Monday, 31 October 2016

The Cult 70s Movie About Reverse-Engineering a Ghost

Image: Luomodivimini82/YouTube

Today’s Silicon Valley may have fixations on simulated realities and vampiric blood rituals, but the the tech world has long been a subject ripe for horror movies. 1972's The Stone Tape is a perfect example. Inspired by a visit to the BBC’s research and development department, science-fiction writer Nigel Kneale crafted a story about how engineers may grapple with a haunted house. Filmed using a mansion that once belonged to Ada Lovelace and broadcast, the movie has since become an acclaimed cult treasure, a sober yet unsettling ghost tale about the tech world’s attempt to reverse engineer the afterlife.

Hoping a change of scenery will give them a creative edge on international competition, Peter Brock (Michael Bryant), an R&D team leader at a company called Ryan Electrics, moves his division into a secretive Victorian manor in the countryside. In a development that would surprise very few, this old creepy British mansion is in fact haunted. Computer programmer Jill Greele (Jane Asher) soon discovers a specter in the unrenovated cellar. Unlike the rest of the sterile-looking premises, the basement looks like a rat’s den, with only a grim staircase and a locked wooden door keeping the autumn wind at bay. The apparition who lives there is a woman in white, frozen in time, and eternally screaming. Her shriek becomes a fixture. It haunts, after all.

The engineers soon discover that only certain individuals can hear the ghost, and even fewer can see it. Everyone experiences the ghost differently. While some of the crew claim they are catching the ghost in the corner of their eye, or hearing entire desperate phrases, one yuckster cannot see nor hear the apparition at all. Viewing their poltergeist as an opportunity, Brock attempts to deconstruct the creepiness, find a hard science behind hauntings in hopes of discovering a new form of telecommunications that could be encrypted for only certain parties to interpret. As their experiments go on, as the team becomes unnerved by their interactions with the dead, as Brock’s anxiety of the parent company interfering with his work wind up, it seems clear they may be trifling with something more powerful than they can grasp, no matter how many gigantic 70s computers they have beeping and clicking at their disposal.

Nigel Kneale is one of the most important writers in genre television, with an uncanny brand of storytelling that contrasts sci-fi against horror, and pits characters of science against beasts of the unknown. He was one of BBC Television’s first staff writers, and best known for creating Professor Quatermass, a rocket scientist who routinely tussled with alien threats. Quatermass is considered a predecessor to Dr. Who, though Kneale is on the record for despising Dr. Who and refused to write for the program. Seeing Kneale’s dystopian Year of the Sex Olympics, about a society pacified by a violent and erotic reality show, it’s hard not to think of Black Mirror, and that film was the first Kneale wrote for colour television.

Kneale is also responsible for the infamous Halloween III: Season of the Witch. He had never seen the previous two films and had little intrigue in slasher horror. When he was asked to write the script he was more interested in paying tribute to the occult sensibilities of The Wicker Man, which is how the third Halloween movie ended up having nothing to do with Michael Myers and everything to do with Pagan androids. Kneale had his name removed from the film after the rest of the production team pushed for more gore. I suppose Kneale didn’t like having his name associated with a kid’s head exploding into snakes. To each their own.

It has all the weighty dread you’d want from a ghost story, but The Stone Tape leans towards sci-fi more than a horror, if only because of very obvious budget restraints limit most of the supernatural effects into lighting filters and piercing noises. More than anything, the film presents an uniquely interesting notion behind ghosts, one for its engineers and inventors to rip apart.

One of the central concepts is the possibility that it may be the place, not the human soul, that manifests as phantoms. That the bricks and stones act as a conduit to nearby trauma and are projecting a kind of psychic recording. Parapsychologists like Thomas Charles Lethbridge and Henry Habberley Price had similar ideas before the film, but the concept is now known as “the Stone Tape theory” after Kneale’s film gave it some mainstream attention. Paranormal enthusiast Timothy Yohe believes buildings made of limestone are more likely to be haunted due to the particles of biological marine life that make up the rock. Kneale himself was known to be a skeptic, however, and was more interested in provoking new ideas than fear or interest in the paranormal.

The Stone Tape feels like an idea more relevant today than when it was imagined for the 70s tech race. The ghoul enthusiasm and scattered webs of wires and equipment look uncannily like the slew of ghost hunting television currently broadcasted ad nauseum. The film was a major influence on Tobe Hooper when he created Poltergeist, as well as John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness. Prince of Darkness even contains a few nods to Kneale’s career, but given the fallout of Halloween III, Kneale wrote in The Observer, “With an homage like this, one might say, who needs insults?”

The funny thing about the supernatural is that it often defies explanation, otherwise there wouldn’t be much “super” about it. The characters Kneale created knew their equipment, but they don’t know what they were scratching at, and the consequences of testing and teasing the realm of the dead will have its repercussions. But if a Silicone Valley-type found spectral anomalies, you better believe they’d seek venture capital. An Uber for phantoms, a Bumble for ghouls, or a Pokémon Go for the recently deceased. I think that latter one has already happened.

from The Cult 70s Movie About Reverse-Engineering a Ghost

Scientists Are Using the Enzyme That Makes Fireflies Glow to Track Brain Cells

Individual neuron glowing with bioluminescent light produced by a new genetically engineered sensor. Image: Johnson Lab/Vanderbilt University

Fireflies and other bioluminescence-producing species (e.g. bacteria, jellyfish, worms, sharks) create light through a chemical reaction in their body catalyzed by an enzyme called luciferase. Now, a team of scientists from Vanderbilt University are using a genetically modified form of that same enzyme to make brain cells glow-in-the-dark.

The objective behind getting neurons to emit light is to better observe activity in the brain’s complex neural networks. Existing methods use electrical techniques, which efficiently track individual neurons. But this approach has a restraint: it can only record a limited number of brain cells—the average human brain has about 86 billion neurons—at the same time. Genetically modified luciferase offers a solution to the limitation seen in electrical techniques, as it can simultaneously monitor hundreds of neurons.

The team of scientists, who published their findings in Nature Communications, developed their new technique by merging their knowledge on bioluminescence (based on their previous research of green alga Chlamydomonas, a single cell organism found in water and on damp soil) with a new biological technique called optogenetics—a method that uses light, mostly fluorescence, to control cells in living tissue.

"There is an inherent conflict between fluorescent techniques and optogenetics,” said Carl H. Johnson, a professor of biological sciences who led the research, in a statement. “The light required to produce the fluorescence interferes with the light required to control the cells. Luminescence, on the other hand, works in the dark!"

The scientists took luciferase from a luminescent species of shrimp and genetically modified it to light up when exposed to calcium molecules, which are present in high levels outside of neurons and very low levels inside. But when brain cells receive a signal, the calcium content within the cell temporarily spikes and this shift allows researcher to track neuron activation by monitoring calcium concentrations.

This is only possible if the modified enzyme, the calcium sensor, is inside the cell body of the neurons. The scientists were able to make this feasible by “hijacking” a virus that infects neurons and attaching it to the calcium sensor, allowing it to enter brain cells.

The luminescent enzyme was tested on neurons grown in culture and in brain slices from the hippocampus—the region of the brain responsible for memory and emotion—of mice. In both settings, the sensor was found to be visibly responsive to changing calcium levels.

"We've shown that the approach works," said Johnson. "Now we have to determine how sensitive it is. We have some indications that it is sensitive enough to detect the firing of individual neurons, but we have to run more tests to determine if it actually has this capability."

from Scientists Are Using the Enzyme That Makes Fireflies Glow to Track Brain Cells

A Primer on the Beautiful Monarch Migration Season

It’s that time of the year when one of the world’s most iconic butterflies, the Danaus plexippus, also known as the monarch butterfly, takes to the skies and migrates for the winter. Along the way, they create breathtaking scenes—but the monarchs are actually in grave danger during these trips.

The monarch butterfly is an important pollinator across the US, and they migrate to Mexico every winter, where they spend the colder months eating and getting ready to lay eggs. The U.S.’s agriculture industry relies on wild insects to supplement its crop pollination, especially for farms who can't afford their own hives of bees.

The annual Monarch butterfly migration is about to start... Check the hibernation sites in Mexico! México October 25, 2016

Colonies in the West Coast typically migrate through California to get to Mexico, while colonies along the East Coast will make a pit stop in Florida’s panhandle before flying over the Gulf of Mexico.

The migration itself is breathtaking.

Thousands and thousands of monarchs travel in swarms across continents, knowing where to go through an evolutionary navigational tool—like a GPS in their brain. The technical term for a group of butterflies is a kaleidoscope, which is pretty much what a group of flying monarchs looks like.

Tweet us your pics of SAWS October 17, 2016

But the species is facing a big problem. Monarchs’ primary food source, especially during these migrations, is milkweed, a plant with small purple flowers named for its milky sap.


Emily May October 28, 2016

Milkweed used to be a common plant that grew in abandoned lots, undeveloped forest areas, and along the sides of commercial crops. But so much of this land has been developed and has been sprayed with commercial herbicides that it’s harder for these butterflies to find milkweed along the way, according to butterfly advocacy non-profit Monarch Watch.

Milkweed loves an October breeze. Chad Ingels October 9, 2016

Climate change is also making things worse because milkweed can’t grow well in hot, dry conditions.

A lack of food means a larger portion of migrating butterflies won’t make it to their destination. Researchers estimate the monarch butterfly population has declined 80 percent since 1990 due to various factors including a lack of food, according to the Xerces Society, a wildlife advocacy nonprofit.

The Flight of a Monarch KerriFar October 6, 2016

Some monarch advocacy organizations encourage residents to plant milkweeds in their gardens to give monarchs a stop-over snack during these long journeys.

Monarch butterfly

All Mexico 365 October 23, 2016

In the meantime, wildlife advocates say, just knowing there’s a problem is the first step toward addressing it. California and Florida have various monarch butterfly festivals this month, so that’s an opportunity to learn more and to gawk at these fluttering beauties.

from A Primer on the Beautiful Monarch Migration Season

NASA's New Tool 'Scout' Spotted an Asteroid That Will Miss Earth by 300K Miles

An asteroid is headed towards Earth tonight and is estimated to miss the planet by a mere 310,000 miles. We know this thanks to a new tool from NASA called "Scout," which calculated that this particular asteroid is not a danger to our planet and its inhabitants.

Scout is a computer program that's being tested at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California as an early warning system. The program gathers data from multiple telescopes to identify which celestial bodies qualify as “Near-Earth Objects” (NEOs). The space agency defines NEOs as comets or asteroids that have entered “Earth’s neighborhood” from the gravitational pull of other planets. Data gathered by scientists from this year alone, according to the International Astronomical Union, have discovered over 1,500 new NEOs.

Scout is anticipated to be officially up and running later this year—and focuses solely on relatively small space objects, which are more difficult to spot since they are not as bright as larger asteroids. Take tonight’s asteroid, for example, which is estimated to measure anywhere from 16.5 feet to 80 feet across. Without Scout, smaller asteroids are often discovered right before they pass earth. With Scout, scientists can learn of smaller NEOs days in advance and then start calculating if there is any risk for Earth while also ordering other telescopes to confirm the findings.

Tonight’s asteroid was spotted by the NASA-funded Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System in Maui, Hawaii five days ago. The data was analyzed by Scout, which revealed the celestial body would be missing the planet by 310,000 miles—for comparison, Earth’s moon is 238,900 miles away—and the calculation was verified by three other telescopes.

Astronomer Paul Chodas, manager of the NASA NEO Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told NPR that asteroids passing the planet are a nightly occurrence—roughly five a night—but knowing which ones are harmful is the challenge.

"When a telescope first finds a moving object, all you know is it's just a dot, moving on the sky," said Chodas. "You have no information about how far away it is. The more telescopes you get pointed at an object, the more data you get, and the more you're sure you are how big it is and which way it's headed. But sometimes you don't have a lot of time to make those observations.”

And in the event a larger body is headed our way, rest easy knowing NASA has a complementary, fully operational program called Sentry to pinpoint asteroids that can do severe damage.

from NASA's New Tool 'Scout' Spotted an Asteroid That Will Miss Earth by 300K Miles

Myanmar Will Be Able to Play 'Battlefield 1’ After Being Abruptly Cut Off

A Burmese Reddit user named trivia_sublime commanded the attention of the site's home page this morning after he reported that Electronic Arts had blocked users in Myanmar from using its digital distribution platform Origin following a recent update, reportedly in compliance with U.S. sanction laws. The internet rallied to his cause, to put it lightly. At the time of writing, the post had 6,770 upvotes as well as crossover posts in other subreddits such as PC Master Race's call to "assist our brethren," nabbing 6,145 more upvotes. And already, it seems, the worst of it will soon to be over.

We at Motherboard passed along this information to a contact at EA and received this response:

“We are working to restore access to Origin for our players in Myanmar. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused, and we’ll share updates on timing as soon as possible.”

It's not entirely clear, though, if the sanctions against Myanmar were to blame for denial of service as the response said nothing about them. (EA hasn't replied to our followup questions.) When we spoke to two separate EA customer support representatives via chat earlier, they were unaware there were any such problems reportedly affecting Burmese players:

And then later:

The incident caused such a huge outcry in part because the sanctions were, in fact, dropped weeks ago. President Obama issued an executive order on October 7 that lifted the economic sanctions against Myanmar following the March election of Htin Kyaw, the country's first proper civilian leader in over 50 years. The sanctions themselves had been in place since 1997, although trivial_sublime and other users on EA's forums claim they've been buying games from Origin for months now with no problems and were able to access those games as recently as "early September."

Image: 1guntra

It gets stranger. The first reports that Myanmar Origin users were getting "Access Denied" messages started surfacing in mid-September, and soon after an EA community manager named Tom told Iranians who were having the same issue that "In compliance with US embargoes and sanctions laws, Origin is not available in Cuba, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Syria and Ukraine (Crimea region)."

This was only a day after President Obama met with Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi on September 14, after which most commentators assumed a full lift on the sanctions would come soon after.

Thus Trivial and other players want their money back, and he's using the incident to warn of some of the pitfalls of digital distribution. It wasn't just that he couldn't buy new games, it's that he couldn't even play the games he already owned before EA enacted the ban. And while EA's response helps this immediate situation, players in the other countries Tom listed above are apparently still unable to play games they already own.

"This highlights a crucial element of the [Terms of Service] of big game companies - the money that you pay them gives you essentially nothing in return, except for an empty promise that the game company may let you play their game until they decide you can't," Trivial said.

Specifically, EA's Terms of Service document says:

"You agree to abide by U.S. and other applicable export control laws and agree not to transfer the Application to a foreign national, or national destination, which is prohibited by such laws, without first obtaining, and then complying with, any requisite government authorization."

Trivial said he's spent "hundreds of dollars" on around 20 games for the platform, and his post implies that he was planning on spending more on the recent release of Battlefield 1. He's not originally from Myanmar and said his account wasn't even created there, but he's got other local friends who have the same problem (and the forums seem to back this up).

"We need to send a message to EA and every content distributor that this kind of behavior is NOT okay, and that if your access is revoked because of their decision, that they need to refund everything that you've paid into it," he said in a reply to a commenter in the Reddit thread.

Some commenters have suggested using a VPN to circumvent the restrictions, but Trivial said that wasn't really a practical solution:

"Seems like a VPN works, but ping here is bad enough already," he said. "If you go through a VPN, no Battlefield for you."

Normally it's governments that block games in entire countries, not the publishers, such as when Morocco started banning access to Steam and other digital distribution platforms in May. But digital distributors themselves often anger and annoy their users through other restriction policies, such as when Steam restricted users from playing games outside the countries their codes were redeemed last year.

That move followed a similar, earlier restriction in late 2014 that prevented players from gifting games from one country to another, as the weak ruble was apparently allowing players to pick up big-name games for cheap on the Russian version of Steam for what amounted to a savings of around 50% when entered into their American (or other) accounts.

In the end, though, we still don't really know why EA was denying service to some customers in Myanmar, although its speedy response to fix the problem is surely welcome. But it's yet another case of how little "ownership" counts for alongside the convenience of digital distribution.

Books, CDs, 1980s Nintendo cartridges—these were all things we could count on being able to use in most places and at any time long after we bought them. I'm not a heavy Origin user myself, but I do own hundreds of games on Steam, and investments of time and money aside, the thought of losing them in an instant is not a pleasant one.

from Myanmar Will Be Able to Play 'Battlefield 1’ After Being Abruptly Cut Off

Iceland's Pirate Party Gains Ground in Election

After near-constant exposure to the nausea-inducing dumpster fire that is the 2016 U.S. presidential race, it might be hard to grok that a movement of anti-establishment internet pirates has become one of the leading political parties of a small island nation.

And yet that's what's happening in right now in Iceland, where the hacktivist-inspired Pirate Party achieved significant victories in the country’s parliamentary elections yesterday. Yesterday they won 14.5 percent of the popular vote, putting them in third place behind the center-right Independence Party and the Left-Green Movement, who won 29 percent and 15.9 percent of the vote respectively. (Earlier results showed them beating the Left-Green Movement for second place, but that changed as more votes were counted.)

It wasn't enough to seize majority control of the country as some polls for the extremely tight race were suggesting, but it was enough to win them 10 seats in the 63-seat parliament, up from the mere three they held after the 2013 elections. The formerly leading center-right Progressive Party, meanwhile, saw its seats drop by over half from 19 to eight, its dominance soundly trounced by the Pirates and the country’s smaller left-leaning parties: Left-Green, Bright Future, and Social Democrats. In the wake of the news, Icelandic prime minister and progressive Party member Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson resigned Sunday.

First established in Sweden and led in Iceland by former Wikileaks volunteer Birgitta Jónsdóttir, the Pirate Party has been on the rise in the island nation of 330,000 ever since its economic collapse amidst the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis. The party gained a significant boost in support earlier this year during major protests following the Panama Papers tax haven scandals, which forced prime minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson to resign and triggered the current election.

Perhaps best known for anti-copyright activism inspired by government crackdowns on online filesharing, the anarchist-leaning Pirate Party has since expanded its platform to take on popular hacktivist issues, from digital rights and privacy to net neutrality and decentralization. Among other things, the Iceland Pirates have promised to end the war on drugs, establish a system of direct democracy, and grant asylum to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

“We do not define ourselves as left or right but rather as a party that focuses on the systems,” Jónsdóttir told The Guardian in the lead-up to the election. “In other words, we consider ourselves hackers, so to speak, of our current outdated systems of government.”

from Iceland's Pirate Party Gains Ground in Election

Doomsday Prepper Supply Companies Are the Real Winners of the Election

When doomsday “preppers” start stockpiling emergency food, it’s usually because of a typhoon, a terrorist attack, or an event that signals the end times is near. This month, the horrifying event du jour is the US presidential election.

“We’re hearing from people in our call center. People feel like they’ve lost control of the election process,” said Keith Bansemer, the vice president of marketing at, which sells emergency food. “So they’re taking matters into their own hands—those things they can control. I think there is apprehension with both top candidates.”

These concerns were echoed in a recent New York Times story that explored the belief by many Donald Trump supporters that a victory by Hillary Clinton could spark another revolutionary war.

Many doomsday preppers are stocking up on emergency survival food (sometimes called MREs or Meals Ready to Eat) with decades-long shelf lives, just in case all Hell breaks loose on November 8.

Read more: Doomsday Preppers Are Planning to 3D Print Their Way Through the Apocalypse

“The last couple of weeks have been the busiest in our company’s history,” Bansemer said of MyPatriotSupply, which was founded in 2008 and began seeing sales spike in July. In the last few weeks sales have almost tripled and the company is shipping out thousands of units a day, according to Bansemer.

Image: My Patriot Supply

Among its products, the company sells a 1-year supply of food for four people (priced at $6,897) and packs with 720 servings (“That’s two cups per day for an entire year!”) of Franklin’s Finest Survival Coffee.

“Franklin's Finest is the ultimate survival perk, especially for those that drink coffee on a daily basis,” the website says. ”It's also the perfect item for barter or trade in an emergency! (You'll thank us for that tip later.)”

The food, like many modern emergency food products, promises an expiration date that is up to a quarter century away.

“The last couple of weeks have been the busiest in our company’s history”

Although Bansemer said many of the customers are “your moms, neighbors, school teachers” and other Americans who want to make sure they can feed their family in the event of an emergency, some are bonafide preppers, a nickname for people who prepare for a nebulous, approaching calamity they call WSHTF (When Shit Hits the Fan) with near-religious fervor. WSHTF could be a global pandemic, a terrorist attack, a hack on the global banking system, a crippling economic recession, or social unrest caused by a political event like the upcoming election, according to many prepper blogs.

The most dedicated preppers don’t just store food; they make evacuation plans, pore over survival tactics, and plan for a post-apocalyptic future. They tend to brush off mockery by promising that when things go wrong, you’ll be the one knocking on their door, asking for help. And right now, it’s fear around the election that is most pressing, Bansemer said.

In the emergency, long-term, ready-to-eat food business, sale spikes are usually motivated by fear.

“When people freak out, obviously our sales go up, because they’re worried about the uncertainty of everything,” said Bryan Nelson, the owner of the emergency food and survival supplies site, “When people see someone that has gone through something like the hurricane in North Carolina they think, ‘That could be me’… Or, if they don’t know what’s going to happen with the election and how it’s gonna turn out and how the other side is going to react to their candidate not winning. It’s a fear factor. If you have that kind of fear … that’s when our sales go up.”

Read more: Confessions of a Former Apocalypse Survival Guide Writer

The Epicenter has been in business for 21 years, selling more than a million prepackaged “emergency and outdoor” meals some years, along with camping and survival supplies. Like MyPatriotSupplies, TheEpicenter is a retailer that buys its food from a wholesaler.

The Fukushima nuclear plant disaster and the earthquakes in Nepal and Haiti were all sales-triggering events for The Epicenter. Now, the same kind of natural disaster reaction is happening with some conservative clients who are worried about civil unrest after the election, if on a smaller scale, Nelson said.

“We had a customer come in to our office yesterday and he was very, very interested in freeze-dried food. He has a lot of property and 10 family members and said he wanted to get enough food together to feed 10 people for a year—specifically because he was worried about the election, about civil unrest, about how it’s going to go—that’s a lot of food,” Nelson said. “In general, Trump supporters are very worried about everything and very private, because no one wants to be labelled in a negative way by the other side.”

The owner of another online food retailer also said they had seen sales spikes and that their supplier had sold out of many food items over the summer faster than it could restock. The owner requested anonymity and asked not to be quoted for fear of being associated with the prepper community's more fringe viewpoints and said they planned to close the online store and get out of the business because they couldn’t deal with the constant doomsday predictions any longer.

These sorts of sales spikes have not been seen industry-wide, however. The companies profiting the most appear to be those that emphasize WSHTF doomsday preparedness on their websites and advertise on conservative talk radio or TV shows. That makes sense, according to Nelson, since those companies are reaching people who are already hyped-up about the election and fear civil unrest could happen no matter who wins.

The companies profiting the most appear to be those that emphasize WSHTF doomsday preparedness on their websites and advertise on conservative talk radio or TV shows.

This year, some officials are even taking precautions. The Clerk and Recorder in Arapahoe County, Colorado, said he had gone so far as to train his staff to deal with a potential mass shooting and political conflicts in case things got out of hand, after Trump alleged widespread voter fraud and called on supporters to monitor election sites.

One Trump supporter told The New York Times that if Clinton won, “People are going to march on the capitols … If push comes to shove (Clinton) has to go by any means necessary, it will be done.”

If such an uprising does happen, it’ll be the first time in years that threats of revolt by right wing groups are finally put into action, according to Dr. Lawrence Rosenthal, the chair and lead researcher of the Berkeley Center for Right-Wing Studies, who published an opinion piece on Thursday.

“Will the Trump constituency take up its leader’s hints and turn into an organized force … or to take revenge for imagined voter fraud?” Rosenthal wrote. “If so, this would be a great departure from what we have seen in the recent past. Rising up … has been discussed on the far right for years … Yet the Tea Party was a movement that at most engaged in occasional verbal violence.”

Image: Legacy Food Storage

MyPatriotSupply fits the profile of a politically-visible online store, since it advertises on Fox News, The Blaze (the news and entertainment network founded by Glenn Beck) and the American Heroes Channel. It’s also sold by radio show host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on his INFOWARS site, which has published a dizzying number of articles predicting “civil unrest” this year.

The Epicenter, by contrast, sells mostly to hunters, campers, large companies, government agencies, and embassies that must keep prepared food on-hand in case of an emergency. The Epicenter saw a spike in June and July, but sales are only up by 5.5 percent on the whole, Nelson said.

Other doomsday supply companies, like Legacy Food Storage, which sells dehydrated and freeze-dried food, haven’t seen election-related spikes in the industry, but keep close tabs on the next world crisis, imagined or real, and wait.

“We don’t believe there is going to be a spike until maybe after the election and in the event of a super scary economic forecast from real events (Deutsche Bank goes upside down, China’s real estate bubble pops, etc.),” CEO Phillip Cox said in an email. “Last year there was a Red Blood Moon event,” Cox said, using a biblical term that refers to a “red” lunar eclipse preceding the second coming of Jesus. “The year before last we had Ebola come on and that drove a huge spike in sales.”

Sales spikes are more likely the result of better marketing or normal fluctuations, not an industry-wide spike, Cox said.

In the meantime, he and the rest of the world will be watching the news, waiting to see what happens.

Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.

from Doomsday Prepper Supply Companies Are the Real Winners of the Election

How to Get Zcash, Bitcoin’s Anonymous Baby Cousin

Image: Zcash

Cryptocurrencies are a dime a dozen these days, and it seems like a week doesn’t go by without news of digital thefts, crashes, and cataclysmic conflicts in the world of decentralized digital money.

Nevertheless, a newly-launched cryptocurrency created by expert cryptographers holds the distinction of being the only one explicitly designed to provide bitcoin’s biggest missing feature: anonymity.

Zcash, which went live on Friday with version 1.0 “Sprout,” is essentially an experimental fork of bitcoin that attempts to address an inherent contradiction of the supposedly “untraceable” cryptocurrency. Rather than publish the full details of all transactions on a distributed public ledger called the blockchain, Zcash can mask the sender, recipient, and amount of all transactions using what’s known in mathematics as a zero-knowledge proof.

Basically, a zero-knowledge proof is a way to mathematically prove a statement is true without revealing any of the information you’d normally need to prove it. Suffice it to say, this sorcery allows Zcash transactions to be validated without actually exposing any of their details. Zcash founder and CEO Zooko Wilcox-O’Hearn has been working on the concept for at least as long as bitcoin’s mysterious pseudonymous creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, and has enlisted cryptographers from Johns Hopkins University who had originally drew up plans for a bitcoin anonymity upgrade called ZeroCoin.

As Zcash’s creators put it: “If bitcoin is like http for money, Zcash is https,” referring to the now-ubiquitous secure protocol that protects a website’s visitors from eavesdropping.

Zcash also notably addresses another of the biggest pitfalls of bitcoin and its ilk: that big corporations with tons of dedicated computers are pretty much the only ones with any shot at mining the cryptocurrency.

As time goes on, the “difficulty” of mining cryptocurrencies like bitcoin—which involves computers solving millions of complex math problems, to generate what’s called a “proof-of-work”—increases dramatically, making it virtually impossible to mine coins unless you own a storehouse in China filled with thousands of specially-designed CPUs. But because Zcash mining is mostly dependent on a computer’s RAM, it’s feasible to mine using regular old CPUs and GPUs, dramatically lowering the barrier to entry.

That means right now you can download the Zcash client (for best results, on a beefy PC), follow these instructions to configure your wallets and such, and get started mining.

For now, the Zcash client will unfortunately only run on 64-bit systems running Linux, and its interface is entirely command line-based. If you’re not the technical type, you can still buy Zcash (ZEC) with fiat currencies the usual way on various online cryptocurrency exchanges. You can also sign up for a service that mines ZEC for you on a dedicated machine in the cloud.

As with all cryptocurrencies, safety is not guaranteed. Zcash is experimental, and still has a number of outstanding security issues. But if you’re willing to accept the risk and want to spend some CPU cycles digging for Zcash coins, it’s always possible they’ll be worth something someday.

from How to Get Zcash, Bitcoin’s Anonymous Baby Cousin

Watch This Guy Turn a Pumpkin Into a 5000 Watt Jack-O'-Lantern

YouTube user Photonicinduction is getting into the Halloween spirit the best way he knows how: with yet another extreme “don’t try this at home” science experiment.

In a recent YouTube video, the electrical engineer attempts to light up a pumpkin using a 5000 watt light bulb.

“We’re going to have a little bit of fun with this one,” he tells his viewers. “We’re gonna cut the bottom off, scoop the guts out, and hopefully make it light up.”

After making a small hole in the bottom of the pumpkin and gutting the squash of its seeds, he uses an upside down garden pot as a makeshift stand. Then, he places a small 5000 watt bulb in the drainage hole of the pot and places the hollow pumpkin on top. The final result is a red-hued radiating pumpkin.

The main component behind the incandescent gleam is the 5000 watt light bulb. For some frame of reference, most traditional indoor bulbs are 60 watts making a 5000 watt bulb 80 times brighter than the average source of indoor light.

As for what makes this experiment a “don’t try this at home” endeavour—or, at the very least, something to limit to the outdoors—the pumpkin almost immediately starts releasing smoke from the base after the light is turned on. This unintentional side effect, which adds a level of appropriate spookiness, is caused by the heat from the bulb coming in contact with the flesh of the gourd.

Unfortunately, the pumpkin ultimately fizzles out after suffering a technical difficulty where the bulb overheats and melts. The U.K.-based engineer fittingly wraps up his experiment by carving a little face on the pumpkin and setting his test subject, the Jack-o'-lantern, on fire.

from Watch This Guy Turn a Pumpkin Into a 5000 Watt Jack-O'-Lantern

Building a Better CAPTCHA by Faking Out Robots

Fundamentally, CAPTCHA is a stopgap solution. In the canonical sense of presenting images containing garbled and-or noisy text and asking users to verify their human-ness by deciphering said text, CAPTCHA's utility depends upon two not-guaranteed things. The first is that humans will be able to keep up with challenges of escalating difficulty, while the second is that computers won't get better at text recognition. It's more or less foretold that a collision is imminent in which computers will become better at solving CAPTCHA challenges than humans. RIP CAPTCHA.

We may have already reached that collision. Computers started beating humans in some character recognition tasks circa 2005, while Gmail's CAPTCHA was cracked in 2008. Presumably, CAPTCHAs still manage to filter out enough robots to keep them around, but this will only become less and less so. The question is then of how to make a better CAPTCHA, one that is more fundamentally resistant to machine vision.

A pair of computer scientists from Korea University, Shinil Kwon and Sungdeok Cha, has developed a new image-based CAPTCHA system that achieves this fundamental resistance by injecting temporary randomness into image sets, with the result being challenges that may have different solutions at different points in time. As a result, robots are unable to glean new information by making random guesses. This is key: Without trial and error, machines become so much less intelligent.

First off, we're not talking about the classic text-recognition CAPTCHA. We can just assume that's dead and buried. Cha and Kwon's work concerns the next iteration of CAPTCHA, which involves divining information from sets of images.

Image: Cha et al

"Although computer vision algorithms are powerful, they’re still weak in answering semantic questions," the duo write in the current issue of IEEE Software. An example of such a challenge might be presenting a series of images and asking the user to select every image where Bill Gates appears. This is effective for a while, but we have to consider the scale at which bots are attempting to create accounts and gain access to systems: millions per day. Every attempt represents a chance to learn new information about a challenge, and, thus, better odds of solving it the next time.

"Should robots, through luck, pass the challenge, they can record all the relevant information for use in future attacks," Cha and Kwon write. "Furthermore, robots could use commercial search engines to retrieve image tags or similar images."

This brings us to Cha and Kwon's solution. Their challenge starts with a series of images as described above—some are to be chosen by the user while some are to be omitted, with some correct answer being maintained internally by the CAPTCHA. Classically, we'd imagine each image in the set to be labeled (internally) as either included or excluded, but the new system adds a third, neutral possibility. Now, an image can either be correctly included, correctly excluded, or irrelevant. A user or robot can pick or not pick one or more of these neutral possibilities and it will have no impact on whether or not the CAPTCHA is passed. Crucially, the set of neutral possibilities is unknown to the user and changes randomly from challenge to challenge, so a CAPTCHA may look the same to the user, but, internally, it's different.

What this means is that a robot attempting to learn a solution via random guessing won't really learn anything because it will never know why it was right or wrong. That is, if it picks five images from a pool of 10 and passes the CAPTCHA, it will have no idea the basis of its passing the test. The attempt will have been for naught, but the robot doesn't have any awareness of this irrelevance as it updates its own "pirate" database with what it believes to be correct selections that are actually neutral.

The system can be further improved by implementing a "trap" database, in which neutral images that would have been failures are associated with particular IP addresses. Because the robot based at that IP address has not learned about the failure (because it was randomly put into the neutral image pool in a prior test), the image can be redeployed as a trap; the robot has learned incorrectly that it is a correct answer because in one instance it did not cause the test to fail. In another, this same wrong answer might not be labeled as neutral and might really count.

In testing the new system, Cha and Kwon found that their robots were able to achieve a success ratio of only .023 through 2,250,000 attempts. This goes down to approximately zero when the trap database is used. "Owing to random and temporal aspects of the neutral images, the pirate databases couldn’t maintain accuracy, and the robots never had opportunities to correct their misunderstanding," they write. "We discovered that 2,465 images (approximately 19.9 percent) were incorrectly labeled in the pirate databases." For comparison, human users were able to maintain success ratios of .793 without a trap database in play, and .645 with a trap database.

Cha and Kwon are currently working with Microsoft Research Asia to address issues of resiliency and scalability for future real-world deployment.

from Building a Better CAPTCHA by Faking Out Robots

Sunday, 30 October 2016

The man behind the nation’s most litigious patent troll has spoken

Jeff Bezos dismisses idea of a backup plan, says we must protect Earth

British parliament members urge Obama to halt hacking suspect’s US extradition

Gaming’s rarest systems, carts, and collectibles can be found at this huge museum

FRISCO, Texas—Finally, there's a museum made for people like me.

The National Videogame Museum (yes, they spell it as one word) has been open since April of this year in the Dallas-area suburb of Frisco, and it houses an incredible collection of gaming memorabilia. The rarest cartridges, systems, and prototypes are all here, protected as if they were the Mona Lisa (and for some game collectors, they may as well be). Come here to marvel at one-of-a-kind finds like a Nintendo World Championship cartridge, a mint-condition Ultra Hand toy, or the only known white-molded Atari 2600 in the world.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

from Gaming’s rarest systems, carts, and collectibles can be found at this huge museum

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Wildlife Camera Trap Shoots Rare Footage of Naked Human

When scientists set up camera traps for North American wildlife, large primates aren’t usually their main target. But recently, student biologists at Virginia Tech captured a rare species on film—a very wild, very naked Homo sapiens.

So, anyone else get primate photos like this from forest cam traps. Many more were

Marcella J. Kelly October 28, 2016

Every couple of weeks, two dozen camera trap stations near Virginia’s Mountain Lake Biological Station are checked by the students of Marcella J. Kelly, a professor at Virginia Tech who focuses on carnivore population ecology.

“The student who does the downloading gave the cards to me and said, ‘There’s some really weird ones on there,’” Kelly told me. “‘I think there’s some naked people,’” the student added.

According to Kelly, an anonymous man discovered two of their camera stations, proceeded to remove all of his clothes, and ran around on all fours like an animal. Each station captured approximately 20 photos of the man, many of which she deemed too graphic to share on Twitter.

“In areas where people are hiking, we’ll usually get photos of them making funny faces or waving or whatever. But it’s pretty unusual that someone will take off all of their clothes,” she said.

When Kelly tweeted a couple of the photos, several other scientists chimed in to share their own flasher field reports. Take heed, future biologists, apparently this is par for the course.

Most of the stations are located on hiking trails, logging roads, and game trails. Each of the traps set up by Virginia Tech students is between one and two kilometers apart, and utilizes two cameras per station. Since most of them are around knee-height, Kelly said, most human bystanders can only be identified from the waist down (which, depending on your point of view, is either a good or bad thing).

When they’re not grimacing at photos of buck-naked humans, members of The Wildlife Society’s student chapter are monitoring the distribution of elusive species in Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains. Generally, they’re hoping to target deer, bears, coyotes, and bobcats. The Lake Biological Station overlaps with Jefferson National Forest, and contains a mix of deciduous forests, mountain streams, successional meadows, ponds, and bogs, making it abundant in research opportunities.

Recently, the group noticed that gray foxes, a species considered widespread throughout parts of North America, had all but disappeared in the region. According to Kelly, the reason for this remains unclear, but it’s possible that competition with bobcats or coyotes is affecting their population numbers.

Camera traps have become especially helpful to scientists who study hard-to-spot species. For example, Ecuador’s dark tree rat, which was filmed for the first time thanks to a camera station. Technology like motion detectors and infrared triggers provides researchers with unparalleled access and freedom. Not to mention, they’re much more convenient than holing up in a blind.

“A lot of these species are really hard to monitor. We’ve been monitoring them up in these areas since 2004,” Kelly said. “They’re a great way to monitor the distribution of elusive species, and keep tabs on what changes are happening through time.”

As for the Appalachian hominid, he’ll get logged in a database along with the rest of the group’s findings, Kelly told me.

“I’m still not sure what we’ll put in the notes section.”

Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.

from Wildlife Camera Trap Shoots Rare Footage of Naked Human

This Mod Makes 'Doom 4' Look Like It Came Out in 1993

The new Doom is great, but the old Doom will always have a special place in our hearts. The pixelated graphics, fast gameplay, gravely demon noises and repetitive soundtrack are permanently burned into the brains of gamers who grew stalking the halls of hell.

Over the years, nostalgic gamers hungry for more of the original have released hundreds of mods to keep the old game fresh and new. Now, one modder has pulled the best stuff from 2016’s Doom and crammed it into 1993’s Doom. The results look fantastic.

Modder dbthanathos dropped a trailer for Doom 4 Doom 2.0 this week to hype the community for a Halloween release. The mod brings the weapons and gameplay of Doom 4 into the world of Doom. Starting on Halloween, the Doom Marine can sprint through the wastes of low-res mars, using glory kills to punch and kick demons as god intended.

This mod is an upgrade, dbthanathos released the original version 66 days after the release of the new Doom and he’s spent the past few months refining the game to make it as brutal, bloody and fun as possible. Along with bug fixes, he’s added customizable glory kills, weapon upgrades, demon runes and some of the new Doom’s multiplayer only abilities.

Bethesda’s new take on Doom was great, but the original is so iconic it’ll never die as long as modders keep churning out new content. In the original game, arch-vile demons healed my fallen foes and blasted me with fireballs. They killed me a lot. Doom 4 Doom 2.0 will let me punch the smug arch-vile to death. That alone is worth reinstalling the original.

from This Mod Makes 'Doom 4' Look Like It Came Out in 1993

‘On the Silver Globe’ Is the Best Sci-Fi Film Never Made

All images from the unreleased remastered version of On the Silver Globe. Courtesy of Daniel Bird/KADR Film Studio

It’s hard to imagine what it must’ve felt like to see Star Wars for the first time when it was released in 1977, but according to pretty much everyone who was there, it was nuts. The fantasy space opera was a pinnacle of technical innovation in American cinema that would go on to win ten academy awards and quickly become the highest grossing film ever up to that point.

At the same time Lucas was being showered with accolades for his “weirdo” space opera, another cinematic revolution was underway on the other side of the Iron Curtain. It was a science fiction film called On the Silver Globe and it was to be the magnum opus of Polish director Andrzej Zulawski.

Like Lucas’ blockbuster, Zulawski’s film was a space opera that was both technically and thematically unprecedented, but that’s where the similarities end. Rather than taking place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the film takes place on Earth’s moon in the not too distant future. It is profoundly unsettling, cinematically jaw-dropping and the exact opposite of “fun and funny.”

On the Silver Globe is one of the best sci-fi films I've ever seen, or at least it would’ve been if Zulawski had been able to finish it.

As it exists today On the Silver Globe is only partially complete, a victim of censorship by Poland’s communist government. Fortunately Zulawski returned to Poland to rescue the film in the late 1980s after a period of self-imposed exile following the implosion of his masterpiece, so we have at least some idea of what could’ve been.

At once the retelling of a 100-year old sci-fi novel written by Zulawski’s granduncle, a meditation on communist Poland, and a deeply personal insight into the breakdown of Zulawski’s marriage, On the Silver Globe is a kaleidoscopic tour de force that was almost swallowed by history.


Astronauts visit the body of one who didn’t survive their crash landing. Courtesy of Daniel Bird/KADR Film Studio

At a time when humans are seriously considering the permanent colonization of other celestial bodies, On the Silver Globe feels as timely now as it was while it was being made in the late 1970s, less than a decade after Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon.

The film is ostensibly about a group of dissident astronauts who crash land on the moon after escaping from a degraded and vaguely dystopian Earth. This original group of astronauts eventually makes their way to the shore of an ocean (yes, the moon has liquid oceans—more on this later) where they establish a camp and begin the task of populating the moon. Upon the birth of the first moonchild, however, it is apparent that the children born on the moon grow up a lot faster than they do on Earth.

As it exists today On the Silver Globe is only partially complete, a victim of censorship by Poland’s communist government

This unexpected complication involved in populating the moon means that several generations of children can be produced during the lifetime of one of the astronauts born on Earth. Each successive generation of moonchildren grows increasingly hostile or indifferent to the knowledge of the astronauts and begins developing their own primitive culture. Gone are the days of teaching the moonchildren calculus on the shores of the ocean—instead, those born on the moon grow up in a society dominated by a pagan religion in which the original astronauts serve as a priestly caste.

One of the early generations of moon people. Courtesy of Daniel Bird/KADR Film Studio

After the second to last male astronaut is murdered in a thinly veiled recounting of the story of Cain and Abel, the sole remaining astronaut becomes a sort of demigod whom the moonpeople simply refer to as the ‘old man.’ Right before he dies, the last astronaut sends a small rocket back to Earth, containing all of the footage that was being taken by the camera on his helmet since the astronauts had crashed landed.

The capsule containing the footage is found by a scientist on Earth named Marek whose wife had recently left him. In the throes of despair, the scientist decides to abandon his ruined life on Earth to travel to the moon to confirm the veracity of the tapes. Upon his arrival he is treated as a messianic figure by the moonpeople, his coming supposedly foretold in their religion.

When the scientist Marek realizes that these people consider him to be the messiah, he adopts the role and helps the moonpeople win their war against the Szerns, a race of telepathic half-bird, half-human brutes who are native to the moon. Yet once Marek has freed the moonpeople from slavery under the Szerns, they turn on him and hang him from a massive cross for his failure to fulfill their prophecy by returning the moonpeople to Earth.

Marek, crucified after failing to fulfill the prophecy of the moon people. Courtesy of Daniel Bird/KADR

Although the film clearly draws its themes and imagery from a number of canonized and apocryphal Biblical stories, the film is really based on a trilogy of science fiction novels published in 1912. Collectively known as the the lunar trilogy, these novels were written by Andrzej Zulawski’s greatuncle Jerzy Zulawski.

Like Andrzej, Jerzy Zulawski was classically trained in philosophy and its influence shows in his only major work of fiction. At once a blend of Poland’s catholic sensibilities, cosmological ignorance, and Jerzy’s natural observations from his time spent in the mountains (he was an avid alpinist), his lunar trilogy is a fantastic odyssey to a moon where fire burns green, liquid oceans harbor untold varieties of fish, and strange moon fowl run wild on the lunar terrain.

Aside from a few minor technical updates to make the film feel vaguely futuristic, Andrzej Zulawski’s film is remarkably faithful to the original book trilogy. Despite having scientific knowledge from nearly a decade’s worth of human presence on the moon, Zulawski chose to keep the scientific anomalies found his granduncle’s books, as well as their narrative structure.

Courtesy of Daniel Bird/KADR Film Studio

The main differences between the books and the films is a result of the former being written Jerzy in a pre-Soviet Poland where the Catholic Church was synonymous with power, whereas Andrzej’s film was being crafted during a time where the authority of the church in Poland was entirely denied by an increasingly authoritarian Communist state.

As a result, Zulawski’s film is neither pro-Communist nor pro-Catholic. Instead, it is an ideological goulash, drawing equally from Buddhism, apocryphal Christianity, historical materialism, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer to produce a powerful meditation on the human drive to produce meaning in a universe devoid of any.


A provocateur from the outset, Zulawski’s second major project, The Devil, was a period drama released in 1972 that served as a critique of the March 1968 riots in Poland (a pivotal moment in the history of the country, insofar as they sparked off the authoritarian crackdown while prefiguring the popular democratic movements that would define Poland in the 1980s). The themes of the film rubbed the Polish cultural authorities the wrong way and his film was banned soon after its release. Disillusioned by the cultural repression in his homeland, Zulawski left for Paris shortly after his film was banned so that he could pursue his art without censorship. It was here that he wrote and directed That Most Important Thing: Love, which was so successful in France that the Polish government invited Zulawski back to his homeland to make films again. Upon his return in 1975, Zulawski began adapting his granduncle’s lunar trilogy into a script. When he applied to Poland’s ministry of culture for funding, his project was far and away the largest cinematic undertaking in the history of Polish film.

After securing funding, Zulawski had to find actors for what was clearly shaping up to be the young director’s magnum opus. Andrzej Seweryn, who was a well-regarded actor in Polish television in the 70s and 80s, still vividly remembers how the first time he met Zulawski. Seweryn was acting in a Polish television series opposite of Malgorzata Braunek, Zulawski’s wife. When Zulawski came to the set of the show one day, he offered the advice on how Braunek and Seweryn should make love on camera.

“Then one day Zulawski called me and asked me to meet him in his apartment,” said Seweryn. “He gave me a script and I was very, very happy with this new original world. He hadn’t decided what part I should play, but after sometime he decided to give me the leading role of Marek.”

Marek, played by Seweryn, investigates the burnt body of a Szern. Courtesy of Daniel Bird/KADR Film Studio

When I called Seweryn in his hotel room, he had just returned from a rehearsal at the Polski Theatre in Warsaw, where he is the head manager. Seweryn is still one of Poland’s most acclaimed actors on stage and in front of a camera, and he has worked with some of the best directors in the world, including Spielberg, who gave him a role as Julian Scherner in Schindler’s List. According to Seweryn, however, his ability to work with high-maintenance A-list directors was learned during his time with Zulawski on the set of Silver Globe.

“The first thing he told me [on set] was Polish actors are too fat,” said Seweryn. “He said I should be less fat and from this moment on, I still generally don't eat bread. Zulawski was very precise and demanding, but after working on On the Silver Globe, I was ready to work with anybody in the world.”

“Zulawski really shot from the hip. He didn't obey any form of authority, he was an anarchist."

Zulawski’s notoriety for precision and timeliness was confirmed by Daniel Bird, a film director and historian who had spent the better part of the last two decades working as a sort of ad-hoc assistant to Zulawski in Poland. Yet in spite of his notoriously austere approach to filmmaking, Bird maintains that Zulawski wasn’t all gloom and doom on set.

“Zulawski was a very heavy person, but he had a great sense of humor,” said Bird. “And when you think of it, there is a sense of irony in On the Silver Globe. It doesn’t seem to be funny at first, but there is a kind of cosmic sense of humor at play there. I think that's often lost.”

A ceremony of the moon people. Courtesy of Daniel Bird/KADR Film Studio

Part of Zulawski’s stern approach to On the Silver Globe was a result of separating from his wife, Malgorzata Braunek, just prior to beginning his screenplay adaptation of the lunar trilogy. In many ways, Zulawski used the film to escape the heartbreak of the separation, but at the same time he also had to be careful not to tread on the toes of the Communist cultural authorities who were bankrolling the film. At the time On the Silver Globe was being produced, Polish artists were lashing out against the increasing artistic censorship being levied by the government. In order to avoid this tension turning into outright rebellion, the ministry of culture instituted a period of critical self-reflection which allowed artists to be critical of the soviet regime—at least up to a point.

A leader of the moon people. Courtesy of Daniel Bird/KADR Film Studio

These few years of the liberalization in the Polish cultural establishment gave rise to the “cinema of moral anxiety,” a period of Polish cinema defined by a movement away from historical films to films that critically focused on the psychology of everyday Poles under communism. These were the years that saw the release of Andrzej Wajda’s Man of Marble as well as Krzysztof Zanussi’s Camouflage, now considered gems of Polish cinema. Although Zulawski was a contemporary of these Polish directors and On the Silver Globe was being produced around the same time, according to Bird the film shares absolutely no traits with the films of moral anxiety.

“Zulawski really shot from the hip,” said Bird. “He didn't obey any form of authority, he was an anarchist. As a consequence he paid the price and has always been an outsider. Wajda, by contrast, knew how to push the authorities to a point, but he never had a film banned.”

A radical in a time when some degree of radicalism was officially tolerated, the production of Zulawski’s On the Silver Globe was abruptly canceled after nearly two years of production that had brought Zulawski and his colleagues from the salt mines of Wieliczka to the Gobi Desert of Mongolia (a deal that was brokered because Mongolia owed Poland some debts and exchanged rights to film in the country as partial repayment).

The official reason for the cancellation cited budgetary restraints, but Seweryn and others believed that the real reason was that the film was too critical of the communist establishment and blame the cancellation Janusz Wilhelmi, an overly ambitious secretary of cinematography in Poland’s cultural ministry, who sought to make a name for himself by attacking films he saw as against Soviet principle.

“The order of our minister of culture was the order for everybody,” said Seweryn. “[Poland] didn't have private cinema, it was a cinema of the state so stop meant stop. We tried to protest, to sign a letter, but it was without any result.”

After Zulawski saw his magnum opus swept out from under his feet by Wilhelmi’s orders, he fled to France, devastated. He wouldn’t return to Poland for another decade.

When Zulawski did return to Warsaw in 1988, he had already produced Possession, generally considered to be the pinnacle of his filmography. With the help of a production assistant, Zulawski managed to secure the working shots from On the Silver Globe and he filled in the unfilmed gaps in the film’s narrative with shots he took from around Warsaw documenting everyday Polish life in 1988.

"Zulawski knew when he came to Poland ten years later that all the actors would be too old and the footage wouldn't match if he kept filming,” Bird said. “The simplest thing to do was embrace the fact that the film was a ruin and rather than hide those flaws, embrace them. So the contemporary sequences connect this phantasmagorical world in the 1970s with contemporary Polish reality in the 80s: a country on the cusp of collapsing.”

Zulawski managed to smuggle On the Silver Globe out of Poland and into France, where he screened the semi-completed film at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival. During the screening, Zulawski stood on stage and provided live narration explaining what was supposed to be happening during the parts that were missing from the film. He provided live commentary for three screenings before recording a version of his voiceover that was included on the film’s release. The commentary is full of vitriol, the bitter observations of a man who saw the pinnacle of his life’s work irreparably disfigured by the vicissitudes of politics.


A priestess of the moon people. Courtesy of Daniel Bird/KADR Film Studio

On February 17, Andrzej Zulawski passed away from cancer at a hospital in Warsaw. Three days later, a restored version of On the Silver Globe premiered at Film Comment Selects in New York. The screening was attended by Bird (who produced the restoration), Andrzej Korzynski, and Andrzej Jaroszewicz, the film’s composer and cinematographer, respectively. According to Bird, both Korzynski and Jaroszewicz considered it to be the first time the film had been seen the way Zulawski had intended.

During the production of On the Silver Globe, Jaroszewicz shot using a green filter, which lends the original release of the film its moody, washed out color palette. The problem of course is that when Zulawski and his colleagues tried to do color correction in post-production, the chemicals lowered the film’s resolution. Although the only other two films Zulawski produced in communist Poland (The Devil and The Third Part of the Night) had received funding for restoration from the Polish government in the early 2000s, On the Silver Globe never received the same treatment.

To rectify this oversight, Bird set out to acquire the funds necessary to digitally remaster the film, improving its coloration and audio. Despite his close relationship with Zulawski, Bird didn’t tell the aging director his intentions to seek funds to remaster the film until after the process was in motion.

“Zulawski considered On the Silver Globe a broken film and it was very difficult to get him to talk about it,” said Bird. “He described the film to me as like opening a tomb and I think he did what he could to not confront dealing with it. So I secured the finance for restoring the film without him knowing because I knew if I asked him he'd say no.”

Although Zulawski passed away just days before the premier of the remastered version of his film, he was able to see a color corrected version at his home in Warsaw. According to Bird, Zulawski was pleased with the result.

Two astronauts interact with later generations of the moon people. Courtesy of Daniel Bird/KADR Film Studio

As both Bird and Seweryn were quick to point out, Zulawski was always a director who was ahead of his time, and nowhere is this more evident than in On the Silver Globe. Although Zulawski himself considered the film a failure, it is difficult to watch his partially completed masterpiece today without feeling moved.

At once an incredible story of adventure and survival, a product of a bleak time in Polish history, a monument to Zulawski’s personal grief, and an unprecedented philosophical exploration of what it means to be human in a meaningless universe, On the Silver Globe cannot be represented by any one of its elements, but must be considered only as the incomplete sum of these fragments.

“This movie was raped by a cruel power, but is a testimony of these times,” said Seweryn. “It is proof of the strength of Polish artists. During shooting we thought we were doing some special, exceptional movie and still today I think we were right.”

Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.

from ‘On the Silver Globe’ Is the Best Sci-Fi Film Never Made

Native Americans Are Resisting the Dakota Pipeline With Tech and Media Savvy

Activists and tribal members Kandi Mossett, Dean Dedman, and Dallas Goldtooth are racing to release new footage of the protests against Energy Transfer Partners, which is building a controversial four-state oil pipeline from North Dakota to Indiana. They can’t get solid reception at Highway 1806 in North Dakota, where they’re calling me from, so they’re deciding how to upload the content quickly. Phone reception begins to break up.

Police have just arrested 144 protestors--they call themselves water protectors--and over the phone I can hear Dallas describing how a private security agent brandished an AR-15. Dean shouts that they’re heading to find a strong internet connection, then hangs up. Meanwhile, I chat with Kandi to find out what’s been going on.

“I’m out there with my three year-old daughter, looking in the face of police in full riot gear, with mace in cans the size of small fire extinguishers, with their huge guns like something out of Rambo,” said Mossett, who’s been demonstrating along Highway 1806, the site of the standoff between water protectors and law enforcement.

Today, we experienced police protecting & serving the interests of Dakota Access, LLC. tara houska October 28, 2016

On the other side of the highway is the Missouri River, which developers want to place pipe under. “You could see they were ready for action,” Mossett said.

The 'best signal in the area' isn't on Facebook Hill

The encampment protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline are heating up. Starting in April, self-described “water protectors” from Standing Rock Sioux Tribe began occupying land near Bismarck, North Dakota, to halt construction of a four-state oil pipeline, saying it could poison their water supply. Then on September 9, shortly after footage emerged of dogs attacking water protectors, President Obama called on the US Army Corp of Engineers to review the risks of submerging an oil pipeline under the Missouri River, which supplies drinking water for 18 million people.

On October 10, celebrity actress Shailene Woodley streamed coverage from her phone, raising awareness that construction was also happening on Indian burial sites. She was arrested, as were an additional 126 people on October 22. Thousands of tribal members have visited from across the country and Canada. The National Guard has been called in and a state of emergency declared. On Thursday, law enforcement began a coordinated operation to remove protestors.

“We bring our drums and our medicine,” Mosset said. “But we’re working with other tools, too. Mark Ruffalo is here to help us build a mobile media van. Right now all we’ve got is the reservation and our headquarters, Facebook Hill.”

"I’m out there with my three year-old daughter, looking in the face of police in full riot gear, with mace in cans the size of small fire extinguishers, with their huge guns like something out of Rambo."

Facebook Hill is part of a ridge where water protectors have attempted to get cellular service in an area notorious for its spotty coverage. Below the ridge sits a more permanent encampment which has been occupied by water protectors since April. The land is considered property of the US Army Corps of Engineers. It’s likely where many will retreat to, now that the standoff at Highway 1806 is dispersing.

“Most of the land out here is for cattle grazing, so the connectability challenge is great,” said Eileen Williamson, spokeswoman for the US Army Corps of Engineers. Water protectors claim that coverage has been complicated by the presence of police IMSI catchers, commonly known as StingRays or TriggerFish, which mimic cell towers in order to obtain personal data from phones. “We’d be using our phones, and all the sudden the batteries would get sucked down really fast,” says Mossett, describing a telltale sign that a StingRay is being employed.

Just a few miles to the south, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is inviting people to their reservation, to stage a camp equipped to withstand the coming winter and North Dakota’s subzero temperatures, away from construction sites.

This isn’t necessarily to suggest defeat—it’s just that the tribe owns and operates its own telecoms company, and the reservation gets one of the best signals in the area. Dallas Goldtooth, a YouTube personality, described the frustrations of recording demonstrations in the field, then rushing back to the reservation to upload footage. Meanwhile, law enforcement had already put out its own contradictory message. Standing Rock Telecoms head manager Fred McLaughlin told me this process has been painful to watch.

“It’s like this ever-revolving door,” McLaughlin said. “I’ve got the equipment and know-how to get a small tower out there, but encampments are shifting so quickly, they tell me to hold off, and then before you know it we’re going weeks without a decent internet connection out there.”

"Right now all we’ve got is the reservation and our headquarters, Facebook Hill."

“I do take personal responsibility for that,” he said with a sigh. “[The water protectors] want the capability to upload high-quality video, even do radio, to show directly what’s going on. But this area isn’t made for high-traffic internet. It’s not just a matter of setting up a little tower and shooting point-to-point internet at them, from our main tower here. It’s a line of sight issue. The camp is sitting below a ridge.”

“Here’s my email address,” he said abruptly. “I can tell I’m about to lose you soon.” A few minutes later, the call died and McLaughlin’s phone went straight to voicemail.

Native American culture is cyberculture

Many have lamented that climate change and renewable energy received little attention during the recent presidential debates. Donald Trump owns stock in Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline, and Hillary Clinton has received twice as many campaign contributions from fossil fuel executives ($525,000 in total).

So it’s interesting to read theories that Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other Native Americans are being used as pawns by environmental activists. It’s an easy conspiracy narrative to grasp: by pitting the earthy, anti-tech indigenous peoples against techno-bureaucrats, these covert eco-activists will get everyone to support their cause for renewable energy. Even if true, this doesn’t sound terribly bad?

But the story just doesn’t hold up any ways. Turns out, members of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe are seasoned tech entrepreneurs who could go head-to-head with any hoody-wearing, Soylent-slurping Silicon Valley whizkid. They’re also deeply concerned about finding ways to cover this issue themselves, through a variety of media.


What’s more, if you dig deeper, you can find that American cyberculture is strongly tied to tribal values. The only thing propping up this conspiracy is the long historical backlog of American entertainment that has painted Native Americans as technologically backward It risks turning the pipeline protests into a modern version of “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show,” an 1880’s carnival production in which Native Americans from the Dakotas were recruited to “play Indian,” as author Vine Deloria puts it.

“Just because someone is protesting one type of technological intrusion doesn't mean that their embrace of other technologies is somehow ironic. It's a sign of technological sophistication, not a fruitless protest against modernity, as I think is sometimes shown in the media,” said Andrew Kirk, a history professor at the University of Nevada.

“The idea of small-is-beautiful is important here I think,” Kirk continues. “This was an ethic popularized by the American counterculture but quickly adopted by indigenous peoples globally as a means of reconciling nature, culture and technology.”

Kirk’s friend at Stanford, Fred Turner, has written about the connection between tribal values and American online culture in a recent book, From Counterculture to Cyberculture.

In particular, Turner focuses on Stewart Brand, one of the original Merry Pranksters who rode an LSD-stocked school bus across America in the 1960s. Brand also spent time on reservations, took peyote and married a Native American. Turner goes on to write how Brand channeled his tribal experiences into WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link), one of the first online communities to emerge in 1985—with servers located on a hippie commune in Tennessee of all places. WELL had an analog compliment, called Whole Earth Catalog, which was described as “Google in paperback form” by Steve Jobs.

Brand declined to comment on the pipeline protests, other than to humbly note, “I’m too ignorant of this one to be helpful.” (For what it’s worth, Brand is actually a polymath who’s currently building a clock with a 10,000-year lifespan.)

“[The counterculture] could be united as a tribe within an information medium and they could use that medium as a tool, like LSD, to achieve a recognition of the information patterns and energy that linked them to their fellows and to the natural world,” Turner writes.

All of this cultural history is coming to bear on the pipeline protests, as water protectors bring together a mix of ancestral practices and tech know-how, in order to develop their identity, stay in touch with each other and communicate a message to the wider world.

The sight of a heavily militarized police force on the Great Plains—while water protectors aim for “small-is-beautiful” with mobile media vans and drones and smartphones—well, it’s a sight not lost on anyone. Six state police departments have been called to Bismarck, and as The Economist reported last year, between 2002 and 2011, the Department of Homeland Security disbursed $35 million to state and local police for high tech gear. Here’s the whopper from that report: 90 percent of towns with 25,000 people have a SWAT team in place. This says not only a lot about America’s police force, but about how it’s actually the wider American public, not Native Americans, who dance between love and fear of technology.

"It's a sign of technological sophistication, not a fruitless protest against modernity, as I think is sometimes shown in the media."

So it looks like Kirk is on to something: just because Native Americans reject the outsize oil pipeline, doesn’t mean they’re de facto bow-and-arrow wielding “rioters,” as militarized law enforcement has called them. They just prefer “small-is-beautiful,” an intuitive approach to tech that doesn’t require commercial or state experts. For example, don’t build oil pipelines near major drinking water sources. Or don’t use StingRays that prevents using smartphones to document police presence. These are, again as Kirk remarks, sophisticated approaches to technology that show an understanding of scale and risk. The water protectors have more in common with Stewart Brand’s WELL and the early iPhone culture which he inspired Steve Jobs to create, than the public may realize. In fact, Obama announced his rural connectivity program last year to an excited indigenous tribe in Oklahoma.

More likely what’s happening is that the protests are exposing the wider public debate over shared resources, with some preferring to say that issues are too technical to be handled by anyone other than large state actors (like militarized police) or developers (like fossil fuel companies).

Whoever controls the media, controls the narrative

That’s still not stopping conspiracy theorists who wish the controversy would end, so that things might get “back to normal.” North Dakota media, largely pro-pipeline, have been giving fodder to angry locals. Rob Port, who blogs at a number of publications like Say Anything, seems to draw this crowd out, with articles titled, “Standing Rock has set themselves up to lose big.” In that latter article, Port writes how protests are a front for eco-agitators: “We cannot let the politics of extreme activists, or the narcissistic antics of celebrities, harm what should be our most important goal, which is comity between tribal and non-tribal communities and a unified, neighborly spirit as North Dakotans.”

In his latest post for Say Anything, Port rips into the water protectors, again based on a Morton County Sheriff’s Department report that bows and arrows were present when a police helicopter flew overhead. Port’s commenters litter message boards below his articles with claims like “They want violence” or “Has occupy Wall Street come to the prairies?” These commenters seem to have forgotten that, earlier this year, white farmers sued against the eminent domain practices of the Dakota Access Pipeline. They also seem to have forgotten how the Bundy occupations, centered on letting private cattle graze on public lands, took a heavily Luddite stance that lingered long before the arrival of militarized police.

The land of the free, the home of the brave, where a barrel of oil is worth more than a human life. Wrong in so many ways. Lakota Man October 27, 2016

This story does have a clock on it. If oil is not flowing through the pipeline by January 1, then the suppliers can cut their contract with the developers. Originally, the pipeline was planned to go north of Bismarck, but municipalities rejected that on grounds of risk. For now, the standoff remains at Highway 1806, where the pipe waits to be dug under the Missouri River. Water protectors are claiming that adjoining land was ceded to the Sioux in a treaty.

It’s important to note how conspiracy theories are supported, or even engendered, by the militarized police presence ramping up at this site. As Standing Rock chairman Dave Archambault has noted, this presence creates the appearance of dramatic pushback, as the public has seen in other places of social unrest and heavily outfitted police departments, like Ferguson, Missouri. Archambault is calling on the Department of Justice to intervene, out of fear of escalating police tactics.

The battle for the air and the airwaves

Back at Facebook Hill, Dean Dedman, Dallas Goldtooth and Kandi Mossett, the water protectors, are shaking their heads over allegations. “The local police have claimed we used bows to shoot arrows at helicopters,” laughed Goldtooth, a Dakota tribal member who produces skits about Native American stereotypes. “There have been over 200 arrests thus far, and not one weapon produced.”

Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier and his spokeswoman Donnell Preskey did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this matter.

"There’s been a media blackout for so long on this issue, we’re dependent on social media."

If any aerial attacks have been recorded, it’s been by police against Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Dedman knows, as his drone was shot down on October 23. He was using it for his media company, Drone 2 be Wild. Shortly thereafter, the FAA instituted a no fly zone for drones in the area.

“For the past three months, activity has been spread out over 30 miles west of the Missouri River, now it’s concentrated into an eight-mile swatch,” Goldtooth said. “We’ll see and hear drones overhead at night, it’s really eerie.”

“Yep, we’ve started to see drones we can’t identify,” Mossett asserted. “The police even charged one of our licensed drone operators, Myron Dewey, we partnered with him to produce media from our camp. They confiscated his drone, it’s still in their possession. That’s thousands of dollars. There’s been a media blackout for so long on this issue, we’re dependent on social media.”

“So we’ve got to work with Freddy [McLaughlin], to boost our signal, he’s got that tower on the other side of these hills,” Goldtooth replied. “Our only other hope is death by delay. Stop this pipe by waiting it out.”

“It’s more intense than it ever has been,” Mossett said to me, before everyone left to meet with Mark Ruffalo about building that mobile media van.

Image: Standing Rock Sioux Tribe/Facebook

Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.

from Native Americans Are Resisting the Dakota Pipeline With Tech and Media Savvy