2015 was a banner year for science fiction; Motherboard's resident sci-fi editors, Claire Evans and Brian Merchant, review the year of Mad Max, Ex Machina, and, yes, Star Wars. These are the top stories about the future of 2015.
Transhumanism, the idea that humans should use science and technology to extend our natural abilities, is the religion of the 21st century. It's a concept that has been around since the 70s, but seems to be resonating with a growing number of people. Whether it's because of the rise of smartphones, the idea of the quantified self, disillusionment with the world, or something else, transhumanist ideas have been gaining traction in the last 10 years with no signs of stopping.
The New York City subway is sprawling system, with more than 5 million people per day (and sometimes many more, on special occasions) passing through more than 460 stations. There is probably someone who knows more about the intricacies of the system than Max Diamond, but whoever it is, I don't know him or her.
Diamond is a transportation engineering student at the City College of New York and a "rail fan"—he studies budgets and plans, delves into contracts and historical minutia, and, of course, pays close attention whenever he's riding the subway. Every time he rides it, he brings a camera on the off chance he spots something that's not quite right.
Diamond runs the DJ Hammers YouTube channel, which features roughly 1,500 videos shot on the subway. These videos feature trains entering and leaving stations, new and rare subway announcements, subway rails catching fire, and lots of other sorts of weirdness you won't notice if you don't know what you're looking for.
"I don't usually just film any train departing and arriving, i like seeking out these reroutes—say you're waiting for the F train at 14th St. and all of a sudden an N train came in, that's something I would love to film because it's unusual, it's odd, it's out of the ordinary," Diamond told me. "Whenever I'm traveling around the city I bring my camera with me just in case something comes up."
I learned about Diamond from this very informative Ask Me Anything he did on the NYCRail subreddit. But I had lots of additional questions (namely: Is the G train the actual worst or what?), so I called him in to talk about the past, present, and future of the New York City subway and about mass transit in general.
6:06 - Railfan - it's a thing!
14:20 - Many thanks to James Somers of The Atlantic, who wrote this incredibly informative article about why New York subway lines are missing countdown clocks.
24:00 - L Train power upgrades
25:00 - The Second Avenue Subway was proposed back in the 1910s.
39:30 - This is a great article about open gangway subway trains (and America's resistance to them)
41:40 - More information about cell phone service on the New York City subway
45:30 - Here's some of the other best subway systems in the world, according to a totally subjective list
Ever heard of a cryptoparty? It’s a gathering of people interested in privacy and encryption. You’ll often hear of cryptoparties in association with other techy, geeky spaces or organizations, and they’re usually dominated by computer-savvy nerds who are often male or white or both. But recently, Motherboard attended a cryptoparty in a less obvious place: Harlem, the predominantly black neighborhood in New York City.
Wait. Maybe Harlem is the perfect place to find a cryptoparty.
The New York City Police Department is increasingly monitoring and targeting young people of color on social media in what critics say amounts to racial profiling. “Is the online surveillance of black teenagers the new stop-and-frisk?” asked a headline in The Guardian, referring to the now-banned practice of stopping people on the street for “suspicious behavior.”
On top of that, members of the Black Lives Matter protest movement are now reportedly being targeted. Vice News broke the news in August that Deray Mckesson, a prominent civil rights activist, had been identified as a “professional protester” who was “known to law enforcement” and had his Twitter account monitored by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The Intercept also reported that DHS has been tracking the movement.
In other words, simply exercising your right to protest is enough to get you on the feds’ radar.
This is sounding familiar. In the 60s, COINTELPRO, short for Counterintelligence Program, was an FBI program for domestic surveillance that spied on the Black Panthers. Even the FBI itself admits today that the program was overreaching, violating the First Amendment and other rights. The FBI also kept files on black leaders including Martin Luther King Jr.
The threats to black privacy are why Matthew Mitchell organizes Cryptoparty Harlem. In his past life, Mitchell was a data journalist at the New York Times and, before that, a developer at CNN. Nowadays he works with journalists, activists, and specifically people in his community of Harlem, on issues surrounding digital security, privacy, and surveillance.
“A lot of times I’ll hang out with hackers in hacker spaces and people who do digital security stuff for the United States, and they’ll always say, man, it’s like there are no black people who want to know about this stuff,” Mitchell said.
Of course, that’s not true—although there may be many black people who don’t know they want to know about this stuff. Beyond the fact that everyone has something they want to keep private, the black community has reasons to distrust the police, especially with the revelations about the Department of Homeland Security monitoring Black Lives Matter protests.
For this week’s Radio Motherboard, we spoke to Mitchell and Nusrat Choudury, a staff attorney at the ACLU’s Racial Justice program, about why the black community might want to use encryption.
We also discuss how the growing number of privacy intrusions from hackers, government, and law enforcement may be creating an elite class of techies who know how to protect themselves, while the rest of the population is stuck being surveilled.
Earlier this fall, we brought you the curious story of a long lost lunar rover prototypetested by NASA in the 1960s. At the time, we decided to keep some of the details off the record, but for this week's podcast, we delve deep into the rover's history and it's journey from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center to a scrap yard in Alabama.
This episode of Radio Motherboard unfolds as it moves along, so in the interest of not spoiling it, we'll just get right to it. Thanks for listening!