The Weekender, January 27, 2017

1)  “How a 2011 Hack You’ve Never Heard of Changed the Internet’s Infrastructure ” (Slate, 13 minutes, December 2016). At one point, the article says “bear with me, because this gets a little complicated—but it’s worth it.” It’s right — this is complicated but worth it. The article centers on the Internet’s security certificates — invisible a crucial part of how secure information is transferred. (Thanks to Tom C. for the suggestion!)

There are a lot of people in the world building websites and coding software, and at any given moment, at least a few of them are up to no good—designing webpages built to look exactly like your bank’s in order to steal your login credentials, for instance, or writing programs that will encrypt your hard drive and hold it for ransom.

So every time you try to visit a webpage, your browser checks to make sure that the site you’re loading is really the one you’re trying to access, not a malicious page some wily attacker is trying to redirect you to. Similarly, when you download a new piece of software, your operating system will often check to make sure it’s coming from a trustworthy vendor.

But browser and operating system companies don’t want to be responsible for screening every single website and software developer in the world. Instead, they rely on third parties to vouch for those sites and developers. The third parties do this by issuing what are called certificates.

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3) “The Man Who Cleans Up After Plane Crashes ” (GQ, 19 minutes, December 2016). The subhead: “Robert Jensen has spent his career restoring order after mass fatalities: identifying remains, caring for families, and recovering personal effects. Here’s how he became the best at the worst job in the world. ” (Thanks, Alex M.!)

4) “Get Rich. Save the World. Gut Fish” (BloombergBusinessweek, 12 minutes, January 2017). This kind of reads like a well-placed story by a public relations pro, but it’s still a very good and interesting read. Asian carp is an invasive species (as I’ve discussed before) and they’re a hard problem to solve, but maybe this one will work? (And thanks to Ellen L. for the suggestion.)

[Investor Ross] Baird is especially excited about Fin Gourmet Foods, a company in Paducah, Ky., that buys invasive Asian carp from local fishermen and turns it into boneless filets for gourmet restaurants and fish paste for Asian supermarkets. Asian carp is best known as the biggest threat to the ecosystem of the Great Lakes; the federal government just earmarked $42 million to combat the species. The youngest fish eat their body weight daily, outcompeting bass for plankton, leaving sport fishermen in fear of economic ruin. Asian carp grow into 70-pounders known to jump as high as 10 feet: There’s a wide selection of videos on YouTube of these leaping monsters terrifying—and occasionally injuring—boaters. And because the fish are full of bones that make them hard to eat without meticulous processing, they fetch a third the wholesale price of catfish.Despite that, Fin Gourmet forecasts revenue will rise to more than $1.5 million this year from $320,000 in 2016. “They’re growing like crazy, the profit margins are good, and they’re taking something out of the environment that’s bad and turning it into something that people want to pay for,” Baird says. The couple who founded the company draw their workforce from the ranks of “people who need second chances from incarceration, drug courts, domestic violence,” according to the company’s website. One foundation dubbed Fin Gourmet “the future Zappos of fish processing” for its community-minded approach. Boneless filets from Asian carp have started appearing on menus in Louisville and Lexington, and even at the first farm-to-table restaurant in Paducah, where it’s branded Kentucky blue snapper and costs $21. Served with spiced yogurt, mint, or cilantro, the white fish looks and tastes like tilapia.


5) “A Guy Walks Into a Bar… and is Never Seen Again” (Narratively, 14 minutes, January 2017).

When Randy, Brian’s father, arrived at his son’s apartment to see if he was there, everything was how it was supposed to be: his car was parked outside; his medical books were neatly positioned on the shelves; his bed was made. But Brian wasn’t there. Derek, his younger brother, joined the search. Randy filed a missing person report. He had lost his wife just weeks before; now he begged the police to find his son.

[ . . . ]

Law enforcement seized a videotape from the surveillance camera that scanned the bar’s entrance area. It tracked Brian, Clint and Meredith riding the escalator to the upstairs bar at 1:15 a.m. An hour later, Clint and Meredith left in the opposite sequence: bar, escalator, street level. Brian should have come back down, too. He didn’t. Detectives gazed at the recording, rewinding and fast-forwarding it over and over again. A second camera was positioned outside an emergency exit, and they examined that footage too. Everyone who entered the bar that night was accounted for. Everyone except Brian.

6) “Vanishing point: the rise of the invisible computer ” (The Guardian, 12 minutes, January 2017). The subhead: “For decades, computers have got smaller and more powerful, enabling huge scientific progress. But this can’t go on forever. What happens when they stop shrinking?” (Thanks, Dan H.!)

Have a great weekend!