Category Archives: Assistive Media

The Doomsday Click (Michael Specter, The New Yorker / Assistive Media)

The Doomsday Click (MP3) is a Michael Specter piece from May 2001 on the engineering and spread of malware on the Internet. The full text is available. The MP3 is part of a collection at Assistive Media of New Yorker articles available as audio – good listening there.

Some things mentioned there include

Peter G. Neumann’s RISKS Digest, Forum On Risks To The Public In Computers And Related Systems.

“To do this stuff is utterly trivial,” Peter G. Neumann, who is a principal scientist at SRI International, the technological consulting firm, told me. “Every other kid can do it, and we know that. That isn’t what worries me.” Neumann, who is sixty-eight, has worked at and advised many of the nation’s most important universities and government institutions, from the Navy and Harvard to the highly secretive National Security Agency. Mostly as a hobby, he moderates a forum on the Internet and produces a running list called “Illustrative Risks to the Public in the Use of Computer Systems and Related Technologies,” which is the most frightening collection of random dangers I have ever seen. “What worries me is the big one,” Neumann said, as we sat in his office in Menlo Park, California, one day. “People don’t like to talk about this, because it’s seen as encouraging the enemy, but absolutely everything is riddled with security flaws. Hackers can get into our most important systems in minutes, sometimes in seconds.

“And they do,” he added. “The Internet is waiting for its Chernobyl, and I don’t think we will be waiting much longer; we are running too close to the edge. When a third of the computer drives in America are wiped out in a single day, when the banking and commerce system is overcome, or the power grids and emergency-response systems of twenty states shut down because of a malicious computer attack, maybe then people will think about what’s going on here.”

Bruce Schneier’s Schneier on Security blog.

“Computer security is a forty-year-old discipline,” Bruce Schneier told me not long ago. Schneier created two of the most heavily used encryption algorithms, and his recent book on digital security, “Secrets & Lies,” is perhaps the best popular exploration of the subject. “Every year, there is new research, new technology, and new products,” he said. “Really good research, really good technology, and really good products. Yet every year the situation gets worse. Much worse. The Internet is just too complex to secure.”

So Schneier decided to stop trying. Instead, he started Counterpane Internet Security, which relies on the skills of humans, flawed and inconsistent as they are, to manage the risks. Counterpane installs a special warning box–a Sentry–in every computer network it monitors. The sentries funnel information to a central knowledge base that keeps track of each client’s idiosyncrasies. “We are like a fire brigade,” Schneier told me. “Or an emergency room. In the real world, this kind of expertise is always farmed out.”

Counterpane was recently acquired by British Telecom.


Google wants to dominate Madison Avenue, too (NY Times via Assistive Media)

Assistive Media has a 2005 NY Times story on Google’s AdWords system – Google wants to dominate Madison Avenue, too – available as an MP3. The original story is online at the International Herald Tribune.

Talking iPods and cell phones

From The Scotsman’s Richard Gray:

FROM Walkman to Talkman. Not content with changing the world’s music-listening habits, Apple has come up with another innovation: the talking iPod.

A new generation of machines will use sophisticated software to convert the names of bands, albums and individual tracks into recognisable speech.

The new iPod will tell you what it is about to play, removing the need for users to look at the screen while selecting music, and making the device safer and easier to use while driving, cycling or in badly-lit locations.

The story references a patent application, but I haven’t see the details yet.

A comment in The Unofficial Apple Weblog relates

I’ve had this for -years- on my PhatBox in my car.. All it does is generate .WAV files for the speech, and then upload them to the PhatBox.. The PhatBox uses the .WAV files to announce the track, album, arist, etc.. With more cars having iPod docks, or line-in, I see this as a much safer way to use it..

Music players aren’t the only devices that talk. A little looking leads to this talking software for the Nokia Series 60 phones, SpeechPak TALKS:

I think this is a really compelling use of a smart phone, and one that shouldn’t be lightly dismissed. Unlike other phones like the cool K700, a mobile phone with an operating system can provide services like this for users who may need special access. I can imagine other applications as well – say blowing up the size of the text for those users who may not be blind, but with visual impairment of some sort. But even just sticking with voice, SMS is suddenly accessible, as is email and WAP pages. In the near future, location services could help the user navigate around town with spoken directions and more – I have no idea what it would be like to visually disabled, but I’m sure there are times when something like that would be quite handy. It’s really quite amazing, if you think about it.

New Assistive Media site is up

There’s a newly relaunched Assistive Media site up. We took all the data from the old site and pushed it into Movable Type, and then reconstructed most of the look and feel of the old one with all the benefits of having simple content management.

Assistive Media provides audio recordings for the visually impaired, delivered over the net to listeners around the world. It’s been running since 1996, with hundreds of hours of readings online. Everything is read by people, not by computerized voices, so it’s pleasant to listen to. I just got done listening to a reading of Adam Gopnik’s “Bumping into Mr. Ravioli”, part of the collection of The New Yorker recordings online.

Assistive Media update

I have been going through my blog categories in anticipation of Discardia and am reminded that I haven’t written recently about Assistive Media. I’ll try to fix that now.

Assistive Media is a non-profit that provides high quality spoken word recordings to the visually impaired and to those who love listening to good reading. It has a library of a few hundred titles of short fiction and non-fiction from sources like Harpers and the New Yorker, all copyright cleared.

There is also an Assistive Media podcast available in which a title is picked out every week or so for listening. You can subscribe to it on the podcast page or in iTunes.

We are looking forward next semester to getting help from a student at the U of Michigan School of Information to expand out the database we use to produce the web sites and to streamline some of the production efforts, so that the whole thing runs a bit better.

Like many non-profits, this is the time of year we look for individual contributions to help keep the enterprise going for the coming year. Most of the support we have is from foundations, and it’s enough to pay the hosting bills and to pay for student audio editing time. We have an ambition to greatly expand the number of volunteer reading hours, and that will take some resources.

Take a listen – it’s free of charge and there’s some really good stuff there. A sample is a recording of Jeffrey Steingarten’s “Salt Chic” as printed in Vogue in 2002 – put it on to listen next time you’re cooking dinner.

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The Michigan Daily Podcast

The Michigan Daily has been printing a campus newspaper at the University of Michigan for 115 years. They have recently started a podcast edition, which is about six minutes of top stories from the paper read aloud plus highlights of other stories also in the paper. It’s nicely done, and for this Michigan alum who is just a few hundred feet too far away from campus to pick up a free edition of the paper it’s a very handy quick summary.

Now what we need is an Arbor Update podcast. (There’s no reason to believe that the Snooze would ever do one in this decade.)

Here’s a sample edition: the December 13, 2005 Michigan Daily Podcast.

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