Out of the gloom Salman Rushdie floats into view, his familiar face with short beard and glasses hovering on screen in front of a library that should win any competition for the most impressive Zoom bookshelf backdrop.
From his New York apartment he is here to share three things: he has made a deal to publish his next work of fiction as a serialised novella on Substack; he intends to fulfil a long held, once thwarted desire to be a film critic; and he still doesn’t have the courage to write poetry.
“I got very attracted to the idea recently, in this strange year and a half, of trying out things I’ve never done before,” he says.
“It’s to do with this enforced condition we’ve all been in of being pushed inwards … I published this book of essays [which was] the 20th book and I’m already writing the 21st book, which is a novel. I just thought: do something else. And exactly the moment I was thinking that this project cropped up.”
“This project” is Substack and came about after the newsletter platform wrote to Rushdie’s literary agent, Andrew Wylie, who asked him if it was something he wanted to do.
“I’ve been looking at [Keret’s] Substack and it’s so witty and enjoyable, and he’s clearly having a wonderful time doing it, I thought, ‘maybe I could do that’.”
Substack provides a platform for readers to subscribe to individual writers, whose posts are sent to your inbox or can be read online. Writers often provide a mix of paid and free content, which is what Rushdie plans to do.
“I’m going to kind of make it up as I go along, but I have some starting points,” he says. Aside from the novella, it will feature short stories, literary gossip (“as long as its not defamatory”) and writing about books – and film.
“I always wanted to write about movies. There was one moment 100 years ago, when somebody at the New Yorker was taking paternity leave and I was asked if I’d like to step in for a couple of months to be their film critic. I thought that was a wonderful idea and I said, ‘yes, please’. Then the critic in question ended up not taking the paternity leave so I got fired before I started.”
Often locked inside during the pandemic, Rushdie set himself a program to rewatch the films that made him fall in love with movies when he was young – “the French New Wave, the Italian New Wave, all the other great films of that period of the 60s and 70s”.
“It was very interesting to see what, in my view, held up and what did not.”
His novella, titled The Seventh Wave, is also linked to film. The 60,000 word text, which has now been slashed to 35,000 words, is about a film director and an actor slash muse written in the style of New Wave cinema, with “disjunctions and crash cuts and gangsters”.
“The infallible test of anything I write is embarrassment,” Rushdie says. “If I’m embarrassed to show it to you, then it’s not ready.
“There comes a point where I’m not embarrassed to show it and actually I’m kind of eager to show it. After the complete rethinking of this text – compressing, condensing, cutting, changing the narrative line somewhat – now I like it.”
It will be a digital experiment in serialising fiction (“the way [it] used to be published, right at the beginning”) with new sections coming out approximately once a week over the course of about a year, he says.
A surprising number of the classics were originally serialised: Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers is the best known example, but there is also Madame Bovary, War and Peace, and Heart of Darkness. Rushdie references the experience of Samuel Richardson, who serialised his novel Clarissa in 1748.
“His readers expected that she would, in the end, fall in love with the guy. But then he rapes her. Richardson had quite a lot of correspondence from readers who said that, in spite of that terrible act, they still wanted what they would consider to be a happy ending – and he very determinedly would not give it to them.
“I’ve never had that before, to be publishing something where people can say things about it while it’s going on.”
Is he open to the idea of feedback from readers shaping the story?
“It would have to be a very good suggestion,” he says. “But it does sometimes happen that somebody says something about a character, which you hadn’t thought about when you were writing it … If somebody were to say, for instance, ‘Oh, that’s interesting, I want to hear a bit more about that’, then maybe I’ll give them a bit more about that.”
Rushdie says he doesn’t want to use Substack as a political platform (“I think what happens is that takes over and obliterates everything else”), but he acknowledges that events (“eg. Afghanistan”) might force him to say something.
Despite his intentions, the move to Substack could see Rushdie wading into a politically charged fight over the moderation of tech platforms. The Trump era and now Covid have poured rocket fuel on to questions about gate-keeping, misinformation and which voices get to be heard, that have been simmering for the best past of a decade.
After becoming the target of a fatwa issued by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 over his novel The Satanic Verses, freedom of speech has been central to Rushdie’s public identity.
“The question about which voices get to speak … is a very important [one],” he says. “In publishing … there was a real problem about which voices got to speak, and I’m not saying that’s gone away, but it’s changing. Here [in the US] there’s a lot more space for writers of colour than there used to be, both in publishing books and in the critical sphere.
“And potentially something like this, with its lack of gatekeepers, could also enable a more diverse set of voices … If you want a Substack you can start one, you know, you don’t have to be invited.
“But I don’t want to be their cheerleader,” he says. “It was interesting for me to have a go with this and all I’ve done is it make a 12-month commitment. A year from now, I’m going to see where we stand, and I’ll either go on with it, or I won’t.”
What he is interested in for now is engaging in a dialogue with readers. In the first post on his Substack, which is called Salman’s Sea of Stories, Rushdie writes poetically about how stories give birth to other stories, using as an example two stories in his own life which sparked the idea for his best of the Booker prize-winning novel Midnight’s Children.
“Human beings have always been storytellers and you use that as a way of understanding who you are, and who the people around you are, and what’s going on,” he says. “If I look back, which I don’t very often, the books do seem to be like reports from different stages of my consciousness. I think most of us do that – we all tell each other stories all the time.”
Rushdie says Twitter has enabled him to maintain a connection with his country of birth due to a disproportionately large number of his 1.1m followers being Indian.
“It does become a way for me, sitting in New York, to have a conversation with people across India as if I was there – and it actually sometimes makes me feel that I am there, you know, because I’m in their living room on their computer, and they’re online.”
Through that community Rushdie, who has remained engaged both with India’s political situation and its suffering amid Covid, got involved in campaigns to fundraise money to provide oxygen cylinders and the like.
He is hoping that Substack “might allow a slightly more complex connection” and give him the space to talk about things that “are just too big to discuss in tweets”.
“I think that new technology always makes possible new art forms, and I think literature has not found its new form in this digital age … Whatever the new thing is that’s going to arise out of this new world, I don’t think we’ve seen it yet.
“I have a very strong suspicion, it is not going to be somebody of my age who comes up with it.”
Rushdie is quite laissez-faire about where this new project will take him.
“I’m just diving in here and que sera sera, you know. It will either turn out to be something wonderful and enjoyable, or it won’t.”
But he also realises that by taking his fiction digital, he is taking a small step away from the beloved medium he has dedicated his life to.
“People have been talking about the death of the novel, almost since the birth of the novel … but the actual, old fashioned thing, the hardcopy book, is incredibly, mutinously alive. And here I am having another go, I guess, at killing it.”
Now, the FTC wants to block the acquisition. In a statement, the FTC said Arm’s technology is a critical input that enables competition between Nvidia and its competitors in several markets.
Therefore, it believes the proposed merger would give Nvidia the ability and incentive to use its control of this technology to undermine its competitors, reducing competition and ultimately resulting in reduced product quality, reduced innovation, higher prices and less choice.
The FTC’s bureau of competition director, Holly Vedova, said the proposed deal would allow the combined company to stifle the innovation pipeline for next-generation technologies.
“Tomorrow’s technologies depend on preserving today’s competitive, cutting-edge chip markets. This proposed deal would distort Arm’s incentives in chip markets and allow the combined firm to unfairly undermine Nvidia’s rivals,” she said.
“The FTC’s lawsuit should send a strong signal that we will act aggressively to protect our critical infrastructure markets from illegal vertical mergers that have far-reaching and damaging effects on future innovations.”
“We’re concerned that Nvidia controlling Arm could create real problems for Nvidia’s rivals by limiting their access to key technologies, and ultimately stifling innovation across a number of important and growing markets,” said Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA.
In October, Nvidia’s planned purchase hit another roadblock from the European Commission launching an in-depth antitrust investigation into the deal at the end of October, with a decision expected by 15 March 2022.
“While Arm and Nvidia do not directly compete, Arm’s IP is an important input in products competing with those of Nvidia, for example in data centres, automotive and internet of things,” said executive vice-president Margrethe Vestager, who is responsible for competition policy.
“Our analysis shows that the acquisition of Arm by Nvidia could lead to restricted or degraded access to Arm’s IP, with distortive effects in many markets where semiconductors are used.”
Despite opposition from several watchdogs, Nvidia has been confident the deal will go through.
“Although some Arm licensees have expressed concerns or objected to the transaction, and discussions with regulators are taking longer than initially thought, we are confident in the deal and that regulators should recognise the benefits of the acquisition to Arm, its licensees and the industry,” Nvidia CFO Colette Kress said earlier this year.
And in a letter to the Financial Times a month after the deal was first announced, Nvidia founder and CEO Jensen Huang said the company will maintain Arm’s open licensing model. “We have no intention to ‘throttle’ or ‘deny’ Arm’s supply to any customer.”
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Assessment and planning by the government relating to risks facing the UK are deficient and “veiled in secrecy”, a report has found.
The 129-page report, entitled Preparing for Extreme Risks: Building a Resilient Society, was produced by the House of Lords select committee on risk assessment and risk planning – a group appointed in October 2020.
James Arbuthnot, chair of the committee, said that while the UK’s risk assessment processes had been praised across the world before the pandemic, the impact of Covid suggested there may be problems.
“It had been advised that if there were to be a coronavirus pandemic, as a country we would suffer up to 100 deaths,” he said. “Over 140,000 deaths later, we realised that we could perhaps have been doing rather better in our assessment and our planning.”
The report – which draws on sources including oral evidence from 85 witnesses, including from the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, during 29 sessions – looked at the country’s approach to assessing and preparing for a wide range of risks, from chemical warfare to the climate crisis and severe space weather.
“If you ask, what keeps me awake at nights, it is the growing possibility of major disruption due to more and more frequent cyber-attacks,” said Lord Rees, a committee member. “And even more, I worry on a timescale of tens of years about bioterrorism, bioengineered viruses and all that, which are going to be feasible.”
The report’s conclusions point to a number of shortcomings. Among them the committee highlighted a tendency for the government to focus on immediate problems rather than preparing for the long term.
“The likelihood of major risks actually occurring during the term of the government is low,” said committee member Lord Mair, noting as a result there is no incentive to prepare for them.
The committee also flagged concerns over the National Risk Register and the National Security Risk Assessment (NSRA), and called for better processes to categorise risks, including looking at how vulnerable the country would be to certain threats, and better modelling of how risks can cascade – with Arbuthnot noting as an example the impact of Covid on school exams.
Among other issues the report criticised a lack of transparency by the government. “The current risk management system is veiled in an unacceptable and unnecessary level of secrecy,” the report noted, adding that in turn has hampered the country’s preparedness, with frontline responders including local government and volunteer groups struggling to access the information they need.
Among other actions, the latest report recommends:
The establishment of an Office for Preparedness and Resilience by the government, headed by a newly created post of government chief risk officer.
A presumption of publication by the government, and the publication of the content of the Official-Sensitive National Security Risk Assessment except where there is a direct national security risk.
The publication, every two years, by the government of a brochure on risk preparedness to inform the public on topics including what to do in an emergency.
“[It’s] much better to face some of these issues, having prepared for, and practised for, and exercised for them in advance rather than doing them first in the heat of battle,” said Arbuthnot
Arbuthnot added the Covid pandemic had offered the chance to “address a public that is ready to be addressed. And people have proved that they’re up to it.”
Prof David Spiegelhalter, chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at Cambridge University, and who contributed evidence to the report, welcomed its publication.
“It’s extraordinary that the National Risk Register does not get any public promotion or media coverage, and I welcome the committee’s recommendation to radically improve the communication with the public about the risks they face,” he said. “These vital issues deserve to be widely known and discussed.”
A Ubiquiti developer has been charged with stealing data from the company and extortion attempts totalling $2m in what prosecutors claim was a vicious campaign to harm the firm’s share price – including allegedly planting fake press stories about the breaches.
US federal prosecutors claimed that 36-year-old Nickolas Sharp had used his “access as a trusted insider” to steal data from his employer’s AWS and GitHub instances before “posing as an anonymous hacker” to send a ransom demand of 50 Bitcoins.
The DoJ statement does not mention Sharp’s employer by name, but a Linkedin account in Sharp’s name says he worked for Ubiquiti as a cloud lead between August 2018 and March 2021, having previously worked for Amazon as a software development engineer.
In an eyebrow-raising indictment [PDF, 19 pages, non-searchable] prosecutors claim Sharp not only pwned his employer’s business from the inside but joined internal damage control efforts, and allegedly posed as a concerned whistleblower to make false claims about the company wrongly downplaying the attack’s severity, wiping $4bn off its market capitalisation.
Criminal charges were filed overnight in an American federal court against Sharp, of Portland, Oregon. The indictment valued the 50 Bitcoins at $1.9m “based on the prevailing exchange rate at the time.”
US attorney Damian Williams said in a US Justice Department statement: “As further alleged, after the FBI searched his home in connection with the theft, Sharp, now posing as an anonymous company whistle-blower, planted damaging news stories falsely claiming the theft had been by a hacker enabled by a vulnerability in the company’s computer systems.”
Sharp is alleged to have downloaded an admin key which gave him “access to other credentials within Company-1’s infrastructure” from Ubiquiti’s AWS servers at 03:16 local time on 10 December 2020, using his home internet connection. Two minutes later, that same key was used to make the AWS API call GetCallerIdentity from an IP address linked to VPN provider Surfshark – to which Sharp was a subscriber, prosecutors claimed.
Later that month, according to the prosecution, he is alleged to have set AWS logs to a one-day retention policy, effectively masking his presence.
Eleven days after the AWS naughtiness, the indictment claims, he used his own connection to log into Ubiquiti’s GitHub infrastructure. “Approximately one minute later,” alleged the indictment, Sharp used Surfshark to ssh into GitHub and clone around 155 Ubiquiti repos to his home computer.
“In one fleeting instance during the exfiltration of data,” said the indictment, “the Sharp IP address was logged making an SSH connection to use GitHub Account-1 to clone a repository.”
For the rest of that night, prosecutors said, logs showed Sharp’s personal IP alternating with a Surfshark exit node while making clone calls. Although it was not spelled out in the court filing, prosecutors appeared to be suggesting that Surfshark VPN was dropping out and revealing “the attacker’s” true IP.
Ubiquiti discovered what was happening on 28 December. Prosecutors claimed Sharp then joined the company’s internal response to the breaches.
In January 2021 Ubiquiti received a ransom note sent from a Surfshark VPN IP address demanding 25 Bitcoins. If it paid an extra 25 Bitcoins on top of that, said the note, its anonymous author would reveal a backdoor in the company’s infrastructure. This appears to be what prompted Ubiquiti to write to its customers that month alerting them to a data breach. Ubiquiti did not pay the ransom, said the indictment.
Shortly after Federal Bureau of Investigation workers raided Sharp’s home, prosecutors claim he “caused false or misleading news stories to be published about the Incident and Company-1’s disclosures and response to the Incident. Sharp identified himself as an anonymous source within Company-1 who had worked on remediating the Incident. In particular, Sharp pretended that Company-1 had been hacked by an unidentified perpetrator who maliciously acquired root administrator access [to] Company-1’s AWS accounts.”
Sharp is innocent unless proven guilty. He is formally charged with breaches of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, transmitting interstate threats, wire fraud and making false statements to the FBI. If found guilty on all counts and handed maximum, consecutive sentences on each, he faces 37 years in prison. ®