Newsletter: 27th May 2019

Build Your Own Superpower

From powerful weapons to rocket companies, you can DIY.

You Wouldn’t Download an Atom Bomb…

A subscriber to this newsletter once accused me of wanting to see the world burn. I don’t, of course, but there’s no denying that a fire is captivating to watch and that it’s fascinating to see how combustible the world is.

There’s a cyber-fire burning in Baltimore right now and it may just be faint flickerings of worse to come. We tend to think of cyberwarfare as something exotic, like sabotaging Iranian nuclear facilities or North Korean missiles, but there’s big business in more mundane attacks. In Baltimore this week the email is down, home sales are suspended, and you can’t pay your parking fines.

Critical infrastructure is highly vulnerable to cyberattack and the worst case would be as bad as a nuclear strike.


I’ve got a more detailed blog post in the works. Until then, please don’t download any weapons of mass disruption.

Height Speech

SpaceX launched 60 Starlink satellites on Friday afternoon (Thursday night in the US), with the initial deployment an hour later over the Southern Ocean. You can’t quite see my house from there.


The 60 Starlink satellites launched on Friday are a test run for a constellation of 12,000 low-cost satellites to provide Internet to places that don’t already have it. It may also provide censorship resistance. Governments around the world want to use ISPs to block “undesirable” traffic, whether that’s porn, politics, or payments. An Internet provider from an outside jurisdiction will make that harder. I wrote a bit more on the blog.

Now her eyes really follow you

If you thought making up fake quotes on Twitter was fun, you’re going to love this.

Every week brings a new creepy thing from AI researchers. This time, a technique for blending a face from a single still image onto a video. With just a photo, you can make anyone say or do anything.


Coming soon to an election campaign near you!

Trench Footage

Video technology doesn’t just make fake things real. It also makes real things more real.

Peter Jackson’s 2018 film They Shall Not Grow Old tells a human story of World War I using hundred-year-old footage. It’s wrong to say the film has been restored – it’s been enhanced by removing scratches and grain, fixing the speed, adding extra frames to replace splices, and colourising. A sound-track has been added to the silent movies with the help of forensic lip-readers and result is unbelievable.


If you haven’t seen it, take a look at the trailer and a short interview with Peter Jackson on the techniques he used.

My great-grandfather was in the 160th (Wearside) Brigade Royal Field Artillery (the “Idle and Dissolute”) at Passchendaele. Technology like this helps bring his near-forgotten experience a little closer.

Thanks for reading,


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