You Might Be Helping Pentagon Train Killer Drones.

Are you using Google’s reCAPTCHA? Then you might unknowingly be training Pentagon’s killer drones.

With the rise of blogs, web 2.0, and user-generated content, came a torrent of SPAM. Automated computer programs, or bots, were flooding the internet with comment SPAM, more often than not drowning out actual discussion. In an effort to deal with the problem, the good guys on the internet took advantage of the fact that computers used to be quite bad at recognizing objects in an image. And thus the “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”, or CAPTCHA was born.

A classic CAPTCHA that resolves to “smwm”,

The first CAPTCHA implementations were dead simple. To be allowed to write a comment on a web site, the user had to recognize the letters in an image, and then write those exact letters in a text box. If the letters in the image matched the ones provided by the user, the site knew user was human, and was thus allowed to comment. Recognizing the letters in the image was an easy task for most people, but the bots didn’t stand a chance.

A terrible, terrible CAPTCHA that resolves to “ah, fuck this”.

But as image recognition software became more advanced, the bots started to solve the first CAPTCHA implementations. The dam was about to break, and to prevent this, the internet created more advanced CAPTCHAs. Some of these second generation CAPTCHA implementations were terrible, like the one in the image to the left. Sure, they were impossible for bots to solve, but they were also very hard for a human being to figure out. It happened more than once that I simply gave up filling out an online form because of an unsolvable CAPTCHA.

Then Google came along with their silver bullet: reCAPTCHA.

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Airbnb Review: Alexis’ Cottage, Honfleur, France.

Are you looking for a place to stay in Honfleur, France? We spent a week in Alexis’ cottage this summer, and here’s what you need to know about the place.

Because love knows no borders, the entire family went to France for a wedding this summer. After the wedding, we joined the happy couple, and their toddler, in Honfleur by the French North coast. To find a place we – 7 people – could all stay at a reasonable price, we used Airbnb. We decided on Alexis’ cottage, also known as “Nafsica’s cottage”, just outside (1092 Chemin du Petit Saint-Pierre) of the Honfleur city center.

The cottage lies secluded behind a locked gate. A short driveway takes you to the cottage’s parking space, which has room for three cars – four if you’re a bit adventurous. You’ll have access to a huge garden with lots of open space, more than large enough for family football matches. In the garage, you’ll find some games for the kids, and a coal based barbecue grill. Inside the house, Alexis was kind enough to leave us a bottle of wine, and a little food, which was great because we arrived on a Sunday when most stores are closed.

The cottage sports everything you’ll need: Kitchen, living room, dining room, 5 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms (two with bathtubs and toilets, one with a shower), and 2 separate toilets. The bedrooms will house a total of 7 adults, 1 child, and 2 infants. In short, this place has room for everyone, and then some. It also has high speed wireless internet, because let’s face it, you have to share pictures of your vacation on Facebook.

Sounds like the perfect place, doesn’t it? Well, there’s more.

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Simon Stålenhag: The Electric State.

The alternative history artist Simon Stålenhag turns his attention towards the US.

I’ve never had any real relationship with art. Whether it’s a painting, a sculpture, or something that simply looks hastily thrown together minutes before the exhibition opened, none of it has never really been able to catch my interest. Not even the 130 kg sea of blue candy. Everything has fallen into one of three categories: “Meh”, “not nice”, or “confusing”. Yes, when it comes to fine art, I’m a simpleton1.

But a few years ago, I discovered an artist whose work struck a chord with me. Swedish multi-talent Simon Stålenhag, who I also wrote about back in 2015, makes amazing works of art. By taking science fiction and alternative history elements, and putting them into a familiar 80s and 90s settings, he has very effectively caught the attention of his – and thus my – generation.

After a very successful Kickstarter campaign two years ago, Stålenhag has released two books. In both “Tales from the Loop” and “Things from the Flood“, he mixes his paintings with an intriguing narrative. If you, like me, grew up in the 80s and 90s, Stålenhag’s paintings will trigger your imagination by themselves, but with the addition of the book’s narrative they really come to life.

And now there’s third book project in the works: The Electric State.

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The Most Relaxing Sounds on the Internet.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t really concentrate while listening to other people’s chatter. Sitting in a shared office space, then, makes it challenging to focus on solving a difficult problem. And getting into the flow we code monkeys yearn to settle in, is outright impossible. The solution for me is to put on a pair of nice, noise-cancelling1 headphones, and tune into some of my favorite relaxing sounds on the internet.

For your reference, here’s a list of my go-to sites and sources:

  • You are listening to. This brilliant service takes random ambient tracks from SoundCloud and mix them together with police scanner chatter from a big American city of your choice. I get the irony in the fact that I just wrote I can’t concentrate when listening to chatter, and now I’m recommending a service that features it. But it works surprisingly well as background static.
  • White noise generators. What works even better as background static is actual background static. White noise is awesome for getting in the zone, but it takes a little practice. Any white noise generator should do. Just search the internet for “white noise generator“, pick a random one and you’re good to go.
  • Rainy Mood. If you need something a bit more tangible than white noise, you should give Rainy Mood a try. It’s exactly what it says on the tin: Rain sounds. You do run the risk of falling asleep while listening to this one, though, so stay away from it right after lunch.
  • SomaFM. This online radio station is home to several awesome electronica streams. Their main attraction is Groove Salad, which I’ve been listening to on and off ever since SomaFM came online in 2000. Among their other top notch channels are Drone Zone, DEF CON Radio, and Space Station Soma.
  • Ambient Space Music. This is a Spotify playlist compiled by some random fella named Evan Witten. This might be him. Or not. It’s not important. What’s important is that his Ambient Space Music playlist is amazing.
  • Ultimae Records. French record label Ultimae Records is home to some of the biggest names in ambient, and downbeat electronica. Solar Fields, AES DANA, and Carbon Based Lifeforms are just a few of the amazing artist attached to this label. The same Evan who is responsible for the Ambient Space Music playlist, has also taken upon himself to compile a playlist of everything Ultimae Records has released that is available on Spotify. Great stuff.
  • c0ding 4 Fun & Profit. Another Spotify playlist, and a shameless plug from myself. This is where I collect tunes that are not in any of the other playlists, or tunes that work very well whenever I need to focus.

If this doesn’t make your day at the office better, nothing will. Except maybe for some coke.

As an added bonus, I’ve also got a (collaborative) playlist that’s great if you’re ever forced to work in Confluence. It won’t help you relax, but it’s great for channeling that Confluence anger.

Whisky Drinks.

This weekend the annual Oslo Whisky Festival came and went. The bulk of Oslo’s male, red-nosed, middle-aged, and slightly overweight population gathered, and used words like “single malt”, “blended”, “nosing”, and “refill”. But if attended the show, you didn’t hear much talk about whisky drinks.

For many hard core whisky drinkers, mixing the precious liquid with anything except for a drop of water, is borderline sacrilegious. You can’t have something stored and pampered with for 25 years just to pour it into a glass of Soda. What an awful thought! Or is it really that bad?

A few years ago the festival silently introduced a whisky bar to the show floor. It was crammed into a dark corner without much fanfare, but soon became the prime location for the festival’s very, very limited female visitors – and people like me and my friends, who really don’t know much about whisky, except that we enjoy a sip every now and then. You’ll also see some of the old timers start queuing up at the bar towards the end of the evening, but of course they’ll deny everything and fake amnesia the next morning.

If you have a bottle of whisky gathering dust somewhere (and a lot of people do), here are three rather simple drinks you can make right now1. A glass of whisky is also a great way to wash away the bitter taste of yesterday’s election.

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