The weekend started off with a bang, thanks to the dazzling opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games. That was spectacular enough to get everyone super-ready for the athletic competition involving our entire planet.
There were plenty of stories about the Olympics, and at the same time, your intrepid Mashable team discovered so much more — happenings in the digital world, tech innovations that felt like they were from a future world, and GIFs, comics and weekend fun that seemed to be from another world entirely.
Best of all, we’ve gathered all those stories here for you, in one big easy-to-peruse package. So take a look at the latest Weekend Recap, where you can catch up with the entire weekend of delightful news and views, right here:
In their last days on Earth before launching to the International Space Station, astronauts sees the same thing: two rows of trees that punctuate the otherwise austere landscape outside the space launch facility in Baikonur, Russia.
The trees that outline the T-shaped path are mismatched in size, but that’s for a reason. Each one was planted by an astronaut just before he or she launched to space, a tradition that Yuri Gagarin started 50 years ago when he planted the first tree just before he became the first human in space. His tree is the largest.
A fresh three-member crew — Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman and European astronaut Alexander Gerst — will launch to the ISS on Wednesday. All three astronauts planted their trees last week.
“There’s a whole wealth of Russian traditions,” NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, who planted a tree before his mission in 2012, told Mashable. “Some are funny, some are beautiful.”
Many Russian traditions are based on the success of what a cosmonaut did before. “In a lot of ways, it’s about honoring the person who came before you,” Marshburn said.
The simple ceremony always takes place shortly before launch, no matter the environment. Be it a harsh Russian winter or an even colder political standoff, the tree will be planted.
But given the current political climate between the U.S. and Russia, these trees have a deeper meaning within the space community, which, until very recently, has been able to operate above bureaucratic squabble.
As the U.S. continues to unleash sanctions against Russia for its involvement in the crisis in Ukraine, both nations have put targets on the backs of each other’s space programs.
In April, NASA sent a memo to employees stating that it was cutting all ties with Russia, except for when it comes to the space station — as the U.S. depends on Russia to launch its astronauts to the ISS.
“We’re now looking at launching from U.S. soil in 2017,” NASA spokesperson Allard Beutel told Mashable in April. “The choice here is between fully funding the plan to bring space launches back to America or continuing to send millions of dollars to the Russians. It’s that simple.”
Although NASA, at the time, said politics wouldn’t make it to the space station, Russia unveiled a different plan just weeks later. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told reporters on May 13 that Moscow would deny U.S. requests to use the ISS after 2020. He also said he would prevent the U.S. from using Russian-made rocket engines to launch military satellites.
Astronauts, however, have subtly voiced their continued commitment to teamwork — a seemingly passive protest to the two countries’ efforts to drag the ISS into their battle.
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who planted his own tree alongside Marshburn, is among the most vocal. In an April interview with RT, the ISS commander condemned weaponizing space.
And just hours after the news broke that Russia wanted to ban the U.S. from the ISS — coincidentally, that was on the same day a crew of both American and Russian astronauts was returning to Earth — Hadfield tweeted this:
And just on day after the U.S. issued its first round of sanctions against Russia, NASA released the photo below before a scheduled launch, showing the two flags together.
“Living in space really does break down barriers,” Marshburn said. “It is a family up there. We have to survive.”
Even NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in March — around the time Russia invaded Crimea — that the space station has been the cornerstone of peaceful relations.
During a press conference, Bolden, who commanded the first U.S.-Russian space shuttle mission in 1994, told the story of flying with Russian cosmonauts only a few years after the Cold War. The men talked of their families and of their aspirations for the world over dinner.
“I found that our relationship with the Russians in the space program has been the same ever since,” Bolden said. “We have weathered the storm through lots of contingencies.”
For his part, Marshburn, who is currently training in Houston for a future ISS mission, said he will continue to work as though the next trip will be with Russia. He’ll still study Russian, and he’ll work with Russian cosmonaut colleagues on site.
“We are well padded from the political goings on,” said Marshburn. “So, I just don’t think about it because who knows where it’s going to go.”
And as long as NASA astronauts climb into a Russian spacecraft, they’ll continue to add their tree to the growing grove around the Baikonur Cosmodrome as well.
“Nyan Cat has transformed into this viral entity that has surpassed not only everything I originally expected for my art but for memes in general,” Torres recently told Mashable. “It’s gained its own amazing subculture with incredibly creative fans.”
2. Keyboard Cat
Orange tabby cat Fatso (a.k.a. Keyboard Cat) most recently appeared in a parody of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Google+ Hangout in February 2012.
Keyboard Cat’s origins, however, date back to 1984, and its popularity rose in 2007 after a clip was uploaded to YouTube. That video now has 25 million views. Keyboard Cat tends to make appearances in spoofs and even in commercials.
Meet the Kitlers, cats that look like dictator Adolf Hitler — mustache included.
News channel CNN even gave the Kitlers a segment in 2010, after comedian Stephen Colbert gave the meme a nod.
Without Happy Cat, the humor website — which turned 5 this year — might not exist.
Maybe I Can Has Cheezburger will give Happy Cat a cameo in its forthcoming reality TV show.
7. Breading Cats
Warning: Please do try this at home.
Breading Cats, the series of photos featuring cats with bread has headgear, resurfaced this year after Gawker published an article about the “hot new Internet meme” in January. The meme began last fall.
8. Chemistry Cat
We’d call this wisecrack a “smarty pants,” but we’re not sure Chemistry Cat is wearing any.
This feline’s jokes are a thing of science…literally.
This critter’s name says it all. Longcat is known for its body length.
“Longcat is LOOOOOOONG,” says the Longcat entry in Urban Dictionary.
The torso is likely good for “meows” and such.
10. Business Cat
What if your boss was a cat? The world may never know, but for now, you can live vicariously through Business Cat.
This tie-clad advice animal image macro series rattles orders similar to human office bosses.
11. Anxiety Cat
Not as cool as Hipster Kitty, this advice animal image macro is full of one emotion: anxiousness.
Anxiety Cat freaks out over every little thing, akin to real cats.
12. Serious Cat
Not gonna make any jokes here, you know, ’cause Serious Cat won’t care. We’ll let Urban Dictionary describe this uptight feline:
“A very f***ing serious white cat popularized by imdb.com user Timmys_DownTheBloodyWell. He is Emperor and Supreme overlord of a board called ‘The Sandbox’ as well as President of the Anti-squirrel coalition. In his spare time he enjoys spreading awareness of the seriousness of a thread, killing infidels (mostly squirrels), and he also taking long llama rides on the beach.”
13. Ceiling Cat
“Ceiling cat is watching you masturbate.” With those words plopped onto this photo, the pic rose to fame in 2006, according to Know Your Meme.
14. Lenin Cat
Russian communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin first got the cat meme treatment in 2007, when I Can Has Cheezburger posted a photo of the stern-looking cat with the attached text:
“MAKE READY MY SHIP GENERAL. IT IS TIME TO SHOW THOSE DOGS WHAT WE ARE MADE OF.”
The text-over-photo meme gives another meaning to “Leninism,” don’t you think?
15. OMG Cat
So this is how OMG Cat reacted when he found out he was chosen for Mashable‘s “15 Best Cat Memes Ever” list.
Coulter was trying to comment on the overall civil behavior of the two candidates during Monday’s debate when compared with the interruptions and arguing of the second debate. However, the term is widely considered offensive and derogatory. There’s even a movement, R-Word, asking people to pledge not to use the word.
Coulter’s tweet immediately sparked a harsh reaction from many Twitter users that continues Tuesday morning:
@anncoulter Did you really use that word? You have to be kidding me!
United States Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano took a jab at Congress for failing to act on cybersecurity during a panel on the subject Monday at the 2012 Social Good Summit.
Congress has so far failed to pass cybersecurity legislation this year. Both chambers have their own versions of cyber bills, but they have yet to pass in the opposite chamber due to a partisan divide on the appropriate role of the government in cybersecurity.
“This has been a very interesting and troubling discussion in Congress,” she said. “It gets to the question which is ‘how does the government, which has overall security responsibly, interact with the private sector when an attack on private sector could have multiple rippling effects throughout the country?’ When you get into this debate, it’s a Washington, D.C. thing about government regulating the private sector.”
A bill supported by many Senate Democrats first called for government-set cybersecurity standards for private businesses deemed crucial to national security, such as power grids. Republicans balked at the idea, deeming it excessive government regulation of private business. The Senate bill was later rewritten to offer a compromise between the two camps, but that version also stalled.
Meanwhile, House Republicans passed their own cybersecurity bill, designed to encourage information-sharing between private businesses, under a veto threat from the White House. That bill hasn’t been passed by the Senate.
Napolitano’s position in this debate is somewhere in the middle: She doesn’t see absolute government regulation as the right answer for cybersecurity, but rather wants to build a cooperative cybersecurity relationship between businesses and the government with some government oversight of crucial industries.
“I think regulation in the traditional sense isn’t the right relationship,” she said. “It has to be one of mutually beneficial partnership and responsibility… if you’re doing the balance statement for a private company, security for others isn’t something you can reflect on your own balance sheet, but it is a responsibility. That’s what government has: responsibility is shared equally.”
She added that Barack Obama is weighing an executive order on cybersecurity — a possible move that privacy experts are watching closely, but a step Napolitano supports.
“Congress wasn’t able to act this year, it got stuck in the regulatory versus non-regulatory dichotomy,” said Napolitano. “The president is considering moving forward with an executive order that would help with this.”
When asked if private businesses would need to experience a cataclysmic cyberattack in order for them and politicians to make progress on cybersecurity, Napolitano said that it would spur progress, but added that’s not her preferable path.
“It’s only going to take one takedown for need for that partnership to become apparent,” she said. “An example from the non-cyber world: the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is within the Department of Homeland Security. It became clear after Katrina and the response, or or lack thereof, that it was broken. What’s happened is that we’ve used that crisis to fix FEMA. FEMA is now very agile, astute and target-oriented. That crisis crystallized action.”
“I hope there’s an alternative,” she added. “The problem with [cybersecurity] is that if you have a crisis, first of all it could be multiple crises happening simultaneously, second is that it could have damaging rippling effects that puts life and limb at risk, third is that we don’t have all the protocols in place to deal with a truly massive problem.”
Read more of Mashable’s coverage of the 2012 Social Good Summit:
On Monday morning alone, Iranian President-elect Hassan Rouhani tweeted around 50 times, most of which were in English. The tweeting blitz coincided with a press conference, where he said he will work to end the sanctions that have devastated the Iranian economy by attempting to negotiate with the U.S. and its allies. He is expected to take office in early August.
The Western-educated cleric is clearly attempting to get the attention of the outside world and bolster hope for a resolution on the country’s nuclear program. If Rouhani comes off as more moderate and sensible, U.S. and European officials might be willing to engage with the new leader.
Already, U.S. officials are publicly saying they are hopeful for the new elections, as White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said on Sunday the election is a “great opportunity.” Elected as a moderate voice, his overwhelming election was based on reform and change, away from hardliners who he said brought on the crippling sanctions.
But skeptics say this is a previously used strategy on the part of the Iranians: attempt new negotiations, most likely with Europe, while simultaneously expanding its nuclear program. Rouhani even described this strategy in 2004, while also touting Iran’s attempts at splitting Europe and the U.S. on nuclear negotiations. You might already see hints of that strategy in his Twitter feed:
#Nuclear agreement in 2005 could’ve led to final solution. French and Germans agreed, but Britain, under American pressure, couldn’t agree.
President Barack Obama’s campaign is taking aim at Mitt Romney on Republican National Convention turf. Today, visitors to the Tampa Bay Times website will see a large expandable ad mocking Romney as a fat cat who outsources jobs away from the U.S. and avoids taxes by hiding his money in offshore accounts.
“Click to see Mitt Romney’s qualifications,” states the ad, which when expanded, mimics a desk cluttered with reminder notes. One suggests that Romney has a meeting with the Koch Brothers, and he should “Book trip to Caymans” to “visit money.”
The Koch Brothers are wealthy industrialists who have been vilified by the left in part for their behind-the-scenes support of groups backing conservatives and Republicans including Romney.
The ads, which appear to be delivered outside of Florida and possibly nationwide, were paid for by the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee with the Democratic National Committee.
The ad buy is reminiscent of many the Obama camp ran during the early GOP presidential primary races when splashy Obama ads ran on news sites in states including Iowa and New Hampshire, and could be seen by people across the country rather than just in those particular states.
The message has been reiterated in television spots from the Obama camp and outside groups seen often in key swing states such as here in Florida. While the Obama camp seeks to strengthen support among important voter groups like veterans, young people and LGBT rights supporters, it is also hammering away at Romney’s reputation in the hopes of convincing people that he is disconnected from the middle class.
The TampaBay.com ad links to a page on the official Obama site with video of an ad featuring Bill Clinton’s endorsement of Obama.
Meanwhile, Romney is also running ads on the Tampa site. They’re clearly aimed at his supporters convening here for the RNC. The display ads appear along the bottom of most pages of TampaBay.com and tout, “America’s Comeback Team.” Some encourage supporters to “Get your official gear today,” while some show the #GOP2012 hashtag.
A decade and a half into the web revolution, we do much of our banking and shopping online. So why can’t we vote over the Internet? The answer is that voting presents specific kinds of very hard problems.
Even though some countries do it and there have been trial runs in some precincts in the United States, computer security experts at a Princeton symposium last week made clear that online voting cannot be verifiably secure, and invites disaster in a close, contentious race.
“Vendors may come and they may say they’ve solved the Internet voting problem for you, but I think that, by and large, they are misleading you, and misleading themselves as well,” Ron Rivest, the MIT computer scientist and cryptography pioneer, said at the symposium. “If they’ve really solved the Internet security and cybersecurity problem, what are they doing implementing voting systems? They should be working with the Department of Defense or financial industry. These are not solved problems there.”
The unsolved problems include the ability of malicious actors to intercept Internet communications, log in as someone else, and hack into servers to rewrite or corrupt code. While these are also big problems in e-ecommerce, if a hacker steals money, the theft can soon be discovered. A bank or store can decide whether any losses are an acceptable cost of doing business.
Voting is a different and harder problem. Lost votes aren’t acceptable. And a voting system is supposed to protect the anonymity of a person’s vote — quite unlike a banking or e-commerce transaction — while at the same time validating that it was cast accurately, in a manner that maintains records that a losing candidate will accept as valid and verified.
Given the well-understood vulnerabilities of networked computer systems, the problem is far from solved, says David Dill, a Stanford computer scientist. “Basically, it relies on the user’s computer being trustworthy. If a virus can intercept a vote at keyboard or screen, there is basically no defense,” Dill says. “There are really fundamental problems. Perhaps a system could be tightened so some particular hack won’t work. But overall, systems tend to be vulnerable.”
This year, the U.S. Department of Defense canceled plans to allow Internet voting by military personnel overseas after a security team audited a $22 million system developed by Accenture and found it vulnerable to cyberattacks.
While some nations, including Estonia, allow Internet voting — and other European nations and cities are pursuing projects (Italy is conducting a large test this year), Dill says these adoptions do not prove that they are secure. “I contend that nobody knows whether there is fraud in those nations, because there is no way to detect it,” Dill said.
Some of the theoretical hacking problems could already plague electronic voting systems that are widely used in the United States and other countries, especially if the machines do not produce paper records. But these machines, because they are disconnected from the Internet, are vulnerable to a much narrower range of attacks.
The problems of Internet voting were made clear in a trial two years ago, when the District of Columbia set up a system that let voters go online, enter an ID code they’d received in the mail, cast a vote, and get a record of the result. Election officials invited computer scientists to try to hack the system in a mock election.
Alex Halderman, a computer scientist at the University of Michigan, and two grad students accepted that offer — and soon found an error in the source code that “allowed us to completely steal the election,” Halderman said at the Princeton symposium. They were even able to change the choice of candidates that appeared on people’s screens.
Rivest put the matter in plain terms. “I think when we talk about voting over the Internet, my gut reaction says: Why vote over the Internet? Why? Why are you doing this? Why? Really, why? Why? I think you need to ask that question a lot, just like a two-year-old,” he said. “There are other approaches to getting information back and forth that are better, and have better security properties.
Voting over the Internet is rarely going to be the best choice. It’s very complicated, and you are asking for trouble. Would you connect your toaster to a high-tension power line? Putting a voting system online is very much like that. Would you invest your pension in credit default swaps? You want to stay away [from] complexity. You want something simple. You are entering a world of attacks and risk that you don’t want to be in.”