Is Ted Kaczynski Being Held In Arkham Asylum?

For the 20th anniversary of the arrest of Ted Kaczynski (AKA The Unabomber), Yahoo News is running a series based on Kaczynski’s prison letters and other writing. What is most interesting, however, is the friendships Kaczynski apparently made in prison,

But housed in neighboring cells on the same secluded wing at the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) in Florence, Colo., Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, struck up an odd friendship with two other notorious terrorists of the 1990s: Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and Ramzi Yousef, who planted a bomb in the World Trade Center in 1993 that killed six people, a precursor to the 9/11 attacks.

. . .

In his early months in prison, Kaczynski became close enough to McVeigh and Yousef that they shared books and talked religion and politics. He even came to know their birthdays, according to letters he wrote about them to others.

“You may be interested to know that your birthday, April 27, is the same as that of Ramzi Yousef, the alleged ‘mastermind’ of the World Trade Center bombing,” Kaczynski wrote to a pen pal in 1999, according to a letter on file at his archive of personal papers at the University of Michigan Library. “I mentioned this to Ramzi, and he wants me to tell you that since your birthday is the same as his, you and he must have similar personalities. … He may have some degree of belief in astrology.”

. . .

In July 1999, McVeigh was moved to federal death row in Terre Haute, Ind., and though prison rules blocked him from exchanging letters with Kaczynski, they kept up their friendship. Through a journalist at the Buffalo News, McVeigh sent Kaczynski a copy of “Into the Wild,” writer Jon Krakauer’s account of a young man’s hike into the Alaskan wilderness. (Kaczynski, who is particular about his books, liked it.) Meanwhile, the Unabomber asked his pen pals to send McVeigh magazines and articles, including a subscription to Green Anarchy magazine.

Every time I’ve read a Batman story arc involving Arkham Asylum, I’ve always questioned who would house a group of supervillains together in the same prison and let them associate. Apparently the Federal Bureau of Prisons would.

Qubes OS–Security Through Compartmentalization

Qubes OS is a Fedora-based Linux distro that relies on virtualization to minimize potential security risks.

Qubes takes an approach called security by compartmentalization, which allows you to compartmentalize the various parts of your digital life into securely isolated virtual machines (VMs). A VM is basically a simulated computer with its own OS which runs as software on your physical computer. You can think of a VM as a computer within a computer.

This approach allows you to keep the different things you do on your computer securely separated from each other in isolated VMs so that one VM getting compromised won’t affect the others. For example, you might have one VM for visiting untrusted websites and a different VM for doing online banking. This way, if your untrusted browsing VM gets compromised by a malware-laden website, your online banking activities won’t be at risk. Similarly, if you’re concerned about malicious email attachments, Qubes can make it so that every attachment gets opened in its own single-use, “disposable” VM. In this way, Qubes allows you to do everything on the same physical computer without having to worry about a single successful cyberattack taking down your entire digital life in one fell swoop.


Qubes OS Screenshot

Crashlands, Exploration in Video Games, and Central Place Foraging

Crashlands is a recently released video game that combines the exploration and crafting element of games such as Don’t Starve with the action RPG goodness of games like Diablo or Torchlight. Although the questing, combat and crafting are all top notch, what tends to suck me in about these sorts of games is the exploration component.

As in similar games, the maps in Crashlands’ three biomes are procedurally generated and they are huge. According to the Crashlands developers, the maps in the game aren’t infinite, but it would take decades to reach a map’s edge. Although Crashlands has definite goals, it is often just as fun to spend hours wandering around the map uncovering new areas and collecting resources along the way.

In an article the developers wrote while working on the game, they do an interesting analysis of precisely why this sort of wandering can often feel so satisfying in and of itself,

The cause of exploration-boredom was how the player got to move through the space, not what was in that space.

So why is this the case? We discussed and Googled around, and in the process found something interesting: the answer could be found in studies of Spider Monkeys.

Spider Monkeys use an exploration strategy called Central Place Foraging. This term simply refers to the behavior of spiraling out from a central point to find food and then returning home via a different route. This kind of foraging maximizes the potential to discover things while maintaining a sense of “home”. It turns out that humans, by use of our villages, cities, and homes, do exactly the same thing.

According to Wikipedia, central place foraging is used by a number of species,

Central Place Foraging (CPF) theory is an evolutionary ecology model for analyzing how an organism can maximize foraging rates while traveling through a patch (a discreet resource concentration), but maintains the key distinction of a forager traveling from a home base to a distant foraging location rather than simply passing through an area or travelling at random. CPF was initially developed to explain how red-winged blackbirds might maximize energy returns when traveling to and from a nest. However, the model has been further refined and used by anthropologists studying human behavioral ecology and archaeology.

It is fascinating how systems that are so captivating in video games are call backs to ancient foraging strategies common to many species.