Later On

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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Parts & Recreation: Revell’s world of plastic models

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Ed Sexton, a former race car driver and a longtime manager at Revell, practicing his favorite hobby: building tiny plastic model cars.

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Jeff Greenwald writes in Craftsmanship magazine:

1. “Very Much an Art”   
2. An Uniquely American Industry  
3. Industrial Ikebana   
4. Models of Obsession  
5. Could Revell Take on Lego?  
6. A Physical Story

My first plastic model, financed by weeks of snow shoveling, was Revell’s 1965 Gemini spacecraft. The kit had 93 parts, including two Lilliputian astronauts that I manipulated—with real envy—into the impossibly cramped capsule that would carry them into orbit. I remember bits of the process: the pages of the Long Island Press, spread over the kitchen table; the dizzying aroma of Testor’s glue; the UNITED STATES decals that seemed permanently attached to their backing until they suddenly slid off, in useless fragments, onto the painted plastic.

Over the years I built scores of models. I was a geeky adolescent outsider, sneaking into American pop culture through tiny plastic doors. While my peers were collecting Beatles singles, I exulted in the 1966 Batmobile that perched on my desk, honoring me with its silver rocket tubes and fine orange piping. A panoply of popular movie monsters snarled on my bookshelves. Each one had taken hours to assemble, but what else was I doing? Pong was still six years away.

Five decades later, in November, 2014, Warner Brothers re-released the entire original series of 120 Batman episodes. The news inspired an immediate visit to the neighborhood hobby shop, even though I hadn’t been inside one in decades.

In the 1960s and 70s, plastic models had sprung—as effortlessly as Pop-Tarts—from the aerospace programs, car designers and TV shows they mimicked. What were today’s inspirations? Once I arrived in the hobby shop, what amazed me most was that plastic models still existed—thousands of them, including a vintage Batmobile.  Yet unlike the models I built as a kid, most of these now bore a “Made in China” disclaimer. Even Revell, a company whose very logo looks like an American flag, had outsourced. But Revell’s home office was still in Illinois, apparently going strong. How could this be?

“VERY MUCH AN ART”

Sprawled over the flatlands some 30 miles northwest of Chicago, the boundaries of Elk Grove Village embrace the largest industrial park in the United States. More than 3,600 businesses have set up branches or headquarters in this former farming community. Next to Chicago itself, it’s the second largest manufacturing area in the country. Incongruously, the town still hosts its namesake: a herd of elk imported from the plains of Montana in the 1920s, now living in resigned boredom near the eastern edge of the Busse Woods Forest Preserve.

Brian Eble, vice president of marketing for Revell—still America’s premier model company—met me at the breakfast buffet of Elk Grove’s Comfort Inn, hand outstretched. Eble grew up on an Illinois farm and looks like a middle-aged superhero: close-cropped gray hair, a strong jaw, broad shoulders. An avid builder as a kid, he spent breakfast waxing philosophical about how model making had changed since our childhoods.

“Take a model car,” he suggested. “They used to carve the originals out of bass wood, and fashion the mold from that. Now, of course, it’s all done with computers. But the magic is the same. You’re taking a real car,” he said, lifting his java, “and shrinking it down to the size of this cup.

“Here’s the question,” he said. “How do you infuse craftsmanship into . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including many more photos.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2021 at 2:07 pm

Goodbye, Ajit Pai. Welcome back, net neutrality.

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Nitish Pahwa writes in Slate:

It took an industry man to ruin the internet as we knew it. The damage to a free and open virtual network wrought by the killing of net neutrality standards hasn’t yet assumed the apocalyptic form that digital watchdogs warned of. But the internet service providers who benefit from relaxation of the restrictions are already taking advantage in subtle ways, toeing the line into future, likely more explicit abuses, while prices for service remain sky-high for low-income users. This is all a gradual rollout by savvy design, thanks to the machinations of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai.

Pai—who announced that he would be stepping down from the agency after President-elect Joe Biden is officially sworn in Wednesday—may not have been among the most blatantly corrupt lawbreakers who peopled the Trump administration, but he was one of its most apt representatives: laissez-faire, corporate-friendly, never above trolling the libs. Now, the internet is unquestionably a worse place, and the commissioner will take his stupid oversize Reese’s-branded mug wherever he goes next, likely somewhere that allows him to continue to profit from his friendly relationships with tech and communications companies.

Pai has been a public servant for much of his career, having worked in the Justice Department, the Senate, and the FCC, but the most instructive and relevant parts of his résumé have always been his brief private sector dalliances: his early years as in-house counsel for Verizon, and his between-government-appointments time in the communications branch of law firm Jenner & Block, where he represented companies like Securus Technologies and AOL. The D.C. public-private revolving door isn’t exactly a secret or any source of excessive stigma for those who happily participate, but it’s worth extra focus in Pai’s case, since his reign as FCC chair couldn’t have been more of a blessing to those very corporations he once worked for.

Consider the defining aspect of his legacy. For years, Pai railed against net neutrality, the principle that internet service providers should treat all sources of data usage the same and not exercise favorability in providing broadband to their users. In effect, it’s the attitude that the government should ensure an accessible internet to all users, whether they be hulking megacorporations or small-time streamers. Pai claimed, in line with typical Republican reasoning, that staying true to net neutrality neutered ISPs and imposed an unfair, burdensome regulation on the corporations that control our digital infrastructure—such as, say, Verizon Communications. When he was appointed to the FCC board by President Barack Obama in 2012, upon Sen. Mitch McConnell’s recommendation (following a tradition of letting the minority party pick commissioners when the majority party already controls three of the five commission seats), he used his platform to continually undermine the agency’s yearslong attempts to enshrine net neutrality rules into law, even as the FCC’s standards finally went into effect in 2015. And while net neutrality was and still is broadly favored by Americans—including, yes, some Republicans—Pai never stopped trying to gut it, eventually succeeding in late 2017 even as outraged constituents flooded the FCC’s public comments section, making clear their disapproval by crashing that system altogether. Pai very publicly had a great time dismissing these concerns, mocking the public perception that he was a Verizon shill and filming a how-do-you-do-fellow-kids Daily Caller video alongside a Pizzagate truther that claimed the end of net neutrality wouldn’t mean the end of any popular internet activities.

The effect of the neutrality deregulation has begun to play out as activists predicted, with providers like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast already throttling traffic to certain online services like Skype and privileging effective internet connection to those with money. Not to mention, an Idaho-based ISP recently threatened to kick off Facebook and Twitter altogether after the networks banned President Donald Trump. (It backed off after public criticism.) Pai also tried to prevent states from passing their own net neutrality regulations and, after being halted from doing so by a federal appeals court, raised the fantasy of abolishing the federalist system altogether in order to unilaterally impose his agenda and yank the power of the states to pass legislation he didn’t care for. You know, just a typically Trumpy view of the executive.

Democrats are already looking at reversing Pai’s net neutrality scything, through legislation or other means as they stand to regain majority control of the FCC. But Pai’s damage extends far beyond this one policy. Affordable internet access is further out of reach for rural residents thanks to ISPs’ increased price and traffic control as well as the rollback of an important telecoms subsidy for low-income Americans. Prison communication companies—whose oversight should not have been run by Pai—have gotten away with still charging exorbitant prices for phone and video calls. Big mergers, like that of T-Mobile and Sprint, have gone ahead with barely any questioning or interrogation. Deregulation was priority above all, and the ensuing higher costs and consumer choice decline were, well, apparently just the cost of a truly “free” digital society.

In fairness, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2021 at 11:43 am

The honey detectives are closing in on China’s shady syrup swindlers

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Jonathan Ungoed-Thomas and Jonathan Lake write in Wired:

Shortly before dawn most days, José Eduardo Moo Pat sets out from his home in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula with a protective suit and his metal smoker for calming honey bees. He drives six miles through low-lying tropical jungle to tend to his 30 hives nestled in a clearing.

His work has always been hard. But now making a livelihood is even tougher and his bees are at real risk – not from pesticides or deforestation, but from a catastrophic collapse in the wholesale price of honey. “I think every day about profitability,” says Moo Pat “I have seen many beekeepers disappear in the last two or three years. I don’t know if I can continue. I don’t even have enough money to pay for the fuel to go to see my bees.”

Five years ago, Moo Pat, who is 42 and from the small Mexican town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, was paid 47 pesos (£1.73) per kilogram for his organic honey by a local fair trade co-operative, but the price has now slumped to just 35 pesos per kilogram. The price for conventional honey has fallen even further, from 43 pesos per kilogram to just 23 pesos. Many of Mexico’s estimated 42,000 beekeepers – much of whose honey goes to Europe – are now giving up and abandoning their hives.

Moo Pat blames China for his financial plight. There, cheap honey and sugar syrup are produced on an industrial scale and blended together by fraudsters. Beekeepers believe this adulterated honey is responsible for saturating the market, crashing global prices and deceiving millions of customers.

“Most of the honey imported from China into Europe is blended with syrup,” says Etienne Bruneau, chairman of the honey working party at the European agricultural umbrella organisation Copa-Cogeca. “In China, they tell you if you want honey it’s one price and if you want a cheaper price you can have syrup in it.”

In the UK, beekeepers are also finding themselves squeezed by bargain honey pouring off the production lines in China. “Even for large scale bee farmers the size of the operation would need to be off the scale to be able to compete on price for the product that they sell as honey,” says Martin Pope, who runs Beeza Ltd, producing honey and wax products from apiaries around Kingsbridge in South Devon.

Moo Pat and other beekeepers in Mexico are starting to fight back, campaigning internationally to investigate and expose the honey fraudsters – and the looming risk to biodiversity from abandoned hives and declining bee populations. His federation of honey producers has helped fund tests on supermarket honey in the UK, one of the world’s biggest importers of Chinese honey.

The tests have indicated widespread adulteration, but also laid bare the limited and often unreliable tools available to detect and police honey fraud. Scientists and regulators around the world are now developing a test with a vast database of sample honeys which they hope will lead to the prosecution of honey fraudsters and bring the illicit industry to a sticky end.

Beekeeping is one of the most ancient forms of farming, with archaeological evidence suggesting humans have been harvesting honey from bees for nearly 9,000 years. Research published in Nature in November 2015 found traces of beeswax on pieces of Neolithic crockery unearthed in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

There are now more than 90 million managed beehives around the world producing about 1.9m tonnes of honey worth more than £5 billion a year. The industry provides a huge environmental benefit because three out of four crops depend to some extent on pollination by bees and other insects for yield and quality.

Farming bees is, however, labour intensive, so honey is expensive – and that makes it a tempting target for adulteration with cheap substitutes. The most common fraud is the dilution of genuine honey with sugar syrup, typically manufactured from rice, corn or sugar beet.

China is the world’s biggest producer of honey, accounting for about a quarter of global output, but its rise to dominance and its low prices have long been viewed with suspicion. In the eastern province of Zhejiang, where much of the country’s beekeeping industry is concentrated, industrial plants manufacture cheap rice and corn syrup to be blended with honey. Alibaba, the Chinese online marketplaces, even advertises industrial “fructose syrup for honey” for as little as 76p per kilogram.

Beekeepers warn that the flow of adulterated honey coming out of China is so great that it’s distorting the market. In November Copa-Cogeca warned that the livelihoods of many European beekeepers were in peril after  . . .

Continue reading. I would also note that some supermarket honey brands, such as Sioux Bee, strangely never crystallize.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2021 at 1:48 pm

A Good Tactic: Set Up Credit Card Alerts

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They help track your spending and can catch fraudulent charges

Starting well before the pandemic, I discontinued using cash for in-person transactions, instead using my credit card. Partly this was because I use a “dividend” card, which at the end of the year refunds a (small) portion of what I spent. 

As I describe in my article on personal budgeting and money management, I do not allow credit card charges to accumulate. The reason: an unpaid credit card balance means that the amount shown as available in my checking account is a mirage. That much is not available, because some of it is already committed to pay the credit card balance. I learned through bitter experience that small charges can quickly total a lot, so I pay charges when they occur.

In effect, I use my credit card like a debit card. When I charge something, then on that same day I pay for the charge from my checking account by using online banking. Thus my credit balance stays at zero (and my checking balance shrinks as I pay the charges — and I always know exactly how much money I actually have available). I don’t use a debit card because (a) my debit card doesn’t refund any portion of what I purchase and (b) credit cards have buyer protection built into the agreement and limit the loss I might suffer.

When I’m out shopping, I always save receipts for purchases. When I get home, I use those to remind me to pay the charges I just made. That generally worked, but occasionally I would forget to get a receipt.

The winning tactic

To make sure I do not miss any charges, I started using an option my bank offers. When I sign in to the bank’s website, the main menu includes “Manage My Alerts,” and when I click that, I see the choice “transaction alerts,” listing a variety of alerts I can set on transactions. I checked the box to get an email whenever a credit card charge is made in excess of a limit (which the customer specifies). I specified a limit of $1, so I get an email whenever a charge is made that’s in excess of $1. In practice, that means I get an email for every charge.

When I make a purchase online, I’m at the computer, so I don’t actually need a reminder — I pay the credit card charge at once from my checking account. Emails also notify me of regular scheduled payments on my credit card (Netflix, for example), a useful reminder. But mostly the alerts serve as reminders when I return home from shopping, so I don’t forget to “reimburse” my credit card account for all charges I made while I was out.

Catching fraud when it happens

Today I realized another benefit from the alerts. I received emails for five transactions from two distant merchants that I didn’t know and from whom I had bought nothing. One merchant had made two transactions: a charge and a refund in the same amount, neither of which I had instigated. The other merchant (in a different country) had two charges (for identical amounts) and a refund for only one.

It should be noted that for some merchants and organizations the name shown on the credit card charge is not the merchant or organization’s name. In this case, you will see a warning at the time of purchase: “Charges will show on your credit cards as…” And, of course, you generally know what you charged, so you probably will recall the charge by the amount paid. However, the five transactions I was notified about were from companies and locations totally unfamiliar for me and the amounts did not reflect any purchases I had made.

I immediately called the bank, which deactivated the card on the spot and dismissed the fraudulent charge. They said a new card would be issued and would arrive in a week to ten days, and would that be all right? 

I said that it would not, because — as I described above — I use the card for every purchase I make, and I would certainly need groceries sooner than that. They then said the card would arrive within two days.

Use the alerts

I highly recommend using such alerts. Look for what alerts your bank offers. They probably will offer a transaction alert to notify you whenever your credit card is used for a charge above some limit. Set the limit to $1 to be notified of every charge. This will help you track your spending and — more important — alert you immediately to fraudulent charges.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 January 2021 at 3:07 pm

Better pillow has meant better sleep

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For quite a while I’ve been frequently waking up in the middle of the night — any time from 2:00am to 4:00am — and being awake for an hour or two before getting back to sleep. I usually get up and read until I’m sleepy again, but I’d rather sleep through the night.

I bought a new pillow, and as soon as I began using it, I started sleeping through the night — and it seems to me that my sleep was much deeper and more relaxed.

I’m a side sleeper, and my old pillow, though a good pillow, was (I now realize) clearly designed for a back sleeper: it was pretty flat. This new pillow does have a hollow to support my head, but the thicker edges provide neck support that the other pillow lacked.

There’s a higher side and a lower side, as you see. The higher side worked fine and is designed for side sleepers. I’ve also used the lower side, and that works, too. You can also remove a middle layer from the pillow, reducing the height of both sides. I haven’t needed to do that.

For any readers who are side sleepers, this pillow is definitely worth considering. I’m very glad I got it.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2021 at 4:06 pm

When Tech Antitrust Failed: Books and book prices

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Shira Ovide reports in the NY Times:

If you’ve wondered recently why prices for e-books seem high, let me tell you why a failure of antitrust law might be (partly) to blame.

A government antitrust lawsuit a decade ago that was intended to push down prices helped lead instead to higher ones.

The outcome suggests that the U.S. government’s lawsuits against Google and Facebook and a just-announced Connecticut antitrust investigation into Amazon’s e-book business may not have the desired effects, even if the governments win. It turns out that trying to change allegedly illegal corporate behavior can backfire.

Cast your mind back to 2012. The second “Twilight” movie was big. And the Justice Department sued Apple and five of America’s leading book publishers in the name of protecting consumers and our wallets.

Book publishers were freaked out about Amazon’s habit of pricing many popular Kindle books at $9.99 no matter what the book companies thought the price should be. Amazon was willing to lose money on e-books, but the publishers worried that this would devalue their products.

The government said that to strike back at Amazon, the book companies and Apple made a deal. Publishers could set their own e-book prices on Apple’s digital bookstore, and they essentially could block discounts by any bookseller, including Amazon.

To the government this looked like a conspiracy to eliminate competition over prices — a big no-no under antitrust laws. Eventually the book publishers settled and Apple lost in court.

Later, Amazon, Apple and other e-book sellers agreed to let publishers enforce e-book prices. The arrangements were legally kosher because they were separately negotiated between each publisher and bookseller. (I can’t answer why Amazon agreed to this.)

The government won but the publishers got what they wanted with e-books. Bookstores can choose to take a loss to heavily discount a print book, but they typically can’t with digital editions. The $10 mass-market e-book is mostly gone.

How did an antitrust case meant to lower prices instead possibly lead to higher prices? Christopher L. Sagers, a law professor at Cleveland State University who wrote a book about the e-books litigation, told me that he believes it’s a failure of corporate antitrust laws.

Professor Sagers and others believe that because a few major book publishers release most mass-market titles, they have the power to keep prices high. He laments that the antitrust laws have failed to stop industries from getting so concentrated. In other words, he thinks it’s bad for all of us that a book-publishing monopoly is trying to fight Amazon’s monopoly.

“American antitrust is basically a failure and this case was a microcosm,” he told me.

Somehow this newsletter keeps coming back to this debate. An influential view — particularly among left-leaning economists, politicians and scholars — is that U.S. antitrust laws or the way they’re applied are flawed. They believe that the government has failed to stop the increasing corporate concentration and mergers in industries like airlines, banking and technology, which has led to higher prices, worse products and income inequality. . .

Continue reading.

It’s clear that printed books incur substantial costs that do not apply to ebooks: materials, production labor, distribution/shipping costs, and so on. The ebook versions should not have those costs in their price.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2021 at 12:12 pm

The Woman Whose Invention Helped Win a War — and Still Baffles Weathermen

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Our common culture has long had a blind spot regarding women — their identity, experience, and achievements — and to some extent it is an active blind spot, in which some efforts are made to hide and erase knowledge of women’s accomplishments and women’s valid experience (cf. Harvey Weinstein and how culture covered for his offenses).

Irena Fischer-Hwang writes in Smithsonian Magazine:

On June 4, 2013, the city of Huntsville, Alabama was enjoying a gorgeous day. Blue skies, mild temperatures. Just what the forecasters had predicted.

But in the post-lunch hours, meteorologists started picking up what seemed to be a rogue thunderstorm on the weather radar. The “blob,” as they referred to it, mushroomed on the radar screen. By 4 PM, it covered the entire city of Huntsville. Strangely, however, the actual view out of peoples’ windows remained a calm azure.

The source of the blob turned out to be not a freak weather front, but rather a cloud of radar chaff, a military technology used by nations all across the globe today. Its source was the nearby Redstone Arsenal, which, it seems, had decided that a warm summer’s day would be perfect for a completely routine military test.

More surprising than the effect that radar chaff has on modern weather systems, though, is the fact that its inventor’s life’s work was obscured by the haze of a male-centric scientific community’s outdated traditions.

The inventor of radar chaff was a woman named Joan Curran.

Born Joan Strothers and raised in Swansea on the coast of Wales, she matriculated at the University of Cambridge’s Newnham College in 1934. Strothers studied physics on a full scholarship and enjoyed rowing in her spare time. Upon finishing her degree requirements in 1938, she went to the University’s preeminent Cavendish Laboratory to begin a doctorate in physics.

At the Cavendish, Strothers was assigned to work with a young man named Samuel Curran. For two years, Strothers got along swimmingly with her new lab partner. But with international conflict brewing in Europe, in 1940 the pair was transferred twice to work on military research, and ended up at Exeter.

There, the two developed proximity fuses to destroy enemy planes and rockets. There also, Strothers married Sam and took on his last name, becoming Joan Curran. Shortly after their wedding in November, the Currans transferred to the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE) in the autumn of 1940. Curran joined a team led by British physicist and scientific military intelligence expert R.V. Jones that was developing a method to conceal aircraft from enemy radar detection.

The idea, Jones later explained in his book Most Secret War, was simple. Radar detectors measure the reflection of radio waves of a certain wavelength off of incoming objects. As it turns out, thin metal strips can resonate with incoming waves, and also re-radiate the waves. Under the right conditions, the re-radiated waves create the sonic impression of a large object when in reality, there is none—hence, the blob in Alabama.

This property means that a few hundred thin reflectors could, together, reflect as much energy as a heavy British bomber plane would. A collection of strips might conceal the exact location of an aircraft during a raid behind a large cloud of signal, or even lead the enemy to believe they were observing a major attack when in reality, there was only one or two planes.

By the time Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, Curran was nearly a year into painstaking experiments on using metals to reflect radar signals. She had tried a seemingly countless number of sizes and shapes, from singular wires to metal leaflets the size of notebook paper. The leaflets had been a particularly interesting idea, since they could do double-duty as propaganda sheets with text printed on them.

In 1942, Curran finally settled on reflectors that were about 25 centimeters long and 1.5 centimeters wide. The reflectors were aluminized paper strips bundled into one-pound packets and intended to be thrown out of the leading aircraft. When defenestrated from a stream of bombers once every minute, they could produce “the radar equivalent of a smokescreen,” according to Jones.

In 1943, the reflector strips were put to a serious military test when the Allies launched Operation Gomorrah on Hamburg, Germany. Operation Gomorrah was a brutal campaign of air raids that lasted over a week, destroyed most of the city and resulted in almost 40,000 civilian deaths. But with rates of only 12 aircraft losses out of 791 on one evening’s bombing raid, the campaign was a major victory for the Allies, in large part due to Curran’s reflectors.

Perhaps most notably, radar chaff was used as part of a large-scale, elaborate diversion on June 5, 1944 to prevent German forces from knowing exactly where the Allied invasion into Nazi-held continental Europe would begin. Deployed on the eve of what would become known as D-Day, two radar chaff drops, Operations Taxable and Glimmer, were combined with hundreds of dummy parachutists to draw German attention towards the northernmost parts of France, and away from the beaches of Normandy.

Curran went on to work on . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Later in the article:

“We don’t know how many women were working in the labs of famous male scientists, or how many discoveries women contributed to, because for centuries men did a very good job hiding the achievements of women,” Wade remarked in an email.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2021 at 9:45 am

How the Trump terrorists were so quickly identified

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And also:

Written by LeisureGuy

11 January 2021 at 10:32 pm

Superspreader Down: How Trump’s Exile from Social Media Alters the Future of Politics, Security, and Public Health

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Peter W. Singer writes at Defense One:

By the numbers, no person in human history has shared more conspiracy theories with a greater number of people than Donald J. Trump. Among all the momentous events of the last week, the silencing of his social-media megaphones is a “yuge” moment not just for American politics but a host of issues from public health to national security.

In researching LikeWar, Emerson Brooking’s and my book on the weaponization of social media, I actually went back and read every single @realdonaldtrump tweet, going back to his very first: a May 4, 2009, announcement of his upcoming appearance on the Letterman show. As you sift through the more than 57,000 tweets that follow, the sheer scale of the lies and insults becomes mind-numbing. (I joke about my “information warfare PTSD.”) Yet what is also notable is how many conspiracy theories Trump both started or massively elevated long before becoming president. They ranged from well-known lies like birtherism to other ones that are even more despicable in retrospect, like fueling anti-vaccine myths.

Most importantly, we found that Trump was spectacularly effective in persuading others to spread his conspiracy theories. Our research showed that, just like in public health, superspreaders are the key to virality. The path to making the internet less toxic is placing limits on these superspreaders, be they ISIS propagandists or right-wing extremists. Instead of trying to police everyone, we must focus on key nodes that affect everyone.

Banning Trump is obviously the headline event for social media, but it reflects a larger policy shift by the companies that created and run these now-essential networks. These firms are now making content moderation decisions based increasingly not just on whether a user or a post violated their rules, but what effect these might have on people off the network. This was already shifting as firms adjusted to reduce COVID-19 misinformation, but hit its culmination in Trump’s ejection.

Over the last year, and seen most explosively in the violent seizing of the Capitol, the political context changed, both on social media and in the real world. But Trump didn’t seem to understand it. Or, maybe, having never been held accountable from birth onwards, the outgoing president thought he could keep on operating the same way: crossing a line, and getting away with it. Importantly, Twitter decided he had crossed a final line. He had not just repeatedly broken the platform’s rules on election-fraud claims. Now, even after all the events at the Capitol, he had used his return to Twitter after an initial suspension to immediately break the pledge of a “peaceful transition” that he had made in a stilted video released just the night before.

What too many in media and politics are missing, but what Twitter and the other platforms couldn’t ignore, was Trump’s announcement that he would not be participating in the Inaugural events. With that, he didn’t just go back on his pledge of peaceful transition, but threw gasoline on the fire yet again. There were already a series of extremist militia events planned for Jan. 17 in various state capitals. (The storming of the U.S. Capitol was not isolated; last week saw armed pro-Trump mobs also attempt or succeed in breaking into state legislatures and governors’ homes in Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington state.) Even more worrisome, security analysts had picked up online discussion of a “Million Militia March” set for Jan. 20 in Washington, D.C. Its purpose, at least in the chatter, is not just to disrupt Biden’s inauguration, but also to seek violent payback on police for the supposed “martyrdom” of the rioter killed in the Capitol. Twitter officials concluded that Trump’s tweets “are likely to inspire others to replicate the violent acts that took place on January 6, 2021.”

Whether Trump intended the dual dog whistle or not, it was heard that way by both the “patriots” whom he’d told he “loved” even as they rampaged and chanted “Hang Mike Pence, Hang Mike Pence,” and by the platform companies that own the networks he needed for his rabble-rousing messages. And for them, as it should be for the rest of us, Trump had lost the benefit of the doubt.

The reverberations of Trump’s deplatforming as part of this larger shift will shake out for not just the coming days, but over the long term — and in everything from terrorism to public health. The reason is that it fundamentally alters the playing field.

Everything in the social media ecosystem was once  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 January 2021 at 3:35 pm

What’s required to restore electronic security to the Capitol

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Read this thread by @jacobian, which begins:

So much this. A physical breach is a nightmare scenario for infosec.

On the off-chance that any of my followers are involved in this — I do have some experience in scenarios like this and would be happy to help. If I can be of assistance hit me up.
Just to give folks who aren’t in the field an idea what we’re talking about:

– we must assume that foreign agents were among the rioters
– snooping devices can be implanted into anything with a power cord
– so every device in the capitol is now a potential foreign asset 
So, just for starters:

– all computers need to be inventoried, inspected inside and out, and the OS paved/rebuilt
– keyboards, mice, &c might now have implants, they probably should be tossed (see eg keelog.com/forensic-keylo… which looks like a usb cable but is in fact a logger)
Then everything with a power source needs to be audited. This means lamps. Thermostats. Those cute little portrait lights on top of photos. The vacuum cleaner in the storage closet. Even outlets — a fav trick of one Red Team I know is a fake outlet cover that hides a mic. 

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 January 2021 at 3:22 pm

Why Parler is doomed

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A very interesting Twitter thread by David Troy in a very interesting new app that presents Twitter threads in readable form. The thread begins:

THREAD: Now that @amazon @awscloud has announced they will no longer host @parler_app, many have speculated that they will just “find another host.”

Here is why that’s not so simple and what it will likely mean for the app’s future. First, let’s look at where things are… 

2/ Google and Apple have removed the app from their app stores, effectively terminating growth on mobile devices. People can still access the (not good) web UI until Amazon terminates them today. CEO Matze has said they may be down “up to a week” while they find new hosting. 
3/ Translated to English, that’s code for “we have no idea what’s going to happen next.” No US cloud provider (Microsoft, Google, IBM, Digital Ocean) is likely to touch this, as it could be seen as providing material support for sedition. No CEO or counsel wants to get near this. 
4/ They could potentially “roll their own” data center by buying servers and putting them in a co-location facility. But that’s a single point of failure, and many colo providers would be just as likely to decline their business. It would be hard and risky to pursue this. 
5/ Imagine, after they sweated like pigs to get this hardware all setup, if they get told their colo provider is booting them. That’s a lot of metal to then move somewhere else. Meanwhile, the user base is deteriorating because chaos and dying apps. They will go to other venues. 
6/ They also have . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

And also read his earlier thread about Parler and its intimate connections with Russia. That is a must-read.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 January 2021 at 11:00 am

A 25-Year-Old Bet Comes Due: Has Tech Destroyed Society?

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In Wired Steven Levy writes on a long bet come due. It’s also a litmus test for one’s own view of societal progress over the past quarter-century: are the average person of today better off now than the average person in 1995? The article begins:

ON MARCH 6, 1995, WIRED’s executive editor and resident techno-optimist Kevin Kelly went to the Greenwich Village apartment of the author Kirkpatrick Sale. Kelly had asked Sale for an interview. But he planned an ambush.

Kelly had just read an early copy of Sale’s upcoming book, called Rebels Against the Future. It told the story of the 19th-century Luddites, a movement of workers opposed to the machinery of the Industrial Revolution. Before their rebellion was squashed and their leaders hanged, they literally destroyed some of the mechanized looms that, they believed, reduced them to cogs in a dehumanizing engine of mass production.

Sale adored the Luddites. In early 1995, Amazon was less than a year old, Apple was in the doldrums, Microsoft had yet to launch Windows 95, and almost no one had a mobile phone. But Sale, who for years had been churning out books complaining about modernity and urging a return to a subsistence economy, felt that computer technology would make life worse for humans. Sale had even channeled the Luddites at a January event in New York City where he attacked an IBM PC with a 10-pound sledgehammer. It took him two blows to vanquish the object, after which he took a bow and sat down, deeply satisfied.

Kelly hated Sale’s book. His reaction went beyond mere disagreement; Sale’s thesis insulted his sense of the world. So he showed up at Sale’s door not just in search of a verbal brawl but with a plan to expose what he saw as the wrongheadedness of Sale’s ideas. Kelly set up his tape recorder on a table while Sale sat behind his desk.

The visit was all business, Sale recalls. “No eats, no coffee, no particular camaraderie,” he says. Sale had prepped for the interview by reading a few issues of WIRED—he’d never heard of it before Kelly contacted him—and he expected a tough interview. He later described it as downright “hostile, no pretense of objective journalism.” (Kelly later called it adversarial, “because he was an adversary, and he probably viewed me the same way.”) They argued about the Amish, whether printing presses denuded forests, and the impact of technology on work. Sale believed it stole decent labor from people. Kelly replied that technology helped us make new things we couldn’t make any other way. “I regard that as trivial,” Sale said.

Sale believed society was on the verge of collapse. That wasn’t entirely bad, he argued. He hoped the few surviving humans would band together in small, tribal-style clusters. They wouldn’t be just off the grid. There would be no grid. Which was dandy, as far as Sale was concerned.

“History is full of civilizations that have collapsed, followed by people who have had other ways of living,” Sale said. “My optimism is based on the certainty that civilization will collapse.”

That was the opening Kelly had been waiting for. In the final pages of his Luddite book, Sale had predicted society would collapse “within not more than a few decades.” Kelly, who saw technology as an enriching force, believed the opposite—that society would flourish. Baiting his trap, Kelly asked just when Sale thought this might happen.

Sale was a bit taken aback—he’d never put a date on it. Finally, he blurted out 2020. It seemed like a good round number.

Kelly then asked how, in a quarter century, one might determine whether Sale was right.

Sale extemporaneously cited three factors: an economic disaster that would render the dollar worthless, causing a depression worse than the one in 1930; a rebellion of the poor against the monied; and a significant number of environmental catastrophes.

“Would you be willing to bet on your view?” Kelly asked.

“Sure,” Sale said.

Then Kelly sprung his trap. He had come to Sale’s apartment with a $1,000 check drawn on his joint account with this wife. Now he handed it to his startled interview subject. “I bet you $1,000 that in the year 2020, we’re not even close to the kind of disaster you describe,” he said.

Sale barely had $1,000 in his bank account. But he figured that if he lost, a thousand bucks would be worth much less in 2020 anyway. He agreed. Kelly suggested they both send their checks for safekeeping to William Patrick, the editor who had handled both Sale’s Luddite book and Kelly’s recent tome on robots and artificial life; Sale agreed.

“Oh, boy,” Kelly said after Sale wrote out the check. “This is easy money.”

Twenty-five years later, the once distant deadline is here. We are locked down. Income equality hasn’t been this bad since just before the Great Depression. California and Australia were on fire this year. We’re about to find out how easy that money is. As the time to settle approached, both men agreed that Patrick, the holder of the checks, should determine the winner on December 31. Much more than a thousand bucks was at stake: The bet was a showdown between two fiercely opposed views on the nature of progress. In a time of climate crisis, a pandemic, and predatory capitalism, is optimism about humanity’s future still justified? Kelly and Sale each represent an extreme side of the divide. For the men involved, the bet’s outcome would be a personal validation—or repudiation—of their lifelong quests.

Continue reading. There’s much more (including the judge’s decision), and it’s interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 January 2021 at 10:54 am

Interesting recipe search engine

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Type in the name (or part of the name) of a recipe and get results from a 2,000,000-recipe database.

You’ll see a long list of hits, which you can then filter by ingredient. The filter, however, does not seem to allow for excluding an ingredient — for example, you cannot get a set of cornbread recipes that do not contain flour, though you can get a set of cornbread recipes that (for example) do contain bacon. The filter seems to work with OR as the connector, not AND — for example, if you search “cornbread” and filter for  both bacon and buttermilk, you get a list of recipes that contain either or both of those, not a list of only recipes that contain both. I would say the filter function requires more work.

Another limitation (naturally enough) is that the list of filter items is limited. There’s a “show more” option, but even that list is limited. If you want a cornbread recipe that contains chorizo, for example, you will not see “chorizo” listed among the filter choices. However, an easy workaround is to include the desired ingredient in the recipe search term. For example, entering “cornbread chorizo” as the search term will list cornbread recipes that include chorizo.

Similarly, if you want a soup that contains kale, don’t look to the filter (“kale” is not listed, even with “show more”). Instead, just enter “kale soup” as the search term. You can extend this: enter “soup kale chorizo” and get a list of recipes that contain both kale and chorizo.

It’s a quick way to sift through 2,000,000 recipes. Here it is.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 January 2021 at 5:58 am

Wi-Fi’s biggest upgrade in decades is starting to arrive

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Wi-Fi is about to get a lot better. Many of this year’s new phones, laptops, TVs, routers, and more will come with support for Wi-Fi 6E, a new upgrade to Wi-Fi that’s essentially like expanding your wireless connection from a two-lane road to an eight-lane highway. It’s the biggest upgrade to Wi-Fi in 20 years, and connections should be faster and a lot more reliable because of it.

The Wi-Fi Alliance, the industry-wide group that oversees Wi-Fi, is now starting to certify the first wave of products with support for Wi-Fi 6E. Phones, PCs, and laptops with support should start hitting the market in the first months of 2021, according to the IDC research group, and TVs and VR devices with support are expected to arrive by the middle of the year.

Some of the first devices are likely to be announced over the next week. During CES, which kicks off on January 11th, router companies will preview what they have coming up for the year. Samsung is also planning to announce its next flagship phones, the Galaxy S21 series, and some if not all of them are likely to have support for Wi-Fi 6E thanks to the Snapdragon 888 processor. Because the chip includes support for it, Wi-Fi 6E should be present in many of this year’s top Android phones.

Wi-Fi 6E is such a big upgrade because it relies on a huge expansion of the wireless airwaves available to consumer devices. In April 2020, the Federal Communications Commission opened up this wide new swath of spectrum in the United States, but new hardware was required in order to make use of it. Nearly a year on, we’re finally starting to see devices with those capabilities.

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

It’ll be some time before most new devices are shipping with Wi-Fi 6E, though. Not all new gadgets are even shipping with standard Wi-Fi 6 yet, and that version of Wi-Fi started rolling out about two years ago. By the start of 2022, IDC only expects 20 percent of shipping Wi-Fi 6 products to also support Wi-Fi 6E.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 January 2021 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Business, Technology

Facebook fails Georgia

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Judd Legum writes in Popular Information:

Over the last two weeks, Facebook has repeatedly allowed a top Republican Super PAC, American Crossroads, to run dishonest attacks against Democratic Senate candidate Raphael Warnock — in violation of Facebook’s own misinformation rules. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Georgians have been exposed to misinformation about Warnock on Facebook in the critical days leading up to the January 5 run-off election.

Internal Facebook communications concerning the American Crossroads ads, obtained by Popular Information, reveal dysfunction and confusion about Facebook’s advertising policies, even among executives purportedly in charge of such matters.

Beginning on Election Day, November 3, Facebook banned all political ads on the platform. But it partially lifted the ban on December 16 to allow ads about the Georgia runoffs targeting Facebook users in Georgia. The announcement said that Facebook would activate its “Elections Operations Center” to “.fight…misinformation” about the Georgia runoffs in “real time.”

On December 17, American Crossroads, a Republican Super PAC run by Karl Rove and funded by Mitch McConnell’s political operation, began running an ad with a short snippet of Warnock saying, “God damn America.” The ad presents Warnock’s statement as an expression of his own views, saying his comments represented “anti-American hate.” This is blatantly dishonest. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 January 2021 at 10:31 am

How to Get Rich Sabotaging Nuclear Weapons Facilities

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

Happy new year. Today I’m going to write about the Russian hack of American nuclear facilities, and why a billionaire private equity executive just profiled in the Wall Street Journal as a dealmaker extraordinaire is responsible. Plus some short blurbs on:

  • The Problem with Amazon competitor Shopify
  • Ticketmaster’s Grotesque Settlement with the Department of Justice
  • Economists Non-Surprising But Important Findings about Debt-Fueled Private Equity and Covid
  • Big Tech and Diversity
  • Appliance Parts Monopolization?

Happy New Year! The password is 12345

My Password Is “Password”

Roughly a month ago, the premier cybersecurity firm FireEye warned authorities that it had been penetrated by Russian hackers, who made off with critical tools it used to secure the facilities of corporations and governments around the world.

The victims are the most important institutional power centers in America, from the FBI to the Department of Treasury to the Department of Commerce, as well as private sector giants Cisco Systems, Intel, Nvidia, accounting giant Deloitte, California hospitals, and thousands of others. As more information comes out about what happened, the situation looks worse and worse. Russians got access to Microsoft’s source code and into the Federal agency overseeing America’s nuclear stockpile. They may have inserted code into the American electrical grid, or acquired sensitive tax information or important technical and political secrets.

Cybersecurity is a very weird area, mostly out of sight yet potentially very deadly. Anonymous groups can turn off power plants, telecom grids, or disrupt weapons labs, as Israel did when it used a cyber-weapon to cripple Iranian nuclear facilities in 2010. Bank regulators have to now consult with top military leaders about whether deposit insurance covers incidents where hackers destroy all bank records, and what that would mean operationally. It’s not obvious whether this stuff is war or run-of-the-mill espionage, but everyone knows that the next war will be chock full of new tactics based on hacking the systems of one’s adversary, perhaps using code placed in those systems during peacetime.

And that makes this hack quite scary, even if we don’t see the effect right now. Mark Warner, one of the smarter Democratic Senators and the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said “This is looking much, much worse than I first feared,” also noting “The size of it keeps expanding.” Political leaders are considering reprisals against Russia, though it’s likely they will not engage in much retaliation we can see on the surface. It’s the biggest hack since 2016, when an unidentified group stole the National Security Agency’s “crown jewels” spy tools. It is, as Wired put it, a “historic mess.”

There is a lot of finger-pointing going on in D.C. and in cybersecurity circles about what happened and why. There are all of the standard questions that military and cyber lawyers love, like whether this hack is war, espionage, or something legally ambiguous. Policymakers are revisiting the longstanding policy of having the National Security Agency focus on offensive hacking instead of securing defensive capacity.

The most interesting part of the cybersecurity problem is that it isn’t purely about government capacity at all; private sector corporations maintain critical infrastructure that is in the “battle space.” Private firms like Microsoft are being heavily scrutinized; I had one guest-post from last January on why the firm doesn’t manage its security problems particularly well, and another on how it is using its market power to monopolize the cybersecurity market with subpar products. And yet these companies have no actual public obligations, or at least, nothing formal. They are for-profit entities with little liability for the choices they make that might impose costs onto others.

Indeed, cybersecurity risk is akin to pollution, a cost that the business itself doesn’t fully bear, but that the rest of society does. The private role in cybersecurity is now brushing up against the libertarian assumptions of much of the policymaking world; national security in a world where private software companies handle national defense simply cannot long co-exist with our monopoly and financier-dominated corporate apparatus.

All of which brings me to what I think is the most compelling part of this story. The point of entry for this major hack was not Microsoft, but a private equity-owned IT software firm called SolarWinds. This company’s products are dominant in their niche; 425 out of the Fortune 500 use Solar Winds. As Reuters reported about the last investor call in October, the CEO told analysts that “there was not a database or an IT deployment model out there to which [they] did not provide some level of monitoring or management.” While there is competition in this market, SolarWinds does have market power. IT systems are hard to migrate from, and this lock-in effect means that customers will tolerate price hikes or quality degradation rather than change providers. And it does have a large market share; as the CEO put it, “We manage everyone’s network gear.”

SolarWinds sells a network management package called Orion, and it was through Orion that the Russians invaded these systems, putting malware into updates that the company sent to clients. Now, Russian hackers are extremely sophisticated sleuths, but it didn’t take a genius to hack this company. It’s not just that criminals traded information about how to hack SolarWinds systems; one security researcher alerted the company last year that “anyone could access SolarWinds’ update server by using the password “solarwinds123.’”

Using passwords ripped form the movie Spaceballs is one thing, but it appears that lax security practice at the company was common, systemic, and longstanding. The company puts its engineering in the hands of cheaper Eastern Europe coders, where it’s easier for Russian engineers to penetrate their product development. SolarWinds didn’t bother to hire a senior official to focus on security until 2017, and then only after it was forced to do so by European regulations. Even then, SolarWinds CEO, Kevin Thompson, ignored the risk. As the New York Times noted, one security “adviser at SolarWinds, said he warned management that year that unless it took a more proactive approach to its internal security, a cybersecurity episode would be “catastrophic.” The executive in charge of security quit in frustration. Even after the hack, the company continued screwing up; SolarWinds didn’t even stop offering compromised software for several days after it was discovered.

This level of idiocy seems off-the-charts, but it’s not that the CEO is stupid. Far from it. “Employees say that under Mr. Thompson,” the Times continued, “an accountant by training and a former chief financial officer, every part of the business was examined for cost savings and common security practices were eschewed because of their expense.” The company’s profit tripled from 2010 to 2019. Thompson calculated that his business could run more profitably if it chose to open its clients to hacking risk, and he was right.

And yet, not every software firm operates like SolarWinds. Most seek to make money, but few do so with such a combination of malevolence, greed, and idiocy. What makes SolarWinds different? The answer is the specific financial model that has invaded the software industry over the last fifteen years, a particularly virulent strain of recklessness typically called private equity.

I’ve written a lot about private equity. By ‘private equity,’ I mean financial engineers, financiers who raise large amounts of money and borrow even more to buy firms and loot them. These kinds of private equity barons aren’t specialists who help finance useful products and services, they do cookie cutter deals targeting firms they believe have market power to raise prices, who can lay off workers or sell assets, and/or have some sort of legal loophole advantage. Often they will destroy the underlying business. The giants of the industry, from Blackstone to Apollo, are the children of 1980s junk bond king and fraudster Michael Milken. They are essentially are super-sized mobsters who burn down businesses for the insurance money.

In private equity takeovers of software, the gist is the same, with the players a bit different. It’s not Apollo and Blackstone, it’s Vista Equity Partners, Thomas Bravo, and Silver Lake, but it’s the same cookie cutter style deal flow, the same financing arrangements, and the same business model risks. But in this case, the private equity owner of SolarWinds burned down far more than just the firm.

Arson for Profit

In October, the Wall Street Journal profiled the man who owns SolarWinds, a Puerto Rican-born billionaire named Orlando Bravo of Thomas Bravo partners. Bravo’s PR game is solid; he was photographed beautifully, a slightly greying fit man with a blue shirt and off-white rugged pants in front of modern art, a giant vase and fireplace in the background of what is obviously a fantastically expensive apartment. Though it was mostly a puff piece of a silver fox billionaire, the article did describe Bravo’s business model.

Thoma Bravo identifies software companies with a loyal customer base but middling profits and transforms them into moneymaking engines by retooling pricing, shutting down unprofitable business lines and adding employees in cheaper labor markets.

The firm then guides its companies to use the profits they generate to do add-on acquisitions, snapping up smaller rivals with offerings that they could spend months and millions of dollars trying to replicate.

As I put it at the time, Bravo’s business model is to buy niche software companies, combine them with competitors, offshore work, cut any cost he can, and raise prices. The investment thesis is clear: power. Software companies have immense pricing power over their customers, which means they can raise prices to locked-in customers, or degrade quality (which is the same thing in terms of the economics of the firm). As Robert Smith, one of his competitors in the software PE game, put it, “Software contracts are better than first-lien debt. You realize a company will not pay the interest payment on their first lien until after they pay their software maintenance or subscription fee. We get paid our money first. Who has the better credit? He can’t run his business without our software.”

SolarWinds represents this thesis perfectly. The company was . ..

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 January 2021 at 11:20 am

Home-Brewed Hydrogen Powers His House and Car

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Roy Furchgott reports in the NY Times on what strikes me as an unusually reasonable approach. So far as the “dangers” of hydrogen, keep in mind that natural gas and gasoline are also “dangerous.” We just learned how to deal with the danger. And hydrogen is not carcinogenic.

In December, the California Fuel Cell Partnership tallied 8,890 electric cars and 48 electric buses running on hydrogen batteries, which are refillable in minutes at any of 42 stations there. On the East Coast, the number of people who own and drive a hydrogen electric car is somewhat lower. In fact, there’s just one. His name is Mike Strizki. He is so devoted to hydrogen fuel-cell energy that he drives a Toyota Mirai even though it requires him to refine hydrogen fuel in his yard himself.

“Yeah, I love it,” Mr. Strizki said of his 2017 Mirai. “This car is powerful, there’s no shifting, plus I’m not carrying all of that weight of the batteries,” he said in a not-so-subtle swipe at the world’s most notable hydrogen naysayer, Elon Musk.

Mr. Strizki favors fuel-cell cars for the same reasons as most proponents. You can make fuel using water and solar power, as he does. The byproduct of making hydrogen is oxygen, and the byproduct of burning it is water. Hydrogen is among the most plentiful elements on earth, so you don’t have to go to adversarial countries or engage in environmentally destructive extraction to get it. The car is as quiet to drive as any other electric, it requires little maintenance, and because it doesn’t carry 1,200 pounds of batteries, it has a performance edge.

His infatuation with hydrogen began with cars, but it didn’t end there. In 2006 he made the first house in the United States to be powered entirely by hydrogen produced on site using solar power. Nine years later he made the second. He says he has built hydrogen-power home systems for conservationists and celebrities — one of his systems reportedly powers Johnny Depp’s private island in the Bahamas.

Mr. Strizki is using his retirement to evangelize for the planet-saving advantages of hydrogen batteries. He has faced opposition from the electric, oil and battery industries, he said, as well as his sometimes supporter, the Energy Department. Then there is the ghost of the 1937 Hindenburg explosion, which hovers over all things hydrogen. The financial crash of the high-flying hydrogen truck manufacturer Nikola hasn’t advanced his case.

Like anyone with evangelical fervor, he can be easy to write off as a kook. It doesn’t help that many of his achievements aren’t reliably documented — he said was not legally allowed to identify the celebrity homes he has electrified. (News of the Depp island installation leaked out.) Mr. Strizki concedes the point and dismisses it with a colorful version of “I don’t care what anyone thinks.”

“Mike is sort of an eccentric guy,” said Tom Sullivan, the founder of Lumber Liquidators, who invested in a Connecticut company that makes water-to-hydrogen converters. “I’m sure people thought Edison was a kook,” he said. “People need a few kooks.” Mr. Sullivan also deserves an asterisk as the owner of two East Coast Mirais that, he said, are “collecting dust” in Massachusetts.

Mr. Strizki’s expertise has made him a cult figure in hydrogen circles, where he has consulted on notable projects for two decades. He has worked on high school science projects as well as a new $150,000-ish hydrogen hypercar that claims to get 1,000 miles per fill-up.

“Oh, I know Mike Strizki very well, very well,” said Angelo Kafantaris, chief executive of Hyperion, the company that makes that Hypercar, the XP-1. Using a federal-standard dynamometer test, the XP-1, which claims a 0-to-60-m.p.h. time of 2.2 seconds and a top speed of 221 miles an hour, is said to achieve a range of 1,016 miles on a single tank. “I think Mike is an integral part of everything we do at Hyperion,” Mr. Kafantaris said.

Mr. Strizki, 64, wasn’t always a conservationist. He said he had spent a decade drag racing at the Englishtown Raceway in New Jersey with a succession of cars, including a Shelby GT350 with a Boss 302 engine transplant. “The car was hot,” he said. “I didn’t see the ground for the first two gears.”

He discovered hydrogen power while working at the New Jersey Transportation Department’s Office of Research and Technology. Batteries that powered electric message signs didn’t hold a charge in severe cold. Mr. Strizki was tasked with finding a solution. He turned to hydrogen fuel cells like those NASA used in space.

When Cinnaminson High School in New Jersey entered an alternative-fuel vehicle contest, the 1999 Tour de Sol, Mr. Strizki was tapped to assist. “It changed my life,” he said. “As a racecar driver, it was always doing more with more — making more horsepower, burning more fuel. They taught me it was about doing more with less.”

Back at work, he proposed that a hydrogen car would be good publicity. “Anything that got good press for clean air was a priority,” Mr. Strizki said. A consortium of high schools, colleges and tech companies built a hydrogen Tour de Sol entry from a Geo Metro they called the New Jersey Venturer, which was succeeded by the New Jersey Genesis, built from a prototype aluminum Mercury Sable donated by Ford.

“I never would have done fuel cell cars if I had not been at the Tour de Sol,” Mr. Strizki said. The last year of competition was 2006.

He left his state job for the private sector, where he worked on . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and there are photos at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 January 2021 at 3:53 pm

A Canadian ‘Buy Local’ Effort Fights Amazon on Its Own Turf: Not-Amazon.ca

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Geneva Abdul reports in the NY Times about an initiative that could grow rapidly.

The snow was falling outside Ali Haberstroh’s apartment in late November when the idea came to her.

At the time, Canada was nearing a second lockdown to curb rising coronavirus cases. In anticipation, the owner of a vintage clothing store in Toronto who is a friend of Ms. Haberstroh’s had put together a list of other local vintage shops offering curbside pickup and deliveries in lieu of being able to open their doors.

“It was a wake-up call,” Ms. Haberstroh, 27, said of the list, which reminded her how enormous retailers like Walmart, Costco and Amazon had thrived during the pandemic while many smaller, local businesses had been shut. “I thought if there is one tiny thing I can do to help, then I should get on it.”

Inspired to build a more comprehensive list, Ms. Haberstroh promptly created an Instagram post, tagging independent businesses and shopkeepers across Toronto. Included was a new website, Not-Amazon.ca — a URL that she had bought for $2.99.

Introduced as a local list to help keep small businesses alive, Not Amazon was created “so you don’t have to give any money to Amazon this year!” the post read.

What began as a Google spreadsheet with more than 160 businesses collated initially from Ms. Haberstroh’s memory and research became a directory of hundreds that have a website and a high-quality photo and offer nationwide shipping, curbside pickup or delivery.

So far, the website has garnered more than half a million page views and grown to include 4,000 businesses across Toronto, Calgary, Halifax and Vancouver. The site is now submission-based, and thousands of businesses are awaiting Ms. Haberstroh’s approval.

“In a big city like Toronto, where it feels like most businesses are local, I think it’s so easy to think these things will be here forever,” said Ms. Haberstroh, who works as a social media manager at a marketing firm and plans to expand Not Amazon to even more cities. “You don’t think that they’re going to go anywhere.”

Small and medium-size businesses contribute more than 50 percent to Canada’s gross domestic product. But since the pandemic lockdowns, 40 percent of small businesses have reported layoffs while 20 percent have deferred rent payments, according to government data.

At the same time, Amazon and big-box retailers with more robust e-commerce platforms have far outpaced small competitors, turning online shopping from a convenience into a necessity for consumers worldwide.

Ms. Haberstroh’s attempt to even the playing field has been welcomed by small-business owners like Tannis and Mara Bundi, twin sisters who opened the Green Jar in Toronto last December. The store specializes in bulk items, like soap and honey, that customers buy to refill their own containers, reducing single-use plastics and household waste.

When the pandemic took hold in March, the sisters swiftly focused on their online operations and offered pickup and delivery, but even as restrictions eased, business remained touch and go. Since being on the Not Amazon site, the Green Jar has seen online orders rise 500 percent and has been “incredibly busy,” Tannis Bundi said.

“This type of initiative really gave an opportunity for small businesses to be seen and appreciated,” she said. “Large corporations, like Amazon, they’re making millions and millions of dollars, and there’s a disconnect and a detachment. As a small business I have a much smaller carbon footprint, I have a vested interest in my community, and I’m more likely to invest back into my community through charity and hiring locally.”

Amazon declined to comment for this article.

Local campaigns by independent sellers have also  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 January 2021 at 3:38 pm

Facebook managers trash their own ad targeting

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Sam Biddle reports in the Intercept:

FACEBOOK IS CURRENTLY waging a PR campaign purporting to show that Apple is seriously injuring American small businesses through its iOS privacy features. But at the same time, according to allegations in recently unsealed court documents, Facebook has been selling them ad targeting that is unreliable to the point of being fraudulent.

The documents feature internal Facebook communications in which managers appear to admit to major flaws in ad targeting capabilities, including that ads reached the intended audience less than half of the time and that data behind a targeting criterion was “all crap.” Facebook says the material is presented out of context.

The documents emerged from a suit currently seeking class-action certification in federal court. The suit was filed by the owner of Investor Village, a small business that operates a message board on financial topics. Investor Village said in court filings that it decided to buy narrowly targeted Facebook ads because it hoped to reach “highly compensated and educated investors” but “had limited resources to spend on advertising.” But nearly 40 percent of the people who saw Investor Village’s ad either lacked a college degree, did not make $250,000 per year, or both, the company claims. In fact, not a single Facebook user it surveyed met all the targeting criteria it had set for Facebook ads, it says.

The complaint features Facebook documents indicating that the company knew its advertising capabilities were overhyped and underperformed.

A “February 2016 internal memorandum” sent from an unnamed Facebook manager to Andrew Bosworth, a Zuckerberg confidant and powerful company executive who oversaw ad efforts at the time, reads, “[I]nterest precision in the US is only 41%—that means that more than half the time we’re showing ads to someone other than the advertisers’ intended audience. And it is even worse internationally. … We don’t feel we’re meeting advertisers’ interest accuracy expectations today.”

The lawsuit goes on to quote unnamed “employees on Facebook’s ad team” discussing their targeting capabilities circa June 2016:

One engineer celebrated that detailed targeting accounted for “18% of total ads revenue,” and $14.8 million on June 17th alone. Using a smiley emoticon, an engineering manager responded, “Love this chart! Although if the most popular option is to combine interest and behavior, and we know for a fact our behavior is almost all crap, does this mean we are misleading advertiser [sic] a bit? :)” That manager proceeded to suggest further examination of top targeting criteria to “see if we are giving advertiser [sic] false hope.”

“Interest” and “behavior” are two key facets of the data dossiers Facebook compiles on us for advertisers; according to the company, the former includes things you like, “from organic food to action movies,” while the latter consists of “behaviors such as prior purchases and device usage.”

The complaint also cites unspecified internal communications in which “[p]rivately, Facebook managers described important targeting data as ‘crap’ and admitted accuracy was ‘abysmal.’”

Facebook has said in its court filings that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 January 2021 at 3:29 pm

This 1937 Film Perfectly Explains How a Car Differential Works

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The beginning of the video in the article shows a motorcycle team demonstrating its driving skills, but stick with it. Unless you are besotted with motorcycles, you might want to skip to 1:56 in the video, when the actual explanation begins.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 January 2021 at 3:23 pm

Posted in Technology, Video

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