China demolished a church. Not just any church; this was an impressive megachurch that was built for massive worship services. There was no warning. Demolition crews and police showed up during a worship service, started tearing the building down with a large track crane, and evicted the worshippers. The next day they arrested the pastors:
“…officials detained the church’s pastors, Geng Yimin and Sun Yongyao, on suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order.””
Ever since the emergence of the personal computer software market in the 1970s, vendors mostly adopted an “outright sale” model of licensing. The customer purchased the product, often originally in a shrink-wrapped box, which delivered the software on media such as floppy discs or CD-ROM, along with a license which (usually) conferred the perpetual right to use the software on one computer. This model, adopted from the consumer electronics industry, is not a particularly good fit for the software business. Unlike a television set or even a personal computer, software continues to evolve over time, as new features are added, support for new and more capable hardware is integrated, changes are made to maintain compatibility with the underlying software platform (operating system, window manager, database package, etc.), and modifications are made to comply with and support evolving industry standards.
All of this requires ongoing investment by the software vendor, and if revenue is received just once, with the initial purchase, it’s difficult to see how this can be funded, especially once the period of rapid growth comes to an end and a product obtains a large market share with an installed base which have already paid for it. Trying to persuade users to buy an entire new product and discard the old one is a non-starter, except for some very low price point products such as games (where the update is usually positioned as a new edition in a series). So, vendors mostly tried to persuade their installed base to pay for updates, at a fraction of the price of the original software, and customers constantly pushed back about the cost of the updates and often continued to use ancient versions of the software, which caused the vendor headaches and customers difficulty when older versions of a program wouldn’t read files written by the current release.... [Read More]
This will be a somewhat different installment of Saturday Night Science. Rather than discussing a book or news related to science and technology, this time, motivated by having recently read and reviewed Edward Snowden’s Permanent Record, I’m going to survey some of the tools individuals can use to attempt to reclaim a bit of their privacy in the face of ubiquitous mass surveillance by governments and technology companies. This is not intended to be an encyclopedic survey of the field, which is vast, complicated, and constantly changing. Instead, this is an introduction intended to point readers toward tools and approaches, many of which I have used myself, discuss trade-offs between security and convenience, and provide links for further research. The various topics are largely independent of one another, and are discussed in no particular order.
Private Web Browsing
At this writing, the most widely used Web browser is Google’s Chrome, with a market share around 65% which is expected to grow to more than 70% by the end of 2019. Chrome is famous for “phoning home”: every site you visit, link you follow, search you perform, and choice you make from the suggestions it so helpfully provides you is potentially reported back to Google headquarters. This is stored in a dossier maintained about you, especially if you have, as you’re encouraged to, signed the browser in to your Google Account. That’s how they manage to show you advertisements so exquisitely (or sometimes humorously) targeted based upon your online activity. But you don’t have to be paranoid to worry about the consequences of, dare I say, such a permanent record being used against you should you come to the attention of the enforcers of good-think who abound in Silicon Valley.... [Read More]
The revolution in communication and computing technologies which has continually accelerated since the introduction of integrated circuits in the 1960s and has since given rise to the Internet, ubiquitous mobile telephony, vast data centres with formidable processing and storage capacity, and technologies such as natural language text processing, voice recognition, and image analysis, has created the potential, for the first time in human history, of mass surveillance to a degree unimagined even in dystopian fiction such as George Orwell’s 1984 or attempted by the secret police of totalitarian regimes like the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, or North Korea. But, residents of enlightened developed countries such as the United States thought, they were protected, by legal safeguards such as the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, from having their government deploy such forbidding tools against its own citizens. Certainly, there was awareness, from disclosures such as those in James Bamford’s 1982 book The Puzzle Palace, that agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA) were employing advanced and highly secret technologies to spy upon foreign governments and their agents who might attempt to harm the United States and its citizens, but their activities were circumscribed by a legal framework which strictly limited the scope of their domestic activities.
Well, that’s what most people believed until the courageous acts by Edward Snowden, a senior technical contractor working for the NSA, revealed, in 2013, multiple programs of indiscriminate mass surveillance directed against, well, everybody in the world, U.S. citizens most definitely included. The NSA had developed and deployed a large array of hardware and software tools whose mission was essentially to capture all the communications and personal data of everybody in the world, scan it for items of interest, and store it forever where it could be accessed in future investigations. Data were collected through a multitude of means: monitoring traffic across the Internet, collecting mobile phone call and location data (estimated at five billion records per day in 2013), spidering data from Web sites, breaking vulnerable encryption technologies, working with “corporate partners” to snoop data passing through their facilities, and fusing this vast and varied data with query tools such as XKEYSCORE, which might be thought of as a Google search engine built by people who from the outset proclaimed, “Heck yes, we’re evil!”... [Read More]
I learned of Raspberry Pi for the first time from John Walker a few weeks ago, with his announcement of the debut of Pi 4. As they are in great demand, it took nearly 2 weeks to get a hold of one with 4Gb RAM. I recall John advising to always get as much RAM as possible – I did so.... [Read More]
From VR and esports to wrestling and supercharged Ferraris, from atomic processing for personal computers to rocket engineering for extra-planetary colonization, John Carmack talks for a couple hours on Joe Rogan’s podcast. Sometimes it’s a pleasure to just listen to a smart man talk.
Being parsimonious, I can’t see spending $1000 every 4 or 5 years (if I’m lucky) for new MacBook Airs for both my wife and for me. We use them for simple things. She: email, crossword puzzles, sudoku, jigsaw puzzles. Me: email, Ratburger, vast right-wing conspiracy perusal, word processing, household management via more websites than I can count (banks, utilities, memberships, Amazon, education, etc.) each with unknowable login credentials (which are now all different for obvious security reasons).
To help manage this, beyond Safari Keychain, I recently bought 1Password. Bottom line: I want to migrate all my user-created materials and login credentials to a new platform(s), either a new Chromebook and/or a soon-to-be shipped Raspberry Pi 4 (I am excited by the prospect of finally learning some programming and one of the Linux-based operating systems. Thanks to John, I am particularly curious about Ubuntu. As well, since I have a new iPhone Xr with face recognition, I am feeling more comfortable doing more of the above online tasks on this device. Until now, I have been loathe to put my credentials on a mobile phone.... [Read More]
I listen to a lot of bemoaning of technology today, most focusing on phones. Yes, they can entice bad habit behavior, like cigarettes used to , along with television and government subsidies. This is a bit of thought on the positive aspects of this technology. It all started with a Ratburger comment….
(Hypatia made a comment on the “Things that used to be true” post that got me thinking. I started a reply, but it got way too verbose and was distinctly off thread of conversation, so here it is:)... [Read More]
It comes across as a FUD campaign: we’ll temporarily ban people who did something wrong according to rules we haven’t shared, but we won’t tell you what they did, what can be done to prevent similar actions, or whether we’ll change the [unshared] rules again without telling you. . . . Bluntly put, I feel much less safe working on a Wikimedia project today than I did a week ago, because one of the most fundamental understandings I had about working here has now been proven wrong.... [Read More]
A little bit of the Roaring Twenties has just fallen into 2019. Raspberry Pi 4 has just been announced and is now shipping. As soon as the distribution pipeline is filled, you’ll be able to buy one (or fifty, or ten thousand) from your favourite distributor. This is the fourth generation of Raspberry Pi since the introduction of the series in 2012.
Raspberry Pi is a single-board computer, around the size of a credit card, based upon the ARM family of low-power microprocessors. Unlike the Arduino family of microcontrollers, which are primarily used as embedded processors and programmed on other platforms, the Raspberry Pi is a general-purpose computing platform which, with an attached keyboard, mouse, monitor(s), and network connection, can be used to develop software using the tools with which programmers are familiar on desktop platforms, usually based upon the Linux operating system, for which a Raspberry Pi distribution called Raspbian is the most popular.... [Read More]
The Founder of SQLite I heard was forced to put up a “Code of Conduct” and put up an interesting one. I had never heard of this. I was reading at PJMEDIA how a knitting site Ravelry has decided to take all things Trump from their site because it was deemed to be too unwoken. In the discussion a reference was made to SQLite founder’s code. It surprised me. How did he ever get away with this?... [Read More]