Monday Moves v2.1: Twitter Gets Hacked, Flash Gets Whacked
Sam: Welcome back! It has been an exciting few weeks in the tech world and we are happy to be back with you each Monday. In other exciting news, over the weekend I scored an albatross which has 6 million to 1 odds. With one lucky swing of my 3 wood from about 220 yards out at the 16th hole of Wildwood my golf game came to a dramatic peak that will be very hard to repeat for the rest of my life.
Raj: Monday Moves is back and better than ever. If you’ve lost your minds during quarantine like Sam and I have, just remember that we’re all in this together. During quarantine I’ve been reading a lot, and I’m aiming to read 20 books in a year for the first time since high school. You can follow my progress on Goodreads, which is an awesome book-tracking service. I’ve also decided to write frequently about what I’m reading on my blog. Here is a post I recently wrote on the book Deep Work by Cal Newport.
Raj: No! Kanye West, Joe Biden, and Bill Gates do NOT want your bitcoin.
High profile Twitter accounts were hacked en masse last week in possibly the biggest breach ever on the platform. Hackers gained access to a set admin tools available to mid-level Twitter employees, and these tools have now fallen under scrutiny as well. The hackers first breached popular bitcoin and cryptocurrency influencer accounts, and then kept climbing up the ladder of influential accounts until they reached accounts as high up as Kanye West, Joe Biden, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Barack Obama. The compromised accounts were used to scam bitcoin, and the hackers ended up netting nearly $120,000 in bitcoin. The real story is not about bitcoin paranoia, but about Twitter’s spilled secrets.
This report by Vice gives us the low-down. A Twitter insider was paid to provide access to their account. The hackers then used an admin tool to change the email accounts of breached accounts. Screenshots of the tool went viral, and Twitter has deleted the screenshots and suspended the accounts who posted them. Here is one of the posted screenshots.
What’s concerning about this whole event is that we now know that Twitter employees have the ability to go into user accounts and post on the accounts’ behalf. Could this tool be used nefariously against accounts whose political views don’t align with Twitter’s? I’d like to see the platform take responsibility in more meaningful ways instead of banning the use of the terms “whitelist” and “blacklist” for apparently being racist. I don’t want to get too controversial here, but it seems that a bigger priority for Twitter should be to clamp down on nefarious activity that could jeopardize elections, crash stock markets, or ruin careers.
Sam: Farewell Flash… your legacy will live on.
In December of this year Adobe will end support for Flash Player - the browser plugin that is largely responsible for building the internet as we know it. If you have watched a video (ex YouTube pre 2015), visited an independent website, played a stupid game, or clicked on an ad in the last 20 years, you have used Flash. Like many technologies, Flash started as the dream of a rag tag group of developers and due to hard work, clever business relationships, and a little bit of luck, it became the standard across the internet for video, online game developers, and small websites. Flash was purchased by Adobe in 2005 for $3.6 billion and over the last 10 years it slowly declined in popularity, eventually being replaced by more modern alternatives. One of the leaders in Flash’s decline from dominance was Steve Jobs who in 2010 (to a great degree of irony) lambasted the closed and proprietary design of Flash and then openly declared war on it. Adobe diverted resources away from Flash, lost the mobile platform war, and eventually gave up as the various jobs that Flash once dominated were scattered to other new protocols and softwares. The wild story of the rise and decline of Flash are documented in a fantastic article in Ars Technica which includes exciting details on failed ventures, last minute decisions to include Flash in prominent platforms, explicit games, AT&T blunders (of course), big money, and small developers. Flash leaves behind a legacy of empowering small developers and creative minds to produce content on the internet. The simplicity and effectiveness of Flash are what made it such a unique and successful platform, and there are countless creators, websites, and businesses that owe their success to it. RIP Flash, despite your constant updates, you were awesome. *Fun side notes below*
Raj: Spotify stopped working. Because of Facebook. Again.
A little over a week ago, iOS users noticed that Spotify, Pinterest, Waze, and other apps were not launching. Sounds familiar to a story we posted back in v1.4. Turns out the issue this time had the same source: Facebook. A problem in the Facebook software development toolkit (SDK) crippled many apps in the app ecosystem as the Facebook SDK is widely used for login and authentication.
This is the second time in just a couple months that this problem has occurred, and developers are not happy. I found this comment on the Github thread pretty amusing:
I wouldn’t be surprised if many developers are now reconsidering whether to incorporate the Facebook SDK into their apps. Outages can easily turn users away from an app, and developers at smaller apps will be especially distressed. The last time this happened, I wrote about how every single app that you use everyday likely runs code from Facebook or Google. The Facebook SDK is entrenched into the app ecosystem, and so to really change this practice would require overcoming a lot of cultural inertia. But it’s also true that Facebook would suffer a huge hit if a majority of apps decide to no longer bother with the Facebook SDK. It’ll be curious to see if Facebook adopts more careful code review policies, or if Apple pressures Facebook to do so.
Sam: Space Updates: The United Arab Emirates launched their first interplanetary mission and SpaceX breaks an internal record
The UAE successfully launched a mission that will be sending a probe to orbit Mars. The timing of the mission was important because the correct planetary alignment only happens once every 26 months, and the goal was to have probe orbiting in time for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the nation’s founding, which will happen in December 2021. The probe still has a lot of complex maneuvers and stages before it makes it into orbit, but for those involved in the program, including many US universities, this is a huge success. With the rise in private competition for space dominance, the UAE just made a mark and said they are also in contention.
Switching over to the private sector, SpaceX just broke the record for booster turnaround. In just 51 days SpaceX was able to refit a Falcon 9 rocket for another launch, beating the previous record by 12 days. This trend is exciting, and shows the continual progress SpaceX is making to reduce time and cost of each launch into space. I also think the contrast between the accomplishments of the UAE and SpaceX are striking. The UAE’s mission to Mars is more exploratory and was driven by national pride, SpaceX’s mission is an example of their business model (this launch was a Korean Satellite) and work on cornering the space transportation market. As both private industry and nations compete in the new space race, will national pride or profit motive lead the most innovative discoveries?
Raj: GPT-3, OpenAI’s new language generator, is blowing people’s minds.
Before reading my words, go to this link and read Manuel Araoz’s blog post on GPT-3.
Did you read it? Well, if you didn’t make it to the end of it….it wasn’t written by Manuel; it was written by OpenAI’s GPT-3, an AI that creates shockingly human-like text. It is a language prediction model, which means it receives a body of text and assigns a probability distribution to word sequences, allowing programs to generate similar sequences of words. GPT-3 was described a couple months ago in a paper, but this past week a few people got to try its private beta. And the results have been astounding. Here are a few of the coolest implementations I found in a Twitter thread by Kaj Sotala.
Automatic code generation from natural language inputs. Basically, enter e.g. “A button for every color of the rainbow” and the output is the JSX code for exactly that.
GPT-3 is the latest in OpenAI’s line of general purpose natural language processing models, and it blows GPT-2 out of the park. Learning parameters are the values that a neural network optimizes when being trained; GPT-3 has 175 billion parameters to GPT-2’s 1.5 billion.
There’s a long waiting list to try the beta. I recommend signing up immediately if you want to test this out for yourself.
Who’s Making Moves?
↗ UP: Ford got a nice boost after unveiling the long anticipated reboot of the Bronco. Despite the electric car frenzy there is still a market for big trucks.
↘ DOWN: Nikola stock dropped by over 21% after announcing they plan to sell 23.9 million shares. Sounds like they need to raise some money.
🦘 KANG: Although Twitter stock had a small drop after the hacking, it is currently trading higher before their earnings call on the 23rd. Twitter stock has been fluctuating for months now as it has increasingly been the target of political scrutiny. Don’t expect this trend to change before the November election.
That’s all for this week. Keep on moving.
*I, like many people my age, spent countless hours parked in front of my Windows XP desktop computer narrowly avoiding viruses in order to play the myriad of exciting Flash games that were popular at the time. I will never forget when my friend (who also introduced me to YouTube) showed me “Bush Shoot-Out” a Flash game where you play as (then) President Bush and Condoleezza Rice and shoot terrorists to escape the White House. It was the first flash game I played online, and emblematic of the bizarre games of the era. I also remember waiting patiently with my sister for Miniclip to add their “Christmas Games” each year. Fun times!
Also watch this video.
Title contenders for v2.1:
Bitcoin Scam and a Flash in the Pan
Bitcoin Scam and the End of an Iconic Program
Flashing Lights and Sleepless Nights (for Jack Dorsey)
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Until next Monday,
Raj & Sam