Utah’s ‘Porn Filter’ Law Passes the State Legislature

If you work in cybersecurity, chances are you’re pretty tired by now. On the heels of Russia’s [devastating Solarwinds hack](https://www.wired.com/story/russia-solarwinds-supply-chain-hack-commerce-treasury/) that came to light in December, Chinese hackers have mounted what appears to be a [full-on assault against Microsoft Exchange Servers](https://www.wired.com/story/russia-solarwinds-supply-chain-hack-commerce-treasury/), hitting [at least 30,000 servers in the United States](https://www.wired.com/story/china-microsoft-exchange-server-hack-victims/) alone. China’s spies will whittle down the target list from there for further compromise, but this mess is still going to take a very long time to clean up. 

Speaking of messes, apps in both the App Store and Google Play Store still leak too much data too much  of the time, according to a new study from mobile security firm Zimperium. Thanks to misconfigured cloud settings, tens of thousands of apps on both platforms inadvertently expose user information like financial data and medical test results. A different category of mistake was found over at far-right platform Gab, which got hacked very very thoroughly, apparently due to a coding error introduced by the platform’s CTO.

Cybersecurity entrepreneur turned man on the run John McAfee was indicted Friday for his alleged involvement in two cryptocurrency scams. Twitch released its first transparency report this week after a decade of, well, not doing that. Microsoft has started testing its decentralized IDs in the real world, if you wanted to put your college diploma on the blockchain. We took a look at how Myanmar’s citizens are dealing with a prolonged internet shutdown during that country’s military coup. And we published our sixth installment of 2034, a fictional account of a near-future war with China that feels all too real.

And there’s more! Each week we round up all the news we didn’t cover in depth. Click on the headlines to read the full stories. And stay safe out there.

Conservative lawmakers in Utah have passed a handful of anti-pornography laws in the last few years, including the declaration of a public health crisis in 2016. Now they’ve kicked things up a few notches. Measure HB72 won approval in the state senate this week, and in the house last month, meaning it’s headed for the governor’s desk for a signature. The law would mandate that every new smartphone and tablet sold in the state would come with a preinstalled adult content filter activated by default. This makes no sense on a few levels—logistical, constitutional, ethical—but fortunately also seems to have little chance of any near-term effect; the bill stipulates that its requirements don’t go into effect until five other states have passed identical legislation, and even then it seems unlikely that Apple and Google and the Electronic Frontier Foundation and basically anyone within a thousand yards of the intersection of civil liberties and technology would acquiesce to Utah’s demands. 

As classes have gone remote, educators have increasingly relied on intrusive software that surveils students in their homes. Motherboard this week talked to university students around the world about how they’ve gotten around exam proctoring software in particular, using everything from FaceTime and flash cards to taping notes on the wall out of view of a laptop’s webcam. Given how easy it is to get around the monitoring, it hardly seems worth the trade-off in privacy that installing it requires.

The iOS jailbreaks keep on coming. Last weekend, the Unc0ver team released its latest effort, which liberates Apple devices from iOS 11 through iOS 14.3. (But not, it should be noted, iOS 14.4, which was released in February.) The usual caveat of “you probably shouldn’t do this unless you absolutely know what you’re doing” applies. 

While everyone has their hands full with the Microsoft Exchange Server hacks this week, the Solarwinds campaign continues to simmer in the background. This week, Microsoft and security firm FireEye both shared new details about malware strains the Russia-linked group used to get such devastating access to so many targets. The more researchers can discern about the Solarwinds team’s methods, the faster and more effectively they can remediate the problem—and prevent it from happening again. 


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What are NFTs? Everything you need to know.

NFTs are the latest cryptocurrency rage these days, with bands like Kings of Leon releasing their next album as limited edition “golden tickets,” and NBA digital collectibles being sold for millions of dollars. 

They’re interesting to collectors and cryptocurrency fans alike, but is there a future there? In other words: Should you spend some actual dollars to invest in a digital trinket?

Kings of Leon have already jumped on the NFT bandwagon.

Kings of Leon have already jumped on the NFT bandwagon.

Image: yellowheart

What Are NFTs?

NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are a type of cryptocurrency created on a smart contract platform such as Ethereum. They are unique digital objects that can be cool to own or even profitable to trade. Think of them as digital collectible cards. They typically start out as something only enthusiasts care about, but if you get a rare one, it could be worth a lot one day. 

What is fungible vs. non-fungible? 

Cryptocurrencies can be fungible, meaning all the currency’s units (i.e., tokens) are the same and equal, like grains of rice or dollars. 

Non-fungible tokens are the opposite — every cryptocurrency unit, or token, is unique and cannot be replicated. 

This “non-fungible” property can be used for many things, even certain types of currencies. But the current NFT craze is mostly fueled by digital art and collectibles. People have figured out that a unique, digital object can be interesting, cool, and even have a significant monetary value. It’s why the space has recently blossomed, encompassing thousands of projects involving artworks, gaming, and sports. 


How do NFTs work?

It really depends on the platform. But given the vast majority of NFTs are created and traded on Ethereum, we’ll focus on that. 

NFTs are created on Ethereum’s blockchain, which is immutable, meaning it cannot be altered. No one can undo your ownership of an NFT or re-create that exact same one. They’re also “permissionless,” so anyone can create, buy, or sell an NFT without asking for permission. Finally, every NFT is unique, and can be viewed by anyone. 

So yes — it’s like a unique collectible card in a forever-open store window that anyone can admire, but only one person (or cryptocurrency wallet, to be exact) can own at any given time. 

In a practical sense, an NFT is typically represented by a digital artwork, such as an image. But it’s important to understand that it’s not just that image (which can easily be replicated). Its existence as a digital object on the blockchain is what makes it unique. 

How do I buy or trade NFTs?

NFTs are bought and traded just like any other cryptocurrency based on Ethereum, only instead of buying some amount of tokens, you buy a single token. 

To do that, you should start by installing Metamask, a browser extension that lets you interact with various facets of Ethereum, such as exchanges and dApps (decentralized apps). MetaMask is also a digital wallet for Ethereum and all the tokens created on Ethereum (both fungible and non-fungible). 

After installing the extension, you should buy some Ethereum (you can do it directly in MetaMask with a debit card or Apple Pay by clicking on “Add Funds”). But be very careful with your funds — store your MetaMask password and your wallet’s private key somewhere safe. Then, when you visit a website that sells NFTs (such as NBA Top Shot) or an exchange where you can trade for them (such as Uniswap), connect your MetaMask wallet to the site (only do that on sites you know are safe), and buy your first NFT.  


Why do NFTs have value?

Of course, before you buy anything, you’ll probably want to know why it’s a good purchase. Indeed, why would anyone buy an NFT and why should there ever be a buyer willing to spend even more money down the line?

Ideally, the value of NFTs doesn’t just come from a game of digital hot potato, in which you purchase something hoping you’ll sell it for more later. And so on, until the whole thing crashes. Ideally, the NFT should be valuable to you because… you like it. If you’re an NBA fan, you might want to have an official NFT representing your favorite player. Or, perhaps there’s a digital cat that you really like.

Sure, in some ways, many NFTs are just a digital image that you can easily right-click and save to your computer. But NFTs also reside on the blockchain, which makes it extremely hard to truly copy them in their entirety. The blockchain entry also transparently tells you who created the NFT. If a famous musicians says: “Yes, that’s my Ethereum address that created this digital image of a possum.” Then that can be verified on the blockchain. 

Larva Labs' CryptoPunks are among the most coveted (and pricy) NFTs around.
Larva Labs’ CryptoPunks are among the most coveted (and pricy) NFTs around.
Image: larvalabs

Some NFTs can be valuable in other ways. Say, for example, you buy an NFT related to an online game. Perhaps that NFT will one day give you special prestige in the game, or it could even be the basis for you getting some other, hard-to-get object; something that only you can have because every NFT is unique. If you’ve ever played World of Warcraft or a similar game, you know how valuable a piece of armor or a weapon can be. Now, with NFTs, no one can take it away from you, not even the game’s owners. 

Let’s return for a second to that game of digital hot potato. NFTs are a nascent space, and there’s a lot of hysteria and scamming going on. You might see a certain NFT sold for millions, and think you’ll also be able to buy something for a few dollars and become rich selling it to someone later on. It can happen, but it’s rare. And these things can be manipulated. For example, a cryptocurrency whale (someone that owns vast amounts of crypto money) can buy many NFTs and then “sell” them to himself (his other cryptocurrency address) for millions, artificially inflating the price. So be careful: Just because some NFT was traded for a lot of money, do not think this automatically means all other similar NFTs are valuable as well. 


What are the most expensive NFTs?

In the early days of the space, we saw a blockchain game like CryptoKitties sell virtual cats for tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Recently, music producer 3LAU sold a collection of 33 limited edition NFTs for more than 11 million dollars. The musician Grimes (aka the mother of little X Æ A-Xii) even sold her digital art collection for $7,500 apiece, totaling $6 million in sales. Yes, these things can get very pricey. 

Are NFTs a good investment?

Buying an NFT because you like it, or maybe even to earn (or lose) a few quick bucks is one thing. But investing in NFTs is another. Again, it’s a nascent space. Even a Van Gogh painting or a rare Babe Ruth baseball card required some passage of time before becoming very valuable. 

Given the digital nature of NFTs, it’s hard to compare them to prized physical artworks, such as statues and paintings. On the other hand, we live in a world where one Bitcoin is worth more than $50,000, so things from the digital realm can certainly be very valuable and even sustain that value over longer periods of time. 

In any case, if you plan to invest in NFTs, you’ll need to dive deep into this complex world because each NFT market is slightly different. It’s also pricey — trading on Ethereum can be quite costly as the network’s recent congestion is causing fees to rise. Finally, you’ll need to think strategically and follow the often rapidly changing cryptocurrency trends. 

In short, it’s possible to earn money by investing in NFTs, but you’ll have to do your homework. 

The ‘Lamborghini’ of Chariots Was Just Unearthed Near Pompeii

Archaeologists in Italy have unearthed an elaborately decorated, intact four-wheeled ceremonial chariot near the ruins of the Roman city of Pompeii, famously destroyed when Mount Vesuvius catastrophically erupted in 79 CE, BBC News reports. The archaeologists believe the chariot was likely used in festivities and parades—possibly even for wedding rituals, such as transporting the bride to her new home, given the erotic nature of some of the decorative motifs.

The find is extraordinary both for its remarkable preservation and because it is a relatively rare object. “I was astounded,” Eric Poehler, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who is an expert on traffic in Pompeii, told NPR. “Many of the vehicles [previously discovered] are your standard station wagon or vehicle for taking the kids to soccer. This is a Lamborghini. This is an outright fancy, fancy car. This is precisely the kind of find that one wants to find at Pompeii, the really well-articulated, very-well-preserved moments in time.”

Other archaeologists weighed in on Twitter. “My jaw is on the floor just now!” tweeted Jane Draycott of the University of Glasgow. “Still wrapping my head around the latest incredible discovery,” Sophie Hay of the University of Cambridge tweeted in an extensive thread about the surprising find. “The details are extraordinary.”

As we’ve previously reported, the eruption of Vesuvius released thermal energy roughly equivalent to 100,000 times the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II, spewing molten rock, pumice, and hot ash over the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in particular. The vast majority of the victims died of asphyxiation, choking to death on the thick clouds of noxious gas and ash. But there is also some evidence that the heat was so extreme in some places that it vaporized body fluids and exploded the skulls of several inhabitants unable to flee in time.

The sudden eruption covered the remains of the city in a thick layer of ash, preserving many of the buildings and daily ephemera of the doomed city—and the bodies of its former inhabitants. There have been several exciting archaeological finds among the excavated ruins in recent years. In December, for instance, archaeologists unearthed a termopolium, or “hot drinks counter,” that served up ancient Roman street food—and plenty of wine—to the people of northeast Pompeii in the days before Mount Vesuvius erupted. Painted bright yellow and decorated with detailed frescoes, the counter would have been a quick stop for hot, ready-made food and drinks. And the small shop still held the remains of its proprietor and perhaps one of its last customers.

Late in 2018, the remains of a horse—saddled up and still in its harness—were uncovered in a stable at the Villa of the Mysteries just outside Pompeii’s walls. Previous finds at the site include wine presses, ovens, and frescoes. The remains of two additional horses were also discovered, although archaeologists were unable to make casts to preserve the scene due to damage done by looters. After the initial excavation of the site in the 20th century, it was reburied for the sake of preservation. But looters dug an elaborate network of tunnels around the area—running some 80 meters and more than 5 meters deep—to illegally gain access and remove artifacts.

The ceremonial chariot was found in the ruins of the two-level portico facing the stable where the horse remains were found in 2018. Archaeologists had carefully removed the carbonized wood ceiling and determined that it had been constructed from oak, while the carbonized door had been made of beechwood. On January 7 of this year, archaeologists found an iron artifact in the volcanic material filling the portico, followed by the ceremonial chariot, which was remarkably well-preserved, given that the walls and ceiling of the room had collapsed and the looters had dug tunnels on either side of it.

The archaeological team spent the next several weeks meticulously unearthing the find, making plaster casts of any voids to preserve the imprint of any organic material that may have once been there—including the chariot’s shaft and ropes. The chariot has since been removed to the Archaeological Park of Pompeii’s laboratory to complete its restoration.

“What we have is a ceremonial chariot, probably the Pilentum referred to by some sources, which was employed not for everyday use or for agricultural transport but to accompany community festivities, parades, and processions,” Massimo Osanna, the park’s outgoing director, said in a statement. “This type of chariot, which has never before emerged from Italian soil, bears comparison with finds uncovered around 15 years ago inside a burial mound in Thrace (in northern Greece, near the Bulgarian border). One of the Thracian chariots is particularly similar to ours, even if it lacks the extraordinary figurative decorations that accompany the Pompeian find.”

As for the looters, authorities were able to trace the tunnel network back to a modern dwelling on the site of another plundered Roman villa, belonging to the masterminds behind the looting. According to chief prosecutor Nunzio Fragliasso, they are now standing trial for their crimes before the Court of Torre Annunziata. He said that he considers “the fight against the looting of archaeological sites, both inside and outside the urban area of ancient Pompeii,” to be one of his office’s primary objectives.

This story originally appeared on Ars Technica.


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Hey you, come chill (virtually) at Mashable Home 2021

Anyone who’s been to South by Southwest knows the experience isn’t complete without a trip to the Mashable House, our onsite HQ. Since the festival is fully online this year, you unfortunately won’t be able to attend the annual immersive experience in person. 

But fear not: We’re bringing it to you with the Mashable Home.

As SXSW enthusiasts will recall, the beloved Austin-based tech and music festival was canceled in 2020 as a result of the coronavirus. Thankfully, it’s making a triumphant 2021 return with a stacked virtual lineup of keynote speakers, music festivals, film screenings, and more. The festival runs from March 16 – 20, but luckily you don’t have to wait that long to enjoy Mashable Home, a 3D interactive digital experience packed with dozens of exciting activations.

A peek at the Mashable Home living room. Cozy, right?

A peek at the Mashable Home living room. Cozy, right?

Image: mashable

The virtual fun starts on Monday, March 8, with daily events that begin at 12:00 p.m. ET. Here’s a look at the schedule:

  • Monday, March 8: Get your groove on with a special set from Madame Gandhi.

  • Tuesday, March 9: Learn healthy and delish recipes with Skyler Bouchard, featuring the most mashable of all foods: potatoes.

  • Wednesday, March 10: Social Good Series: The Digital Divide. A panel of experts will examine the issue of digital divide in education, how it affects some people more than others, and possible solutions. 

  • Thursday, Mach 11: Garden Marcus gives expert tips on keeping your indoor plants alive and thriving — no green thumb required!

  • Friday, March 12: Garden Marcus will take you to plant school with tips for prepping your outdoor space for spring.

If you think Mashable Home's backyard is picturesque now, just wait until you see it at night ?

If you think Mashable Home’s backyard is picturesque now, just wait until you see it at night ?

Image: mashable

While you’re waiting for the main events, come on in and explore Mashable Home’s six beautifully furnished, future-focused rooms. We know you’re probably sick of being at home and desperately wish you could book a flight to Texas for a week of IRL fun, so we wanted to create a virtual experience that could help fill the travel void in your hearts. 

Mashable Home not only gives you an idyllic new living space to explore, but also offers a series of must-have tips and tricks — on everything from gardening and cooking to decorating and living more sustainably — that you can use to drastically improve your WFH setup and liven up your living space.

By using the navigation arrows on your keyboard or dragging your mouse around the screen, you can enjoy a 360-degree view of our kitchen, living room, bedroom, flex room, garage, and backyard. Don’t forget to say hi to your new furry friend, Ruby Tater Tot Spud, and be sure to click on more than 30 activations scattered throughout the house. You can click these icons to shop, watch videos, play games, read compelling editorial content, and more. You never know what you’ll find.

If you’ve spent a good chunk of quarantine thirst-browsing Zillow listings or binge-watching home improvement reality shows, Mashable Home is a must visit. It’s like being in an extravagant episode of Selling Sunset, with all the snooping around perks of a video game. And crucially, it allows you to explore home that isn’t your own. (A luxury that’s hard to come by these days.)

Grab some snacks, pour a drink, check your WiFi connection, and come hang. The virtual event runs until April 8, and you can invite your friends to the house party by sharing the hashtag #mashablehome. 

The Biden Administration Weighs the Social Cost of Carbon

This story originally appeared on Undark and is part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

To turn the tide against climate change, President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Inauguration Day instituting a raft of policy changes and initiatives. One directed his team to reassess the social cost of carbon. This seemingly obscure concept puts a number on how much damage a metric ton of carbon dioxide emitted today will do in the future, in order to show how much a given climate policy would benefit the economy in the long run. More than in previous assessments, Biden’s team explicitly called for considerations of environmental justice and intergenerational equity, referring to the perils of climate change to future generations.

On Febrary 26, the Biden administration announced an initial estimate of $51 per ton of carbon. But the cost is not a settled matter, and Biden’s advisers are still studying the latest research to make a more comprehensive update. Scientists and economists continue to debate the value of the social cost of carbon—experts have come up with a broad range of numbers, some more than $200 per ton of carbon—as well as its scope and effectiveness at shaping policy at a key climate moment. Their analysis involves making decisions about exactly which climate costs to include and whether government policies should aim to pay now or pay later on the way to the administration’s stated goal of having a carbon-neutral economy by 2050.

The concept isn’t new. The federal government began incorporating the social cost of carbon in climate-related regulations in 2010, factoring it into requirements for the fuel economy of cars and trucks, the levels of air pollution from power plants, and the energy efficiency of consumer appliances. But the Trump administration backtracked on these and many other regulations. Now, the United States has less than a decade left to slash carbon emissions by about half to avoid the most disastrous climate impacts, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“The social cost of carbon is incredibly important because it enables policymakers or other decisionmakers to put the costs and benefits of any climate policy on a level playing field,” said Tamma Carleton, an environmental economist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “It’s not the environment versus the economy—climate change has measurable effects on the economy—so it’s really about measuring what’s best for society” while choosing smart policies, she said.

President Biden appointed a working group that will eventually establish the new figures the government will use. The group—some members of which have yet to be confirmed—includes science, economic, and climate advisers along with the heads of major federal agencies, reflecting the high priority placed on the task. Now that the group has announced its initial assessment, its members continue their work toward a final one. They have one year to hash out the science while considering environmental justice and intergenerational equity issues.

Stringent climate-related policies can impose direct and indirect costs on manufacturers and consumers, potentially resulting in higher price tags for the next generation of goods like cars and appliances as they’re made to conform to new climate rules—but that’s only part of the story. Federal policymakers have incorporated the social cost of carbon in the development of scores of regulations already. The highest-profile regulations involve vehicles and power plants, but other rules outline energy efficiency requirements for things like air conditioners, vending machines, and ceiling fans. (Carbon dioxide is the most abundant greenhouse gas, but newer regulations account for methane and nitrous oxide as well. These emissions also contribute to global warming and come with social costs, so much so that the Biden administration now refers to them collectively as the “social cost of greenhouse gases.”)

Here’s how the costs and benefits work out on paper: Suppose the Department of Energy proposed new regulations for air conditioners at a projected cost of $40 million, and economists estimated that the regulation would cut carbon emissions by 1 million tons at a rate of $51 per ton. That would mean about $51 million of benefits, $11 million greater than the cost, implying that it would result in savings in the long run because of its role in preventing costly climate damages in the future. On the other hand, a lower social cost of carbon, such as that put in place during the Trump era, would result in less estimated savings, suggesting that the costs of the proposed regulation would outweigh the benefits.

Over the past few years, it has become clearer that ignoring climate change ultimately will have far larger economic impacts in the future. Now, for instance, scientists can more easily account for the damages to California’s agriculture resulting from a drought, or the public health effects of a heat wave in Chicago, Carleton said. That means environmental economists have learned to better assess how an increase in energy efficiency would reduce these damages and add up to a clear benefit.

Research on climate economics has advanced in other ways since Biden was last in the White House. Because of that, the Biden administration should go beyond the Obama-era assessments, said Myles Allen, a climate scientist at the University of Oxford, and consider the full range of possible climate scenarios. These include factoring in the chances of crossing certain environmental tipping points—such as widespread melting of polar ice sheets that would cause sea levels to rise much more rapidly—and estimating the potential damages that would result.

Allen collaborated with other experts in 2017 on a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which Biden’s executive order cites. The report estimated the social cost at $42 per ton of carbon, in line with a gradual increase to the cost under Obama. Adjusted for inflation, this translates to $51 in 2020 dollars—the same value currently adopted by the Biden administration’s group. But other researchers have come up with higher numbers: Last month, economists Nicholas Stern and Joseph Stiglitz suggested a value around $100 per ton by 2030; Carleton and a colleague set it at about $125 per ton of carbon in a paper published in January; and Frances Moore, an environmental economist at the University of California at Davis, put it at $220 per ton in the estimate she and a colleague produced in 2015.

There are many reasons for the wide range of estimates. To figure it out, researchers use at least three different models, each of which requires assumptions like how trends in economic growth respond to climate change, how trends in oil prices change while it is still widely consumed, and the costs of adapting to climate change, including rebuilding or moving people from fire- and flood-prone areas. If, say, economists project widespread recessions, steep climate adaptation costs, and high emissions, they’ll calculate a high carbon cost.

“You have to track the carbon dioxide through the climate system and its effect around the world—what are these climate damages on everyone in all sectors throughout centuries into the future?” Moore said. “That’s fundamentally a very difficult problem.”

Another ongoing debate centers on how society values future costs and benefits, which is captured by what economists call the discount rate. “In all economic analysis, there are trade-offs between money you have now, or damages you feel now, and those you might feel later,” said Kevin Rennert, director of the Social Cost of Carbon Initiative at Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research institution in Washington, DC. “And that applies to climate change as well.” A lower rate means valuing the harm to future generations more highly today, while a higher rate means allowing them to bear more of the burden. Most scientists assume a discount rate of 2 or 3 percent, while Trump administration policies used a rate as high as 7 percent.

The discount rate issue raises questions of what Biden’s executive order calls “intergenerational equity,” which the order states has not yet been adequately taken into account. While people who are alive now bear the costs in the near term, some benefits of climate policies might not come for decades, Rennert said.

Beyond this debate, some scientists question whether the social cost of carbon is an effective tool for shifting to cleaner energy fast enough to stop climate change. Anthony Patt, a climate policy researcher at ETH Zürich, and others have argued that policymakers in the US and elsewhere don’t have the will to set a price high enough to matter. Putting a price on carbon may be too little, too late, these experts stress, when the pace of climate change is accelerating and the time to mitigate it is dwindling.

A social cost of carbon works well as a tool for spurring people to gradually improve their energy and fuel efficiency, Patt said. But if the goal is to encourage society to completely stop carbon emissions and invest heavily in alternatives to fossil energy, he said, the social cost of carbon is inadequate to accomplish that unless it is increased by an order of magnitude or more. “It would have to be ridiculously high,” he added, “in the thousands of dollars a ton.”

Even 30 years ago, improving the efficiency of cars, appliances, and power plants might have been sufficient to change the world’s climate trajectory, Patt said. Now society faces a more daunting challenge: transitioning to a fossil-fuel-free economy in just a couple of decades. Patt believes other tools should be used, such as larger subsidies for solar and wind power and electric car infrastructure, as well as quota systems for airlines to require them to increase the percentage of carbon-neutral fuels they use.

An additional consideration in the new carbon cost assessment could center on inequities between the rich and the poor and other environmental justice concerns involving historically marginalized communities of color and tribal communities, based on the stated goals of Biden’s other executive orders and statements. Current federal assessments don’t account for the fact that $1,000 of climate damages from a wildfire or hurricane, for instance, hurts a poor person more than a wealthy one, Allen said.

That is, questions of ethics can matter as much as questions of science, as the Biden group’s announcement acknowledges. “The decisions you make about how you weight economic impacts” on different people and communities, Allen said, “have a far bigger impact on the social cost of carbon than, say, how much uncertainty there is in how much warming you get per ton of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”


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NFTs Are Hot. So Is Their Effect on the Earth’s Climate

Two years ago, Joanie Lemercier, a French artist known for his perception-bending light sculptures, took on a new role as a climate activist. He attended protests against coal mining, projecting lasers onto excavators and government offices with dramatic effect, and began a campaign demanding Autodesk stop selling its design software to fossil fuel operations. He also took a closer look at his own energy use, which included a hefty heating bill for his studio in Brussels, electricity for the high-end computers to render his creations, and dozens of flights each year to exhibitions around the world. He tracked it all down to the watt and vowed to reduce his energy use by 10 percent each year, a goal he had successfully met. Then, a few months ago, in the course of a few minutes, his progress was erased.

The culprit was Lemercier’s first blockchain “drop.” The event involved the sale of six so-called nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, which took the form of short videos inspired by the concept of platonic solids. In the clips, dark metallic polyhedrons rotate on loop and glisten—a reference to Lemercier’s installations in the physical world. The works were placed for auction on a website called Nifty Gateway, where they sold out in 10 seconds for thousands of dollars. The sale also consumed 8.7 kilowatt-hours of energy, as he later learned from a website called Cryptoart.WTF.

That figure was equivalent to two years of energy use in Lemercier’s studio. Since then, the art has been resold, requiring another year’s worth of energy. The tally was still climbing. The problem, as Lemercier saw it, went well beyond himself. His fellow artists were becoming millionaires overnight as the cryptoart world exploded. But so was their role in emitting carbon. Artists didn’t seem to understand the scope of this problem—Lemercier himself hadn’t—and the platforms making the sales didn’t seem interested in clarifying.

Million-Dollar Sales

Cryptoart, or NFT art—the field’s practitioners haven’t quite settled on the terminology—is having a moment of massive, headline-grabbing sales. Last month, an animated image of Nyan Cat, the popular meme of a rainbow-shooting feline made out of a Pop-Tart, sold for $660,000 in a blockchain sale. The latest bid in an ongoing Christie’s auction for an NFT by Beeple, an artist known for his playfully grotesque takes on current affairs, is $3.5 million. But those are just the tip of a rollicking industry. Works by lesser-known artists routinely sell for thousands of dollars, and a booming subgenre of TikTok videos advise viewers on how to quickly flip them for a tidy profit. The numbers hardly make sense to anyone, and the same has been said of some of the artwork listed for sale. But that was also recently true for the prices of GameStop stock and Dogecoin. It’s a strange, heady time for digital speculators.

Still, there are signs of substance underneath it all. “It’s easy to look at NFTs and say, OK, this is Beanie Babies,” says Jill Carlson, a venture capitalist who invests in blockchain technology. That had been her own stance for years, when the NFT art world was defined by Cryptokitties, collectible cartoon cats that briefly sold for tens of thousands of dollars. (Ridiculous then but pennies compared to now.) She changed her mind recently after seeing the interest of artists who had established themselves independently of blockchain hype—people like Lemercier. Some of the NFTs Carlson saw even looked like actual art. “The prices are still totally outrageous,” she adds. But both things can be true at once.

For digital artists, the attraction of blockchain is a new model of ownership. Crypto art is no more secure from copycats than anything else posted on the internet; a person could easily record a video or screenshot an image and proudly display the replica on their desktop. But with an NFT, the owner buys a verified token providing digital evidence that the art is theirs—a bit like an artist’s signature. The idea is to offer some semblance of the authenticity that is naturally bestowed on physical art. After all, most people would say that a perfect copy of a Mondrian abstract painted on your garage door is not the same as the one created by the artist. Why couldn’t the same be true for a .CAS file? A bonus of the model is that ownership can be extended to resales of that token, allowing artists to continue receiving a cut.

The trade-off is that this model consumes lots of energy. The major marketplaces for NFT art, which include MakersPlace, Nifty Gateway, and SuperRare, conduct their sales through Ethereum, which maintains a secure record of cryptocurrency and NFT transactions through a process called mining. The system is similar to the one that verifies Bitcoin, involving a network of computers that use advanced cryptography to decide whether transactions are valid—and in doing so uses energy on the scale of a small country.

How exactly that energy use translates to carbon emissions is a hotly contested subject. Some estimates suggest as much as 70 percent of mining operations may be powered by clean sources. But that number fluctuates seasonally, and in a global energy grid that mostly runs on fossil fuels, critics say energy use is energy use. Some mining hotspots popular because of cheap hydropower, such as Missoula, Montana, have banned new operations over concerns that even “clean” mining would push neighboring energy users to dirtier energy sources. Ethereum’s developers have planned a shift to a less carbon-intensive form of security, called proof-of-stake, via a blueprint called Ethereum 2.0. But this has been in the works for years, and there is no clear deadline for the switch.

“If you look at how much energy we are going to spend in the meantime, it’s ridiculous,” says Fanny Lakoubay, a crypto art collector and adviser. Ethereum became the platform of choice for digital art sales because it was designed to handle digital transactions that go beyond cryptocurrency, using a system called smart contracts. And as the second-largest blockchain platform after Bitcoin, it was known to be fairly reliable, with an established community of developers. There are alternative blockchains, some of them already using proof-of-stake, but they are perceived as less established—and perhaps less permanent, Lakoubay explains. That makes them less appealing to art buyers who want their claims to very expensive things etched in digital stone.

Until recently, the NFT art world hadn’t given energy use that much thought, Lakoubay says, because the community of artists and collectors was tiny. Digital art sales weren’t driving the computers that ran Ethereum; that was due to other things, like cryptocurrency speculation. Lakoubay has been happy to see the recent growing interest in crypto art. But it was also a little bit scary. “I’ve been advising collectors to not be too crazy right now,” she says. “It’s definitely not the art market that’s driving the prices.”

Adding up the Energy Use

Lemercier knew that energy was involved in anything blockchain, but he was unsure of the impact of issuing a set of artworks and struggled to find information. Surely, he reasoned, a handful of transactions wouldn’t amount to much, especially compared with his usual process of creating and shipping physical objects. And the possibilities were tantalizing. He liked the new model of ownership, which seemed to have fewer barriers to up-and-coming artists than the traditional art market. So Lemercier struck a compromise: heating was by far the biggest energy cost in his studio, so he would invest a portion of his crypto proceeds in better insulation.

The experiment attracted the attention of a friend and fellow technology artist named Memo Akten, who was concerned to see his climate-conscious friend getting involved in blockchain. Did Lemercier really know the full ecological costs? Akten decided to trace the blockchain activity associated with 18,000 NFT artworks. The energy use was more complex, he found, than simply adding a token to a blockchain (a process called minting). There were other transactions to consider: the dozens of bids an artwork might receive, for example, and resales in the fast-flipping NFT market. Plus some artists were issuing multiple “editions” of their works, driving energy use even higher. Lemercier had issued six NFTs, but 53 editions.

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The WIRED Guide to the Blockchain

It’s super secure and slightly hard to understand, but the idea of creating tamper-proof databases has captured the attention of everyone from anarchist techies to staid bankers.

The realization led Akten to create Cryptoart.WTF—a kind of roulette game that selects a work of cryptoart and presents a rough estimate of the energy use and emissions associated with it. The intention of the website is not to shame artists, Akten says, but rather the platforms that oversee the sales. He and Lemercier want the NFT marketplaces to adopt more efficient technology—either tools that handle more aspects of the transactions separately from the blockchain, or leaving Ethereum behind for other blockchains that don’t use mining.

John Crain, the CEO of SuperRare, a leading NFT marketplace, says it’s flawed to equate blockchain transactions with carbon emissions, and says the website sensationalizes the issue by trying to attach a specific energy use figure number to an artwork. He compares Ethereum to an airplane that will take off regardless of how many cryptoartists climb on board. “There is a whole ecosystem of people who are creating emissions, so I don’t think it’s fair to the artists to say that you created this amount of CO2,” he says. And what of the carbon emissions associated with the traditional, physical art world? Everything from the flights and shipping of sculptures in crates to the gallery lights and security systems.

Crain says he shares the broader concerns about emissions, especially as the blockchain art market grows. SuperRare is looking into options for making the transactions more efficient, he says—though many of them involve security trade-offs. The debate has made him more eager for Ethereum 2.0, he says.

That response has not quelled the frustration of artists like Akten and Lemercier. “People say that hopefully it will be fixed in a year or two so it’s OK to be exploitative right now,” says Akten. And while there are certainly carbon emissions associated with the traditional art world, if the point of blockchain art is to imagine something radically different, he wonders why avoiding climate destruction wouldn’t be at the top of the priority list. “We have to change our existing habits,” Akten says. “So how can we build new platforms that are unsustainable?”

After learning about his carbon footprint, Lemercier canceled two planned drops, which had been tentatively priced at $200,000. He says he can understand why artists are carrying on. “I do understand why they want to surf the wave because they could be set for life,” he says. But recently, he had been seeking out alternatives. He had tested out a sale on a platform that is already proof-of-stake, and it went well. It didn’t have the same volume of artists and buyers, but he wondered if he could get artists to migrate en masse and drum up interest. Perhaps a prominent artist would cancel a major Ethereum drop in solidarity to join them.

In the meantime, Lemercier was happy to be reentering the physical art world, which was getting easier as pandemic restrictions eased. Last week, he opened a solo show in Madrid. He took the train.


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The 15 Best Weekend Deals on Phones, Smartwatches, and More

Much of our lives are still happening through a screen. You may as well upgrade said screen to 4K resolution, powered by a new laptop and a 1080p webcam. We’ve found discounts on such gadgets—including a smartwatch to monitor your fitness and a solid-state drive to keep your digital files safe—that can improve your stay-at-home life as we all wait for vaccines to arrive. 

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The Best Gmail Settings You Might Not Have Used Yet

Gmail is one of the most powerful and most popular email services available, and there’s a reason why. However, many of its best features are buried in the app’s dense settings pages. You’d be forgiven for missing some of the many powerful tools that are sitting right under the surface. We’ve got some of the best ones here to save you time and help you get back to the work you need to do.

Change Undo Send Time Limit

By default, Gmail will wait five seconds after you hit Send to actually send your email. This gives you a moment to realize that you forgot to add an attachment and recall the email. However, five seconds isn’t very much time to catch a mistake. To make this window last a little longer, head to Settings > See all settings > Undo Send, where you can raise this timeframe up to 30 seconds. It’s still not a very long time (anything longer than that and you might want to schedule emails instead), but every second helps.

Confirm Actions on Mobile

When you’re checking or responding to emails on mobile, it can be easier to tap in the wrong place and accidentally delete the wrong email, or send a reply before you’re ready. Fortunately, the app can ask for confirmation before certain actions. In the mobile Gmail app, head to Settings > General settings > Action Confirmations and you’ll find settings to confirm before deleting, archiving, or sending emails. Enable whichever ones you want, and from now on Gmail will confirm you’re absolutely sure before sending that email.

Unread Message Icon

If you keep your Gmail tab open throughout the day, there’s an easy way to find out when you’ve got a new email. Head to Settings > See all settings > Advanced and enable “Unread message icon.” This will update the icon in your Gmail tab with a number, indicating how many unread emails you have. If you get a new email, this will update. This is extremely useful to stay up to date on any emails you get, without having to tab back to Gmail so often.

Enable Multiple Stars

You’ve probably used Gmail’s stars to mark a particular email that you want to be able to find later. But did you know Gmail has more than just one star? To turn them on, head to Settings > See all settings > Stars. Here, you can see an assortment of other stars and icons that you can add to your rotation. Drag the ones you want from “Not in use” to “In use.” From now on, when you click on the star icon in Gmail, you’ll apply the regular star, but if you continue clicking on it, you will cycle through the other stars you added.

Send and Archive with a Single Click

Most of the time, when you send an email, you’re safely done with that conversation until you hear from the other person again. So, if you want to shave an extra click off every email you send, there’s an option for that. Head to Settings > See all settings > General and enable “Send and Archive.” With this active, your default Send button will now both send the email and archive the conversation at the same time.

Customize Your Keyboard Shortcuts

Gmail’s shortcuts are one of the best tools you can use to save time, but they don’t have to stay on the defaults. If you’d rather change your shortcuts to be more convenient for your workflow, first head to Settings > See all settings > Advanced and enable “Custom keyboard shortcuts. You’ll have to click “Save changes” to apply the change and reload Gmail. Once you do, head back into the Settings page and you’ll see a new sub-tab called “Keyboard shortcuts.”

Here, you’ll find the existing shortcuts for a long list of actions you can take in Gmail. Most of them already have a keyboard shortcut assigned, but you can change the default one, or add a second, custom shortcut of your own. Just be sure that any new shortcuts you create don’t conflict with the other ones that already exist before you apply them.

Switch to Reply All by Default

By far the most dangerous custom tweak in Gmail, you can change the app so that when you reply to an email, it will automatically send the email to everyone on the chain. You’ll still have the option to reply to just one person if you want, but the Reply All button will be more prominent, and in some places you might have to click through to an overflow menu in order to find the regular Reply button.

This tool can be extremely handy if you routinely email multiple people in chains every day, but be careful. This will also make it easier to accidentally send an email to everyone CC’d on a chain, embarrassing yourself and annoying everyone else. If it’s worth the time you save every day, go for it, but make sure you’re careful from that day forward.


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China’s and Russia’s spying spree will take years to unpack

China’s and Russia’s spying spree will take years to unpack

First it was SolarWinds, a reportedly Russian hacking campaign that stretches back almost a year and has felled at least nine US government agencies and countless private companies. Now it’s Hafnium, a Chinese group that’s been attacking a vulnerability in Microsoft Exchange Server to sneak into victims’ email inboxes and beyond. The collective toll of these espionage sprees is still being uncovered. It may never be fully known.

Countries spy on each other, everywhere, all the time. They always have. But the extent and sophistication of Russia’s and China’s latest efforts still manage to shock. And the near-term fallout of both underscores just how tricky it can be to take the full measure of a campaign even after you’ve sniffed it out.

By now you’re probably familiar with the basics of the SolarWinds attack: Likely Russian hackers broke into the IT management firm’s networks and altered versions of its Orion network monitoring tool, exposing as many as 18,000 organizations. The actual number of SolarWinds victims is assumed to be much smaller, although security analysts have pegged itin at least the low hundreds so far. And as SolarWinds CEO Sudhakar Ramakrishna has eagerly pointed out to anyone who will listen, his was not the only software supply chain company that the Russians hacked in this campaign, implying a much broader ecosystem of victims than anyone has yet accounted for.

“It’s become clear that there’s much more to learn about this incident, its causes, its scope, its scale, and where we go from here,” said Senate Intelligence Committee chair Mark Warner (D-Virginia) at a hearing related to the SolarWinds hack last week. Brandon Wales, acting director of the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency, estimated in an interview with MIT Technology Review this week that it could take up to 18 months for US government systems alone to recover from the hacking spree, to say nothing of the private sector.

That lack of clarity goes double for the Chinese hacking campaign that Microsoft disclosed Tuesday. First spotted by security firm Volexity, a nation-state group that Microsoft calls Hafnium has been using multiple zero-day exploits—which attack previously unknown vulnerabilities in software—to break into Exchange Servers, which manage email clients including Outlook. There, they could surreptitiously read through the email accounts of high-value targets.