Beto O’Rourke, the presidential candidate, once belonged to an obscure but influential band of computer hackers who helped set the scene for Anonymous and the high-profile hacktivists of the modern digital era.
As a teenager in the 1980s, O’Rourke joined the group called the Cult of the Dead Cow (CDC), named for a Texas cattle slaughterhouse. He spent a few years affiliated with CDC, posting on primitive internet message sites and becoming casually acquainted with some of the most well-known hacker activists of that early generation. Joseph Menn, a hacker historian who wrote an upcoming book about Cult of the Dead Cow, revealed O’Rourke’s membership in the group in Reuters on Friday.
The 46-year-old O’Rourke hasn’t actively participated in CDC in years, falling off after he left for Columbia University at age 18. Its members kept his secret for a long time, though, only agreeing to talk publicly about the history after O’Rourke himself spoke with Menn for his book.
The former Texas Congress member already enjoys a certain cool-kid reputation. He’s the skateboarding punk rock bassist who can now claim associations with an influential cadre of early digital activists, who have taken on Microsoft, Chinese censors, and the Church of Scientology.
He doesn’t appear to have been deeply involved or to have participated in any of the group’s better-known stunts. But there is something fitting about O’Rourke’s membership in a group that was known for its communications savvy — “a flair for spectacle” as one expert put it — more than its technical proficiency.
“CDC wasn’t pumping out tech. It was really about trying to get the word out there that hackers could do good in the world,” Gabriella Coleman, a McGill University professor who has written about hacker anthropology and culture, told me. “CDC had cultural cache. They were like the punk rock band of the hacker world.”
The Cult of the Dead Cow coined the term “hacktivism” for politically motivated digital activism. Its biggest stunt targeted Microsoft at the height of its powers in the 1990s in a bid to force the software giant to fix security holes in its programs. CDC ethos could be found in Anonymous, the first hacktivist group to really break out and influence real-world politics.
Now they’ve given us Beto, the first hacker candidate.
The Cult of the Dead Cow, explained
In those days, when the Cult of the Dead Cow was founded in the 1980s, there were a few different kinds of hackers: the truly nerdy programmers with all the technical wizardry, the security professionals who wanted a private and safe internet, and the early hacktivists, who saw the internet as a tool for change (and had a real mischievous streak). CDC was part of the latter caste: While some of their members did have strong tech chops, they were better known for their ability to draw media attention with a penchant for the ridiculous.
They came up with a word for it: hacktivism. They declared war on the Church of Scientology in 1995, furious about the church’s attempts to censor online content. They went after Chinese censors for the same reason. In 1998, they pulled off their most audacious move: releasing a program called Back Orifice that allowed remote users to control somebody else’s computer through Microsoft Word. The goal was to force the software giant to improve its products’ security — an altruistic aim, though not everybody agreed with CDC’s methods.
“Some of the people totally think it was reckless,” Coleman said. “Others thought it was really helpful. This was a moment when vendors would not fix the patches. This was a stunt to get Microsoft to fix it.”
They otherwise spent a lot of time posting political theories or amateur fiction onto chat sites known as BBSs (bulletin board systems), primitive forms of the messaging apps like Slack today. CDC did tend to be more overtly political than its contemporaries. At an institutional level, they were strongly in favor of informational freedom; as individuals, they tended to be liberal or even leftist, Coleman said.
The hacktivist ethos that CDC pioneered later informed the work of groups like Anonymous, which notably targeted the Church of Scientology, a longtime Cult foe, with its first major action. They have even been subsumed into parts of the establishment: One of the members later led the military’s futuristic Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
“They were a really important early kind of group, establishing those hacktivist tendencies,” Coleman said. “In terms of widespread popular appeal, that really came with Anonymous.”
Beto O’Rourke’s time with the Cult of the Dead Cow, explained
You should read Menn’s full article for an exhaustive history and discussion of O’Rourke’s relationship with the CDC. He also related on Twitter how he discovered the connection.
Two years ago, I started working on a book about the Cult of the Dead Cow and its members’ pioneering work in hacking and security, which continues to this day. I soon learned there was a sitting Congressman who had been in the group. https://t.co/tubjw9hZaX (6/10) pic.twitter.com/f55WuOr3KU
— Joseph Menn (@josephmenn) March 15, 2019
In brief, O’Rourke had wandered into the bulletin board systems where CDC lived, starting one about punk music. It was there he was linked up with the loose collection of posting boards that made up CDC, where its members mingled. He appears to have used stolen high-speed internet and frequented pirating sites for games, a history that suggests O’Rourke was well-versed in the early digital native culture that preceded social media.
“That was significant that he was on these boards. It’s not something most people knew about,” Coleman said. “You’d have to have a kind of geeky inclination to end up there.”
Menn flags a few notable posts from O’Rourke’s time on the CDC boards, writing under the name Psychedelic Warlord. There was one in which he discussed “a money-less society (or have a society where money is heavily de-emphasized).” In another, he wrote a disturbing piece of short fiction about running over a couple of children in the middle of the street. O’Rourke also fought with another poster who identified as a Nazi, challenging the poster’s notion that Adolph Hitler was misunderstood.
O’Rourke described what his time inside CDC had meant to him like this to Menn:
“I was really at the margins, but I very much wanted to be as cool as these people, as sophisticated and technologically proficient and aware and smart as they were,” he said in the interview. “I never was, but it meant so much just being able to be a part of something with them…understanding how the world worked – literally how it worked, how the phone system worked and how we were all connected to each other.”
It’s difficult to know how much his time with CDC still informs O’Rourke’s worldview. Menn notes he’s been outspoken in favor of net neutrality and savvy in his use of social media to push the Beto brand. That the other CDC users did not speak to the press any earlier in O’Rourke’s career is a testament to “the very strong code of ethics” among the people in these groups, Coleman said.
“It was a kind of club of people who were very interesting and very smart, who liked to intervene politically,” she said. “I do think it’ll be interesting, now that the cat’s out of the bag, how it’s gonna be associated with his team or treated by the hacker community.”
There might not be much more to learn about O’Rourke and the Cult of the Dead Cow. It does track with his overly online persona and confirms his past flirtations with more fringe cultures. It probably does not explain whether or not he supports Medicare-for-all.
But it’s still a new wrinkle in the back story of a candidate whose campaign seems premised almost entirely on his personal charisma and self-created narrative.
20 People Share Secrets From Their Jobs and Now We Can’t Sleep Well
Almost every job has its own secrets and nuances that very few people know. The people of different professions shared secrets from their jobs on Reddit and on Twitter and some of their stories may seriously change the way you see the world.
We at Bright Side, of course, don’t have any secrets like these, but as it turns out, not all other professions are as transparent as they seem to be.
- Truck driver: 9 out of 10 truck drivers travel with a smartphone on their windshield watching a TV-series. Stay away from big trucks.
- Disney World employee: There are secret tunnels underneath both Epcot and the Magic Kingdom (and probably other parks too) that enable the cast members to travel across the park pretty quickly and easily.
Comment from a park-goer: My father suffered a heart attack while visiting Epcot. I have never witnessed a faster medical response with professionals appearing from seemingly nowhere with just as fast transport through underground tunnels. It was a lifesaver. He was transported to a Disney hospital where he received great care after an emergency surgery and our stay was extended by 3 weeks.
- IT support people: (help desks, computer repair shops, Geek Squad, etc.) are mostly just better at Googling than you are.
- Employee at a flour factory: Wheat flour is not actually white. We use chlorine to make it look more attractive. This also increases the gluten level in flour, and this is why people are more gluten-sensitive today.
- Rescue team member: When you are a young lifeguard, you always have a radio with you 24/7. And you always listen to what happens in the city. If you are going, for example, to a birthday party in your own car and then you hear there is a fire on a nearby street, you turn the car and drive there! (I have my own gear in the car). @Moscow_Spasatel
- Olive oil factory employee: We had only one kind of oil but we put it in 27 different containers and sold it at different prices. Some of them were labeled as imported, some were called the highest quality oil. But it was the same oil in every single bottle.
- IT-service engineer: When someone is fixing your computer, they also often look through the data on your hard drive searching for something funny or embarrassing. So, before you give your computer to an IT service, clear your browser history, and copy all the important data to an external drive.
- Candle factory: Paraffin candles are dangerous and poisonous. Because I know what we added in there (even to the candles that say “100% paraffin”), I will never ever use candles again. If you need to use them for some reason, buy candles made of bee’s wax without any scents.
Sommelier: Wine isn’t vegan. It’s not even vegetarian in some cases. The filtering (refining) process uses egg whites, and sometimes isinglass (fish parts).
- Movie theater: A large bag of popcorn that costs the customer $5.99 (at the time) cost the movie theatre 6 cents to produce, including the butter, the kernels, the bag, the power used by the popper and the time it took the concession employee to fill up the bag and give it to the customer.
- Internet services: Most “subscription services” will raise their prices over time because they expect you to just live with it. This applies to phone bills, cable packages, internet service, insurance plans… Call up, politely complain about the price. Skip the canned “well the price has gone up because inflation/rising costs/age/end of promotion” and continue to politely say it’s too much, your budget can’t handle all your outgoings and you may need to drop the service. Either you are speaking to someone who can reduce the price, or they can put you through to a person authorized to reduce the price.
- Mechanic: If you want to go on vacation and you don’t know where to leave your car, get it to a mechanic. Many people do this. It’s ridiculously cheap and you can be away for a month! It is much more expensive to use parking lots. @Neformatws
- Pharmacist: I’ve worked at several factories that manufacture medications. And the rules were the same everywhere: if you dropped pills on the floor, just put them back into the bottle. So, maybe your medications are not as clean as you think.
- Librarian: The amount of toilet paper, random items, and bills used as bookmarks that are left in returned library books is unbelievable!
- Doctor: We spend so much time to be good at what we do, that we know almost nothing about other things.
Is there something about your job that is kept secret?
The spring equinox is Wednesday, March 20: 7 things to know about the first day of spring.
The vernal equinox is upon us: On Wednesday, March 20, both the Northern and Southern hemispheres will experience an equal amount of daylight. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it marks the beginning of spring, with daylight hours continuing to lengthen until the summer solstice in June. For those south of the equator, it’s the beginning of autumn.
Technically speaking, the equinox occurs when the sun is directly in line with the equator. This will happen at 5:58 pm Eastern time on Wednesday. (A few hours later, at 9:43 pm, you can look out for the “supermoon”, the last one until 2020.)
Below is a short scientific guide to the most equal night of the year.
1) Why do we have an equinox?
The equinox, the seasons, and the changing length of daylight hours throughout the year are all due to one fact: The Earth spins on a tilted axis.
The tilt — possibly caused by a massive object hitting Earth billions of years ago — means that for half the year, the North Pole is pointed toward the sun (as in the picture below). For the other half of the year, the South Pole gets more light. It’s what gives us seasons.
Here’s a time-lapse demonstration of the phenomenon shot over the course of a whole year from space. In the video, you can see how the line separating day from night swings back and forth from the poles during the year.
And here’s yet another cool way to visualize the seasons. In 2013, a resident of Alberta, Canada, took this pinhole camera photograph of the sun’s path throughout the year and shared it with the astronomy website EarthSky. You can see the dramatic change in the arc of the sun from December to June.
This is a 6 month pinhole photo taken from solstice to solstice, in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. We are one of the sunniest cities in Canada, and this shows it nicely.
Posted by Ian Hennes on Saturday, December 21, 2013
(You can easily make a similar image at home. All you need is a can, photo paper, some tape, and a pin. Instructions here.)
2) How many hours of daylight will I get Wednesday?
Equinox literally means “equal night.” And during the equinox, most places on Earth will see approximately 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night.
But not every place will experience the exact same amount of daylight. For instance, on Wednesday, Fairbanks, Alaska, will see 12 hours and 15 minutes of daylight. Key West, Florida, will see 12 hours and six minutes. The differences are due to how the sunlight gets refracted (bent) as it enters Earth’s atmosphere at different latitudes.
That daylight is longer than 12 hours on the equinox is also due to how we commonly measure the length of a day: from the first hint of the sun peeking over the horizon in the morning to the very last glimpse of it before it falls below the horizon in the evening. Because the sun takes some time to rise and set, it adds some extra daylight minutes.
Check out TimeAndDate.com to see how many hours of sunlight you’ll get during the equinox.
3) Over the course of the entire year, does every spot on Earth get an equal number of daylight hours?
In the summer months, the northernmost latitudes get a lot of daylight. Above the Arctic Circle, during the summer, there’s 24 hours of daylight. In the winter, the Arctic Circle is plunged into constant darkness.
So does this mean the number of daylight hours — in total, over the course of the year — equal out to places where the seasonal difference is less extreme?
The answer to this question is somewhat surprising: Roughly speaking, everywhere on Earth sees a similar number of daylight hours every year. But the equator actually gets slightly fewer daylight hours than the poles.
As astronomer Tony Flanders explained for Sky & Telescope magazine, sunlight at the poles gets refracted more than sunlight at the equator. That refracting results in the visible disc of the sun being slightly stretched out (think of when the full moon is near the horizon and looks huge — it’s being refracted too). And the refracted, stretched-out sun takes slightly longer to rise and set. Flanders estimated that the equator spends around 50.5 percent of its year in sunlight, while the poles spend between 51.5 and 53 percent of their years in sunlight.
And, of course, this is how much sunlight these areas could potentially receive if the weather were always perfectly clear; it’s not how much sunlight they actually see, nor the strength of the sunlight that hits their ground. “Where are the places on Earth that receive the largest amount of solar radiation?” is a slightly different question, the answer to which can be seen on the chart below.
4) Can I really only balance an egg on its tip during on the equinox?
Perhaps you were told as a child that on the equinox, it’s easier to balance an egg vertically on a flat surface than on other days of the year.
The practice originated in China as a tradition on the first day of spring in the Chinese lunar calendar in early February. According to the South China Morning Post, “The theory goes that at this time of year the moon and earth are in exactly the right alignment, the celestial bodies generating the perfect balance of forces needed to make it possible.”
This is a myth. The amount of sunlight we get during the day has no power over the gravitational pull of the Earth or our abilities to balance things upon it. You can balance an egg on its end any day of the year (if you’re good at balancing things).
5) Is there an ancient monument that does something cool during the equinox?
During the winter and summer solstices, crowds flock to Stonehenge in the United Kingdom. During the solstices, the sun either rises or sets in line with the layout of the 5,000-year-old-monument. And while some visit Stonehenge for the spring equinox too, the real place to be is in Mexico.
That’s because on the equinox, the pyramid at Chichen Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula puts on a wondrous show. Built by the Mayans around 1,000 years ago, the pyramid is designed to cast a shadow on the equinox outlining the body of Kukulkan, a feathered snake god. A serpent-head statue is located at the bottom of the pyramid, and as the sun sets on the day of the equinox, the sunlight and shadow show the body of the serpent joining with the head.
This is easier to see in a video. Check it out below.
6) Are there equinoxes on other planets?
Yes! All the planets in the solar system rotate on a tilted axis and therefore have seasons. Some of these tilts are minor (like Mercury, which is tilted at 2.11 degrees). But others are more like the Earth (tilted at 23.5 degrees) or are even more extreme (Uranus is tilted 98 degrees!).
Below, see a beautiful composite image of Saturn on its equinox captured by the Cassini spacecraft (RIP) in 2009. The gas giant is tilted 27 degrees relative to the sun, and equinoxes on the planet are less frequent than on Earth. Saturn only sees an equinox about once every 15 years (because it takes Saturn 29 years to complete one orbit around the sun).
During Saturn’s equinox, its rings become unusually dark. That’s because these rings are only around 30 feet thick. And when light hits them head on, there’s not much surface area to reflect.
7) I clicked this article accidentally and really just want a mind-blowing picture of the sun
The image above was taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, a spacecraft launched in 2010 to better understand the sun.
This past summer, NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe, a spacecraft that will come within 4 million miles of the surface of the sun (much closer than any spacecraft has been before). The goal is to study the sun’s atmosphere, weather, and magnetism and figure out the mystery of why the sun’s corona (its atmosphere) is much hotter than its surface. Still, even several million miles away, the probe will have to withstand temperatures of 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.
It’s essential to understand the sun: It’s nothing to mess with. Brad Plumer wrote for Vox about what happens when the sun erupts and sends space weather our way to wreak havoc on Earth.
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