Fun with Flaming Death

Asteroid Itokawa, sampled in 2005 by Japan's Hayabusa spacecraft, is in the same size class as 2004 BL86 and its moon.

Asteroid Itokawa, sampled in 2005 by Japan’s Hayabusa spacecraft, is in the same size class as 2004 BL86 and its moon. JAXA

To date human beings have spotted about 300,000 asteroids. These range in scale from Ceres, the first discovered, way back on the first day of the 19th century (950 kilometers in diameter), to unnamed boulders a few meters wide. Little asteroids (say, the size of a bus or a house) far outnumber the big ones.

Only a few thousand asteroids follow paths about the Sun that bring them near Earth’s orbit. The largest of these is 1036 Ganymed, which measures about 33 kilometers across. It has a stony composition much like that of the second-largest near-Earth asteroid, banana-shaped 433 Eros, which measures 34 kilometers by 11 kilometers. Eros seldom comes nearer to Earth than about 27 million kilometers, or about 70 times the Earth-moon distance; Ganymed seldom comes nearer than 56 million kilometers. Eros is unique because a derelict American spacecraft called NEAR Shoemaker rests on its surface. Though designed as an orbiter, it landed on Eros on 12 February 2001, at the end of its mission, and continued to transmit for about two weeks.

A day or so ago, a 325-meter asteroid designated 2004 BL86 passed Earth. To get a sense of perspective, 325 meters, or roughly as wide as the Tour Eiffel is tall, is kind of big for a near-Earth asteroid. As asteroid flybys go, it was a close shave as such things go; it passed about 1.2 million kilometers from Earth. That distance is a bit more than three times the distance between the Earth and moon.

Any time an asteroid is due to pass Earth – even if it will pass more than a million kilometers away – the popular-audience space media kicks into inaccuracy overdrive. Adjectives I heard used to describe 2004 BL86 included “giant,” “huge,” “mountain-sized,” and “dangerous.” Phrases used to describes its minimum-approach distance included “so close you’ll be able to see it,” “very close,” and “a close encounter.” None of this language was accurate. One media source even called it the biggest asteroid to approach Earth in 200 years; in fact, this was the closest approach of this asteroid for 200 years.

The news media are not the only ones who commit such errors. Space educators who should know better also play up the “threat” from “killer” asteroids when a body like 2004 BL86 passes the Earth-moon system. They place objects like 2004 BL86 in the same category as the “dinokiller” that struck Earth 65 million years ago. That falls short in the reality department in at least a couple of ways: for one thing, the impactor that ended the Cretaceous with a mass extinction was an extraordinary object, on the same scale as Eros or Ganymed, and such bodies hit Earth only on time scales of tens of millions of years; for another, an object nearly as large the dinokiller struck Earth 35 million years ago where now Chesapeake Bay is found, and it caused no mass extinction.

Because of the poor quality of information they receive, many people have developed the mistaken notion that asteroids are frightening things. In fact, they are data-packed fossils of the formation of our Solar System. The appropriate emotion to feel when one passes by Earth is not fear; it is fascination. As proof of sheer nifty-ness of asteroids, I offer this: when 2004 BL86 passed Earth on 26-27 January, we scanned it with radar, and we found that it has a moon about 70 meters across. How cool is that?

I think by now you probably realize that I do not in any way endorse exploiting asteroids to scare people, no matter how slow a news day it might be. Just for grins, though, how about we imagine that 2004 BL86 had tried to live up to its fearsome adjectives and had actually struck the Earth yesterday?

The nice people at University College London and Purdue University have conspired to create a handy online impact modeling tool called “Impact: Earth!” I prefer the less graphics-intense version – to be found here – which is called, more prosaically, “Earth Impact Effects Program.” The latter operates faster and allows me use my imagination more.

The minds behind this modeling tool are careful to warn us that it might not be perfect. In fact, they warn that, if one enters “peculiar impact parameters,” they refuse to be responsible for what happens. It does, however, provide results in line with those arrived at in serious studies of impact effects, and the explanatory PDF it includes is convincing.

We know from spectral analysis that 2004 BL86 is another stony asteroid. We know that Earth is 75% covered in water. We know that, given the shape and tilt of its orbit about the Sun, 2004 BL86 is a bit more likely to intersect Earth near the equator rather than the poles. Now we know it has a moon, which should be also be considered when modeling impact effects.

So, first we choose an impact site. I spin my 16-inch globe – around and around she goes, and where she stops, nobody knows – and stop it with my finger. I look at the place I have picked; it’s in the Pacific just east of the Japanese island of Honshu. I do not like that place; after all, they are still picking up the pieces after the giant earthquake-tsunami-reactor meltdown disaster of 11 March 2011, and a nearby impact would be piling on. So, I’ll spin the globe again; this time my finger falls on the Atlantic Ocean about 300 kilometers east of the Bahamas. Well, they have to deal with killer hurricanes all the time, but if this experiment is to have meaning I have to be a little dispassionate. So, it’s east of the Bahamas (sorry, Bahamians and their neighbors).

The modeling software allows me to select my distance from the impact point. Of course, I am tempted to put myself far enough away that I could conceivably be in Paris, but I will instead suck it up and put myself in harm’s way. I’ll imagine that I am in Puerto Rico, about 300 kilometers south of the impact point.

Next, I will enter the impactor’s size, starting with 2004 BL86 (I will add the newly found moon later). That would be 325 meters. Now I need to decide on its density. I select “dense rock” with a mass of 3000 kilograms per cubic meter.

The average asteroid impact velocity is 17 kilometers per second, but I will ramp it up a bit to 23 kilometers per seconds because of the shape of 2004 BL86’s orbit about the Sun. The most probable impact angle is 45°, so I’ll go with that. I want to avoid “peculiar impact parameters,” after all.

Almost done. The last step is to define the target density. Three hundred kilometers east of the Bahamas is deep ocean. In fact, the deepest part of the Atlantic, the Puerto Rico Trench, is close by. I enter a target density for “water or ice” of 1000 kilograms per cubic meter.

OK. All set. Here comes our asteroid. I click on the “calculate effects” button.

The impactor carries as much kinetic energy as 341,000 megatons of TNT before it enters the atmosphere. Pretty impressive. Such an event occurs – can this be right? – about every 84,000 years. That seems rather often – but it is 10 times longer than recorded human history.

The rest of the results provide an answer to this question. The impactor begins to disintegrate 59 kilometers above the ocean. It is shattered into many small pieces when it hits with a total energy of 312,000 megatons. The pieces splash down in an ellipse measuring about 0.9-by-0.6 kilometers wide. This produces a “crater” – a splash, really – about 6.7 kilometers wide by 2.47 kilometers deep. But the modeling software seems a tad confused, for it treats the water as solid, giving “final crater” dimensions of 5.36 kilometers wide by 566 meters deep. We will just assume that the sea bottom is churned up some, perhaps forming a recognizable crater, perhaps not. After all, in that deep part of the ocean, it isn’t as if anyone would trip over it.

The impact fireball occurs over the horizon, so we feel no wave of heat as a result. The seismic effects are more profound; they are like a magnitude 6.9 earthquake at the impact site. Three hundred kilometers away, in Puerto Rico, some dishes and windows are broken and parked cars rock. Buildings creak and doors might move.

Ejecta – stuff blasted skyward by the impact – would arrive 4.24 minutes after the impact. There isn’t much of it. Perhaps a layer as thick as the dust that accumulates on your furniture while you are away on vacation. I am, however, suspicious of that number, since the impact was in water, not rock. It also does not model tsunami effects. I expect that a big splash 300 kilometers away would produce a wave at least equal to a hurricane storm surge in San Juan harbor.

Speaking of hurricanes – for people used to tropical storms and hurricanes, the atmospheric effects of the impact would be a walk in the park. The roar of the impact would be about as loud as loud traffic. The wind blowing from the impact site would reach a speed of 7.61 meters per second. That is 17 miles per hour, for those who have trouble doing the conversion.

Based on the model, I expect that a lot of people in Puerto Rico would not have noticed if 2004 BL86 had splashed into the Atlantic east of the Bahamas. Of course, they would soon have found out about it and become involved in search-and-rescue efforts; the sea lanes where the impact took place are among the busiest in the western hemisphere, and almost certainly many ships closer to the impact site would have been sunk. The low-lying Bahamas might also have suffered more than Puerto Rico from the effects of the splash.

What about 2004 BL86’s 70-meter-diameter moon? I leave all the parameters the same except the impactor diameter and click the button. The moon would barely reach the ocean surface, creating no crater and barely any wind. Its effects would be lost among those of 2004 BL86 itself. Lone impactors its size hit Earth every 2200 years; given that our recorded history is not pocked with accounts of such impacts, it would seem that when such objects do strike Earth, they are not much noticed.

These results are suggestive, not definitive. The modeling software is not perfect, and though I would defend my inputs as plausible, GI/GO applies. The point is, however, that it seems highly probable that a body the size of 2004 BL86 does not much affect the Earth when it strikes. No mass extinction occurs, the climate does not shift to some new state, and the impacts on humans even a short distance away are akin only to those that humans have felt from volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and warfare all through our history.

Do I argue here that we should ignore asteroids as a non-threat? Of course not. We should find all of them. We have the technology to do that. We should test techniques for deflecting the ones that pose even a local threat. As we do these things, we can study all those fascinating space rocks. Perhaps we can even develop techniques that will make mining them profitable or hollow some out, converting them into habitats or interplanetary transports.

If we can believe that every asteroid is a killer, then we can certainly believe that every asteroid could be a source of fascinating data on the early Solar System and useful minerals, or serve as a space habitat for future generations.

Apple Sold a Bonkers Number of iPhones Over the Holidays

Smartphone Durability

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

We knew Apple’s iPhone sales were going to be good this quarter. The holiday buying frenzy in November and December always gives Apple’s numbers a substantial boost. But nobody expected sales quite as high as Apple achieved in its first fiscal of 2015.

Apple sold a whopping 74.4 million iPhones over the 90 day period ending December 27th. On average, that translates to over 34,00 iPhones sold every hour, every day of the quarter. Analysts expected numbers around 65 million, and the previous record, 51 million iPhone sales in the first quarter of last year, seems paltry by comparison.

“Demand for the iPhone has been staggering, shattering our highest expectations,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in the company’s earnings call.

Apple did not differentiate iPhone 6 from iPhone 6 Plus sales in the numbers, but Cook said that the quarter’s sales were driven by “unprecedented popularity” of these models, and that the iPhone 6 was the most popular phone model last quarter.

Cook also said that in some geographic regions, the iPhone 6 Plus was more popular, while in others the 6 was more popular. But he did not elaborate on specific examples. According to an independent report from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners released on Monday, the iPhone 6 made up an estimated 45 percent of iPhone sales and the 6 Plus made up 30 percent of sales.

Where did this incredible demand come from? A couple of factors are at play. First, a new iPhone industrial design seemingly always translates into a greater proportion of iPhone upgrades among existing iOS users. If people are going to fork up hundreds of dollars for a new phone, they want the experience to be markedly better, and, shallow as it may be, many people want others to be able to tell they have the latest and greatest Apple gadget (take, for example, how quickly the gold iPhone 5s sold out last year).

But more importantly were the newcomers to Apple’s platform.

“We saw more new customers to iPhone than we’d ever seen before,” Cook said. And while detailed research numbers aren’t in yet, he said that Apple had a higher rate of Android switchers than it had after the three previous iPhone launches.

Apple, for the first time, offers iPhones with a greater than four-inch screen size. This is something Android phone makers have offered for years, and Android phone owners have grown fond of—particularly those with larger hands.

Anecdotally, I know of multiple new iPhone owners that were swayed away from the Android platform by the new iPhones’ larger size, and also its superb camera quality. In South Korea, Samsung’s home turf, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus managed to nab over 30 percent of smartphone sales, a first for a foreign smartphone maker.

And as smartphone ownership continues to increase globally, it’s likely that many former dumb phone owners opted for iPhones, both new models and price-reduced older phones. With a two year contract, you can grab a 16 GB iPhone 5s for $100, or an iPhone 5c for free. It may seem like everyone and their mom has a smartphone, but in truth, there are still many, many people who are still upgrading.

On a larger note, iPad sales continue their subtle slide: 21.4 million sales compared to expectations of 22 million. Cook is still optimistic and bullish on the iPad in the long run, particularly because of first time buyer rates, which run in the 50 to 70 percent range in several major established markets, including the U.S. Cook thinks it’s possible that the upgrade cycle is longer for tablets, somewhere between an iPhone and a PC. “We haven’t been in the business long enough to say with certainty,” Cook said. He also said there is probably some level of Apple cannibalization going on, with the Mac on one side (which garnered 5.5 million in sales) and iPhone on the other.

Yeah, we’d agree with that one. Especially on the iPhone front.

The Apple Watch Will Ship in April

The Apple Watch will arrive in April.

Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed the news this afternoon, during a conference call held to discuss the company’s earnings for the first fiscal quarter of 2015. “Development for the Apple Watch is right on schedule,” Cook said.

When the Apple Watch was unveiled in September, the company said it would arrive in “early 2015,” and recent rumors indicated a March launch date.

Others companies, most notably Samsung, have offered internet-connected watches. And countless other outfits are exploring other kinds of wearable computing devices. But the Apple Watch is perhaps the most highly anticipated.

It is the first entirely new device from the company since the iPad tablet, which was unveiled five years ago today. As Apple said when it just revealed the Apple Watch in the fall, the device will sell for $349, and it will connect to the internet through your Apple iPhone. Among other things, the device will track your fitness, send and receive messages, and let you pay for goods, both online and off, through the new Apple Pay payments.

FTC Warns of the Huge Security Risks in the Internet of Things


Then One/WIRED

There’s danger lurking in the Internet of Things.

At least, that’s the word from the Federal Trade Commission. On Tuesday, the government watchdog released a detailed report urging businesses to take some concrete steps in protecting the privacy and security of American consumers.

According to the FTC, 25 billion objects are already online worldwide, gathering information using sensors and communicating with each other over the internet, and this number is growing, with consumer goods companies, auto manufacturers, healthcare providers, and so many other businesses investing in the new breed of connected devices.

Such devices can help monitor your health, improve safety on highways, and make your home more efficient. But the FTC says that as manufacturers work to reduce the friction involved in using these smart things—to let people more easily gather data and send it to and fro—privacy and security is becoming a serious consumer concern.

So, last November, the FTC held an Internet of Things workshop, gathering input from leading technologists and academics, industry representatives, and consumer advocates, and Tuesday’s report is based in part on the workshop’s findings.

Security First

The report recommends that companies bake security into devices from the beginning, rather than trying to built it in as an afterthought. And those aren’t idle words.

According to a study from HP Security Research, 70 percent of the most commonly used Internet of Things devices had serious security vulnerabilities. And this issue was a recurring theme at the Black Hat and the DEFCON hacker conferences this past year.

The FTC also recommends training employees about the importance of security, emphasizing that security must be appropriately managed within each organization, and that includes any outside service providers that a company might hire.

Defense in Depth

To combat security threats, the report recommends a “defense-in-depth” strategy. In other words, instead of patching up a vulnerability or simply reacting to some breach after the fact, businesses should have a plan of action in place.

Plus, it urges businesses to carefully monitor connected devices throughout their expected life cycle, and to provide consumers with security patches for all known risks.

Best Data Practices

What’s more, the agency urges companies to consider extra measures that can keep unauthorized users from accessing personal data stored by devices. Today, the report says, some smart devices are carefully to upload only nonpermanent snapshots of data to company servers for analytics—in order to improve systems down the road—and most companies anonymize data. Nonetheless, the report recommends that businesses limit the collection of data in the first place.

When it comes to protecting personal data, the report argues for choice. Though there is no one-size-fits-all approach, the FTC acknowledges, companies can be transparent about how they deal with consumers’ information, especially in notifying customers about how their information will be used.

Louis CK’s Latest Email Is A Fantastic Elegy to Comedy Clubs

Hello. So below are my messy thoughts about my new special “Louis CK live at the Comedy Store” available here for 5 dollars, all over the world…

So this is my sixth hour-long standup special. The truth is, I really love making these. I skipped doing one last year and I missed it. This one is different from the recent others. For one thing, it was shot in a nightclub instead of a theater. I love doing the theater shows. When I was a kid, my favorite thing in the world was Richard Pryor’s concert films. The idea of being a comedian and doing a “concert” was a real goal for me. Performing in a theater expands your material and opens you up as a performer. The pressure of playing to thousands of people, I found, always makes you better. And every concert hall I’ve played has made me feel like I’m getting a whiff of that city or town’s history. The whole thing can be very exhilarating.

But Nightclubs, comedy clubs, is where comedy is born and where comedy, standup comedy, truly lives. Going back to Abraham Lincoln, who was probably America’s first comedian, Americans have enjoyed gathering at night in small packed (and once smokey) rooms, drinking themselves a bit numb and listening to each other say wicked, crazy, silly, wrongful, delightful, upside-down, careless, offensive, disgusting, whimsical things. Sometimes in long-winded, red faced hyperbole, sometimes in carefully crafted circular, intentionally false and misleading argument. Sometimes in well-chiseled perfectly timed trickery of verbiage. Pun-poetry. One line, one off, half thoughts. Half truths. Non-truths. Broad and hilariously wrongful generalizations, exaggerated prejudices and criticism of nothing and everything while a couple over here shares a pitcher of sangria, this table of guys order round after round of beers. These women over here are having vodka and cranberry. This guy drinks club soda and sits alone. He actually came for the comedy. It’s a club. It’s a bar. It’s late at night. No one here is being responsible. These are the things we do when we are DONE working and being citizens. We go to a comedy club and pay a bit of money to laugh harder than we ever do anywhere else.

That is the standup comedy that I’ve been doing for almost thirty years. I have been working theater (and now arena) stages for the last nine of those thirty years but the amount of hours I’ve spent on a club stage outnumber the theater stage hours by more than I can figure.

I’ve been on comedy club stages probably more than I’ve stood on any other kind of spot in my entire life. I started in the Boston comedy scene, on ground that had been laid by great comedians like Steve Sweeney, Steven Wright, Barry Crimmins, Ron Lynch, Kevin Meany, Don Gavin, back in 1985 when I was 18 years old. I skipped college (still regret it), worked shitty jobs (will never regret that) and spent every single night at any comedy club in Boston I could finagle my way into. I would watch every single comedian and I would BEG to get on stage.

In 1989 I moved to New York. I discovered a bursting comedy club scene, where you could literally do 8 shows on a saturday night. (I remember Ray Romano held the record at 9 shows).

It was a glorious time for standup comedy clubs. Great comics everywhere. Colin Quinn. Mike Sweeney. Joy Behar. John Stewart. Charlie Barnett. Ray Romano. Dave Chapelle. Chris Rock. Brett Butler. Brian Regan.

All working out every night in clubs all over the city. There was the Improv on 44th street. On 1st Avenue, Catch a Rising Star and around the corner on 2nd ave, the Comic Strip (still there). Carolines was on the Seaport then. And in the Village we had the Comedy Cellar (still there), the Boston Comedy Club and the Village Gate.

I spent my early twenties bouncing from one stage to the other, from 8pm till about 4am, when Dave Attell, Kevin Brennan, Nick DiPaolo and I would head to a diner and eat breakfast.

The money was terrible. About ten dollars per show on the weeknights, fifty a show on the weekends. So every other week you had to leave town and work in another city. You’d go live in Atlanta, Columbus, Phoenix, Tampa, for a week. Most clubs would put you up in a condo behind the club and you’d work the whole week. Tuesday thru Sunday, two shows Friday, three shows Saturday. You could make about 700 a week as an opening act. A good headliner might make 2500 or 3,000 but that was rare. I worked in comedy clubs all over the country and I think I actually remember every single club. My favorite clubs were the smelly little beer soaked places with dim lighting and low ceilings. Go Bananas in Cincinnati. The Brokerage in Long Island (still there) Penguins in Cedar Rapids. The Comedy Underground in Seattle.

Then there were chain comedy clubs that were always too antiseptic and suburban. Some of them were literally inside of a mall next to a sunglass hut. The Improvs, the Funny Bones.

There were some comedy clubs around the country that were legendary. That lasted out the death of comedy in the 90s. The independent and truly great rooms where you can still smell the cigarette smoke exhaled by Bill Hicks. The Acme in Minneapolis. The Punchline in Atlanta. The Punchline (not related) in San Francisco. Cobbs in San Fran. The Laff Stop in Houston. Zanies in Chicago. Charlie Goodnights in Raleigh. The Comedy Works in Denver. These were the Meccas. When you could get a week at Acme, you know you could continue having the will to do this shit for another few months. A week at the Punchline in San Fran could get you through the next week at Harvey’s in Portland.

There were club owners that were part of Comedy History. Who knew how to shape comedy. Mark Babbit, Lewis Lee, Manny Dworman, Lucien Hold, Silver Friedman, Bud Friedman, Ron Osborne, others.

I spent all of my mid to late 20s and thirties working out in places like these.

Later when I moved to Los Angeles, I discovered a scene out there that was creative and fun and also steeped in show business history. You could see Norm Macdonald. Charles Fleicher. Robert Schimmel.

In LA they have coffee houses and very cool rooms like Largo, where you can bring your notebook on stage and try just about anything.

People like Andy Kindler, Kathy Griffin, Patton Oswalt, Blaine Capatch, Craig Anton, Laura Kightlinger did outrageous stuff in those rooms.

I would sometimes go on stage at places like Mbar or Largo and come out with twenty minutes of new material, cheered on by the young, open and adaptive crowds of the “alternative” scene. But I never believed those jokes until I took them to the Improv, where the more average and basic character of the audience would cut the new material down to about three jokes.

And then there was the Comedy Store. I would take the last three remaining jokes to the store on Sunset. Maybe ONE of those would get a chuckle. And that joke, I knew, was the true treasure of the night.

I have always found the Comedy Store to be the most intimidating club of my life. It is what I thought comedy clubs to be when I listened to Lenny Bruce records as a kid. The black vinyl couches and chairs, the red formica stage. Andrew Dice Clay on stage playing to fifteen people in open defiance of their hatred and funny as hell. The Comedy Store is really show biz. As in Milton Berle with his bow tie undone around his neck show business. Mop your brow and say “tough crowd” show business. A guy being beaten up in the parking lot show business. The Comedy Store is where Pryor cut his teeth. Letterman fought to get spots there. George Carlin. Eddie Murphy. Marc Maron told me stories about living in the apartment behind the Store and how Sam Kinison pissed on his bed one night. This is the Comedy Store. The wonderful dark side of comedy.

The Comedy Store is the only club in the country that NEVER passed me when I auditioned. I auditioned at many clubs where I didn’t pass but I always went back and finally did pass. The Comedy Store NEVER passed me. I just wasn’t right for them. I didn’t start working there until I became well known enough to circumvent the audition process. Until I became one of those guys who can just walk into a nightclub and go on stage.

So why did I shoot my new special in this place? I don’t know. Maybe because, after thirty years of doing comedy, the most exciting feeling for me is going on stage, not entirely sure it’s going to go well. To this day, when I work at the Store, I feel there’s a one in three chance I might bomb. Like bomb hard. To a guy my age who has been doing it this long, that is exciting. So over the last tour I did this year, I started doing shows at the Comedy Store “Main room” to feel it out. The staff of the club is excellent and they really know how to run a traditional room. I loved working with them. Pauly Shore and his family were very gracious when we approached them about shooting my special there.

I really feel truly privileged to have shot this special on that stage.

Okay I didn’t mean to write such a long thing about comedy clubs. The point is I prepared the material for this special on club stages. I went to the Cellar here in New York, and their new club, The Village Underground, about ten times a week with the occasional trip uptown to Gotham Comedy Club and “The Stand” on third avenue. I went out to LA to put that spin on it, working Largo, the Improv and finally the Comedy Store, hammering this stuff together in front of late night comedy club audiences. So it only seemed right to shoot it that way.

That’s all. I hope you enjoy the special. Please see the movie “Boyhood”. It’s a great piece of filmmmaking and even literature. And take your kids to see “Into The Woods” It teaches the greatest lesson you could teach a kid: If you are paying attention, life is very confusing.


Louis CK

ps. I guess I didn’t have to cancel the show at MSG tonight. I don’t blame the mayor. That storm was a monster. We got lucky. When you consider the action taken by the government of entire north east, they got it right. To expect accuracy from each individual mayor is just too much.

For us in New York and us in my house and us at MSG it was overblown. But if you expand that “us” to everyone in the path is the storm, they were spot on. My family in Boston is part of us for me. So that’s how I look at it.

It’s Easy To Point Fingers at Sony


Ivan David Gomez Arce/Flickr

As the world gets their gossip fix at Sony’s expense, I find myself marveling at the hubris. It’s easy to point fingers at Sony and the executives who’ve had their private conversations aired for the world to scrutinize, but Sony is hardly unique in their distress.

Could Sony Pictures have done more to protect their digital assets? Most likely. But in recent weeks we’ve also seen hacks of the tech media site Ars Technica and ICANN, the very organization that controls the registration of URLs worldwide.

I’m guessing both of them take their infosecurity seriously. And yet they found themselves sending out notifications to customers just the same. You likely haven’t heard about it, as they’re not the sort to employ movie and rap stars, but they suffered much the same fate. Both organizations, and many others like them, now have privacy professionals doing the hard work of cleaning up the mess left behind by malicious actors.

I’m quite certain that while the media and other commentators marvel at Sony’s supposed bumbling, executives in C suites the world over are calling their IT folks and asking, “Could that happen to us? Do we have a plan in place if it does?”

The answer to the first half is, “yes it could, and it probably will.” The answer to the second? If you’re one of the nosey parkers laughing at Sony, it better not be, “I hope so.”

In this new era of seemingly omnipotent hackers, it’s not enough to build ever higher and stronger walls in an attempt to keep out the bad guys. Rather, every organization must also be fostering an environment of privacy and security awareness so that when the hack happens, it’s just another annoyance to be dealt with, like a water-main break or a lightning strike, rather than a calamitous event that threatens the very fiber of the business.

Employees of all stripes – truly, anyone who handles data – need to have issue-spotting capabilities to identify sensitive data, make sure it’s cared for properly (encryption, anonymization, destruction, whatever’s appropriate), and raise a red flag when something just doesn’t seem right.

Should the worst occur, there must also be professionals ready to execute the proper notifications, communicate with the appropriate regulators, and communicate directly and transparently with the countless angry customers and employees.

Of course, many businesses are already realizing this and putting plans in place. The results of our recent research as part of our Privacy Industry Index show that some $2.4 billion is already being spent on privacy in the Fortune 1000, and we target that to increase to $3 billion in 2015, with the addition of at least 950 full-time privacy professionals and another 2,000 employees with privacy as part of their roles in the organization.

Sometimes, committing to privacy involves a simple concession: No, Mr. CEO, you can’t have admin privileges on your laptop because you simply aren’t as well trained in identifying malware as our IT department is. Sometimes it’s a much larger effort: Just because you can collect location data with your new app doesn’t mean you actually need to. It’s up to the company’s leadership to convey to the marketing team that while customer information can be useful, it should not be gathered whenever possible and without proper notification.

It is the CEO and leadership in general who must make it clear to the entire organization that collections of sensitive data create risk just as they create value. Yes, it’s convenient to have a single spreadsheet with all of the historical salary and benefits data in it, but it’s also terribly risky. Yes, it’s valuable to have a single spreadsheet with all of your customers’ purchasing data in it, but it’s also terribly risky.

In the end, the risk isn’t that you’re going to be hacked. The risk is that you’re going to be hacked and the hackers will find valuable stockpiles of data. Worse yet, you have no plan in place to respond and mollify those affected.

If the stockpiles don’t exist, if the organization understands the risk and takes steps on a daily basis to avoid it or respond to it, the hack becomes just another annoyance to be dealt with in the course of doing business and falls way down the list on every company’s risk register.

This Sony hack is certainly a wake-up call to re-examine your infosecurity practices, but please don’t think more software and better systems engineering is going to make you safe from malicious actors. Only a culture that has privacy and security at its core can begin to mitigate that kind of risk.

J. Trevor Hughes is the president and CEO of the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP).

Google Fiber Is Coming to Four More Big Cities

Google has announced that 18 more cities across four metropolitan areas will receive its super-high-speed fiber optic internet service: Atlanta; Charlotte, North Carolina; Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; and Nashville, Tennessee.

The tech giant hasn’t said when the new services will be available. But after announcing in 2013 that would be available in Austin, Texas, the company needed nearly two years to begin offering service in select Austin neighborhoods.

Last year, Google revealed that was considering nine metropolitan areas for expansion, including the four that were eventually selected. Google has yet to announce plans for the remaining five areas. “We’re also continuing to explore bringing fiber to five additional metro areas—Phoenix, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Antonio and San Jose, and will have updates on these potential Fiber cities later this year,” the company said in a blog post.

National expansion of Google Fiber could help the U.S. play catch-up with countries that has have widely deployed super-high-speed internet services. The U.S. has continually ranked behind countries like Japan, South Korea, and the Czech Republic in both speed and cost of broadband internet, and Google wants to change that.

Google Fiber started in 2010 as something of an experiment: a way to show the world what high-speed internet could look like and, hopefully, spur more investment from the country’s broadband providers. But after launching its service in Kansas City in 2012, the company seems to have realized that it will take a lot more than a single testbed to kickstart a revolution in broadband speeds and Google chairman Eric Schmidt vowed to bring the service to more cities. “It’s actually not an experiment; we’re actually running it as a business,” he told the New York Times that year.

In 2013, Google announced its second metro-area, Austin, and acquired an existing fiber service in Provo, Utah.

If nothing else, the threat of Google Fiber expansion is already spurring more investment from competitors. Companies like AT&T have announced new fiber services in Austin, while smaller providers are hoping to stake their ground cities before Google arrives. And that’s just what we need now.

Facebook Rolls Out Online Tool For Testing Ads With Control Groups

Facebook wants to show the world that its ads really work.

Today, the social networking giant unveiled a new online tool that will allow advertisers across the globe to test the effectiveness of the ads they post to Facebook. The tool offers what Facebook calls “conversion lift” testing, and in essence, it’s a means of tracking the behavior of Facebook users—both online and off—after they’re exposed to particular ads. Facebook provides the data needed to track behavior online, while advertisers provide the in-store data needed to identify offline purchases.

Facebook has long offered similar ways of tracking ad campaigns, and in an ad hoc way, it has even allowed advertisers to run conversion lift tests. But according to Brad Smallwood, who oversees marketing science at Facebook, the new service provides a standard online means of doing so. In other words, advertisers don’t have to phone an ad rep at Facebook to set things up. They can just open web browser.

“We’re trying to move the industry to think about honest measures—true assessments of ad impact,” Smallwood says.

Basically, before an ad campaign launches, advertisers can create two test groups: a control group of Facebook users who won’t see the ads, and a second group of users who will. Then, after the campaign runs, advertisers can compare the behavior of the two groups.

The new service move is just one way that the giants of the net—and a wide range of other companies—are working to show that modern technology can not only deliver ads in more pointed ways, but actually prove that people are responding to ads. Google, Twitter, and Adobe are the other big names here. But for Forrester analyst Richard Joyce, who closely follows the online advertising market, Facebook is uniquely positioned to track the success of ads, because it collects so much personal data about its users.

“This can be very powerful,” Joyce says. “It’s hard to create this kind of 360-degree view of the user without the kind of data that Facebook has.”

Such talk often rings alarms bells among those concerned about maintaining online privacy. But Smallwood is quick to point out that in sharing data with advertisers, Facebook anonymizes all information using what’s called a hashing system. Adi Kamdar, an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says the company could go further, giving people the option of turning off all tracking. But such is unlikely.

As Facebook points out, few in the industry are willing to go this far. The internet is paid for with ads, and ads are driven by data.

The ’90s Startup That Terrified Microsoft and Got Americans to Go Online


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Nineteen ninety-five was the inaugural year of the 21st century, a clear starting point for contemporary life. It was, proclaimed an exuberant newspaper columnist at the time, “the year the Web started changing lives.”

It was the year when the Internet and the World Wide Web moved from the obscure realm of technophiles and academic researchers to become a household word, the year when the Web went from vague and distant curiosity to a phenomenon that would change the way people work, shop, learn, communicate, and interact.

By 1995, a majority of Americans were using computers at home, at work, or at school, the Times Mirror Center for the People & the Press reported. The organization figured that 18 million American homes in 1995 had computers equipped with modems, an increase of 64 percent from 1994. The popularity of the computer and the prevalence of modems helped ignite dramatic growth in internet use in the years following 1995.

The Startup That Launched Millions of Internet Users

In 1995, no entity better represented the panache and wealth-making potential associated with the Internet than Netscape Communications Corporation, a startup in California’s Silicon Valley that made a graphical Web browser called Netscape Navigator. Netscape was an immediate success, if not in turning a profit then in attracting the goodwill of millions of new Web users. Netscape’s defining and most colorful figure was its cofounder, Marc Andreessen, a programmer with an agile mind who talked fast, persuasively, and seemingly nonstop. Andreessen turned 24 years old in 1995; he was less than two years out of college and had not shed all the trappings and eccentricities of undergraduate life. He worked late and got up late. His taste in clothes, it was said, ran to “frat-party ready.”

Andreessen seemed an unlikely character to be identified as “the über-super-wunder whiz kid of cyberspace,” as Newsweek called him at the end of 1995. After growing up in New Lisbon, a town in rural Wisconsin, he enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and studied computer science. Andreessen found part-time work at the university’s National Center for Supercomputing Applications. There, he and a few fellow programmers developed Mosaic, the predecessor-browser to Netscape Navigator. Mosaic was launched in 1993 and quickly won followers for granting relatively easy, point-and-click access to the previously hard-to-access World Wide Web.

In 1995 Newsweek hailed 24-year-old Netscape cofounder Marc Andreessen as "the über-super-wunder whiz kid of cyberspace."

Twenty-four-year-old Netscape cofounder Marc Andreessen in 1995. Louie Psihoyos/Corbis

After graduating and moving to California, in 1994 Andreessen met James H. Clark, a founder of Silicon Graphics who was looking for the next big thing, and they soon decided to set up a company that would outdo Mosaic. Andreessen and Clark recruited several of Andreessen’s former undergraduate colleagues and brought them to California as core programmers at Mosaic Communications Corporation, the predecessor to Netscape Communications. After fighting an intellectual property lawsuit from the University of Illinois, Clark and Andreessen reluctantly changed the company name: Mosaic Communications became Netscape Communications, and they renamed the browser Netscape Navigator.

Netscape was capable of impressive innovation. Pre-release “beta” versions of its Navigator 2.0 browser came out in October and December 1995 and were hailed as something of a technological feat. Navigator 2.0 was faster and more powerful than its predecessor, which had claimed about 70 percent of the browser market. Among other advances, Navigator 2.0 incorporated plug-in architecture, allowing programmers to develop applications on the browser. Netscape 2.0 also supported the Java applets that made Web-browsing a more lively and animated experience.

In the summer and fall of 1995, Netscape was on a roll. They were the best of times for the swaggering startup. The company’s workforce had grown to 500 employees, a five-fold increase since the beginning of the year. Revenues were climbing, topping $40 million in the year’s fourth quarter, which was almost double sales in the previous three-month period. (Netscape’s sales came mostly from corporate licensing of its high-profile browser and from a diverse line of Internet servers and server software.) During those heady weeks, Netscape was touted as “the Microsoft of the Internet” and seemed to delight in poking at the software giant and its chairman, Bill Gates.

Silicon Valley’s Big Blood Feud

Gates had been slow to recognize the potential of the Internet and the Web. He mistakenly thought the Internet was just a precursor to some sort of elaborate, multidimensional information superhighway. But as Netscape’s browser demonstrated, the Web was becoming the information superhighway. And the browser’s potential as a platform for software applications represented an undeniable threat to Microsoft’s Windows operating system. Andreessen—who sometimes during the mid–1990s was called the “next Bill Gates”—supposedly boasted that Netscape would reduce Windows to a mundane set of poorly debugged device drivers.

The smoldering hostility between the companies turned acute on June 21, 1995, at a four-hour meeting at Netscape’s headquarters. In the run-up to the meeting, Netscape and Microsoft had tentatively explored a strategic relationship. But according to detailed notes that Andreessen took at the meeting, Microsoft’s representatives came on strong and proposed that the companies carve up the browser market—with Netscape Navigator confined to the older, less lucrative versions of Windows.

Andreessen, who could be disarmingly candid, likened the conduct of Microsoft’s team to “a visit by Don Corleone” of The Godfather films. “I expected to find a bloody computer monitor in my bed the next day.” Microsoft disputed Andreessen’s account, saying its representatives had made no attempt to intimidate Netscape. In any case, the meeting ended without agreement, and Netscape moved forward with plans for its most audacious act of all: a public offering of its shares. Netscape was not quite 16 months old and had not come close to turning a profit.

It had taken General Dynamics 43 years to be worth $2.7 billion in the stock market. It took Netscape about a minute.

The IPO, underwritten by Morgan Stanley and Hambrecht & Quist, included 5 million shares of Netscape, priced at $28 per share. The shares went up for sale August 9 on the Nasdaq exchange. The stock opened at $71 per share. It climbed as high as $74.75 a share before settling at day’s end to $58.25.

It was a smashing debut by any measure—“the best opening day for a stock in Wall Street history for an issue of its size,” the New York Times said. The IPO demonstrated that the Web could be a place to make fortunes fast. Clark’s stake in Netscape was worth more than half a billion dollars; Andreessen’s was worth more than $58 million. The Wall Street Journal observed that it had taken General Dynamics 43 years to become a corporation worth $2.7 billion in the stock market. It had taken Netscape “about a minute.” The IPO, as Robert H. Reid wrote in Architects of the Web, “put the Internet indelibly on the map with millions of people who hadn’t been there yet.”

Fifteen days after Netscape’s IPO, Microsoft unveiled its much-anticipated Windows 95 operating system, which coincided with the release of Internet Explorer 1.0, Microsoft’s Web browser. Explorer 1.0 was a meager product that, ironically, was based on a licensed version of the Mosaic code that Andreessen had developed at Illinois. Then, on December 7, came the emergence of a mortal threat to Netscape: Gates spelled out for journalists and industry analysts a strategy to insert and expand Microsoft’s presence online. Gates declared that Microsoft was “hard-core about the Internet.” Among other moves, Microsoft’s browser would be improved, made faster, and offered online for free.

The Bubble Bursts

The “browser war”—the blood feud between Netscape and Microsoft—was underway. Two days before Gates’ announcement, Netscape’s per-share price had touched $171. It would never again reach that high. Netscape mania had crested as markets sensed the unfolding browser war could become a lopsided fight that Microsoft would win.

Even so, Netscape entered the browser war with a huge advantage in market share. Its dominance unnerved Microsoft. “Netscape is already entrenched in our markets all over the world,” a senior Microsoft executive, Brad Chase, wrote in a confidential internal memorandum in April 1996. “The situation today is scary,” Chase stated. “We have not taken the lead over Netscape in any market yet.” But in time, that equation would change dramatically. As Gates had promised, the Microsoft browser was improved. Internet Explorer 3.0, introduced in 1996, was seen as at least the technological equal to Netscape’s latest version, Navigator 3.0.

The Netscape saga—from spectacular rise to decline and humiliating absorption by AOL—spanned fewer than five years.

What’s more, computer users, especially new users, had little incentive to download and install Navigator on the Windows platform: Internet Explorer was already there, and technically it was just as good. Moreover, Microsoft had muscled its way into the commercial online market, and the largest service providers—including America Online, CompuServe, and AT&T Worldnet—replaced Netscape Navigator with Internet Explorer as their preferred browsing software. According to an America Online internal email, Gates asked an AOL executive in January 1996, “How much do we need to pay you to screw Netscape?” by designating Internet Explorer as AOL’s featured browser.

In the months that followed, Netscape Navigator steadily lost market share to Internet Explorer. The company lost $88 million in the fourth quarter of 1997, and its shares shed more than 20 percent of their value, sliding to less than $20. By August 1998, Internet Explorer eclipsed Navigator as the most popular Web browser.

Netscape’s celebrated run as the flamboyant startup of Silicon Valley reached a bitter end in November 1998, when America Online acquired the company in a stock deal valued at $4.2 billion. It was the first major merger of Internet companies, and it reduced the once-cocksure Netscape to a forlorn and mostly forgotten outpost of AOL. (In a final indignity years after the “browser war,” Microsoft in 2012 acquired from AOL the patents underlying the Netscape browser.)

Microsoft and the “browser war” were the major but not the exclusive reasons for Netscape’s inglorious descent. Netscape never converted its many browser users into paying customers. It never quite knew what to do with its much-visited homepage. The Netscape saga—from spectacular rise to near-hegemony to decline and humiliating absorption by AOL—spanned fewer than five years. In its run, Netscape helped define “Internet time,” an idiom of the late 1990s that meant everything moved more swiftly online. The compressed arc of Netscape’s meteoric trajectory was itself emblematic of Internet time.

More significantly, the rise of Netscape signaled the centrality of the Web in the digital age. Novelist Charles Yu described it this way: “I entered college in 1993 and graduated in 1997. Halfway through, the Internet became a thing. Netscape said: ‘Here you go, here’s a door to a brand-new place in the existence of the universe. We just started letting people in. Go ahead, it’s fun. It’ll keep getting bigger for the rest of your life.’” Like no other single event of the early digital age, Netscape’s IPO in 1995 brought the Web into popular consciousness.

Excerpted and adapted from 1995: The Year the Future Began by W. Joseph Campbell. Copyright © 2015 by the author and reprinted by permission of University of California Press.

Editor: Samantha Oltman (@samoltman)

New Jupiter Ascending Posters Bring the Intergalactic Awesomeness

Jupiter Ascending is the first original, non-adaptation film from Andy and Lana Wachowski in a dozen years, so it seems only right they should have some wholly unique posters to promote it. To that end, the studio behind the film—Warner Bros.—asked designers from Art Machine and Little Giant Studios to create a series of images to bring life to the Wachowskis’ first original production since 2003’s The Matrix Revolutions.

Of the posters, some draw on comic book aesthetics, some have a steampunk feel, and some even evoke the posters for Interstellar. There’s even some art nouveau and nods to the Wachowskis’ own color palette here. Check out all of the alternate Jupiter Ascending posters above.