Internet fights for Net Neutrality, bacteria can store animated gifs and AI is at war with journalists! — Issue #17

Gregory B.
Aug 14, 2017 · 6 min read

The internet fights for Net Neutrality, bacteria can store animated gifs and artificial intelligence is at war with journalists! 🤖


🌍 Around the web

Historic day of action for Net Neutrality breaks records

July 12 has been marked by an epic Battle for The Net. More than 125,000 websites, Internet users, and organizations took part in a massive online protest against the FCC’s plan to kill Net Neutrality (the Internet Association has a great explanation if you don’t know what it means).

A flood of web platforms small and large like Twitter, Reddit, Netflix, Spotify, 4chan, Airbnb, Amazon, Mozilla, OK Cupid, Vimeo, Tinder, Expedia, Pornhub, Imgur, Yelp, Spotify, and Soundcloud — along with a vast array of online communities from every corner of the Internet: gaming forums, YouTube creators, subreddits and more — displayed prominent protest messages to their users, encouraging them to take action by contacting the FCC and Congress through tools like BattleForTheNet.com that make it easy for Internet users to make their voices heard.

The results so far :

  • Tens of millions of people saw the protest messages on participating websites
  • Over 5 million emails to Congress
  • More than 2 million comments to the FCC
  • 124,000 phone calls to Congress

Google is funding a new software project that will automate writing local news

This already exists in automated sport reports but I’m really curious to see how it’ll perform in a more traditional news context.

Radar aims to automate local reporting with large public databases from government agencies or local law enforcement — basically roboticizing the work of reporters. Stories from the data will be penned using Natural Language Generation, which converts information gleaned from the data into words.
The robotic reporters won’t be working alone. The grant includes funds allocated to hire five journalists to identify datasets, as well as curate and edit the news articles generated from Radar. The project also aims to create automated ways to add images and video to robot-made stories.

Microsoft’s Calibri font is at the center of a political scandal

In the craziest turn of events, investigators might be able to prove that Pakistanese Prime Minister and his family allegedly forged documents to hide ownership of overseas properties thanks to a Microsoft font!

The documents from 2006 submitted by Maryam Nawaz (daughter of PM Nawaz Sharif) were in the Calibri font. That font, according to the investigation team’s leaked report, wasn’t publicly available until 2007.

Can The Blockchain Help Renew Confidence In Government?

Last week we talked about using blockchain for electric grids, why not use it to make sure public records can’t be altered and cut down on corruption in the process?

The Republic of Georgia (the country) has put almost 200,000 public land titles on a system that combines a tamper-proof private blockchain with a public blockchain viewable by anybody. The registry is thought to be one of the first times a government has used the decentralized network underlying bitcoin–a blockchain–for a public service purpose.

China Tells Carriers to Block Access to Personal VPNs by February

If you were planning to visit China, you might not be able to use your VPN to keep your trafic anonymous anymore.

Beijing has ordered state-run telecommunications firms, which include China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, to bar people from using VPNs, services that skirt censorship restrictions by routing web traffic abroad, the people said, asking not to be identified talking about private government directives.


📡 Technology

Scientists Upload a Galloping Horse GIF Into Bacteria

Mind blowing news of the week: we can now store (and retrieve) an animated gif inside a bacteria’s DNA. Think about that for a second!

Researchers have created for the first time a living library, embedded within, you guessed it: E. coli. In a paper published today in Nature, Harvard researchers1 describe using a Crispr system to insert bits of DNA encoded with photos and a GIF of a galloping horse into live bacteria. When the scientists retrieved and reconstructed the images by sequencing the bacterial genomes, they got back the same images they put in with about 90 percent accuracy.

How we tracked and analyzed over 200,000 people’s footsteps

Fascinating project by MIT students who found a way to track down people walking around campus thanks to their cellphones.

When phones are searching for WiFi networks, they commonly also send out small packets of information called probe requests.
These probe requests send snippets of information such as a unique MAC address (similar to a fingerprint), RSSI signal (logarithmic signal strength), and a list of previous SSIDs encountered. As each phone will send out one MAC address (excluding recent attempts at anonymization), we can easily leverage these to track students walking around campus.

Taking Control of All .io Domains With a Targeted Registration

Some wise ass took over all .io domain names via a targeted domain registration Simple, yet impressive.

Since a TLD can have authoritative nameservers at arbitrary domain names it’s possible that through a misconfiguration, expiration, or some other issue that someone would be able to register a nameserver domain name and use it to serve new DNS records for the entire TLD zone.

Cheat Sheets for AI, Neural Networks, Machine Learning, Deep Learning & Big Data

It’s all in the title :)


🔨 Web development / Web design

Starbucks should really make their APIs public.

This developper couldn’t wait for Starbucks APIs to get open to the public so he’s decided to reverse engineer the whole thing. Very interesting (and fairly technical). Try it our yourself: https://github.com/tendigi/starbucks.

From Slack integrations to coffee buttons, there are loads of potential integrations that could be built if they opened their API to third-party developers. They’re clearly moving in that direction, as they have both a twitter account and a (password protected) website for developers.
I couldn’t wait, however, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Checklist of the most important security countermeasures when designing, testing, and releasing your API

Most of the items in there seem really obvious but you’d be surprised how often they’re not tested before deploying.

Your first service worker

How to make sure your site works even when the cell coverage is bad (or absent) and other interesting perspectives when using a service worker.

A service worker is a simple javascript script that your browser runs in the background. It runs on a different thread to the main JavaScript that powers your web app. It’s async and no blocking, without any DOM access. It includes exciting features like push notifications and requires HTTPS for better security. Another huge benefit of the service worker is to give the developer complete control over the caching experience.

Life Is About to Get a Whole Lot Harder for Websites Without HTTPS

This is not new but it will get more and more important. It’s also good for your SEO so you might want to check it out ;)

We know secure pages are secure because the browser tells us so. We know non-secure pages are not secure because the browser doesn’t tell us that they’re secure. Get it? It’s the principle of being insecure by default and that’s what we’re increasingly moving away from. Remember also that this applies to any website the browser loads so merely being behind the firewall browsing the intranet won’t keep the warnings away. If you’re not serving all those internal business systems over HTTPS then your internal users are going to be told that they’re “Not secure” too (and no, telling them to ignore warnings is not a behaviour you want to encourage).
The bottom line is this: if you’re serving anything over an insecure connection you need to be planning how you’re going to go HTTPS by default now.

Human-Centered Machine Learning

Google Design team has developed seven points to help designers navigate the new terrain of designing ML-driven products.

1. Don’t expect Machine learning to figure out what problems to solve

2. Ask yourself if ML will address the problem in a unique way

3. Fake it with personal examples and wizards

4. Weigh the costs of false positives and false negatives

5. Plan for co-learning and adaptation

6. Teach your algorithm using the right labels

7. Extend your UX family, ML is a creative process


🔥 Bits and pieces

London’s cabby wars are less about the disruptive power of an app (Uber), or a new business model, than about the disruption of Britain. Read how search algorithms kept that woman away from her sister for 14 years. Couple of interesting social marketing predictions that came true in 2017.

Focus less on the data and more on the big picture. Fascinating report from Spotify: Understanding People Through Music. Impressive example of Google Tensorflow Object Detection API use. You might soon be able to interact with a conversational agent for data science, curious to see where that’s going!

We need to re-think how we teach programming. GitHub has great values but doesn’t seem to really live by them, check out Coraline’s year there.

The Aspiring Nerd

Weekly curated articles at the crossroads of web marketing, development and technology.

Gregory B.

Written by

Web strategist with a conscience.

The Aspiring Nerd

Weekly curated articles at the crossroads of web marketing, development and technology.

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