The Plan to Bring the Iconic Passenger Pigeon Back From Extinction | Wired Science |

Passenger pigeons are remembered romantically. It sounds like the reality was that they were kind of annoying. We don’t need deforestation and inch thick puddles of shit around every tree. Maybe they want to do this because the post office is going under… They should be resurrecting the dodo. The dodo was a much better bird in my opinion and I’ve always wondered what one would taste like.

Twelve birds lie belly-up in a wooden drawer at the Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. Bloated with stuffing, their ruddy brown chests resemble a row of sweet potatoes. Slate-blue heads and thin white tails protrude in perfect alignment, except for one bird that cranes its neck to face its neighbor. A pea-sized bulge of white cotton sits where its eye should be. A slip of paper tied to its foot reads, “Ectopistes migratorius. Manitoba. 1884.” This is the passenger pigeon, once the most abundant bird in North America. When Europeans first landed on the continent, they encountered billions of the birds. By 1914 they were extinct.

That may be about to change. Today scientists are meeting in Washington, D.C. to discuss a plan to bring the passenger pigeon back from extinction. The technical challenges are immense, and the ethical questions are slippery. But as genetic technology races ahead, a scenario that’s hard to imagine is becoming harder to dismiss out of hand.

About 1,500 passenger pigeons inhabit museum collections. They are all that’s left of a species once perceived as a limitless resource. The birds were shipped in boxcars by the tons, sold as meat for 31 cents per dozen, and plucked for mattress feathers. But in a mere 25 years, the population shrank from billions to thousands as commercial hunters decimated nesting flocks. Martha, the last living bird, took her place under museum glass in 1914.

Ben Novak doesn’t believe the story should end there. The 26-year-old genetics student is convinced that new technology can bring the passenger pigeon back to life. “This whole idea that extinction is forever is just nonsense,” he says. Novak spent the last five years working to decipher the bird’s genes, and now he has put his graduate studies on hold to pursue a goal he’d once described in a junior high school fair presentation: de-extinction.

Novak is not alone in his mission. An organization called Revive and Restore is enlisting the support of preeminent scientists—and even the National Geographic Society, which is hosting the TEDx meeting on the topic today, to investigate putting the passenger pigeon back in the sky. The group has chosen Novak to spearhead the project.

When the bird from the Berkeley drawer flew over Manitoba in 1884, it didn’t travel alone. Passenger pigeons were named for their passage up and down eastern North America in flocks several hundred million strong. To sustain long, strenuous flights, the birds devoured forests and left destruction in their wake. Ornithologist J.M. Wheaton described one flock as a rolling cylinder filled with leaves and grass. “The noise was deafening and the sight confusing to the mind,” he wrote in 1882. It was easy to tell where the pigeons had roosted: The trees were crippled, their branches cracked off and picked clean of nuts and acorns. For miles, the ground was coated with a layer of feces more than an inch thick.

Even before Europeans arrived, hunters shot nests with arrows or knocked them down with poles. But in the mid 19th century, the railroad and the telegraph turned the pigeon into a national commodity. Professional trackers followed the flocks and descended on nest sites. Their tactics were brutal and effective: Firing into the trees brought down thousands of birds in one afternoon. Setting a match to the combustible birch bark forced terrified chicks to fling themselves from their nests. By the late 1850s, flocks were shrinking. By 1889, the population was in the thousands.

The Manitoban pigeon lying in its drawer at Berkeley holds a vast library in its feet. Every cell in its fleshy toe pads contains the 1.5 billion base pairs of DNA that spell out the bird’s identity, from the color of its eggs to the sound of its voice. But this DNA has seen better days. It has been broken apart by enzymes and oxygen, zapped with ultraviolet radiation and contaminated by other organisms. “Whenever you touch it, your DNA gets in the sample,” said evolutionary biologist Beth Shapiro of the University of California, Santa Cruz. “If it sits next to other birds, their DNA gets in the sample.”

But in the last decade, a set of techniques known as next-generation sequencing has offered a better way to work with less-than-perfect DNA. New machines can analyze hundreds of thousands of short fragments at the same time, speeding up the tedious sequencing process and bringing down its cost. “In the past 10 years, sequencing has gotten approximately 500,000 times more efficient,” said biostatistician Steven Salzberg of Johns Hopkins University. “Nothing in the history of civilization or technology has ever gotten that much more efficient that fast.”

Surmounting such technical challenges is only phase one of Revive and Restore’s plan. Novak hopes to set up a sanctuary of lab-generated pigeon chicks in the bird’s original breeding territory. He would then train homing pigeons to pass over the nest site, showing the chicks their ancestral migration route. Novak says passenger pigeons would restore balance to forest ecosystems, clearing brush and fertilizing soil.

This strategy doesn’t make sense to Blockstein, who says “quote-unquote” before every mention of de-extinction. He doubts that any small population could survive long enough to reach its original numbers. If it did, he fears the bird would become a pest to farmers, consuming commercial berries and grain. Stanford University bioethicist Hank Greely shares this concern. “You’re re-introducing to the same geographic region,” he said. “But not to the same environment.”

No governing body exists to make decisions about re-introducing an extinct species. Once the science is within reach, Novak says he will work with wildlife management authorities to set up a legal framework.

Beyond the ecological risks, Revive and Restore has a bigger “why” question to answer. The argument that extinction is forever underlies important protections like the Endangered Species Act, Greely says. Why try to rewrite the passenger pigeon’s iconic cautionary tale?

One possible answer: to do it responsibly before someone does it recklessly. The genomic tools of de-extinction may soon be cheap enough for students and DIY types to try on their own, Brand told an audience at the 2012 Aspen Environmental Forum. “I would like to see some kind of framework of how we think about that, before it goes totally amateur.” If an organized effort like Revive and Restore tackles a high-profile and tightly controlled project, it might bring scientists and the public into an important conversation, he argued.

via The Plan to Bring the Iconic Passenger Pigeon Back From Extinction | Wired Science |


Online Music Piracy Doesn’t Hurt Sales, European Commission Finds | TorrentFreak

P2P sharing has been blamed for the drops in sales for the music industry. The real cause is the lack of new media options. When people needed to replace their 8-tracks with tapes, the industry boomed. When they did the same thing to embrace cd’s, even bigger boom. The same thing did not happen with MP3 because you didn’t have to re-buy anything as you could just suck your cd’s into mp3s. The falling sales were just the result of the slow death of the tape. I don’t think it helped that much of the music produced during this sales drop off period was terrible.

File sharing is good for the industry. Obviously, the industry needs to send these people to jail and fine them millions of dollars.

New research published by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre shows that online piracy doesn’t hurt digital music revenues. The researchers examined browsing habits from 16,000 Europeans and found that there’s a positive link between online piracy and visits to legal music stores, irrespective of people’s interest in music. The study concludes that the music industry should not see piracy as a growing concern.

Research into online piracy comes in all shapes and sizes, often with equally mixed results. The main question often is whether piracy is hurting sales.

A new study by The Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, which is part of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, tackled this question in a unique way. With data from more than 16,000 European Internet users they determined what the effect was of people’s access to pirate sites on visits to online music stores.

The results are now published in a paper titled “Digital Music Consumption on the Internet: Evidence from Clickstream Data,” and the researchers found that overall, piracy has a positive effect on music sales.

“It seems that the majority of the music that is consumed illegally by the individuals in our sample would not have been purchased if illegal downloading websites were not available to them,” they write.

In addition, the researchers are also the first to find that free and legal streaming websites don’t cannibalize legal music purchases.

“The complementary effect of online streaming is found to be somewhat larger, suggesting a stimulating effect of this activity on the sales of digital music,” they comment.

Most of the effects were found by comparing people’s visits to “pirate” websites and legal music stores. After controlling for interest in music, the researchers found that visits to pirate websites are positively linked to visits to legal music stores.

“If this estimate is given a causal interpretation, it means that clicks on legal purchase websites would have been 2 percent lower in the absence of illegal downloading websites,” the researchers write.


via Online Music Piracy Doesn’t Hurt Sales, European Commission Finds | TorrentFreak.

CISPA is back.

Tell Congress right now: “Violating our privacy is not an option.”

CISPA is back..

Google closes the book on Reader, announces July 1 sunset | Internet & Media – CNET News

This is very irritating. They ran competing services out of business, became ubiquitous and closed up shop. Google used to put relevance and usefulness ahead of the bottom line. Google has been increasingly been becoming less of a useful product especially after it’s release of Google+. It’s just a matter of time before they officially change their motto from “Don’t be evil.” to “Be Facebook.” There is no question that Facebook is evil. Social networking though, is more of a recreation than it is actually useful. It’s email with bells and whistles set in a rear window.  Google’s making this their top priority (because they can’t just let a monopoly happen somewhere on the internet that’s not themselves). Google was at one point the glue that people used to reliably find what they need on the internet. It’s still one of the best at this, but it has allowed advertisers, industry and government both pervert the quality of those searches and invade user privacy. They are eroding the anonymity of the internet when they should be investing in it. I’ll still use google products (as if they’re avoidable) but I really trust them less and less over the years and will try to begin to wean myself off of the google nips.

I will be using feedly as a replacement to reader. I also use Reeder which claims it will also survive the shutdown. Other useful options can be found here. A petition can be found here.

The day long feared by fans of Google Reader has come: the service will shut down, the company said.

“We launched Google Reader in 2005 in an effort to make it easy for people to discover and keep tabs on their favorite websites,” the company said. “While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined. So, on July 1, 2013, we will retire Google Reader. Users and developers interested in RSS alternatives can export their data, including their subscriptions, with Google Takeout over the course of the next four months.”

via Google closes the book on Reader, announces July 1 sunset | Internet & Media – CNET News.


P.S. Chrome will begin to remove ad blockers. Google sucks.

Dangerous Minds | Global Internet Porn Habits: The interactive infographic!

It is interesting to note that the porn habits of the Top 10 racist states contain some type of sodomy and/or a black racial preference in 6 of those states:

Mississippi –

  • Ebony
  • Black(gay)
  • Hentai


  • Ebony
  • Milf
  • Teen

Texas –

  1. Teen
  2. Milf
  3. Creampie


  1. Ebony
  2. Teen
  3. Milf

Florida –

  1. Teen
  2. College
  3. Milf

Oklahoma –

  1. Creampie
  2. Anal
  3. Teen

Kentucky –

  1. Free Gay Porn (gay)
  2. College
  3. Teen

Georgia –

  1. Ebony
  2. Milf
  3. Creampie
  4. Black(gay)

Arizona –

  1. Teen
  2. Milf
  3. Creampie


  1. Milf
  2. Creampie
  3. College

The fine folks over at Porn MD—where they’re making some serious medical breakthroughs—complied six months’ worth of the most searched terms on porn sites and then put them into this easily browsed format:

Ever wonder which states or countries are into what when it comes to what goes on behind closed doors? In this graphic below we take a closer look at the sexual interests of people around the planet.

You can “check out every state in the U.S. and then see what other countries around the world are searching for.”

Here’s what Alabama, California, Texas and New Jersey are up to:

via Dangerous Minds | Global Internet Porn Habits: The interactive infographic!.

Meet the men who spy on women through their webcams | Ars Technica

Some of the problems with your PC might have something to do with a real ghost in the shell who is watching everything you do. It isn’t “Big Brother” though, it’s more like “Little Brother.”  The next time your PC starts showing any of these behaviors, just imagine that there is someone is at a control panel like this and is taking snapshots of your “Technology is Fucking with Me” face.

For many ratters, though, the spying remains little more than a game. It might be an odd hobby, but it’s apparently no big deal to invade someone’s machine, rifle through the personal files, and watch them silently from behind their own screens. “Most of my slaves are boring,” wrote one aspiring ratter. “Wish I could get some more girls with webcams. It makes it more exciting when you can literally spy on someone. Even if they aren’t getting undressed!

One poster said he had already archived 200GB of webcam material from his slaves. “Mostly I pick up the best bits (funny parts, the ‘good’ [sexual] stuff) and categorize them (name, address, passwords etc.), just for funsake,” he wrote. “For me I don’t have the feeling of doing something perverted, it’s more or less a game, cat and mouse game, with all the bonuses included. The weirdest thing is, when I see the person you’ve been spying on in real life, I’ve had that a couple of times, it just makes me giggle, especially if it’s someone with an uber-weird-nasty habit.”

By finding their way to forums filled with other ratters, these men—and they appear to be almost exclusively men—gain community validation for their actions. “lol I have some good news for u guys we will all die sometime, really glad to know that there are other people like me who do this shit,” one poster wrote. “Always thought it was some kind of wierd sick fetish because i enjoy messing with my girl slaves.”

How it’s done

RAT tools aren’t new; the hacker group Cult of the Dead Cow famously released an early one called BackOrifice at the Defcon hacker convention in 1998. The lead author, who went by the alias Sir Dystic, called BackOrifice a tool designed for “remote tech support aid and employee monitoring and administering [of a Windows network].” But the Cult of the Dead Cow press release made clear that BackOrifice was meant to expose “Microsoft’s Swiss cheese approach to security.” Compared to today’s tools, BackOrifice was primitive. It could handle the basics, though: logging keystrokes, restarting the target machine, transferring files between computers, and snapping screenshots of the target computer.

Today, a cottage industry exists to build sophisticated RAT tools with names like DarkComet and BlackShades and to install and administer them on dozens or even hundreds of remote computers. When anti-malware vendors began to detect and clean these programs from infected computers, the RAT community built “crypters” to disguise the target code further. Today, serious ratters seek software that is currently “FUD”—fully undetectable.

Building an army of slaves isn’t particularly complicated; ratters simply need to trick their targets into running a file. This is commonly done by seeding file-sharing networks with infected files and naming them after popular songs or movies, or through even more creative methods. “I seem to get a lot of female slaves by spreading Sims 3 with a [RAT] server on torrent sites,” wrote one poster. Another turned to social media, where “I’ve been able to message random hot girls on facebook (0 mutual friends) and infect (usually become friends with them too); with the right words anything is possible.”

Calling most of these guys “hackers” does a real disservice to hackers everywhere; only minimal technical skill is now required to deploy a RAT and acquire slaves. Once infected, all the common RAT software provides a control panel view in which one can see all current slaves, their locations, and the status of their machines. With a few clicks, the operator can start watching the screen or webcam of any slave currently online.

The process is now simple enough that some ratters engage in it without knowing how RATs really work or even how vulnerable they are to being caught. Back in 2010, one Hack Forums member entered the RAT subforum worried about going to jail. He had hacked a Danish family’s computer in order to get a child’s Steam account credentials, but the Danish kid realized that something was wrong and called in his mother and older brother. The hacker included a picture of all three of them looking down at the computer, the younger kid crying, the mother stern.

Another described testing DarkComet on a male slave and activating the man’s webcam. “A man came up and saw that his webcam was on, he then put the middle finger up to me lmao [laughing my ass off],” wrote the hacker. “I then went to remote desktop and he had lots of pr0nz [pornography] up, but he was also freaking out and scanning his computer with two different anti-virus [programs]. It was pretty funny, but he actually managed to remove the infected server from his PC, he used some ‘ad-ware’ software which managed to remove it.”

Others trade pictures of victims taking action to secure their computers. “ive had this girl since i started ratting but she has a light on her cam,” wrote one RAT user, “shame coz shes really pretty with her hair down. see her busting me lol.”

To combat detection, the RAT controllers have devised various workarounds. One involves compiling lists of laptop models which don’t have webcam lights and then taking special pains to verify the make and model of slave laptops to see if they are on the list.

“You may need to do some remote desktop action when you’re pretty certain they’re not looking and find an OEM tag in system properties but the surest way is to look for OEM bloatware like wireless utilities and such,” wrote one RAT users. “Once you figure that out, if it’s an Acer, you’re golden. Some other laptops are good too and using specs and some other information you can often determine a model.

Others rely on a little bit of social engineering. “The first time I use a slaves cam tho I send a fake message saying something like the cams software is updating and the light may come on and go off periodicially ,” wrote a RAT user, “but obviously in a more windows-like way of saying it!”

But morals generally take a back seat to mockery. One popular thread, running for more than a year, with 59 pages of comments, asks people to “Post your ugly slaves here.” One of the most popular responses involves people caught picking their noses.

RATs can be entirely legitimate. Security companies have used them to help find and retrieve stolen laptops, for instance, and no one objects to similar remote login software such as LogMeIn. The developers behind RAT software generally describe their products as nothing more than tools which can be used for good and ill. And yet some tools have features that make them look a lot like they’re built with lawlessness in mind.

Adam Kujawa, a researcher at security firm MalwareBytes, compiled a list last summer of everything that popular RAT DarkComet could do. It included:

  • Find out all system information, including hardware being used and the exact version of your operating system, including security patches
  • Control all the processes currently running on your system
  • View and modify your registry
  • Modify your Hosts file
  • Control your computer from a remote shell
  • Modify your startup processes and services, including adding a few of its own
  • Execute various types of scripts on your system
  • Modify/View/Steal your files
  • Put files of its own on your system
  • Steal your stored password
  • Listen to your microphone
  • Log your keystrokes (duh)
  • Scan your network
  • View your network shares
  • Mess with your MSN Messenger / Steal your contacts / Add new contacts!
  • Steal from your clipboard (things you’ve copied)
  • Control your printer
  • Lock/Restart/Shutdown your computer
  • Update the implant with a new address to beacon to or new functionality
  • Watch your webcam
  • Use your computer in a denial of service (DOS) attack

And that’s not all. DarkComet includes a “Fun Manager” that can perform all sorts of tricks on the target system, including:

  • Hiding the Desktop—Hiding all the icons and making it impossible to right click on the desktop.
  • Hide the Clock—Self Explanatory
  • Hide Task Icons—In the little box on the right side of your start bar
  • Hide Sys Tray Icons—Hide icons and open application buttons on the taskbar
  • Hide Taskbar—Self Explanatory
  • Hide the Start Button—Only works in Win XP
  • Disable the Start Button (XP Only)—Gray out the start button, disabling it.
  • Disable TaskMgr—Disables the Windows Task Manager (When you hit Ctrl+Alt+Del)
  • Open/Close CD Tray—Self Explanatory

Even that isn’t all. The RAT can also activate Microsoft’s text-to-speech software on the remote system so that it reads strings of text out loud—an effective startle tactic. It can open a chat window. And it can play notes from a piano or a specific frequency for as long as desired. (As Kujawa notes, “The purpose of this feature [as far as I can tell] is just to annoy people.”)

Does such software cross the line into illegality? Perhaps. In June 2012, the FBI arrested Michael “xVisceral” Hogue at his home in Tucson, Arizona and charged him with selling “malware that allows cybercriminals to take over and control, remotely, the operations of an infected computer.” Hogue had created Blackshades, which the government described as “a sophisticated piece of malware.”

Blackshades went beyond DarkComet in its support for features that were likely to result in illegality, such as the “File Hijacker” that could encrypt a victim’s key files and then pop up a “ransomware” message demanding payment into a remote bank account in order to free the files. (A note attached to this feature said: “However, one thing to put in mind: This feature was made for educational purposes only.“)

In further MSN chats with the FBI, the person alleged to be Hogue answered a question about whether the Blackshades software would automatically conduct key logging or whether it had to be initiated manually.”It auto does, and you can download from all at once, or scan for keywords or digits,” came the reply. “And if it detects a credit card is being entered, it can send screenshots to FTP and you can scan for digits that are 16 in a row 😛

via Meet the men who spy on women through their webcams | Ars Technica.