Biggest online manhunt ever?

Your writing style is your fingerprint:

The ‘creator’ of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, is the world’s most elusive billionaire. Very few people outside of the Department of Homeland Security know Satoshi’s real name. In fact, DHS will not publicly confirm that even THEY know the billionaire’s identity. Satoshi has taken great care to keep his identity secret employing the latest encryption and obfuscation methods in his communications. Despite these efforts (according to my source at the DHS) Satoshi Nakamoto gave investigators the only tool they needed to find him — his own words.

Using stylometry one is able to compare texts to determine authorship of a particular work. Throughout the years Satoshi wrote thousands of posts and emails and most of which are publicly available. According to my source, the NSA was able to the use the ‘writer invariant’ method of stylometry to compare Satoshi’s ‘known’ writings with trillions of writing samples from people across the globe. […]

The NSA then took bulk emails and texts collected from their mass surveillance efforts. First through PRISM (a court-approved front-door access to Google and Yahoo user accounts) and then through MUSCULAR (where the NSA copies the data flows across fiber optic cables that carry information among the data centers of Google, Yahoo, Amazon, and Facebook) the NSA was able to place trillions of writings from more than a billion people in the same plane as Satoshi’s writings to find his true identity. The effort took less than a month and resulted in positive match.

Creepy if true.

They’re watching

Related: a fascinating essay on the elusive computer scientist that really needs to be adapted for the screen.

Freelance writing doesn’t pay

In case you had any doubts about that:

Here is an update with further evidence suggesting that making a viable living as a professional freelance journalist and writer is an untenable, Sisyphean delusion:

I was sitting at my desk yesterday morning, my pal, Lamont, content snoozing at my feet, absorbed in final editing of a long term investigative reporting project, the latest of many that I have been self-financing awaiting a positive response from a flurry of funding proposals sent that, once again, have been met with enthusiasm but no available funding, rejection, or silence.

I love being a journalist. It isn’t what I do, but, more accurately, who I am.

I was interrupted by three loud, harsh, rapid-fire knocks on the front door to my rented apartment. Immediately, I recognized the signature notification of the hostile adversarial arrival of armed agents with the authority and power of the State.

I was not unsurprised.

My rent was delinquent, and despite numerous, persistent, and increasingly bordering on desperate efforts to acquire funding or institutional support for my work as a freelance investigative journalist to compensate for even the minimal costs of living expenses–the modern equivalent of food, shelter, and protection from the elements–these efforts have not been successful.

Comedy ensues, although it probably didn’t seem very funny at the time.

This guy interviewed Pol Pot, so I assume he has some talent, maybe a lot of talent. Let this be a lesson that most people who think they can hack it as a freelance writer/journalist… can’t. The math just doesn’t work.

Fake department store

This is one of the most insane things I’ve ever read. A British author visits a North Korean department store without minders (don’t try this at home):

I went several times during the festival to Pyongyang Department Store Number 1. This is in the very centre of the city. Its shelves and counters were groaning with locally produced goods, piled into impressive pyramids or in fan-like displays, perfectly arranged, throughout the several floors of the building. On the ground floor was a wide variety of tinned foods, hardware and alcoholic drinks, including a strong Korean liqueur with a whole snake pickled or marinated in the bottle, presumably as an aphrodisiac. Everything glittered with perfection, the tidiness was remarkable.

It didn’t take long to discover that this was no ordinary department store. It was filled with thousands of people, going up and down the escalators, standing at the corners, going in and out of the front entrance in a constant stream both ways – yet nothing was being bought or sold. I checked this by standing at the entrance for half an hour. The people coming out were carrying no more than the people entering. Their shopping bags contained as much, or as little, when they left as when they entered. In some cases, I recognised people coming out as those who had gone in a few minutes before, only to see them re-entering the store almost immediately. And I watched a hardware counter for fifteen minutes. There were perhaps twenty people standing at it; there were two assistants behind the counter, but they paid no attention to the ‘customers’. The latter and the assistants stared past each other in a straight line, neither moving nor speaking.

Eventually, they grew uncomfortably aware that they were under my observation. They began to shuffle their feet and wriggle, as if my regard pinned them like live insects to a board. The assistants too became restless and began to wonder what to do in these unforeseen circumstances. They decided that there was nothing for it but to distribute something under the eyes of this inquisitive foreigner. And so, all of a sudden, they started to hand out plastic wash bowls to the twenty ‘customers’, who took them (without any pretence of payment). Was it their good luck, then? Had they received something for nothing? No, their problems had just begun. What were they to do with their plastic wash bowls? (All of them were brown incidentally, for the assistants did not have sufficient initiative to distribute a variety of goods to give verisimilitude to the performance, not even to the extent of giving out differently coloured bowls.)

They milled around the counter in a bewildered fashion, clutching their bowls in one hand as if they were hats they had just doffed in the presence of a master. Some took them to the counter opposite to hand them in; some just waited until I had gone away. I would have taken a photograph, but I remembered just in time that these people were not participating in this charade from choice, that they were victims, and that – despite their expressionless faces and lack of animation – they were men with chajusong, that is to say creativity and consciousness, and to have photographed them would only have added to their degradation. I left the hardware counter, but returned briefly a little later: the same people were standing at it, sans brown plastic bowls, which were neatly re-piled on the shelf.

I also followed a few people around at random, as discreetly as I could. Some were occupied in ceaselessly going up and down the escalators; others wandered from counter to counter, spending a few minutes at each before moving on. They did not inspect the merchandise; they moved as listlessly as illiterates might, condemned to spend the day among the shelves of a library. I did not know whether to laugh or explode with anger or weep. But I knew I was seeing one of the most extraordinary sights of the twentieth century.

It’s an excerpt from the outstanding book The Wilder Shores of Marx: Journeys in a Vanishing World. You can read more here.

Checking out the merchandise

This makes me think of China’s department stores, such as Shanghai No. 1 Department Store, which are certainly not filled with fake shoppers as in the above anecdote, but they can’t be doing much better in terms of sales.

You can see the Communist influence in the clumsy payment process, where the sales clerk hands you a sales slip in triplicate for the item you want (such as an overpriced pair of ECCO shoes), then you have to leave the item with the clerk and take the sales slip to the cashier booth, where you pay and get all the copies of the sales slip stamped by the cashier, then walk back to the clerk and give her one of the stamped copies of the slip to collect your item – and repeat this process for every item you buy.

Which is just part of the reason why nobody shops at department stores in China anymore and the Shanghai No. 1 Department Store is closing for an overhaul.

It’s seen better days

A comfortable escape

From the Bangkok Post:

Security border officials are quite certain that former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra left Thailand by sea during her escape from Thailand.

A source at the Royal Thai Navy said it was unlikely that Ms Yingluck crossed an unmanned land border, such as those in Chanthaburi and Trat, as they feature mountainous terrain which are thought to be infested with landmines.

“I believe a VIP like Khun Yingluck would not choose such a channel to slip out of the country,” the source said. “She would surely have chosen a comfortable way.”

Ms Yingluck failed to turn up at the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders on Friday to hear the ruling on her alleged negligence in the rice-pledging scheme.

The source added that it would be even harder for Ms Yingluck to leave the country via an official border post, as these are permanently monitored by soldiers, immigration police and customs officials. […]

Whatever method and route she used, it is generally assumed that Ms Yingluck crossed in to Cambodia before catching a flight via Singapore to Dubai, where her brother and fellow former PM Thaksin Shinawatra lives in exile.

All the people who ever lived

An estimated 108 billion people have ever lived on the planet earth.

That is very much a guesstimate.

By 1 A.D., the world may have held about 300 million people. One estimate of the population of the Roman Empire, from Spain to Asia Minor, in 14 A.D., is 45 million. However, other historians set the figure twice as high, suggesting how imprecise population estimates of early historical periods can be.

By 1650, world population rose to about 500 million, not a large increase over the 1 A.D. estimate. The average annual rate of growth was actually lower from 1 A.D. to 1650 than the rate suggested above for the 8000 B.C. to 1 A.D. period. One reason for this abnormally slow growth was the Black Death. This dreaded plague was not limited to 14th-century Europe. The epidemic may have begun about 542 A.D. in western Asia, spreading from there. It is believed that half the Byzantine Empire was destroyed in the 6th century, a total of 100 million deaths. Such large fluctuations in population size over long periods greatly compound the difficulty of estimating the number of people who have ever lived.

Assuming the population was relatively stable over the first half of the 1600s, there were about as many people in the entire world in Shakespeare’s day as there are in the NAFTA countries today.


5-second product pickup

This is amazing but also slightly disturbing:

Walmart is building giant self-service kiosks that retrieve customers’ online orders in its stores.

The kiosks, which Walmart calls pickup towers, are in about 20 stores today. Walmart is planning to roll them out to more than 100 locations over the next couple of months.

We recently tested one of the towers at a Walmart store in Midlothian, Virginia, and we were shocked by how easy and quick it was to use. […]

When we arrived at the store, we found the pickup tower a few steps from the entrance. Its sheer size made it easy to spot — it’s staggeringly large, standing more than 16 feet tall and 8 feet wide. […]

When we approached the machine, we were prompted to scan a barcode or enter an order number. We chose to scan the barcode that was included in our email from Walmart.

Within five seconds of scanning the barcode, a previously hidden compartment above the screen lit up, revealing a conveyer belt and a cardboard box that was seemingly produced out of thin air.

Then a glass door retracted, giving us access to the box.

Mingtiandi cited in the Chicago Tribune

CNice to have an article of mine cited in the Chicago Tribune (emphasis added):

A Chicago developer said construction of the 98-story Vista Tower, which will be the third-tallest building in the city once completed, is unaffected despite major changes to the Chinese company that is backing the condominium and hotel project.

Magellan Development Group’s $1 billion East Wacker Drive skyscraper is one of several commercial real estate properties caught up in a Chinese government crackdown on high-leverage investments overseas.

Billionaire Wang Jianlin’s Dalian Wanda Group, Magellan’s equity investor in the Chicago tower, is in the midst of a major company restructuring as the result of heavy pressure from the Chinese government over its investments in the U.S. and other countries.

On Wednesday, Wanda Hotel Development Co. — which is publicly traded in Hong Kong — disclosed that it is selling stakes in real estate projects including the Chicago tower to a privately held company controlled by Wang’s family. That company is called Dalian Wanda Commercial Properties Co.

While the sale simply amounts to shifting ownership stakes from one Wanda Group affiliate to another, it could signal more changes are ahead. Mingtiandi, a newsletter and website that covers the Asian commercial real estate market, said it could be a step toward Wanda eventually selling ownership stakes of properties in cities including Chicago, London and Sydney.

But Magellan President David Carlins said he’s had no discussions about a potential sale from Wanda Group.

“We have not heard anything about (a sale), and there would have to be conversations about that, because it would require our consent,” Carlins said.

Wanda Group representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Here’s the Mingtiandi article referred to above:

Dalian Wanda Group is selling stakes in nearly $4.5 billion in real estate projects across the UK, US, China and Australia to a privately held company controlled by its chairman Wang Jianlin, according to an announcement to the Hong Kong stock exchange on Thursday.

The asset sale is part of what the company says is a $1 billion restructuring after the property and entertainment conglomerate became a focal point for a Chinese government crackdown on cross-border deals and excessive leverage over the past few months.

Analysts believe that the restructuring is likely to be an intermediate step in Wanda ultimately selling off its interests in property projects in London, Chicago, Sydney and other locations, that made it into one of China’s best known players during the country’s 2012 to 2016 “go global” spree.

The Art of Innovation: Joe Oppedisano

Originally published in 2007 at The article has vanished from that site, but it shows up here and I’ve reproduced it below.

Photographer Joe Oppedisano proves with his 35mm Imation 3M disposable cameras that you don’t need an expensive set of gear to create art worthy of getting published.

Joe Oppedisano does a good impersonation of a tourist. Strolling down the streets of New York, he surveys everything eagerly, peering at signs and storefronts, and squinting at skyscrapers towering overhead. From time to time, he stops and whips out a disposable camera. The cheap plastic device captures the scene with a satisfying “click,” and its owner walks on. Thus he ambles through the city, to all appearances another shutter-happy sightseer. But in reality, Oppedisano is hard at work.

The stocky, mustachioed pedestrian with the single-use camera is a photographer, one of the best-known in Italy. And the disposable 35mm is one of his favorite professional tools, not least because it lets him blend in with the crowd. Almost anyone else would find the plastic box infuriatingly limiting, but Oppedisano uses it with relish, creating startlingly beautiful pictures of the urban landscape. In one photo, the Twin Towers rise dramatically against a stormy sky, their tops nearly vanishing in the brooding clouds. In another, soft yellow and blue hues lend a melancholy ambiance to a scene of deserted Coney Island rides.

It is hard to believe that such subtle visual effects can be wrought with such primitive equipment. When his photo books New York and On the Road appeared, based on his work with Imation 3M disposables, journalists asked to see the negatives, doubtful that the throwaway camera could render this kind of art. “It intrigued me to demonstrate that you don’t need very expensive camera gear to create an interesting image,” says Oppedisano. “A lot of people, when they see an interesting image, they always ask you, ‘What camera did you use?’ They actually believe that the camera took the image, and not the person behind the camera.”

It’s ironic that this observation comes from someone who has always made the most of technology. When he is not clicking away with disposables or shooting with quirky contraptions like a huge 50×60 Polaroid, Oppedisano is taking apart and reconfiguring his cameras, going to the nuts and bolts to expand the expressive range of the medium. “I’ve always been an artist, so I’ve always tried to push technique to its limit and also bend the rules.” This continuous technological experimentation has had striking results. From the surreal melding of perspectives in his “Inner Self” series, to the mesmerizing fragmentation of his collages and “Extensions” portraits, his innovations have yielded unusual effects that push the envelope of the photographic format.

The edgy originality of his work, Oppedisano feels, derives in part from his bi-cultural background. Born in Reggio Calabria, on the “toe” of the Italian boot, Oppedisano, now 52, spent the first seven years of his life in Italy before moving with his family to New York. He grew up and received his education in the States, before moving back to Italy, where he has lived for the past twenty-five years. Coming of age as an immigrant gave him an unusual perspective on the world around him. Like the Swiss-born photographer Robert Frank, whose unflattering depictions of ratty diners and forlorn faces in his photo book The Americans articulated the fresh, skeptical viewpoint of an outsider, Oppedisano found that being a newcomer had its advantages. “I saw life in a different way,” he recalls.

His interest in photography was kindled early, by a small automatic Bell and Howell camera that he gave his brother for Christmas but then appropriated for himself. Snapping pictures of his friends and family and the places they visited, Oppedisano discovered an enthusiasm for documenting life. But his artistic ambitions were hazy even after he enrolled in Queen’s College in 1971. Out of curiosity, he took a photography course as an elective, and it proved a revelation. Finding that photography fused his passion for travel and culture with his artistic propensities, he left Queen’s College and studied photography at the School of Visual Arts in New York for two years.

His freelance career began in 1976, when he was hired as the official photographer for an Alitalia press junket in Tuscany. The same year, a giant earthquake rocked the Friuli region of northern Italy, killing nearly a thousand and leaving 70,000 homeless. Oppedisano was commissioned to cover the event by a writer for the Philadelphia Herald whom he had met on the Alitalia junket. The young photographer had set his sights on photojournalism, but the encounter with mass destruction left him deeply shaken. Meeting people who had lost their entire families in the disaster, Oppedisano discovered that he lacked the cold blood necessary to be a journalist. He shot perhaps three rolls of film during the five-day tour of refugee camps and wreckage. “It was just like being in a death camp…I couldn’t even shoot. I felt terrible taking pictures of these people.” News journalism, then, was out, and Oppedisano turned his attention to less wrenching professional avenues like advertising photography and cultural reportage.

Three years later he was back in Italy. The newly-created International Center of Photography of New York organized the Venezia ‘79 la fotografia, a four-month series of seminars in Venice headed by the top photographers in the world. “You name them, they were there,” Oppedisano recalls. As an assistant at the seminars, he worked with luminaries like Harold Edgerton, Ernst Haas, and Lisette Model. Edgerton exerted a particular influence. Oppedisano, always fascinated by technological innovation, admired the MIT engineer for his invention of the electronic stroboscope, which allowed photographers to capture phenomena too fast for the naked eye to perceive, like a drop of milk splattering or a bullet slicing through an apple.

Spurred in part by the Venice experience, Oppedisano decided in 1982 to return to his Mediterranean origins and settle in Milan. Experimenting and using unique technology continued to fascinate him. In 1987 he took a series of portraits using a mammoth 50×60 Polaroid camera, one of only three in existence, and later turned the same camera to the colorful world of Italian circuses and festivals. He also began thinking about how to modify a normal 35mm camera to expand the scope of the film format. An interest in Futurism, the early twentieth-century Italian art movement, stimulated these reflections. The Futurist painters used something called “simultaneity,” the depiction of successive stages of movement in one image, to capture time and motion on canvas. Oppedisano pondered how he could push the boundaries of his own medium in a Futurist way.

Photographers can evoke the passage of time by shooting a sequence of images. For example, the gallop of a horse can be represented by a strip of images of the horse in motion. Unfortunately, this leaves distracting spaces between each frame, acting as visual barriers to the eye as it progresses from one image to the next. Oppedisano wanted to create a sequence consisting of a single, seamless image. The solution he devised was to slide the film back a little after shooting each picture in a sequence, thus eliminating the spaces between frames. The resulting merged sequences were beautiful, but manually adjusting the film in the camera was a slow, tedious, and error-prone procedure, so he began tampering with his camera in search of an alternative technique.

Oppedisano worked on the problem for about a year, destroying three cameras in the process. But his persistence paid off, because he finally had a re-engineered 35mm camera that shot film frames without interspaces, the only one of its kind in the world. He used the modified camera to create full-body portraits, shooting various parts of the subject in succession from head to toe. His portrait of Eddie Floyd, for example, is a vertical strip of seven panels depicting different parts of the R&B artist’s body. Floyd’s head fills the topmost panel; the panel below it frames his chest, but shot closer-up than his head; and so on. Each panel offers a different perspective of the subject, and when you sweep your eyes from top to bottom of the absurdly elongated portrait, you are seeing Eddie Floyd as you might in real life. Because we cannot absorb all the visual information in a given scene at once, we glance at various parts of the scene and then synthesize these images into a mental whole. The Floyd portrait simulates that process, conveying an almost cinematic sense of immediacy and reality.

Like his “Extensions,” Oppedisano’s “Inner Self” series, which he started in 1995, renews the portrait genre with innovative technique. Oppedisano had long been intrigued by the artistic potential of double exposure, the device of superimposing two images by exposing a single negative twice. Believe it or not, you can do this. “Most people think, once you put a roll of film in a camera, you can’t take it out unless you wind it all back. But you can take it out and put it back as much as you want,” notes Oppedisano with a chuckle. Applying double exposure to portraiture yielded marvelous results. Oppedisano would shoot the profile of the portrait subject against a white background, then capture a close-up of the subject’s face on the same frame of film. The resulting image is a hybrid of two perspectives that makes you look twice in surprise: the silhouette of the profile circumscribes the face. Like the drawing which is either a rabbit or a duck, depending on how you look at it, the “Inner Self” portraits appear, impossibly, to embody two different images within one.

No wonder that people greet their own portraits with a mixture of astonishment and curiosity. “They’ve never seen themselves that way…It makes them think,” says Oppedisano. “They appreciate it, because it’s something that they see in themselves also.” By bending the format in an abstract way, Oppedisano infused the portrait genre with a new kind of psychological depth and suggestiveness. The Italian poet Edoardo Sanguinette wrote that in his portraits you can sometimes hear the person’s voice – and for Oppedisano a higher compliment can hardly be imagined.

His innovations do not stop there. Like the “Extensions,” Oppedisano’s gorgeous collages push the expressive limits of the photograph, but by means of a grid rather than a stack of images. Consider his collage of renowned Italian film critic Morando Morandini sitting in his study. Morandini is enclosed in a few little panels of film, while around him proliferates a chaotic welter of books, papers, and pictures. It is like seeing through the eyes of an insect, and Oppedisano’s technique of tilting the camera differently from frame to frame adds to the confusion. But the image is remarkably rich, and the eye lingers on its multitudinous details, which have a subtle harmony of arrangement.

Oppedisano, now living in a villa with other artists in Verona, is enjoying his professional repute. His work has been recognized in exhibitions all over Italy and abroad in Quebec, and has been published in various books (among them Unusual Portraits, The Circus, The Inner Self, New York and On the Road) and international magazines. In 2004, he was awarded the international trophy “Life for Photography.” Tragedy, however, has cast a pall over his recent successes. In November 2001, an ex-girlfriend of his, journalist Maria Grazia Cutuli, was in Afghanistan covering the fall of the Taliban for Italy’s leading daily Corriere della Sera, when she and three other journalists were pulled out of their car and executed by an Afghan gang. And two years ago a journalist and friend from his area was captured and beheaded in Iraq.

Oppedisano has been pulling himself out of a creative slump induced by the trauma. Recently he shot a series of “Inner Self” portraits on perhaps the trickiest subject, himself. “I try to do it spontaneously…I load one in, then I think of something that I want to express within myself, and then I just go out and shoot it…I leave it a lot up to the moment, because of course your feelings change constantly and every day…So I try to make it an emotional effort.” He has also started experimenting with color portraits.

Oppedisano has a lot more on the table. For a while he has been dreaming about making the world’s longest print, an 80-meter monster produced by the fusion of 250 exposures. To pull off this feat, he would have to add a sports back, a special device for holding a spool of film, to the modified camera he uses for his “Extensions.” Although he has the technical process figured out, a couple of kinks remain. He will need a sponsor, for one thing. And Oppedisano wants a vertical, rather than horizontal, print, which limits his options for a subject rather drastically (candidates include a redwood tree and a giant male member). Another dream: he is thinking of going to China to do a reprise of a photographic tour he conducted there in 1984, with a new vision for a changed country.

Whether or not he realizes these ambitions in the near future, Oppedisano will keep exploring new photographic terrain. “The more you experiment, the more you learn,” he reflects. “You get deeper and deeper into the subject, and into the matter.” Which explains why Oppedisano, who prides himself on his innovative use of technology, never forgets to pack a disposable camera with him on his excursions. Any camera, if used in the right way, can stretch the possibilities of the medium. What matters is the vision behind the viewfinder. “The concept of photography is always the same. Whether you shoot it with a disposable, or you shoot it with a digital, it’s not the camera that takes the picture. That’s the fundamental part.”

A good question

The cartoonist gets it (sort of):

North Korea keeps testing missiles that can reach the United States. China could turn off trade with North Korea, and effectively force them to stop, but that isn’t happening. Why the hell not?

A story in Newsweek says the bulk of Chinese trade with North Korea involves just ten Chinese companies. The working assumption is that those ten companies are so “connected” and powerful that even the Chinese government can’t influence them, or might not want to try.

Fair enough. That makes the government of China common observers in this drama. Embarrassing for them.

This is where he’s wrong. The Chinese government is perfectly capable of bringing major corporations to heel when it wants to. The problem in this case is that the government doesn’t really want to. From the Newsweek article:

Other analysts simply believe that a nuclear North means a permanently divided peninsula, rather than one under Seoul’s rule, and that Beijing will forever be happy with that arrangement because it wants no part of a united Korea allied with the U.S. on its border.

 By the way, South Korea is fine with a divided peninsula too.

Adams again:

But those ten companies are certainly our enemies. I’d say those ten companies are fair game for a cyberattack, a financial attack, competitive attack, and any other kind of non-military attack we can mount.

That’s clever, and the account in the Newsweek article suggests that US policy is moving in that direction. Diplomatic and verbal measures have spectacularly failed. But the full range of non-kinetic options hasn’t been exhausted yet. Hopefully, something like this will work and the US won’t have to resort to war, because that would be an utter disaster for everyone.