Later On

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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Huh! Openness and honesty turn out to be pleasing to people—even customers

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I found that via this interesting article on the whole McDonald’s Canada campaign. (I think such a campaign would be harder in the US, where executives tend to think openness and honesty are counter-productive to increasing profits, and so finding an executive who remains capable of honesty is difficult. It’s not something you can just turn on and off. That’s practically the definition of dishonesty, in fact: turning honesty off by choice. No one can be dishonest in every statement, and for dishonesty to work, one must be trusted. So the whole art of dishonesty is to be honest except that you can turn it off when it’s to your advantage. And once you learn how to turn it off, it’s hard to unlearn it, because leaving it on is often painful. Much easier to turn it off—and so we have executives like those at Uber. But not just Uber: GM, JP Morgan Chase (in spades and depth), and so on. Police departments and crime reports. Our own NSA and other government agencies. Our president.

Trust, once broken, is damned difficult to regain. And I think Reagan wrecked our trust in government, both in word (“The nine scariest words in the English language: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”; “The government can’t fix the problem—the government is the problem.” and so on) and in deed (Iran-Contra, Oliver North, dope smuggling). Cynicism in a way excuses by expecting the dishonesty we get. Outrage fatigue sets in. We simply accept, become docile. And then another step is taken against us. Little by little. Like herding slow-moving sheep.

But back to the article at the link: here’s a passage from the article:

All of this, of course, is part of a bigger trend in the world of branding toward so-called transparency. Indeed, Google’s Ngram Viewer, which compiles usage rates of specific words and phrases found in millions of books, shows that occurrences of the word transparency have increased by around 200 percent between the mid-1980s to mid-2000s. This spike might be largely due to more talk of how big-name brands (and governments) are attempting to rectify tarnished images in the face of public pressure. “The Internet is giving consumers a lot of power, and there aren’t many secrets anymore,” Glen Urban, a professor of marketing at the MIT Sloan School of Management, tells me. “If you look at the auto industry, for example, used cars used to be a haven for manipulation and consumer victimization, but when eBay started doing consumer ratings and guarantees and escrow payments, the used-car market cleaned up and became trustworthy. A lot of the used-car dealers on eBay are the same dealers that were untrustworthy before, but now they can’t be because they’d get no business. If you don’t have four or five stars, nobody’s going to buy a used car from you.”

A recent documentary titled The Naked Brand, produced by the ad agency Questus, argues the same point. Since countless blogs, comment sections, and Twitter accounts provide an abundance of information, companies are having a harder time keeping their once-private dealings private. Today, ordinary citizens have more access to what’s happening in the world than ever before, meaning corporations can either opt for transparency or crank up their opacity machines. One example of a company that’s chosen the former route is outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia with its “Footprint Chronicles,” a webpage that documents the company’s global supply chain for all to see.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2014 at 1:35 pm

John Hodgman: ‘The government should be laying down broadband like Eisenhower laid down interstates’

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Exactly: the same sort of investment in infrastructure that benefits the common welfare. Eisenhower (a Republican) pushed the Interstate highway system—well supported by the automotive and trucking industries, to be sure—and I would say it has paid off: Interstate highways show the value of a socialized approach in certain areas.

The same clearly goes for (true) broadband networks, which our telecoms don’t want to spend money on—though they will go to considerable lengths to stop municipalities from offering broadband services to their communities. I.e., the telecoms don’t want to do it, but they don’t want anyone else to do it, either.

Brian Fung writes in the Washington Post:

Long before John Oliver called for an end to “cable company f**kery,” another comedian also named John was beating the net neutrality drum. As far back as 2006, author and actor John Hodgman was using postal envelopes to explain how Internet service providers might let content from Google and Amazon through to consumers very easily while discriminating against content from other companies.

Now Hodgman is back at it. In an essay on Tumblr posted Monday night, Hodgman takes aim at large telecom companies who can “control what is increasingly a mandatory purchase” for many Americans: access to high-speed broadband that connects them to information, entertainment and economic opportunity.

Hodgman has some personal stake in the issue as a performer. Arguing that the Internet helps promote artists and small businesses that drive the U.S. economy, Hodgman added that many of the country’s dominant telecom providers would not be in their successful position today had they not benefited from public resources such as land and wireless airwaves.

The issue has clearly been on Hodgman’s mind for some time. At the end of a lengthy response to a separate BuzzFeed article, Hodgman told his readers he’d be holding an impromptu Q&A session on Tumblr for an hour to discuss Obamacare, net neutrality as well as any other issue his followers thought important. Amid queries on his favorite vegetable (brussels sprouts) and whether to see the movie “Interstellar,” (…yes?) Hodgman saved his longest response for last.

“I believe in capitalism but not monopolies,” Hodgman wrote. “I believe in entrepreneurship and I am not against government efforts to foster it. I believe more communities should invest in their own broadband to break regional telecom monopolies. Personally I believe that the federal government should be laying down broadband like Eisenhower laid down interstates. And I believe preferential fast-laning for big companies will decrease competition and quality and ultimately hamper what is poised to be the most important area of economic, cultural, and technological innovation of our time.”

This isn’t far off from . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2014 at 11:23 am

WhatsApp rolls out end-to-end encryption using TextSecure code

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Interesting innovation reported in The Verge by Russell Brandom:

The most recent update to WhatsApp’s Android app includes a surprising feature: strong end-to-end encryption, enabled by default. It’s the strongest security any major texting app has offered, even compared with similar tools from giants like Google, Microsoft, and Apple. WhatsApp partnered with Open Whisper Systems for the launch, using open source code to build in the new features. It’s unclear when the features will come to iOS, but just reaching WhatsApp’s Android users represents a huge step forward for everyday encryption use.

“End-to-end” means that, unlike messages encrypted by Gmail or Facebook Chat, WhatsApp won’t be able to decrypt the messages itself, even if the company is compelled by law enforcement. The company will set up the key exchange between users, but only the two users will have access to the conversation itself. There are other end-to-end encryption apps on the market — most notably Cryptocat, Silent Text and Telegram — but with over 600 million users across the world, WhatsApp is by far the largest platform to adopt the system.

Open Whisper Systems is best known as . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2014 at 10:34 am

Posted in Daily life, NSA, Technology

Fascinating look at NSA hardware for surveillance and spying

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A long but quite interesting article (with lots of photos) in Motherboard by Lucy Teitler:

Spy device

Last August, at Defcon, the hacker conference in Las Vegas, a boyish 40-year-old engineer and security researcher named Michael Ossmann stood on the stage of a lecture hall, about to detail a stunning new set of tools designed for spying on a wealth of electronic devices.

As quiet descended over an eager audience of hundreds of hackers, Ossmann stopped and issued a warning. “If you don’t want to hear about leaked classified information, you can leave now,” he told the crowd.

Ossmann was acknowledging a legal barrier: if you’re a government employee, you’re prevented by law from reading or hearing about leaked classified information. And leaked classified information, it turned out, was precisely the basis of his research.

Ossmann paused to see if anyone was getting out of their seats. As he peered out into the audience, he said that it was an opportune moment for a friendly game of “Spot the Fed.” (From where I was on the mezzanine of the giant lecture hall, I didn’t see anyone get up).

Then, with the patience and attention to detail of a likeable college science professor, he explained to the audience just how he had engineered the kind of surveillance devices that, six months earlier, only a select group of spies had even known were possible.


It all began just after Christmas 2013, when a peculiar 48-page gadget catalog appeared on the website of Der Spiegel. The top of each page contained a string of letters, beginning with “TOP SECRET.”

Six months earlier, the German newspaper had been one of a number of media outlets to publish thousands of classified documents disclosed by Edward Snowden. But this document wasn’t like the others.

The leaked file, authored around 2008 by a group at the National Security Agency known as the Advanced Network Technology (ANT) division, was a list of spy devices designed for getting what it called “the ungettable.”

These tools weren’t made for the controversial blanket surveillance that had captured the world’s imagination and stirred its outrage. They were for use in more targeted and, in some cases, more dazzling attacks: gadgets meant to be secreted deep inside specific computers or telephones or walls, spying on the world’s most secure systems—in some cases, even when they weren’t connected to the internet. These devices were for the kind of old-fashioned spying that we almost forgot about in 2013: surveilling foreign governments and agents, terrorists, criminals, and perhaps some unintended victims.

“For nearly every lock, ANT seems to have a key in its toolbox,” wrote Jacob Appelbaum, the American privacy activist and security researcher, in Der Spiegel. “And no matter what walls companies erect, the NSA’s specialists seem already to have gotten past them.”

It wasn’t clear how the catalog was leaked, but after the debacle over the NSA’s tapping of Angela Merkel’s “handy,” the decision to publish the document in Germany must have left more than a few American officials—and technology executives—grimacing.

Five thousand miles away in Colorado, however, Michael Ossmann was delighted. Ossmann had spent much of his career taking apart, designing, and hacking together radio electronics himself, mainly in the hope of trying to find their vulnerabilities and figure out how to protect them from people who might want to interfere with or spy on them.

To him, the document was like a late Christmas present—a kind of cyberspy’s Sharper Image catalog, chock full of capabilities and code names that would not disappoint fans of espionage literature.

There’s a bugged set of mobile phones called PICASSO that can secretly record audio at any time (cost: $2,000), and software called MONKEYCALENDAR that transmits a mobile phone’s location by hidden text message ($0). A USB plug codenamed COTTONMOUTH is designed to capture data as soon as it’s plugged in to a device (as much as $1.25 million for 50 of them), and CANDYGRAM, a set of fake base stations for hijacking cell phone calls, can be yours for a mere $40,000 apiece (if you’re the right “you”). . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 November 2014 at 9:37 am

Posted in NSA, Technology

H2O to Go: Bike Bottle Makes Water from Thin Air as You Cycle

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Cute idea.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 November 2014 at 9:07 am

Posted in Technology

Taking better photos with your cellphone: The Manfrotto table-top tripod

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Well reviewed in Cool Tools—and note the Glif, a tripod mount for cellphones.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 November 2014 at 8:57 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Homebrewing becomes easier with more supporting products

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Full disclosure: I brewed my own beer, back in the ’60s when it was still illegal in the US (though making your own wine was perfectly legal). I believe the statute of limitations has long since passed. It was quite good: I ordered actual beer yeast (from Canada) and bottled it in returnable quart beer bottles.

Here’s a Washington Post article that describes current home-brewing technology.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 November 2014 at 10:21 am


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