Later On

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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

The U.S. Government: Paying to Undermine Internet Security, Not to Fix It

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Excellent article in ProPublica by Julia Angwin:

The Heartbleed computer security bug is many things: a catastrophic tech failure, an open invitation to criminal hackers and yet another reason to upgrade our passwords ondozens of websites. But more than anything else, Heartbleed reveals our neglect of Internet security.

The United States spends more than $50 billion a year on spying and intelligence, while the folks who build important defense software — in this case a program called OpenSSL that ensures that your connection to a website is encrypted — are four core programmers, only one of who calls it a full-time job.

In a typical year, the foundation that supports OpenSSL receives just $2,000 in donations. The programmers have to rely on consulting gigs to pay for their work. “There should be at least a half dozen full time OpenSSL team members, not just one, able to concentrate on the care and feeding of OpenSSL without having to hustle commercial work,” says Steve Marquess, who raises money for the project.

Is it any wonder that this Heartbleed bug slipped through the cracks? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 April 2014 at 11:13 am

Internet service provider switchover: Offline for a few days

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We are going through the trouble—and trouble it is—of switching our internet service provider. This means no internet for a while—worst case, two weeks. I will announce my return with a post.

Happy shaving.

UPDATE: As of this morning, my Internet connection is still going strong, so I’ll do some blogging, but if I abruptly stop for a day or so, the switchover is the reason.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2014 at 3:15 pm

Posted in Technology

Cool flying automobile

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It’s a gyrocopter. My father built one and flew around over my home town.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2014 at 3:43 pm

The Heartbleed Bug: Extreme security risk

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Take a look. The article at the link begins:

The Heartbleed Bug is a serious vulnerability in the popular OpenSSL cryptographic software library. This weakness allows stealing the information protected, under normal conditions, by the SSL/TLS encryption used to secure the Internet. SSL/TLS provides communication security and privacy over the Internet for applications such as web, email, instant messaging (IM) and some virtual private networks (VPNs).

The Heartbleed bug allows anyone on the Internet to read the memory of the systems protected by the vulnerable versions of the OpenSSL software. This compromises the secret keys used to identify the service providers and to encrypt the traffic, the names and passwords of the users and the actual content. This allows attackers to eavesdrop on communications, steal data directly from the services and users and to impersonate services and users.

What leaks in practice?

We have tested some of our own services from attacker’s perspective. We attacked ourselves from outside, without leaving a trace. Without using any privileged information or credentials we were able steal from ourselves the secret keys used for our X.509 certificates, user names and passwords, instant messages, emails and business critical documents and communication.

How to stop the leak? . . .

Nowadays one has to wonder what is the likelihood that this security leak is due to NSA intervention in the development process (cf. the flawed encryption algorithm that NSA paid RSA to implement—an algorithm that RSA now recommends you do not use.)

However, the article at the link given above is pretty exhaustive and it attributes the problem to a programming error.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 April 2014 at 10:37 am

For those who travel: A good USB battery

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2014 at 8:45 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Smart appliances and boot-up time

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As more appliances get embedded microcontrollers with sophisticated operating systems and application programs, we have become used to a pause after we turn on the device, waiting while it boots up. My TV, for example, shows me a logo as it (slowly) initializes. And, of course, we have to reboot from time to time: hold the Kindle start button down for a couple of minutes and it forces a hard reboot—and during the reboot, you watch a progress bar. Smaller devices (like a remote) are rebooted by removing the batteries, waiting a few seconds, then putting them back in.

I suddenly connected with initiating pause with radios from my youth: those used tubes/valves that had to warm up before they would work, so we turned on the radio and waiting. When the transistor radio appeared, it was magical that you got sound the instant you turned it on. At first we couldn’t resist turning it off, then back on: immediate sound was a great novelty and showed technological progress.

Only now those days are gone and we’re back to waiting for the device to warm/boot up. It’s a long road that has no turning.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2014 at 8:35 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

The mother of Apple’s icons

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Very interesting profile of the artist who first created the icons for the new Apple Macintosh. It begins:

Thirty years ago, as tech titans battled for real estate in the personal computer market, an inconspicuous young artist gave the Macintosh a smile.

Susan Kare “was the type of kid who always loved art.” As a child, she lost herself in drawings, paintings, and crafts; as a young woman, she dove into art history and dreamed of being a world-renowned fine artist.

But when a chance encounter in 1982 reconnected her with an old friend and Apple employee, Kare found herself working in a different medium, with a much smaller canvas — about 1,024 pixels. Equipped with few computer skills and lacking any prior experience with digital design, Kare proceeded to revolutionize pixel art.

For many, Susan Kare’s icons were a first taste of human-computer interaction: they were approachable, friendly, and simple, much like the designer herself. Today, we recognize the little images — system-failure bomb, paintbrush, mini-stopwatch, dogcow — as old, pixelated friends.

But Kare, who has subsequently done design work for Microsoft, Facebook, and Paypal, has also become her own icon, immortalized in the annals of pixel art. We had a chance to interview her; this is her story. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2014 at 8:10 am

Reforming high-frequency trading

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The NY Times has a long extract from a new book by Michael Lewis on high-frequency trading and the technology behind it. I don’t fully follow all the explanations (in part, I suspect, because Michael Lewis doesn’t fully understand what he’s writing about), but it is interesting about how untrustworthy the financial service industry is. They often simply lie about what they’re doing.

Here’s a review of the book.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2014 at 9:52 am

Posted in Business, Technology

A couple of blasts from the past

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Early mainframe computers (the IBM 1401, for example) were not so much fun as a modern laptop, but they did have their moments.

For example, the IBM 1401 emitted enough in the way of electromagnetic waves from the CPU at work, that you could hear music of a sort if you tuned a radio to the right frequency:

And the IBM 1403 printer had the type mounted on a rapidly moving loop of chain. When the hammers impacted the type to print, the resulting vibration of the chain could be heard, and it took little time for programmers to figure out how to make music by printing the right combination of characters. I first encountered it in Iowa City when Mr. Beetner had the printer play the Iowa Fight Song the Friday before a football game. (The next upgrade put the type on separate pieces that pushed each other around a track: a “print train” instead of a “print chain,” and thus the music died.)

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2014 at 5:30 pm

Tech companies are like other companies: They will do anything that increases profits

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David Dayen provides examples in Salon:

To really understand the extent of Google and Apple’s innovative zeal, you may want to look past their groundbreaking products – and more at their tax avoidance strategies. In a new scheme that defies belief, some of the nation’s top tech giants are managing to evade taxation on money by parking it overseas – and then somehow taking government paymentson it.

Though the rest of the business sector had a head start, tech firms have begun to lobby Washington with more persistence over the past few years; the top 10 spent more than $61 million in 2013. The more hopeful among us might believe this shift could possibly produce more beneficial results for the public. (After all, Google’s motto is “don’t be evil,” right?)

But while it’s true that, in certain discrete areas, tech lobbying has yielded positive results — like when companies aided grass-roots efforts to stop Internet censorship legislation sought by Hollywood — in the vast majority of cases, Silicon Valley wants what the rest of our multinational conglomerates want: low taxes and cheap labor. And they’ve been at the forefront of efforts to ensure that.

Take a look at the recent Bloomberg report on companies stockpiling cash in offshore tax havens to avoid higher U.S. rates, for example. (Though the new FiveThirtyEight.comdownplayed the significance of this buildup, in actuality it has increased at a fairly steady 10-15 percent rate since the start of the Great Recession.) The tech sector has led the way on this, moving their patents and other intellectual property to low-tax countries to give the appearance that their profits have been earned offshore.

According to Securities and Exchange Commission filings, Apple, Microsoft and IBM accelerated their overseas profit hoarding in 2013 more than their counterparts, adding $37.5 billion to the pile. Over the past three years, Microsoft’s cash stash has more than doubled, and Apple’s has quadrupled. In all, seven tech companies – the three mentioned above, along with Cisco Systems, Oracle, Google and Hewlett-Packard – have $341.3 billion sitting in offshore accounts. At current tax rates, the companies would have to pay $119.45 billion of that to the IRS if they repatriated it. Much of this money is held insegregated U.S. bank accounts, solely for the purpose of avoiding taxes by nominally keeping it offshore.

Sure enough, tech firms are among the companies lobbying for a repatriation tax holiday, which would allow them to return that money home at ultra-low rates. The LIFT Coalition(short for Let’s Invest for Tomorrow), run by former Obama administration communications director Anita Dunn, advocates for the repatriation holiday, and includes Intel, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, the Semiconductor Industry Association, and “TechNet,” a separate lobbying coalition that counts as its members Google and Facebook.

These lobbying coalitions claim that repatriating the money will allow companies to invest and spur economic recovery, although the last repatriation tax holiday, in 2004, did nothing of the sort. The top 15 companies that made use of that holiday to move money home actually cut 20,000 jobs in the aftermath, while increasing their executive compensation and stock buybacks, according to a report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (Hewlett-Packard and IBM were among the 15 companies benefiting the most). Sadly, both the recent Republican tax reform proposal and the Obama administration’s budget call for a repatriation tax holiday along the lines of the lobbying coalition’s wishes, so their efforts could bear fruit.

But it’s actually worse than all this. A report from the Bureau on Investigative Journalismshows that these tech firms are actually taking government payments on the money they have parked overseas to avoid taxation. That’s because that money isn’t sitting under a mattress somewhere in Bermuda or the Cayman Islands; it’s invested, and the No. 1 investment these firms use is the ultra-safe, ultra-liquid instrument of U.S. government debt.

SEC filings show that Apple, Microsoft, Google and Cisco have $163 billion invested in various forms of interest-bearing U.S. debt. If they were a country (Silicon Valleyistan), that would be the 14th-largest holding of our debt in the world, more than the sovereign wealth funds of Singapore and Norway. Despite the investments in things like Treasury notes and agency debt, the money is still considered offshore, avoiding taxation even as it collects interest from the U.S. government. The annual interest payout to just these four firms is$326 million.

Silicon Valley has mobilized to ensure this gravy train continues into perpetuity. . .

Continue reading. He also describes the coordinated efforts of tech companies to keep employee salaries low by ensuring that the free market did not apply. His concluding paragraph:

None of this is particularly surprising. Tech firms are in the business of making money, regardless of the shiny products and Web apps and social media diversions that supply their revenue stream. They cut all the corners that the rest of corporate America cuts to maximize their profits, skirting the edges of the law and sometimes going over it. You may not want to believe that the companies that give you the iPad and help you in your search for cat videos operate like a two-bit hustler, stealing the wages of employees and setting up dummy tax shelters. But that’s the sad reality.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 March 2014 at 12:49 pm

Posted in Business, Law, Technology

Going too far

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Read it. And of course every click you make is logged. It does suggest that the purpose of life is to consume goods, though.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2014 at 6:53 pm

Posted in Business, Movies, Technology

Rubik’s cube solved by Lego robot in 3.25 seconds

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Via this article at the Verge.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 March 2014 at 5:48 pm

This reminds me of a scene in the original (Peter Weller) Robocop

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Take a look. I wonder whether they tested it in the board room.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 March 2014 at 7:54 am

Posted in Movies, Technology

Interesting: 3-D printing as existential threat to Lego

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Very interesting article in the Washington Post by Brian Fung:

If you had a lucky childhood, tucked away in a corner of your closet was a gigantic collection of loose Legos. It was the culmination of dozens of kits and construction sets, collected over the years and dumped into a single bin. Paw through the bits and pieces long enough, and you could create anything: Spaceships. Submarines. Medieval castles. Western ranches.

But soon, hobbyists won’t be limited by what’s inside those bins. They’ll be able to craft their own bricks, thanks to 3D printers that make fabricating those plastic parts as convenient as going to Toys R Us. With such technology, entire structures can now be reverse-engineered, reduced into a pile of components and snapped together in minutes.

You see the danger here for Lego. 3D printing may prove to be one of the biggest tests the company has ever faced. Unlike the rise of PCs and tablets, which merely demanded that Lego invest in new digital products, 3D printing strikes at the heart of Lego’s core business. Manufacturing small bits of plastic is, in fact, what 3D printers do best.

Lego doesn’t see it that way — as Roar Rude Trangbæk, a company spokesperson, told me, it’s a lot harder than it looks to produce high-quality bricks.

That may be true for now. But it rarely pays to bet against improvements in technology — meaning that this 5,000-piece puzzle isn’t going away.

Outside the company, Legos and 3D printing are a natural fit for each other — sometimes literally. Designers like Stefanie Mueller have started using Legos as part of their prototypes. For large items, Mueller developed a program called faBrickator, which converts a 3D design image into a homegrown Lego project, complete with instructions. Only the crucial parts, the ones that need constant retooling, are reserved for the 3D printer. According to the German Ph.D student, using a combination of Lego blocks and smaller 3D-printed pieces can cut a 14-hour production process down to 67 minutes. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 March 2014 at 2:41 pm

The Internet’s future looks grim

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Nilay Patel writes at The Verge:

Here’s a simple truth: the internet has radically changed the world. Over the course of the past 20 years, the idea of networking all the world’s computers has gone from a research science pipe dream to a necessary condition of economic and social development, from government and university labs to kitchen tables and city streets. We are all travelers now, desperate souls searching for a signal to connect us all. It is awesome.

And we’re fucking everything up.

Massive companies like AT&T and Comcast have spent the first two months of 2014 boldly announcing plans to close and control the internet through additional fees, pay-to-play schemes, and sheer brutal size — all while the legal rules designed to protect against these kinds of abuses were struck down in court for basically making too much sense. “Broadband providers represent a threat to internet openness,” concluded Judge David Tatel in Verizon’s case against the FCC’s Open Internet order, adding that the FCC had provided ample evidence of internet companies abusing their market power and had made “a rational connection between the facts found and the choices made.” Verizon argued strenuously, but had offered the court “no persuasive reason to question that judgement.”

Then Tatel cut the FCC off at the knees for making “a rather half-hearted argument” in support of its authority to properly police these threats and vacated the rules protecting the open internet, surprising observers on both sides of the industry and sending new FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler into a tailspin of empty promises seemingly designed to disappoint everyone.

“I expected the anti-blocking rule to be upheld,” National Cable and Telecommunications Association president and CEO Michael Powell told me after the ruling was issued. Powell was chairman of the FCC under George W. Bush; he issued the first no-blocking rules. “Judge Tatel basically said the Commission didn’t argue it properly.”

In the meantime, the companies that control the internet have continued down a dark path, free of any oversight or meaningful competition to check their behavior. In January, AT&T announced a new “sponsored data” plan that would dramatically alter the fierce one-click-away competition that’s thus far characterized the internet. Earlier this month,Comcast announced plans to merge with Time Warner Cable, creating an internet service behemoth that will serve 40 percent of Americans in 19 of the 20 biggest markets with virtually no rivals.

And after months of declining Netflix performance on Comcast’s network, the two companies announced a new “paid peering” arrangement on Sunday, which will see Netflix pay Comcast for better access to its customers, a capitulation Netflix has been trying to avoid for years. Paid peering arrangements are common among the network companies that connect the backbones of the internet, but consumer companies like Netflix have traditionally remained out of the fray — and since there’s no oversight or transparency into the terms of the deal, it’s impossible to know what kind of precedent it sets. Broadband industry insiders insist loudly that the deal is just business as usual, while outside observers are full of concerns about the loss of competition and the increasing power of consolidated network companies. Either way, it’s clear that Netflix has decided to take matters — and costs — into its own hands, instead of relying on rational policy to create an effective and fair marketplace.

In a perfect storm of corporate greed and broken government, the internet has gone from vibrant center of the new economy to burgeoning tool of economic control. Where America once had Rockefeller and Carnegie, it now has Comcast’s Brian Roberts, AT&T’s Randall Stephenson, and Verizon’s Lowell McAdam, robber barons for a new age of infrastructure monopoly built on fiber optics and kitty GIFs.

And the power of the new network-industrial complex is immense and unchecked, even by other giants: AT&T blocked Apple’s FaceTime and Google’s Hangouts video chat services for the preposterously silly reason that the apps were “preloaded” on each company’s phones instead of downloaded from an app store. Verizon and AT&T have each blocked the Google Wallet mobile payment system because they’re partners in the competing (and not very good) ISIS service. Comcast customers who stream video on their Xboxes using Microsoft’s services get charged against their data caps, but the Comcast service is tax-free.

We’re really, really fucking this up.

But we can fix it, I swear. We just have to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2014 at 8:26 am

Posted in Business, Technology

Mac’s weak security

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Andrea Peterson reports in the Washington Post:

“You’re lucky you don’t have to deal with this stuff, Mac,” a biohazard suit-clad PC played by John Hodgman said about viruses to Justin Long’s Mac in one of the ads in an iconic line of commercials that started airing in 2006. For years, Mac users have enjoyed a smug sense of superiority on this front. But a new vulnerability is the latest sign that the security of Apple products doesn’t actually live up to the hype.

When you see a lock icon next to the URL in your browser, that’s a sign that your communications are protected with the SSL encryption technology. But on Friday, Apple admitted that its version of SSL had a fatal flaw that could allow hackers to intercept and modify users’ secure communications. The situation became even worse over the weekend as researchers reported that the issue affected not only mobile devices running Apple’s iOS operating system but also many applications within theMac OS X laptop and desktop suite, including Mail and Safari. Apple told Reuters that the company was working on an OS X patch Sunday night.

The SSL bug is just the most recent of the company’s security woes. The company’s “Buy A Mac” Web page once proudly declared that OS X “defends against viruses and other malicious applications, or malware” with “virtually no” user effort. But that changed in June 2012, after up to over half a million OS X users were reportedlyinfected with a trojan malware called “Flashback.” Some computers on Apple’s own network were hacked in a 2013 breach that reportedly was similarly related to Java.

Apple’s tiny market share has always given the Cupertino, Calif., company an unfair advantage. Since the dawn of the Internet age, Macs have been far outnumbered by PCs, leading hackers to devote a disproportionate share of their resources to Windows malware. The payoff for discovering or exploiting a security vulnerability was much greater if you targeted the more popular operating system. So, as technology became networked like never before, Windows and its programs were put through a more rigorous gauntlet than Apple’s products.

While Apple products have risen to prominence again thanks to the success of mobile devices, Android controls the majority of that market – and attracts the vast majorityof the malware. The more rigorous app approval process for iOS devices is part of the reason for that, but it’s also likely that Apple is just not as juicy of a target as some of its competitors.

The latest revelations are hardly the first time Apple has faced security issues. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 February 2014 at 3:37 pm

Posted in Software, Technology

Trying to improve US broadband quality in the face of industry resistance

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Moyers & Company have an excellent interview with Susan Crawford. The blurb:

Susan Crawford, former special assistant to President Obama for science, technology and innovation, and author of Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age, joins Bill to discuss how our government has allowed a few powerful media conglomerates to put profit ahead of the public interest — rigging the rules, raising prices, and stifling competition. As a result, Crawford says, all of us are at the mercy of the biggest business monopoly since Standard Oil in the first Gilded Age a hundred years ago.

“The rich are getting gouged, the poor are very often left out, and this means that we’re creating, yet again, two Americas, and deepening inequality through this communications inequality,” Crawford tells Bill.

Click the link to view the interview. And Kevin Drum notes at Mother Jones:

Felix Salmon says we have plenty of bandwidth in America. Contra Tyler Cowen, we don’t need to spend a bajillion dollars rolling out a new nationwide network based on new pipes or new technology:

What we do need, on the other hand, is the ability of different companies to provide broadband services to America’s households. And here’s where the real problem lies: the cable companies own the cable pipes, and the regulators refuse to force them to allow anybody else to provide services over those pipes. This is called local loop unbundling, it’s the main reason for low broadband prices in Europe, and of course it’s vehemently opposed by the cable companies.

Local loop unbundling, in the broadband space, would be vastly more effective than waiting for some hugely expensive new technology to be built, nationally, in parallel to the existing internet infrastructure. The problem with Cowen’s dream is precisely the monopoly rents that the cable companies are currently extracting. If and when any new competitor arrives, the local monopolist has more room to cut prices and drive the competitor out of business than the newcomer has.

Cable companies have a thousand ready-made technical incantations to explain why they can’t possibly open up their networks to competitors. To listen to them, you’d think this would be akin to letting a five-year-old mess around with your electric wiring. This is delicate stuff! You can’t just let anyone start sending bits around on it.

It’s all special pleading, of course, of the same type that Ma Bell engaged in when people wanted to start putting answering machines on their phone lines. But everyone understands there would be technical requirements they’d have to meet, just as answering machines had to meet reasonable technical requirements back in the day. Regulators would have to be involved to make sure everyone plays nice with each other, but that’s far from impossible.

No, this is all about money, as you already guessed. Allowing other companies to use their last-mile pipes would (a) take away some of their broadband rents, (b) force cable companies to genuinely compete on price and features, and (c) allow competitors onto their network who couldn’t care less about cannibalizing TV business. If I were a cable company, I’d fight that tooth and nail too.

But that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to take their arguments seriously. The rest of us should be in favor of competition, not the profit margins of local cable TV monopolies.

Again, the sole corporate focus—increase profits always by any means necessary—undermines the common welfare.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 February 2014 at 9:26 am

Can privacy be saved?

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Given things like this (reported by Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher), the question is pertinent. David Cole discusses the issue in a book review in the NY Review of Books:

Liberty and Security in a Changing World: Report and Recommendations of the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies
December 12, 2013, 303 pp., available at www.whitehouse.gov

Remarks by the President on Review of Signals Intelligence
January 17, 2014, available at www.whitehouse.gov

Report on the Telephone Records Program Conducted under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and on the Operations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court
by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board
January 23, 2014, 234 pp., available at www.fas.org1.

When the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) first authorized the National Security Agency in May 2006 to collect and search the telephone metadata records of every American—including every number we call, how often we call, when we call, and how long we talk—it did not even write an opinion justifying its decision. Judge Malcolm J. Howard, one of eleven federal judges hand-picked by the chief justice of the Supreme Court to serve on the FISC, simply issued a secret ten-page order, largely comprised of the rules and regulations under which the program was to operate. The order included no discussion whatever of whether the program was constitutional. It asserted formulaically that the government had satisfied the requirements of Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, but included no explanation of how the program did so.

This is surprising, because on its face, Section 215 would not seem to support the program. It authorizes the FBI, not the NSA, to obtain business records, and only if it can identify specific facts showing that the records are “relevant” to an authorized counterterrorism investigation. Yet the FISC order authorized the NSA, not the FBI, to collect not specific records relevant to a particular terrorism investigation, but all records of all Americans’ every phone call, without showing that any of them were connected to terrorism. Every ninety days thereafter, theFISC routinely—and secretly—reauthorized the program, again without any attempt to explain why it deemed the program lawful.

In fact, the FISC did not issue an opinion explaining its rationale until August 29, 2013, more than seven years after the program had been up and running—and two months after Edward Snowden had disclosed the program to the public. That the FISC would authorize such an unprecedented and sweeping surveillance program, affecting virtually every American, without even bothering to explain its rationale for doing so is emblematic of the problem with secret law in the post–September 11 era. As a rule, the FISC operates in secret, hears only from government attorneys, nearly always grants their requests, and does not publish its orders. The NSA similarly operates almost entirely in the dark. Formally established by a classified executive order in 1952, its existence and operations were so clandestine that the intelligence community wryly referred to it as “No Such Agency.” If your operations are secret, why would you feel any obligation to explain your rationale?

All that changed in June 2013, when . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 February 2014 at 2:21 pm

Computer for symptomatic relief from senior moments

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The name was on the tip of my tongue, and I even recalled stories of how he developed his musical taste through hearing marching bands and thus frequently hearing two or three different marches played simultaneously and, in the right location, equally loudly. But the name!  So I entered “American composer dissonant” in my search engine (Duck Duck Go), and the top of the hit list was the Wikipedia entry for Charles Ives. Thank goodness.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 February 2014 at 1:37 pm

ISP lobby has already won limits on public broadband in 20 states

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Public broadband is an excellent idea, especially since ISPs do not like to spend money on upgrading services. (The goal of a for-profit corporation is always to increase profits. Cutting costs is an easy way to do that, and not spending money to upgrade services is an easy decision if people have little or no choice of alternatives.) Jon Brodkin writes in Ars Technica:

It’s no secret that private Internet service providers hate when cities and towns decide to enter the telecommunications business themselves. But with private ISPs facing little competition and offering slow speeds for high prices, municipalities occasionally get fed up and decide to build their own broadband networks.

To prevent this assault on their lucrative revenue streams, ISPs have teamed up with friends in state legislatures to pass laws that make it more difficult or impossible for cities and towns to offer broadband service.

Attorney James Baller of the Baller Herbst Law Group has been fighting attempts to restrict municipal broadband projects for years. He’s catalogued restrictions placed upon public Internet service in 20 states, and that number could be much higher already if not for the efforts of consumer advocates.

Some state restrictions have been in place for decades. A new wave of state laws were passed in the years after the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed, Baller told Ars. Another wave of proposals came after a US Supreme Court decision in 2004 that said the Telecommunications Act “allows states to prevent municipalities from providing telecommunications services.”

Pennsylvania enacted a new law limiting municipal broadband later in 2004, but then the tide began to turn.

“The next year we saw 14 states consider barriers, and we fought most of them off, and then it was two or three a year,” Baller told Ars. “We won all the battles for a while until North Carolina in 2011 and South Carolina in 2012, and there were no new ones in 2013.” (That North Carolina bill was titled, “An act to protect jobs and investment by regulating local government competition with private business.”)

There could be two new states restricting public Internet service in 2014. As we’ve reported, the cable lobby proposed a bill in Kansas to outlaw municipal broadband service for residents except in “unserved areas,” which were defined in such a way that it would be nearly impossible to call any area unserved. After protest, the cable lobby group said it would rewrite the bill to change how it defines unserved areas.

In Utah, a new bill would make it harder for regional fiber networks to expand. That one also drew criticism, and the legislator who proposed it said he’s make some “minor adjustments.”

Baller said the Kansas bill is the most extreme one he’s seen. . . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more, and an interesting situation review by state.

On a related note, utility services (power, water, etc.) from private companies are priced much higher when there’s no public utility nearby.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 February 2014 at 11:29 am

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