Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Google launches support for Security Key,

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Interesting idea. I’m sure NSA will working produce keys that include additional microprogramming to install spyware in computers that use it and try to get those in circulation…

Written by LeisureGuy

21 October 2014 at 12:31 pm

Posted in NSA, Technology

Comcast, Net Neutrality, and a supine Congress

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Years ago (1964) a book was written about Congress titled Congress: The Sapless Branch, and that title rings true today. We have reached the point now where Congressional action contrary to the interests of large corporations seems increasingly difficult. T. C. Sottek writes in the Verge:

Here’s what’s happening right now on net neutrality:

The FCC’s comment period is over and 3.7 million people weighed in — that means even more people are concerned about net neutrality than Super Bowl XXXVIII: Wardrobe Malfunctiongate. And, yes, America, it’s totally reasonable and appropriate to be mad at the FCC. It has screwed up on net neutrality for years from cowardice and simply by using the wrong words. But Americans who want to protect net neutrality should also start being mad at Congress.

It’s Congress that has largely turned net neutrality regulation into a partisan charade that occasionally results in threats to the FCC’s budget and authority via Congress’ telecommunications benefactors. The FCC’s dithering on net neutrality has been enabled for years by this nonsense and it’s now reflected even by the agency’s bench, which seats some commissioners who have advocated stripping themselves of power to avoid going against corporate interests. Even the FCC’s chairman is intimately familiar with those corporate interests; Tom Wheeler is a former telecom lobbyist and was appointed by a president who promised that lobbyists wouldn’t run his administration in a distant magical time called “Before He Was Elected.”

If you want a clear example of Congress’ ineptitude on net neutrality, look no further than a letter sent to Comcast today by . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 4:02 pm

Laura Poitras and Edward Snowden

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I just found a couple of excellent long reads about the Snowden affair and Laura Poitras’s role in it.

First is an interview of Poitras by Tom Englehardt; second is an article by Alex Pasternack in Motherboard. I strongly encourage you to read both.

Englehardt begins:

Here’s a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! stat from our new age of national security. How many Americans have security clearances? The answer: 5.1 million, a figure that reflects the explosive growth of the national security state in the post-9/11 era. Imagine the kind of system needed just to vet that many people for access to our secret world (to the tune of billions of dollars). We’re talking here about the total population of Norway and significantly more people than you can find in Costa Rica, Ireland, or New Zealand. And yet it’s only about 1.6% of the American population, while on ever more matters, the unvetted 98.4% of us are meant to be left in the dark.

For our own safety, of course. That goes without saying.

All of this offers a new definition of democracy in which we, the people, are to know only what the national security state cares to tell us.  Under this system, ignorance is the necessary, legally enforced prerequisite for feeling protected.  In this sense, it is telling that the only crime for which those inside the national security state can be held accountable in post-9/11 Washington is not potential perjury before Congress, or the destruction of evidence of a crime, or torture, or kidnapping, or assassination, or the deaths of prisoners in an extralegal prison system, but whistleblowing; that is, telling the American people something about what their government is actually doing.  And that crime, and only that crime, has been prosecuted to the full extent of the law (and beyond) with a vigor unmatched in American history.  To offer a single example, the only American to go to jail for the CIA’s Bush-era torture program was John Kiriakou, a CIA whistleblower who revealed the name of an agent involved in the program to a reporter.

In these years, as power drained from Congress, an increasingly imperial White House has launched various wars (redefined by its lawyers as anything but), as well as a global assassination campaign in which the White House has its own “kill list” and the president himself decides on global hits.  Then, without regard for national sovereignty or the fact that someone is an American citizen (and upon the secret invocation of legal mumbo-jumbo), the drones are sent off to do the necessary killing.

And yet that doesn’t mean that we, the people, know nothing . . .

Continue reading.

And Pasternack begins:

I get my face photographed and printed on a temporary ID card that I deposit into a slot and I get on an elevator and am led down a hallway. On a desk, I spot a signed letter with the Vice President’s seal. I’m brought into a windowless room, and there is the filmmaker Laura Poitras. On a coffee table is a MacBook Pro with a sticker that says “National Security Agency—Monitored Device.” Behind her, there’s a framed Ricky Gervais poster. We are at the offices of HBO, which began discussions to acquire the TV rights to her new film, “Citizenfour,” even before it was finished, not long before it premiered at the New York Film Festival to a standing ovation. We shake hands and I display my recorder. “Mind if I record?” I ask.

She laughs briefly and agrees. “That’s very respectful, given the context,” she says.

The context is quite serious. It was a 12-minute video made by Poitras that in June 2013 attached a name and a face to disclosures of a massive secret and legally dubious global surveillance system. A year earlier, Poitras became the first journalist to communicate with the NSA contractor Edward J. Snowden, then anonymously. Though she shared bylines on stories in the Guardian and the Times and Der Spiegel, much of the reporting was done by Glenn Greenwald and others, most recently at The Intercept, the upstart outlet where Poitras is also now also a founding editor. She has been in more of a hide-out mode, working on her much-anticipated documentary on multiple computers out of a bunker-like editing studio in Berlin. She moved there from New York in 2012, after years of getting stopped at the airport every time she tried to fly; starting in 2006, her air tickets were marked “SSSS” for Secondary Security Screening Selection, subjecting her to extra scrutiny at the borders.

She is no longer stopped, but wagers that she is still watched by her own government. She uses her cell phone sparingly and has become an expert in encrypted communications. “I really do feel that there are some really angry powerful people, mad at the reporting that we’re doing. I should expect they’re paying attention to my communications and who I spend time with.”

I asked her if she thought that by speaking with her, I too would end up on such a list.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 3:22 pm

32 Cities Want to Challenge Big Telecom, Build Their Own Gigabit Networks

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This is interesting. Big Telecom does not want to build a gigabit network in major cities and—very much like the dog in the manger—also does not want anyone else to do it. Big Telecom, when you get down to it, wants us simply to send them money every month and otherwise leave them alone. They have been quite happy to help the government spy on us.  Jason Koebler writes at Motherboard:

More than two dozen cities in 19 states announced today that they’re sick of big telecom skipping them over for internet infrastructure upgrades and would like to build gigabit fiber networks themselves and help other cities follow their lead.

The Next Centuries Cities coalition, which includes a couple cities that already have gigabit fiber internet for their residents, was devised to help communities who want to build their own broadband networks navigate logistical and legal challenges to doing so.

Over the last several months, there’s been a Federal Communications Commission-backed push for cities to build their own broadband networks because big telecom companies like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon either don’t or won’t offer competitive broadband speeds in certain parts of the country.

“Across the country, city leaders are hungry to deploy high-speed Internet to transform their communities and connect residents to better jobs, better health care, and better education for their children,” Deb Socia, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “These mayors are rolling up their sleeves and getting the job done.”

That’s turned out to be a tricky proposition in a legal environment where more than 20 states have passed legislation (lobbied for by telecom companies and ALEC, acontroversial, big business-backed “charity” that writes legislation for states) making it illegal or legally difficult for cities to build their own networks. [Sort of gives the game away, doesn't it? The idea is to keep people from getting the benefits of the internet unless they also pay Big Telecom. - LG]
Of the cities involved in the coalition, 12 are located in states where there are legal barriers to building community networks. Those cities include Austin and San Antonio, Texas; Chattanooga, Morristown, Jackson, and Clarksville, Tenn.; Kansas City, Mo.; Lafayette, Louisiana; Montrose, Colo.; Mount Vernon, Wash.; Raleigh and Wilson, N.C.; and Winthrop, Minn. To be fair, some of these cities, such as Wilson, Chattanooga, and Austin already have gigabit service (Wilson and Chattanooga built it before a law was passed, Austin has Google Fiber).

“Towns and communities struggle with limited budgets, laws that restrict their opportunity to build/support a network that fits their needs, and even market pressures,” the group of cities said in a recent blog post. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 2:01 pm

Posted in Business, Technology

Siri helps those with autism

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Siri has more patience and is more even-tempered than most people, and that makes Siri a good interlocutor with someone who is autistic. Judith Newman writes in the NY Times:

Just how bad a mother am I? I wondered, as I watched my 13-year-old son deep in conversation with Siri. Gus has autism, and Siri, Apple’s “intelligent personal assistant” on the iPhone, is currently his B.F.F. Obsessed with weather formations, Gus had spent the hour parsing the difference between isolated and scattered thunderstorms — an hour in which, thank God, I didn’t have to discuss them. After a while I heard this:

Gus: “You’re a really nice computer.”

Siri: “It’s nice to be appreciated.”

Gus: “You are always asking if you can help me. Is there anything you want?”

Siri: “Thank you, but I have very few wants.”

Gus: “O.K.! Well, good night!”

Siri: “Ah, it’s 5:06 p.m.”

Gus: “Oh sorry, I mean, goodbye.”

Siri: “See you later!”

That Siri. She doesn’t let my communications-impaired son get away with anything. Indeed, many of us wanted an imaginary friend, and now we have one. Only she’s not entirely imaginary.

This is a love letter to a machine. It’s not quite the love Joaquin Phoenix felt in “Her,” last year’s Spike Jonze film about a lonely man’s romantic relationship with his intelligent operating system (played by the voice of Scarlett Johansson). But it’s close. In a world where the commonly held wisdom is that technology isolates us, it’s worth considering another side of the story.

It all began simply enough. I’d just read one of those ubiquitous Internet lists called “21 Things You Didn’t Know Your iPhone Could Do.” One of them was this: I could ask Siri, “What planes are above me right now?” and Siri would bark back, “Checking my sources.” Almost instantly there was a list of actual flights — numbers, altitudes, angles — above my head.

I happened to be doing this when Gus was nearby. “Why would anyone need to know what planes are flying above your head?” I muttered. Gus replied without looking up: “So you know who you’re waving at, Mommy.”

Gus had never noticed Siri before, but when he discovered there was someone who would not just find information on his various obsessions (trains, planes, buses, escalators and, of course, anything related to weather) but actually semi-discuss these subjects tirelessly, he was hooked. And I was grateful. Now, when my head was about to explode if I had to have another conversation about the chance of tornadoes in Kansas City, Mo., I could reply brightly: “Hey! Why don’t you ask Siri?”

It’s not that Gus doesn’t understand Siri’s not human. He does — intellectually. But like many autistic people I know, Gus feels that inanimate objects, while maybe not possessing souls, are worthy of our consideration. I realized this when he was 8, and I got him an iPod for his birthday. He listened to it only at home, with one exception. It always came with us on our visits to the Apple Store. Finally, I asked why. “So it can visit its friends,” he said.

So how much more worthy of his care and affection is Siri, with her . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2014 at 12:48 pm

High-level managers overestimate their knowledge and competence: FBI division

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CEOs and other very high-level managers—especially the highest-level manager at any location—have a lot of responsibilities—management responsibilities—and as they devote their time and attention to that, their technical skills and knowledge gradually becomes more and more dated. So when the top guy/gal decides to step in and solve a problem, the resulting suggestion is often embarrassingly wrong-headed and tin-eared. The game actually will pass you by if you stay out of it long enough—and even ten years is a long time these days.

Take, for example, James Comey of the FBI commenting way out of his depth on encryption standards. Dan Froomkin and Natasha Vargas-Cooper report in The Intercept:

FBI Director James Comey gave a speech Thursday about how cell-phone encryption could lead law enforcement to a “very dark place” where it “misses out” on crucial evidence to nail criminals. To make his case, he cited four real-life examples — examples that would be laughable if they weren’t so tragic.

In the three cases The Intercept was able to examine, cell-phone evidence had nothing to do with the identification or capture of the culprits, and encryption would not remotely have been a factor.

In the most dramatic case that Comey invoked — the death of a 2-year-old Los Angeles girl — not only was cellphone data a non-issue, but records show the girl’s death could actually have been avoided had government agencies involved in overseeing her and her parents acted on the extensive record they already had before them.

In another case, of a Lousiana sex offender who enticed and then killed a 12-year-old boy, the big break had nothing to do with a phone: The murderer left behind his keys and a trail of muddy footprints, and was stopped nearby after his car ran out of gas.

And in the case of a Sacramento hit-and-run that killed a man and his girlfriend’s four dogs, the driver was arrested a few hours later in a traffic stop because his car was smashed up, and immediately confessed to involvement in the incident.

Los Angeles

Comey described the cases differently. Here’s one:

In Los Angeles, police investigated the death of a 2-year-old girl from blunt force trauma to her head. There were no witnesses. Text messages stored on her parents’ cell phones to one another and to their family members proved the mother caused this young girl’s death and that the father knew what was happening and failed to stop it. Text messages stored on these devices also proved that the defendants failed to seek medical attention for hours while their daughter convulsed in her crib.

Comey was evidently referring to Abigail Lara-Morales, a 2-year old Latina from Lynwood, California who died in 2011 at the hands of her parents. What Comey skipped over was that an independent audit of problems at the county’s Department of Children and Family Services (DFCS)  found that Abigail’s death was avoidable had any of the three government agencies involved in overseeing her and her parents done their jobs. The text messages Comey characterizes as an evidentiary clincher in Abigail’s sad death just added to the prosecutors’ already overwhelming case. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2014 at 12:01 pm

Sistine Chapel lit by LEDs

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Somehow seems incongruous, but a good idea nonetheless.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2014 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Art, Technology

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