Misnegation or term of art? - Roni Caryn Rabin, "No Easy Choices on Breast Reconstruction", NYT Blogs 5/20/2013: A syndrome called upper quarter dysfunction — its symptoms include pain,...
35 minutes ago
Rewriting history as it happens
The phenomenon of "social engineering" is behind the vast majority of successful hacking.This isn't the high tech wizardry of Hollywood but is a good, old-fashioned confidence trick.It's been updated for the modern age, and although modern terms such as "phishing" and "smishing" are used to describe the specific tricks used, they all rely upon a set of human characteristics which, with due respect to Hieronymus Bosch, you might picture as the "seven deadly sins" of social engineering.Apathy:To fall for a confidence trick, or worse, we assume others "must" have taken the necessary steps to keep us secure.Sadly this leads to a lack of awareness, and in the world of the hacker that is fatal. When we stay in a hotel and we programme our random number into the room safe to keep our belongings secure, how many of us check to see if the manufacturers override code has been left in the safe?It's nearly always 0000 or 1234 so try it next time.
Curiosity:Humans are curious by nature. However, naive and uninformed curiosity has caused many casualties. Criminals know we're curious and they will try to lure us in. If we see an unfamiliar door appear in a building we frequent, we all wonder where it leads.
We might be tempted to open it and find out, but in the online world that might just be a trap waiting for an innocent user to spring it. A colleague built a website that contained a button that said Do Not Press, and was astonished to find that the majority of people actually pressed it.
Be curious, but exercise a healthy degree of suspicion.Gullibility:It is often thought of as a derogatory term, but we all suffer from this sin. We make assumptions.
We take others at face value, especially outside of our areas of expertise. Put a uniform on someone and we assume they have authority.
Give an email an official appearance by using the correct logo and apparently coming from the correct email address, and we might just assume it's real, regardless of how silly its instructions might be.
All of this can be easily forged online, so make no assumptions.Courtesy:We quite rightly all teach our children to be polite. However, politeness does not mean you should not discriminate.
If you do not know something, or you feel something doesn't feel quite right, ask. This principle is truer than ever in the online world, where we are asked to interact with people and systems in ways with which we are quite unfamiliar.
If someone phones you out of the blue and says they are from your bank do you believe them?
No. Phone them back.
And by the way, use a mobile phone as landlines can remain connected to the person who made the call in the first place and so whilst you might think you're phoning the bank on a valid number you're just talking to the person who called you.Greed:Despite what we'd like to think we are all susceptible to greed even though it might not feel like greed.
Since its inception, the very culture of the web has been to share items for free.
Initially this was academic research, but as the internet was commercialised in the mid-1990s, we were left with the impression that we could still find something for nothing.
Nothing is ever truly free online. You have to remember that if you're not the paying customer, you're very likely to be the product. In the worst case, you might find that you have taken something onto your machine that is far from what you bargained for.
Many pieces of malware are actively downloaded by owners unaware that the "free" product contains a nasty payload, even if it also appears to do what you expected of it.Diffidence:People are reluctant to ask strangers for ID, and in the online world it is more important than ever to establish the credentials of those whom you entrust with your sensitive information.
Do not let circumstances lead you to make assumptions about ID.
For example, if someone from "IT support" calls you and asks for your password so they can help fix your problem, how do you know they haven't called everyone else in the building first until they found you who has really got a problem?
This is a well-known attack. If someone has a problem with proving who they are, you should immediately be suspicious.Thoughtlessness:Thinking before you act is possibly the most effective means of protecting yourself online. It is all too easy to click that link.
How many of us when reading an apparently valid link in an email would bother to check whether the link is actually valid or whether instead it takes you to a malicious site.
It's horribly easy to make links look valid so try hovering your cursor over the link for a few seconds before clicking to see what the real link is: the true link pops up if you give it a moment.
As cynical as it may sound, the only answer is to practise your A-B-C:
- Assume nothing
- Believe no one
With more Christmas shopping expected to be done online this year than ever before, you should watch out for those that would exploit the deadly sins.
- Check everything
Don't give criminals the chance to ruin your holiday season, and remember that a little bit of paranoia goes a long way online.
Alan Woodward is a visiting professor at the University of Surrey's department of computing. He has worked for the UK government and consults on issues including cyber-security, covert communications and forensic computing.
I'm going to play devil's advocate here and try to argue against all your points -- not because they aren't justified, but because I've had far too much caffeine today. Hopefully the result will be coherent and not too ranty.
1) The power-chords of sci-fi are in many ways a bad thing. It doesn't make sense to classify everything with prominently featured space ships or robots as science fiction (as I think you said before in a rant about Star Trek). Action movies with robots are just action movies. While it has historically been useful to have these bits of shorthand, the fact that people could easily turn these things into hieroglyphs and expect a stylized silhouette of a rocket on the spine of a book to be almost universally understood as code for "shelve this in the science fiction section" is an indicator of just how little depth these things have.
So far as I can tell, the flooding of the market by crass commercializations with all the apparent symbols of the genre but none of the guts is not new. Maybe it's become a bit more common now that action movies in science fiction drag (and romance novels in fantasy-horror drag, and action movies in cyberpunk drag) have become so profitable, but looking through the science fiction section of a used book store yields an enormous quantity of slim volumes by (righteously) unknown authors whose prominent placement of space ships on the cover and use of terms like "groundcar" and "zeerust" instead of "car" and "rust" are the sole saving grace that put them into the science fiction section rather than the slush pile of a much more selective general-audience-fiction section.
Perhaps this is a foolish and egotistical position to take, but I've always associated science fiction with a kind of intellectual daring and experimentation. Naked Lunch had no space ships, but was classed as science fiction because it was too weird to be placed next to this week's new best-seller in the general section. While a lot of the groundbreaking science fiction of the golden age focused on space exploration (or at least had it as a major background element), both earlier and later science fiction did not. Is it justified to stick a starship on Neuromancer? What about on Odd John?
Using these power chords as shorthand for the entirety of the genre is occasionally useful, but I would argue that it's gotten to the point where it is far more misleading. Someone who has a strong interest in Halting State may have little to no interest in Hyperion; they are very different books with very different styles set in very different worlds, and it's questionable whether they should even be classified as the same genre.
This brings me to my next point.
2) The fragmentation of genres into overlapping tags is good for authors, for readers, for booksellers -- for everybody except the people who are shelving books by hand in brick-and-mortar stores.
While the science fiction section is a ghetto to be sure, it's a ghetto of ludicrous diversity. Someone who buys science fiction off a list of science fiction in order to stock the shelves of a science fiction section will get a handful of paranormal romance, a handful of action/adventure with a nominally science-fictional setting, a handful of cyberpunk, a couple books like those of Butcher's Dresden Files series (which are a cross between two genres, neither of them science fiction, but often get filed under science fiction anyway), and -- if they're lucky -- a couple books that get filed as science fiction purely for the weirdness factor (like Lethem's Amnesia Moon or anything by Pynchon or Ballard or WSB). Chances are, anyone who goes into the science fiction section because they like a particular kind of science fiction will find nothing of particular interest, unless they are very open-minded or very easily amused.
Part of this may be because the fragmentation of the genre, when first it gained legs, was extremely successful. Cyberpunk took off and showed science fiction that a book could be successful without a space ship shoehorned into it or a raygun-wielding pinup on the cover. The tendency for science fiction books to put in all the elements as though off a list -- this took a bit of a nosedive. (I am speculating a little here, since I cannot easily perform quantitative analysis of trends in the frequency of unnecessary instances of starships, rayguns, and robots versus properly justified instances of the same!) If fragmentation is encouraged even more, we'll still have the power chords: they just won't be used so often for the sake of classifying it into a particular genre.
PKD is perhaps an early example of the trend I see as a whole. Early PKD stories invariably had space travel and robots, regardless of whether or not their existence in the story was justified. But, a sequence of what is often considered his best work follows a very noticeable trend.
- The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich had space travel quite prominently, and much of it was justified.
- Ubik had space travel prominently in the very beginning of the book, and had no space travel at all for the entire remainder of the book, because bringing it in would not be justifiable.
- The Man in the High Castle had space travel as a background element, but it was not prominent because it could not be justified.
- A Scanner Darkly, despite being set in the far-off year of 1992, had no space travel and no robots. It was clearly science fiction, but limited the science fiction elements to those that were necessary for storytelling -- very different from earlier novels, in which robot cab drivers were everywhere and cars flew and things took place on Mars for no clear reason (sometimes breaking fairly well-defined physical laws in the process).
But, if science fiction as a genre is not cohesive enough to merit being listed in the same section, how is a science fiction fan going to become exposed to authors they have never heard of?
3) There is a very good reason, from the consumer perspective, to go to a brick-and-mortar bookstore and look through their poorly-curated and half-assedly-assembled science fiction section. It is the same reason, paradoxically, that it is desirable that amazon's recommendation engine not be perfectly accurate.
I will again point out my assumption that science fiction is the domain of daring neophiles with strange ideas. Perhaps people disagree with me on this and would instead I call this by some other name -- after all, science fiction has a long history of referring to two completely different genres with occasional overlaps between them: the genre of daring neophilic explorations of strange ideas, and the genre of people with robots and space ships and laser guns. I'll call the latter 'raygun adventure' instead, for the sake of avoiding confusion.
Someone whose primary interest is mystery novels (or whose primary interest is raygun adventure novels) may not have any particular problem with reading many takes on what amounts to the same book. A police procedural can be fairly formulaic, and many popular police procedurals are: the interest comes from the emotional drama, from dramatic tension, from not knowing the exact details of the ending, or from knowing the exact details of the ending.
A book that plays primarily with the emotions of its readers can be extremely successful without giving the reader any new information, or even having any kind of consistent internal logic. Porn remains arousing even to people who realize that pizza delivery boys rarely manage to seduce lonely housewives, and The Kite Runner managed to be disgustingly disturbing despite the problems inherent in the idea that a former Nazi could be a small child in the 1970s and want to join the Taliban in the 1990s.
Science fiction is different. The one defining factor in science fiction is that it attempts to be information-rich. The characters and plot can (and often do) hang on the world-building or the conceit.
- Dune drags on endlessly, has numerous minor inconsistencies, bases itself around ideas like the existence of a secret sorority of NLP-masters who seed myths and plot to control the universe... but, it's just so damned interesting when the implications are explored that the predictable and recycled plot, the dull language, the all-pervasive humorlessness, and the occasional forays into incomprehensible non-sequitor are excused.
- Altered Carbon has many instances of weak writing, and a plot that's fairly tangled. It has enormous numbers of scenes of gratuitous sex and violence, and many of them seem entirely out of place. But, as a thought experiment it's incredible. The fact that it features what amounts to body transplants does not make it science fiction. Altered Carbon is science fiction because it points out that the existence of body transplant technology would fundamentally change the insurance industry, make it possible for the extremely wealthy to be essentially completely immortal, almost completely wipe out the Catholic church as a political and religious power, and still wouldn't solve problems like mood swings and menstruation.
The solution may well not be to make recommendation engines more accurate. While recommendation engines more useful the more accurate they are up to a point, to be sure, within the domain of science fiction recommendation engines are more useful the less accurate they are (up to a point).
Science fiction as a genre only ever worked because there were hardcore fans who would read books about space ships *and* read books about automobile accident fetishes. A regular genre reader would not be able to push his or her way through Rucker's Software were he only interested in robot books, or space ship books, because he'd get stuck on the parts about cannibalistic cults and recreational drug use and anarchism.
While other genres may be syncretic by accident, science fiction is defined by its syncretism. It's defined by its mashups. Anything that looks like science fiction, by definition, isn't.
If it has space ships and robots, it's probably an action movie. Don't trust anyone over 30.
1) Speech recognition (including voice authentication *and* voice command)the most advanced personal robot on the american consumer market at the moment (barring kit robots like PINO and the PR-2) is the Pleo, which has support for only #4.
2) Goal-oriented programming
3) Real-time procedural generation of original narratives
4) Fairly nuanced navigation and area-mapping, including self-charging, without vision or navigation beacons