The Weekender, December 7, 2018

1) “The Hotel Room Hacker” (Wired, 25 minutes, August 2018). Thanks to Michael G. for the tip.

On a warm Phoenix night five years ago, Aaron Cashatt walked down the red-carpeted hall of the second floor of a Marriott hotel, trying to move casually despite the adrenaline and methamphetamine surging through his bloodstream. Six feet tall with blond, close-cropped hair, he wore a black sports coat and baseball cap and kept his head down so the hat’s brim hid his face from surveillance cameras.

When he found a quiet stretch of hallway, Cashatt chose a door and knocked. No answer. He pulled out a sunglasses case from his pocket, flipped it open, and removed a small tangle of wires connected to a circuit board and a nine-volt battery. On one end of that loosely assembled gadget was a cord attached to a plug. He looked at the keycard lock on the door in front of him, a metallic box that offered a vertical slot ready to accept a guest’s keycard like a piece of bread into a toaster.

Cashatt didn’t have a keycard. Instead, he reached underneath the lock on the door until his finger found a small, circular port and inserted the plug of his device. Then he held a frayed wire coming off the board to one end of the battery, completing an electric circuit. Instantly, the lock whirred as its bolt retracted, and a green light flashed above the door handle.

For a moment, Cashatt stared in shock, almost disbelief. “It was like the heavens had opened,” he’d say of the moment years later.

Cashatt pushed open the unlocked door, walked into the room, and closed the door behind him. Even in his meth-addled state, he was so taken aback by his success in hacking his way in that he laid down on the room’s king-size bed for perhaps a full minute, his heart racing.

Then he sat upright and started thinking about what he could steal.

2) “This Black Woman Was Once the Biggest Star in Jazz. Here’s Why You’ve Never Heard of Her.” (Narratively, 83 minutes, August 2018). The subhead: “Hazel Scott was a piano prodigy who wowed the worlds of music, TV and film. But when she stood up for her rights, the establishment took her down.”

3) “Inside North Korea’s Hacker Army” (Bloomberg, 13 minutes, February 2018). The subhead: “The regime in Pyongyang has sent hundreds of programmers to other countries. Their mission: Make money by any means necessary. Here’s what their lives are like.”

4) The Now I Know Week in Review:

Monday: The Hockey Save that Started in the Stands: A truly uplifting story of hockey fans coming together.

Tuesday: Floating Away On a Raft of Disappointment: A creative protest against creative food packaging.

Wednesday: The Helium Balloon With a Magical Ending: A crazy coincidence.

Thursday: Mickey Mask: Why Mickey Mouse masks were a wartime necessity.

5) “Inside the Flat Earth Conference, Where the World’s Oldest Conspiracy Theory Is Hot Again​” (12 minutes, Daily Beast, November 2018).

Thousands of years after ancient Greeks began referencing Earth as a sphere in mathematical proofs, people who believe in a flat Earth have become a movement. They’ve found their voice in the disinformation age, fueled by YouTube videos. For true believers, it’s more than just a conspiracy theory. It’s whole world view, a level plane onto which hucksters, trolls, and Christian fundamentalists can insert their own ideologies.

In an age of rising conspiracy theories—voter fraud, QAnon, anti-vaxxers, chemtrails—Flat Earth might be the most foundational conspiracy theory of them all.

6) “This ’80s PBS Show Made It Cool To Love Math” (Buzzfeed, 6 minutes, December 2018). A tribute to Square One TV, one of my favorite shows ever.

Have a great weekend!