Later On

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

Archive for June 25th, 2013

Ezra Klein makes me feel smart

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He explains complex interrelationships quite well. Take this article, for example.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2013 at 6:22 pm

Hitting the nail on the head, employee-exploitation-wise

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Extremely good article by Rebecca Greenfield at Atlantic Wire:

Don’t be fooled by the perks at all those Silicon Valley (and Alley) offices — it’s all just part of a subtle plot to control employee behavior. The founders of Fab.com, which just got itself a $1 billion valuation, admitted as much to Bloomberg‘s Sarah Freier. The shopping site wields its beer on tap, free lunch, and ice-cream machine as a means to force Fab employees to send emails in a “certain font,” use high-quality paper, and always “be Fab” — whatever terrible thing that means. Those types of office perks abound at startups, of course, not only as a way to attract the best talent, but also to get that “talent” working on message, official office font included. Each and every kegerator serves as a reminder of what you owe the company. And that’s just the food and drink. Let’s take a look, by way of a couple recent trend stories and startup proclamations, at how the so-called “escalation of perks” keeps employees in line all over the tech world and “progressive” companies the world over.

Unlimited Vacation Days Nobody Takes

It sounds like the best perk ever: You could, officially, and under official policy, get paid for a three-month summer vacation. But of course the increasingly popular you-work-so-hard-that-we-won’t-count strategy doesn’t work that way. First, most companies wouldn’t allow it. The marketing company Xiik, for example, boasts the limitless vacation offer, but in its fine print discourages long hiatuses. “There are no hidden agendas; xiik employees can take as much paid time off as needed,” claims a Xiik project manager on the company website, before clarifying what that really means: “As nice as it would be to regularly leave for months at a time, common sense prevails: In most cases, it simply doesn’t make sense to be away from work for extended periods.”

Translation: non-stop vacation is a ruse.

Sure, three months of leave is a bit much. But how much is okay to take when your HR manager says you can take as much as you like? An employee completely loses leverage when he or she doesn’t have a set amount of days to claim. If a boss says no to a lengthy request under the unlimited policy, then there’s not really much a worker can do; an employee with a set amount of time off can always go with the but-still-have-a-week-left-this-year line.

Even worse than a company that denies the unlimited vacation it promises, however, is one that discourages extra days off by convincing employees working at a cool office is more fun than not working at all. There’s something incredibly Foucauldian about startup workers failing to indulge in their vacation because staying late at an office with a pool table is like a vacation, as Molly Young described in a much discussed essay in last week’s New York Times Thursday Styles section.

The Open Office Space Panopticon . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2013 at 6:09 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

‘Miami, As We Know It Today, Is Doomed. It’s Not A Question Of If. It’s A Question Of When.’

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But: here’s a big arbitrage opportunity: a large number of conservatives hold that the whole climate change thing is a hoax—Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), for example—and quite a few of those possess a fair amount of wealth: they would be willing to buy property in south Florida if the only threat is that (fictional!) climate change thing. Buy low, from people who understand science; sell high, to wealthy ignoramuses.

Joe Romm at ThinkProgress:

Jeff Goodell has a must-read piece in Rolling Stone, “Goodbye, Miami: By century’s end, rising sea levels will turn the nation’s urban fantasyland into an American Atlantis. But long before the city is completely underwater, chaos will begin.”

Goodell has talked to many of the leading experts on Miami including Harold Wanless, chair of University of Miami’s geological sciences, department, source of the headline quote. The reason climate change dooms Miami is a combination of sea level rise, the inevitability of ever more severe storms and storm surges — and its fateful, fatal geology and topology, which puts “more than $416 billion in assets at risk to storm-related flooding and sea-level rise”:

South Florida has two big problems. The first is its remarkably flat topography. Half the area that surrounds Miami is less than five feet above sea level. Its highest natural elevation, a limestone ridge that runs from Palm Beach to just south of the city, averages a scant 12 feet. With just three feet of sea-level rise, more than a third of southern Florida will vanish; at six feet, more than half will be gone; if the seas rise 12 feet, South Florida will be little more than an isolated archipelago surrounded by abandoned buildings and crumbling overpasses. And the waters won’t just come in from the east – because the region is so flat, rising seas will come in nearly as fast from the west too, through the Everglades.

Even worse, South Florida sits above a vast and porous limestone plateau. “Imagine Swiss cheese, and you’ll have a pretty good idea what the rock under southern Florida looks like,” says Glenn Landers, a senior engineer at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This means water moves around easily – it seeps into yards at high tide, bubbles up on golf courses, flows through underground caverns, corrodes building foundations from below. “Conventional sea walls and barriers are not effective here,” says Robert Daoust, an ecologist at ARCADIS, a Dutch firm that specializes in engineering solutions to rising seas.

The latest research “suggests that sea level could rise more than six feet by the end of the century,” as Goodell notes, and “Wanless believes that it could continue rising a foot each decade after that.”

Prudence dictates we plan for the plausible worst case. Coastal studies experts told the NY Timesback in 2010, “For coastal management purposes, a [sea level] rise of 7 feet (2 meters) should be utilized for planning major infrastructure.”

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Unfortunately, sea level rise is already 60% faster than projected. Goodell reports:

“With six feet of sea-level rise, South Florida is toast,” says Tom Gustafson, a former Florida speaker of the House and a climate-change-policy advocate. Even if we cut carbon pollution overnight, it won’t save us. Ohio State glaciologist Jason Box has said he believes we already have 70 feet of sea-level rise baked into the system. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2013 at 1:47 pm

Posted in Global warming

If NSA doesn’t like the question, the answer “would help our adversaries”

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The NSA is not going to accept control readily. Jeff Larson has a ProPublica story that provides an example:

Shortly after the Guardian and Washington Post published their Verizon and PRISM stories, I filed a freedom of information request with the NSA seeking any personal data the agency has about me. I didn’t expect an answer, but yesterday I received a letter signed by Pamela Phillips, the Chief FOIA Officer at the agency (which really freaked out my wife when she picked up our mail).

The letter, a denial, includes what is known as a Glomar response — neither a confirmation nor a denial that the agency has my metadata. It also warns that any response would help “our adversaries”:

 Any positive or negative response on a request-by-request basis would allow our adversaries to accumulate information and draw conclusions about the NSA’s technical capabilities, sources, and methods.

Our adversaries are likely to evaluate all public responses related to these programs.

Were we to provide positive or negative responses to requests such as yours, our adversaries’ compilation of the information provided would reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.”

The letter helpfully states that there are “no assessable fees for the request.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2013 at 1:38 pm

Mind-opening games

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That’s just one of four games discussed in this ProPublica article by Sisi Wei.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2013 at 1:36 pm

Posted in Daily life, Games

Philip K. Dick should be proud

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He certainly grasped the tenor of a future time. Note that presumably NSA will have no trouble locating your vehicle with GPS precision in real-time, they can also remotely control (say) steering, acceleration, brakes, and door locks, which makes your vehicle potentially an intelligence-service-controlled death trap.

We’ve been living in a fool’s paradise.

Andrew Leonard in Salon:

Conspiracy theories about the cause of the car crash that killed investigative reporter Michael Hastings on June 18 started sprouting immediately after the news of his death broke. So far,  no conclusive evidence supports foul play, but on Monday, counter-terrorism expert Richard Clarke made news when he told the Huffington Post that the circumstances of Hasting’s car chase were “consistent with a car cyber attack.”

While hastening to state that he was not saying he believed the crash was a purposeful attack, Clarke did observe, reported the Huffington Post, that “‘There is reason to believe that intelligence agencies for major powers’” — including the United States — know how to remotely seize control of a car.”

Clarke served during both Bush presidencies and under Bill Clinton, so presumably he wasn’t speaking completely off the cuff. But just what is a “car cyber attack”?

The answer can be found in two alarming papers by researchers at the University of Washington and the University of California, San Diego, “Experimental Security Analysis of a Modern Vehicle,” and Comprehensive Experimental Analyses of Automotive Attack Surfaces.

Taken together, the papers make for scary reading. In the first the researchers demonstrate that it is a relatively trivial exercise to access the computer systems of a modern car and take control away from the driver. The second demonstrates that such mayhem can be achieved remotely, via a variety of methods. The inescapable conclusion: The modern car is a security disaster.

Modern automobiles are no longer mere mechanical devices; they are pervasively monitored and controlled bydozens of digital computers coordinated via internal vehicular networks. While this transformation has driven major advancements in efficiency and safety, it has also introduced a range of new potential risks… We demonstrate that an attacker who is able to infiltrate virtually any Electronic Control Unit (ECU) can leverage this ability to completely circumvent a broad array of safety-critical systems. Over a range of experiments, both in the lab and in road tests, we demonstrate the ability to adversarially control a wide range of automotive functions and completely ignore driver input — including disabling the brakes, selectively braking individual wheels on demand, stopping the engine, and so on.

We have endeavored to comprehensively assess how much resilience a conventional automobile has against a digital attack mounted against its internal components. Our findings suggest that, unfortunately, the answer is “little.”

The researchers’ findings are not theoretical. They were able to attack a 2009 model sedan and render its brakes ineffective while a test driver was operating the car. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2013 at 1:12 pm

Posted in Technology

Now we’re getting into some serious 1984 territory: Insider Threat

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Watch your neighbors and friends. Watch them carefully. Don’t let them see you watching. Just act casual, but be alert for anything—anything!—the slightest bit out of place. And if nothing’s out of place? Well, isn’t that sort of suspicious in itself?

Report all of these to your I.T. official. (Nice touch, eh?) We’ll match your report against what we know from our panopticonic vie of all of digital communications, and if things don’t match up… well, you get the drift: once you ask people to start spying on colleagues and report oddities, you’ve crossed an important line.

We’ve been here before: in the time of Joe McCarthy, everyone was encouraged to see Communists everywhere and report anything suspicious. It was a nervous time. Jobs were lost, lives destroyed. Looks like they’re starting up again. See this story at Democracy Now!:

As the media focuses almost exclusively on Edward Snowden’s possible whereabouts, more details on the Obama administration’s crackdown on whistleblowers have come to light. A new investigative report has revealed the administration’s crackdown on leaks extends far beyond high-profile cases like Snowden or the Associated Press, to the vast majority of government agencies and departments — even those with no connection to intelligence or national security. For nearly two years, the White House has waged a program called “Insider Threat” that forces government employees to remain on the constant lookout for their colleagues’ behavior and to report their suspicions. It targets government officials who leak any information, not just classified material. All of this leads McClatchy to warn: “The [Insider Threat] program could make it easier for the government to stifle the flow of unclassified and potentially vital information to the public, while creating toxic work environments poisoned by unfounded suspicions and spurious investigations.” We’re joined by the reporter who helped break the story, Jonathan Landay, senior national security and intelligence reporter for McClatchy Newspapers. Landay also discusses his reporting that revealed how drone strikes carried out in Pakistan over a four-year period ran contrary to standards set forth publicly by President Obama.

TRANSCRIPT
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AARON MATÉ: As the media focuses almost exclusively on Edward Snowden’s possible whereabouts, more details on the Obama administration’s crackdown on whistleblowers have come to light. Late last week, the White House publicly disclosed it filed espionage charges against the intelligence contractor for exposing the government’s mass surveillance of telephone and Internet data in the U.S. and abroad. Snowden becomes the seventh person to be charged by the Obama administration under the nearly 100-year-old Espionage Act. That’s more than double all previous presidents combined.

The crackdown on leaks has also extended to journalists. It emerged last month the administration seized the phone records of Associated Press reporters and the emails of Fox News’s James Rosen as part of probes into the leaking of classified information. Speaking at the White House, President Obama said he made “no apologies” for seeking to crack down on leaks.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Leaks related to national security can put people at risk. It can put men and women in uniform that I’ve sent into the battlefield at risk. They can put some of our intelligence officers, who are in various dangerous situations that are easily compromised, at risk. I make no apologies, and I don’t think the American people would expect me, as commander-in-chief, not to be concerned about information that might compromise their missions or might get them killed.

AARON MATÉ: That’s President Obama speaking last month.

Well, a new investigative report has revealed the administration’s crackdown on leaks extends far beyond high-profile cases like Snowden or the Associated Press, to the vast majority of government agencies and departments, even those with no connection to intelligence or national security.

AMY GOODMAN: For nearly two years, the White House has waged a program called Insider Threat that forces government employees to remain on the constant lookout for their colleagues’ behavior and to report their suspicions. According to McClatchy news, it targets government officials who leak any information, not just classified material.

And beyond places like the National Security Agency or the Pentagon, Insider Threat also covers employees in agencies or departments like the Peace Corps, the Social Security Administration, the Departments of Education and Agriculture. As part of the program, staffers at the Department of Agriculture and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have taken an online tutorial called “Treason 101,” which instructs them to look out for employees fitting the psychological profile of spies. The Department of Education has told its employees that, quote, “certain life experiences … might turn a trusted user into an insider threat.” These experiences include, quote, “stress, divorce, financial problems” or “frustrations with co-workers or the organization.”

In addition to demanding that government workers monitor their colleagues’ behavior, the Insider Threat Program even encourages penalties against those who fail to report what they see. And it regards leaks to the media as a form of espionage. A Pentagon strategy document instructs agency superiors, quote, “Hammer this fact home … leaking is tantamount to aiding the enemies of the United States.” All this leads McClatchy to warn, quote, “The [Insider Threat] program could make it easier for the government to stifle the flow of unclassified and potentially vital information to the public, while creating toxic work environments poisoned by unfounded suspicions and spurious investigations.”

For more, we’re joined from Washington, D.C., by Jonathan Landay, the senior national security and intelligence reporter for McClatchy Newspapers. He broke the story on the scope of Insider Threat along with Marisa Taylor. Their piece is headlined “Obama’s Crackdown Views Leaks as Aiding Enemies of U.S.”

Jonathan, just lay it out for us, what this is creating.

JONATHAN LANDAY: Well, this is a program that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2013 at 12:43 pm

Thoughtful elegance in newspaper writing

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Two columns today really caught my eye and mind: well-argued and well written thoughtful pieces on important facets of our living experience:

Tracy Flick Has Nothing on Stuyvesant’s Elite NYC Student Government Scandal, by J.K. Trotter; and

Paula’s Worst Ingredients, by Frank Bruni.

Give yourself the pleasure of reading them and pausing a moment to think about them.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2013 at 12:29 pm

Posted in Daily life

Speaking of protein in meals, try this dish: Scallops, duck bacon, peas, and quinoa

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In fact, at my weight it turns out I need about 2.5 oz of protein per day, an amount easily obtainable just by eating a good variety of plants. Indeed, excess protein is hard on the kidneys. So this dish is presented merely as a delicious-sounding curiosity. I like the idea of duck bacon, though: I assume I can make it simply by slicing a duck breast thinly and then sautéing the slices. Ingredients to serve two people:

6 Juicy Scallops – about 8-10 oz total
2/3 cup Red Quinoa
About 4 oz English Peas (that’s about 10 oz with shells on)
Two Scallions, cut into 1/2″ slices
An ounce or two of Duck Bacon (or regular bacon)
A Tablespoon of Butter
A squeeze of lemon

Recipe at the link

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2013 at 9:45 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Extremely smooth and enjoyable shave

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SOTD 25 June 2013

What a fine shave. I started with Occams pre-shave soap, interrupting the jlocke98 series, because I just received it (from Australia) and want to give it a go. Quite good, in fact, with a strong lime fragrance.

The Vie-Long horsehair brush shown has a slightly longer loft than the Wicked_Edge brush (and of course lacks the badger content). It’s a fine brush, quite soft but still resilient, and it easily made a good lather from my new AlsShaving.com shaving soap.

The Sodial is actually becoming one of my “good” razors: I really like the head, and I’ve grown accustomed to the handle. With a Personna Lab Tech (not Med Tech) blade, the shave was exceptionally easy and smooth. This is a razor worth having in your kit, especially since it’s only $2.30 including shipping.

A splash of Alt-Innsbruck and now I’m getting ready for the day.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2013 at 8:35 am

Posted in Shaving

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