Weekend Reading 18 – There’s Malware in these Genes

Our Weekend Reading series (brought to you by our Patreon backers) continues with a curated selection of articles—and a few other things—from around the Internet that interested us this week!

Jenny

It’s been a rough week for me in some ways, so when that happens, I go back to some of my old favourites, like the YouTube video Bible in a Minute by Barats and Bereta. It’s like wholesome, amusing comfort food.

Ever wanted to learn everything and yet nothing about the Bible all at the same time? Then this video is for you…

If you’ve been losing faith in the idea that the internet has anything good and pure left in it, take solace in the fact that HORG exists. HORG is a website dedicated to the classfications of those little plastic tags used to hold bread bags closed. If you enjoy taxonomy and strange hobbies, you are sure to enjoy this website.

The Holotypic Occlupanid Research Group is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the study, education, and preservation of a group of inanimate objects that garners little attention in our modern world. Its use in our society is ignored, and its fascinating forms and colors are underappreciated. In order to promote greater occlupanid awareness, and to introduce a comprehensive taxonomy to the scientific community, HORG was founded.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found much directly related to gaming for this week. Instead, here’s a historic Christian site, and potential game setting: Clementinum Library in Prague, which is possibly one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. I can totally picture starting an Unknown Armies campaign in that library.

The Clementinum (Klementinum in Czech) which is a historic complex of buildings housing the national library, is not considered only the most beautiful library in Prague but in the world, as well. The complex was founded when the Jesuits arrived in Bohemia in 1556. The name comes from the chapel dedicated to St. Clement, built in the 11th-century. Later, in the medieval period, a Dominican monastery was founded in the same place, providing a home to the Jesuits.

Peter

An old high friend of mine from high school pointed me to a fascinating article about how inmates who want to game in prison handle randomness, because dice are often contraband. This ties into our summer theme of mental health a bit, too (read to the end where it talks about corrections officers).

It may sound like a strange juxtaposition: hardened, tattooed offenders donning the cloaks of fantasy characters. Yet both former inmates and correctional officers agree: D&D is more common in prison than you might imagine. Most facilities have at least one game going. Some have a player in every cell block. According to Micah Davis, a former inmate and Dungeon Master imprisoned in Texas, “We had our own table in the dayroom. That’s saying something. Aryan brotherhood table, Mexican mafia table, black guy table, and D&D table.”

I’m on record as being a huge fan of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast. I think it may actually be the finest podcast being made today, despite the unbelievably long wait between episodes. Speaking of that wait – for now, it’s over. He just released a new 6-hour mammoth of an episode he’s calling “The Celtic Holocaust” on Caesar’s conquest of Gaul. Because it JUST released, I haven’t finished it yet, but what I’ve listened to so far is very much up to his usual high standards.

He’s been called a lot of things, but no one says that Dan Carlin is boring. His two long-running podcasts are among the most popular in the world. Part storyteller, part analyst, Carlin has mastered the art of looking at subjects from multiple angles and dissecting and thinking about them in original ways. He isn’t afraid to go deep or to inject historical context into modern debates. Whether it’s history or current events he’s discussing, his passion is contagious, his approach refreshing and his ideas tickle your brain in all the right places. He’ll make you mad too. You’ll like it.

Finally, I think it’s good for those of us in North America to read about notable things Christians are doing in other parts of the world, so I have two things along those lines for you, both of them tied to Germany. The first is Martin Junge, a “Chilean who studied his theology in Germany is an expert on the theological and church tradition of European Lutheranism that is strongly inspired by Latin American theology” who just recently received the German city of Augsburg’s Peace prize.  The second is a German who went elsewhere to good works: Ruth Pfau, the “Mother Teresa of Pakistan” who just died at the age of 87, leaving behind an incredible legacy of service and compassion.

 

Grant

Over at Speculative Faith, E. Stephen Burnett meditates on a difficult question: “Should Christian Fans Call Ourselves ‘Geeks’?” He doesn’t necessarily offer a clear yea or nay, but there’s plenty of food for thought here about gatekeeping and defining community membership:

If Christians, who enjoy fantastic stories, gather together to learn and explore and simply delight in Jesus and His gifts of these stories, what should we call ourselves if not “geeks”?

Many websites happily adopt the label, such as Christian Geek Central and Geekdom House.

For my part, I’m agnostic about the term “geek.”

Venture Beat‘s Dean Takahashi interviewed Richard Bartle last month about quitting. Bartle, a professor at the University of Essex, studies gaming and the behavior of gamers, and has had a large impact on the science of game design. From “Game academic Richard Bartle investigates why players quit games”:

The ideas are hypothetical at this point, and he jokingly said he thinks others will shoot them down in flames. But Bartle came up with an interesting array of reasons why players quit playing games. Games might be too easy — or too hard. Players might see too many flaws, or they might see a better game come along. They may have failed to engage with an experience because it was boring; it had no story; it was too complicated; or many other reasons. Here are the slides from his talk.

Finally, in the most cyberpunk news you’ll read this month, Wired reports that “Biohackers Encoded Malware in a Strand of DNA”. As with any computer system, inputs to gene sequencing software are an attack vector, and there is definitely a Shadowrun scenario or two in this article:

In new research they plan to present at the USENIX Security conference on Thursday, a group of researchers from the University of Washington has shown for the first time that it’s possible to encode malicious software into physical strands of DNA, so that when a gene sequencer analyzes it the resulting data becomes a program that corrupts gene-sequencing software and takes control of the underlying computer. While that attack is far from practical for any real spy or criminal, it’s one the researchers argue could become more likely over time, as DNA sequencing becomes more commonplace, powerful, and performed by third-party services on sensitive computer systems. And, perhaps more to the point for the cybersecurity community, it also represents an impressive, sci-fi feat of sheer hacker ingenuity.

“We know that if an adversary has control over the data a computer is processing, it can potentially take over that computer,” says Tadayoshi Kohno, the University of Washington computer science professor who led the project, comparing the technique to traditional hacker attacks that package malicious code in web pages or an email attachment. “That means when you’re looking at the security of computational biology systems, you’re not only thinking about the network connectivity and the USB drive and the user at the keyboard but also the information stored in the DNA they’re sequencing. It’s about considering a different class of threat.”

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