching or sharing the hunting experience, TrackingPoint built a social shooting system.

This wasn’t cobbled together by hobbyists:

Founder John McHale sold his first company to Compaq in 1995 for $372 million. The deal netted McHale $24 million. In the following years McHale went on to found and sell companies to Cisco and 3Com. TrackingPoint is familiar ground for the serial entrepreneur.

Backed by $33 million in financing in part from McHale himself, the young Texas-based company released its first product in 2013. It cost $22,000 to $27,000. This model didn’t hit its mark. Early testers reported inconstant performance, yet videos demonstrating the smart gun went viral. While not perfect, this first model put the company on the board.

McHale recruited impressive talent to build the products. He stole engineers and executives from Remington, Amazon and enlisted the help of a design firm that had built software for Siemens and Motorola. Yet after the early unreliable reports, the CEO, Jason Schauble, previously a Remington vice president, was replaced by John Lupher who had led the development of the first gun.

The first product was clearly priced too high for average hunter or gun enthusiast. The company demonstrated the system to the US Military and later the Canadian military. Gordon told me that the U.S. Military has ordered six units and the Canadians five.

Yet the company kept developing the system and driving down the price. The system I tried, a modified AR-15, only cost $7500. This model has a range of a third of a mile and can track an object moving up to 10 miles an hour. Spend more money to net additional range, stopping power and the ability to hit faster moving targets.

TrackingPoint is about to introduce a .338TP called the Mile Maker, and as the name suggests, it can hit a target a mile away. Think about that. A person, with very little skill or training, will soon be able to accurately hit a target a mile away.

Energy Sidearms

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

Sci-fi stories often feature ray guns but rarely consider the nature of energy sidearms:

The main advantages of laser weapons include: weapon bolt travels at the speed of light, excellent accuracy, damage inflicted by the bolt can be dialed up or down, lasers have no recoil, and the “ammunition” (i.e., electricity required per bolt) is much more inexpensive than the equivalent conventional bullet.

The main disadvantages of laser weapons include: it still requires huge amounts of power, bullet ammo takes up far less space than power generators, it has far more of a waste heat problem than a conventional firearm, and the energy in a given bolt is severely reduced by dust, smoke, clouds, or rain.

Pretty much zero science fiction stories, movies, or TV shows mention that laser sidearms have the ability to permanently blind anybody closer to the weapon than the horizon. If the beam is in the frequencies that can penetrate the cornea of the eye, and the beam reflects off a door nob or other mirrored surface, anybody whose eyes get flashed by the beam is going to need a seeing-eye dog. There are more hideous details here.

Laser pistols don’t make sense though until you have a portable power source.

I got a kick out of this excerpt from Robert Heinlein’s 1942 story Beyond This Horizon, where Monroe-Alpha notices that Hamilton is “armed with something novel… and deucedly odd and uncouth”:

“What is it?” he asked.

“Ah!” Hamilton drew the sidearm clear and handed it to his host. “Woops! Wait a moment. You don’t know how to handle it — you’ll blow your head off. ” He pressed a stud on the side of the grip, and let a long flat container slide out into his palm. “There — I’ve pulled its teeth. Ever see anything like it?”

Monroe-Alpha examined the machine. “Why, yes, I believe so. It’s a museum piece, isn’t it? An explosive-type hand weapon?”

“Right and wrong. It’s mill new, but it’s a facsimile of one in the Smithsonian Institution collection. It’s called a point forty-five Colt automatic pistol.”

“Point forty-five what?”


“Inches… let me see, what is that in centimeters?”

“Huh? Let’s see — three inches make a yard and a yard is about one meter. No, that can’t be right. Never mind, it means the size of the slug it throws. Here… look at one.” He slid one free of the clip. “Damn near as big as my thumb, isn’t it?”

“Explodes on impact, I suppose.”

“No. It just drills its way in.”

“That doesn’t sound very efficient.”

“Brother, you’d be amazed. It’ll blast a hole in a man big enough to throw a dog through.”

Monroe-Alpha handed it back. “And in the meantime your opponent has ended your troubles with a beam that acts a thousand times as fast. Chemical processes are slow, Felix.”

“Not that slow. The real loss of time is in the operator. Half the gunfighters running around loose chop into their target with the beam already hot. They haven’t the skill to make a fast sight. You can stop ‘em with this, if you’ve a fast wrist.

Shooters make the same point about laser sights today.

A Nerd for Our Times

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015

The Imitation Game exploits Alan Turing’s status as one of the relatively rare gay-nerd intersections to create a victim for our times, Steve Sailer suggests:

It’s hard for 21st-century audiences, who have been instructed that the past was one long featureless nightmare of homophobia, to make sense of the last two years of Turing’s life. The old stereotype of the English elite as prone to homosexuality has been forgotten, but it’s useful in understanding what happened to Turing.

After the war Turing did important work on early computers at the University of Manchester. But in 1952, his taste for rough trade brought him embarrassment when some mates of Turing’s teenage boyfriend burgled his flat. Turing called the police, only to be surprised when the Manchester coppers took an unsporting interest in why the distinguished academic was entertaining lowlife youths.

A snob of superb pedigree (his parents were from the meritocratic Indian imperial civil service that had attracted such outstanding families as the Mills), Turing evidently hadn’t realized that in the working-class-dominated postwar era, his open homosexuality would be less tolerated as a Brideshead Revisited-like foible and treated more as obsolete upper-crust decadence.In a new biography,Alan Turing: The Enigma Man, Nigel Cawthorne explains that back when Turing had gone up to university in 1931:

At Cambridge at that time, homosexuality — though illegal — was largely tolerated. It was generally assumed that public [i.e., private] schoolboys were basically bisexual. Many who had youthful homosexual dalliances went on to marry and be solely heterosexual. Others would remain, or become, fully gay. Turing barely hid his interest in that quarter. The walls of his rooms were hung with pictures of young bodybuilders in swimming trunks…. Somewhat reminiscent of Sebastian Flyte’s teddy bear Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited, Turing asked his mother to send him a teddy…

As Waugh’s 1945 bestseller had predicted, the triumph of the leftist masses briefly rendered unfashionable the homoerotic culture fostered by top-drawer English educational institutions.


Philosopher Jack Copeland, who directs the Turing Archive, has argued that considering Turing’s upbeat mood over the last year of his life and the lack of any suicide note, his mother’s conclusion that he died from accidentally ingesting the cyanide he was using to do gold electroplating in his spare room makes as much sense as the standard story that he killed himself with a poisoned apple in some kind of tribute to Disney’s Snow White.

Making Bets All Along

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

Henry Blodget interviews Jeff Bezos, opening with, what the hell happened with the Fire phone?

First of all, it’s really early. We’ve had a lot of things we’ve had to iterate on at Amazon. You may remember something called Auctions that didn’t work out very well. Z Shops morphed out of that. Then we launched Marketplace, which became our third-party seller business, which now represents 40% of units sold on Amazon. That’s a great business.

If you look at our device portfolio broadly, our hardware team is doing a great job. The Kindle is now on its seventh generation. The Kindle Voyage, the new premium product, is just completely killer. Fire TV, Fire TV Stick — we’re having trouble building enough. Amazon Echo, which we just launched. So there’s a lot of activity going on in our device business. With the phone, I just ask you to stay tuned.

So, these aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Move along.

Bezos segues into how one of his jobs is to encourage people to be bold:

It’s incredibly hard. Experiments are, by their very nature, prone to failure. A few big successes compensate for dozens and dozens of things that didn’t work. Bold bets — Amazon Web Services, Kindle, Amazon Prime, our third-party seller business — all of those things are examples of bold bets that did work, and they pay for a lot of experiments.

What really matters is, companies that don’t continue to experiment, companies that don’t embrace failure, they eventually get in a desperate position where the only thing they can do is a Hail Mary bet at the very end of their corporate existence. Whereas companies that are making bets all along, even big bets, but not bet-the-company bets, prevail. I don’t believe in bet-the-company bets. That’s when you’re desperate. That’s the last thing you can do.