[Plura-list] Covid apps and false positives; Casio censors calculator modder's Github project; Penguin poop turns into laughing gas

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Sat May 23 12:16:48 EDT 2020

Today's links

* Covid apps and false positives: The real killer app is public confidence.

* Casio censors calculator modder's Github project: The modder says it's

* Penguin poop turns into laughing gas: Researchers figured it out when
they started getting buzzed.

* This day in history: 2005, 2010, 2015, 2019

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing
projects, current reading


👨‍👨‍👦‍👦 Covid apps and false positives

Covid apps don't do "contact tracing" - they do "exposure notification,"
a potentially useful (but unproven) adjunct to the labor-intensive,
gold-standard "shoe leather" contact tracing.


But both contact tracing and exposure notification are almost wholly
dependent on public trust and confidence in the process. The privacy
angle is easy to see here: if you think your app will expose your drug
habit, extramarital affair, or other secret, you won't use it.

But reliability is just as important as confidentiality. Both contact
tracing and exposure notification are only part of the puzzle: the
mantra is "trace, test, contain." If you find out that you're at risk of
infection, you need to get tested and then to act on the test.

That's a real problem, and not just because the reliable testing is
still being perfected, but also because of the intractable laws of
probability and uncertainty.

A test that is "90% accurate" might still only give a reliable answer
33% of the time, depending on the prevalence of the thing you're testing
for. Don't blame me, blame Thomas Bayes.


Alas, both false positives and false negatives are the quickest way to
drain public confidence in a process. Think of those "certificate error"
dialogs you get from your browser. 99.99% of the time, they just mean
that someone forgot to renew their certificate.

0.01% of the time, it's because your session has been hijacked by spies
or criminals, and they get away with it, because we've all be trained to
ignore those warnings (see also, e.g., Amber Alerts).

Likewise, burglars have long known that they can get their targets to
switch off their alarms by repeatedly triggering the alarms and then
running away.


Writing in Wired, a trio of computer scientists - Elissa M Redmiles,
Gabriel Kaptuck and Eszter Hargittai - recount  a laundry list of
technologies that struggled to gain credibility after a low-reliability
launch, from the Roomba to Apple Maps.


They move onto survey data that shows that Americans' adoption of apps
(and, likely, their willingness to cooperate with contact tracers) will
depend on their perception of both false positives and false negatives -
of reliability.


Their concern seems to be that app designers are focusing on privacy
protection to the exclusion of reliability (though trading one doesn't
get you the other, obvs), and thus even if the privacy element is
perfected, adoption may still suffer because of low reliability.


👨‍👨‍👦‍👦 Casio censors calculator modder's Github project

Neutrino (an "Electrical Engineer and a programming hobbyist") pulled
off a virtuoso hacking stunt, modding a Casio calculator with an OLED
screen and internet access, even a chat app, all designed to be
undetectable to a casual observer.


As Andrew Liszewski pointed out on Gizmodo, the mod would be a great
cheating tool for the kinds of exams that allow calculators (but not
phones, etc).

(though the mod is so intense that anyone who pulls it off should
probably get an automatic A).


Perhaps that's why Casio's copyright enforcers, React, claimed that
Neutrino had copied Casio's sourcecode, an act that allowed them to
illegally censor the project's Github page using the DMCA's takedown


This appears to be a case of illegal copyfraud.

As Neutrino told Torrentfreak: “The code was written completely from
scratch and all the libraries included in my source file were open-source."


"Everything was clearly mentioned in the [now removed] readme file of my
GitHub repository. They also allegedly accuse me by stating that ‘The
entire repository is infringing’, but in reality whatever the original
content they pointed out has nothing to do with my code.”

The DMCA provides for penalties against firms that make false copyright
claims to effect improper takedowns. In practice, these penalties are
rarely applied, which allows for this kind of fraud to take place with

However, the parties can't count on that. Back in 2018, after more than
a decade of fighting, EFF forced Universal Music to pay out for its
copyfraud in censoring a video of an adorable toddler dancing to a few
seconds of a Prince song.



👨‍👨‍👦‍👦 Penguin poop turns into laughing gas

In "Combined effects of glacial retreat and penguin activity on soil
greenhouse gas fluxes on South Georgia, sub-Antarctica," an
international team of King Penguin researchers solve the mystery of why
they get goofy and buzzed when "nosing in guano."


Turns out that when the nitrogen-rich penguin poop is digested by
Antarctic soil bacteria, one of the waste products is nitrous oxide (AKA
laughing gas).

"After nosing about in guano for several hours, one goes completely
cuckoo," lead author Bo Elberling noted in a statement. "It is truly


Here's a Sci Hub mirror of that paper:



👨‍👨‍👦‍👦 This day in history

#15yrsago Pat York: dear friend, writer, Boing Boing guestblogger, RIP

#15yrsago Dutch mayor wants to ban hacker con

#10yrsago Mark Twain's autobiography to be finally published, 100 years
after his death

#10yrsago Mechanical irising peephole mechanism

#5yrsago Amazon will finally start paying tax in the UK

#5yrsago Hedge funds buy swathes of foreclosed subprimes, force up
rents, float rent-bonds

#1yrago The Oliver Twist workhouse is becoming a block of luxury flats
with a "poor door"

#1yrago The Reality Bubble: how humanity's collective blindspots render
us incapable of seeing danger until it's too late (and what to do about
it) https://boingboing.net/2019/05/23/blind-spots-vs-biology.html

#1yrago Study attributes mysterious rise in CFC emissions to eastern
Chinese manufacturing https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-48353341

#1yrago Big Tech: "If the USA enforces antitrust laws against us, it
means China will win!"

#1yrago Federal lawsuit calls college textbook/ebook packages a "scam"

#1yrago To chase out low-waged workers, Mountain View is banning
overnight RV and van parking


👨‍👨‍👦‍👦 Colophon

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel
about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 543 words (18963 total).

Currently reading: Adventures of a Dwergish Girl, Daniel Pinkwater

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 03)

Upcoming appearances: Discussion with Nnedi Okorafor, Torcon, June 14

Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book
about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here:

"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583

This work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.
That means you can use it any way you like, including commerically,
provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link
to pluralistic.net.


Quotations and images are not included in this license; they are
included either under a limitation or exception to copyright, or on the
basis of a separate license. Please exercise caution.


👨‍👨‍👦‍👦 How to get Pluralistic:

Blog (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):


Newsletter (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):


Mastodon (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):


Twitter (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and


Tumblr (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):


*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla* -Joey "Accordion Guy"

-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: signature.asc
Type: application/pgp-signature
Size: 195 bytes
Desc: OpenPGP digital signature
URL: <http://mail.flarn.com/pipermail/plura-list/attachments/20200523/70d3bd82/attachment.sig>

More information about the Plura-list mailing list