Get Me My McFlurry

From NPR:

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, the Federal Trade Commission contacted McDonald’s franchise owners over the summer looking for information about the broken ice-cream machines.

McDonald’s franchisees have long griped about the machines, the newspaper reported, which require a nightly cleaning cycle that can fail and require a technician to fix.

The Biden administration is looking more closely at manufacturers

The move comes as the Biden administration looks broadly at whether manufacturers have been blocking owners from fixing broken products themselves, the newspaper said. Advocates of the “right to repair” movement say companies should not make it nearly impossible for users and independent technicians to repair modern products, particularly consumer electronics.

I commend the administration for prioritizing this. ;)

GameStop Getting Played

Over the past few days, but really over the past few weeks, GameStop’s stock price has been on a rocket ship ride. It all started when a bunch of folks on the Reddit board WallStreetBets observed that several large institutional investors had shorted GameStop’s stock. So over the past month or so, all of those private investors who follow that Reddit board started buying GME’s stock to drive its value up, thus driving huge possible losses for those institutional investors who bet against the retailer. From the CNBC article:

GameStop has rallied more than 680% in January alone as an army of retail investors marshaled against short sellers in online chat rooms, encouraging each other to pile on and keep pushing the stock higher. Short sellers have amassed a mark-to-market loss of more than $5 billion year to date in the stock, including a loss of $917 million on Monday and $1.6 billion on Friday, according to data from S3 Partners.

This activity was then sent into overdrive when Elon Musk tweeted about it.

Those are some big numbers pointing in the wrong direction. As noted when chatting with a friend today about this, someone is going to be holding the bag on this and it will not be pretty.

Asleep At the Computer

From the NY Times on the recent hack of pretty much every security department system in the US Government:

Over the past few years, the United States government has spent tens of billions of dollars on cyberoffensive abilities, building a giant war room at Fort Meade, Md., for United States Cyber Command, while installing defensive sensors all around the country — a system named Einstein to give it an air of genius — to deter the nation’s enemies from picking its networks clean, again.

It now is clear that the broad Russian espionage attack on the United States government and private companies, underway since spring and detected by the private sector only a few weeks ago, ranks among the greatest intelligence failures of modern times.

Einstein missed it — because the Russian hackers brilliantly designed their attack to avoid setting it off. The National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security were looking elsewhere, understandably focused on protecting the 2020 election.

NY Times

Once again, while the US Government is playing checkers, our adversaries are playing chess when it comes to cyber-security. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that even as the US Government has spent billions to set up their ironically named “Einstein” cyber-security system, it wasn’t that system that detected the hack. It was a private company – the US Government vendor FireEye – that actually detected it and alerted US authorities.

Who are we?

From Frank Bruni at The NY Times:

Opinion: “Trump snuffed out my confidence, flickering but real, that we could go only so low and forgive only so much. With him we went lower — or at least a damningly large percentage of us did. In him we forgave florid cruelty, overt racism, rampant corruption, exultant indecency, the coddling of murderous despots, the alienation of true friends, the alienation of truth itself, the disparagement of invaluable institutions, the degradation of essential democratic traditions.

He played Russian roulette with Americans’ lives. He played Russian roulette with his own aides’ lives. In a sane and civil country, of the kind I long thought I lived in, his favorability ratings would have fallen to negative integers, a mathematical impossibility but a moral imperative. In this one, they never changed all that much.

Polls from mid-October showed that about 44 percent of voters approved of Trump’s job performance — and this was after he’d concealed aspects of his coronavirus infection from the public, shrugged off the larger meaning of it, established the White House as its own superspreader environment and cavalierly marched on.

Forty-four percent. Who in God’s name are we?”

Don’t steal a Banksy

Via www.streetartbio.com/artists/banksy/

Most people familiar with the artist Banksy. He (or she. I will use ‘he/his’ moving forward) is known for not being known. And he is also known for his distinctive modern art that ‘pops up’ in unique spots all around the world. With the nature of Banksy’s art being so public and displayed in such public spaces, it is really interesting how he (or she) goes about distributing ‘Certificates of Authenticity’ to verify that the person who possess his art acquired it legitimately.

Banksy has established a virtual portal to authenticate whether specific works of his are both genuine and genuinely obtained — and, as the guy trying to get a painting valued admits, he’d visited the site and been told that the painting could not be validated because it was not obtained legally. 

Dubbed Pest Control, the service offers an easy-to-use interface to determine a particular work’s validity. Elsewhere on Pest Control’s site, they offer a more extensive explanation of what they do — namely, issue certificates of authenticity.

As for what that means, well — here’s what Pest Control themselves have to say: “The certificate of authenticity (COA) means you can buy, sell or insure a piece of art knowing it’s legitimate and the wheels won’t fall off,” they write. “Pest Control is the only source of COA’s for Banksy. We issue them for paintings, prints, sculptures and other attempts at creativity. We don’t issue them for things like stickers, posters, defaced currency or anything which wasn’t originally intended as a ‘work of art’.”

Pest Control also offers a “Keeping It Real” service, which lets prospective buyers of a work by Banksy confirm that the work is, in fact, legitimate. 

This situation came into full relief recently as someone who had ‘acquired’ an Banksy in Brighton UK had brought the piece onto Antiques Roadshow to get it appraised, only to be taken to the woodshed by the host, who chastised the person for not providing the ‘Certificate of Authenticity’.

I am a fan of Banksy’s work because of the way his art communicates a clear, many times withering, message about a topic, movement or circumstance that people need to pay attention to. What brings this home is not only the art itself, but the surface in which the art is painted and/or the environment surrounding the art. One of my favorite pieces that he has done was a mural on the corner of a garage in Port Talbot, Wales, UK. On one wall of the corner, it depicts a child in winter clothes with his arms outstretch and mouth open, seeming to be catching snowflakes with his tongue. If you look on the wall on the other side of the corner, you see that it is a burning garbage bin that is producing the flakes. The message he was sending had to do with the fact that Port Talbot is the home of one of the largest steel mills in the UK that produces immense pollution in and around that area. The accompanying video that he published on his Instagram account really brings the message home.

Update: Maybe my observation that Banksy may be a woman wasn’t too far off! From an article on Bloomberg from 2014:

But what Banksy Does New York makes plain is that the artist known as Banksy is someone with a background in the art world. That someone is working with a committee of people to execute works that range in scale from simple stencil graffiti to elaborate theatrical conceits. The documentary shows that Banksy has a different understanding of the street than the artists, street-writers, and art dealers who steal Banksy’s shine by “spot-jocking” or straight-up pilfering her work—swagger-jackers who are invariably men in Banksy Does New York. All of which serves as evidence against the flimsy theory that Banksy is a man.

Voyeuristic Views of the World

With so many still under some form of quarantine as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to ‘virtually’ escape and go ‘visit’ other places around the world is obviously in demand.

In late June, a site called Window Swap was making the rounds. It is a site that has the simple premise of being able to share a photo or video of what the world looks like while looking out the window of your home. For example, how about having this view of the Egyptian Pyramids outside of your window. I’d never stop looking away.

Keeping with this trend, another neat site that takes this premise to the next level is Drive & Listen. What this site does is let you watch dashcam video from people driving in and around all sorts of great cities of the world, and ‘overlays’ it with radio broadcasts from that market. So for example, you can watch a video of someone driving around Rome, Italy during any normal day while listening to Italian radio. There is even a Drive & Listen Instagram account as well.

A ho hum day driving around Rome, Italy

For someone who loves to travel and is kinda frustrated to have to be at home for so long as our country deals with this pandemic, being able to see the nuances of many of the world’s great cities from my desktop computer is a pretty neat trick.

Photo realistic images of historic figures

From photographer Bas Uterwijk, some pretty authentic looking A.I. generated images of a few historical figures as if they were to pose for a modern portrait photo. To me, the two below of George Washington and Vincent Van Gogh are pretty stunning versions – especially George Washington’s eyes and the almost tired look of his face. You just feel like he’s going to command the room and not put up with any ‘red coat’ bs.

via Bas Uterwijk
via Bas Uterwijk

Twitter Tuesday – The Week In Tweets

Twitter Tuesday – The Week In Tweets

Twitter Tuesday – The Week In Tweets

Twitter Tuesday – The Week In Tweets

A Decade Into Responsive Web Design

From Ethan Marcotte, the ‘inventor’ and person who established the concept of ‘responsive architecture’, on the process of how his epiphany came to be:

Around that time, my partner Elizabeth visited the High Line in New York City shortly after it opened. When she got back, she told me about these wheeled lounge chairs she saw in one section, and how people would move them apart for a bit of solitude, or push a few chairs together to sit closer to friends. We got to excitedly chatting about them. I thought there was something really compelling about that image: a space that could be controlled, reshaped, and redesigned by the people who moved through it.

I remember spending that evening reading more about those chairs and, from there, about more dynamic forms of architecture. I read about concepts for walls built with tensile materials and embedded sensors, and how those walls could bend and flex as people drew near to them. I read about glass walls that could become opaque at the flip of a switch, or when movement was detected. I even bought a rather wonderful book on the subject, Interactive Architecture, which described these new spaces as “a conversation” between physical objects or spaces, and the people who interacted with them.

After a few days of research, I found some articles that alternated between two different terms for the same concept. They’d call it interactive architecture, sure, but then they’d refer to it with a different name: responsive architecture.

A light went off in my head. Responsive felt right for what I was trying to describe: layouts that would just know the best way to fit on a user’s screen. A user wouldn’t have to tap or click on anything to get the best design for their laptop or smartphone; rather, the design could fluidly adapt to the space available. It’d just respond.

And to think that before this, the collective ‘we’ had to look at web pages that were the same size and did not adjust to the different screens or devices that were beginning to pop up out there in the wild. Like the animals we were.

Twitter Tuesday – The Week In Tweets

Twitter Tuesday – The Week In Tweets

Twitter Tuesday – The Week In Tweets

Twitter Tuesday – The Week In Tweets

Twitter Tuesday – The Week In Tweets

London Underground Stations

File this under “content you didn’t realize you needed”.

For some reason, I have taken my hobby of creating computer desktop wallpapers to both the next level and to the depths of London town, as I have created desktop wallpapers representing each and every station in the London Underground system. They are done in two “flavors” – one that has the Tube stop logo overlaid on top of a map of the whole system. The other has the Tube stop logo with a ‘subway tile’ background.

Why did I do this? I’m still trying to figure that out. I guess it is just a romanticism with the city of London, and it’s eponymous Tubes system. I love the simplicity of their branding and logo system. I love the complexity of their subway map, underlying the utter chaos that is the street system of London itself. I love the small, unique neighborhoods of London as much as I like the grand spaces like Piccadilly and Hyde Park.

So if you’ve ever spent time in London, and you had/have a Tube stop that you can call your own, head on over to my London Underground page, find your station, and download it and decorate your computer or your iPad or your iPhone.

Twitter Tuesday – The Week In Tweets

Twitter Tuesday – The Week In Tweets