Giving a Tele-Monster, a taste of his own medicine.

Hello Ratburgers!

Most of you know I hate “tele-monsters” with a passion that is unequaled.

I’ve subscribed to NOMOROBO.com  for my home phone and they take care of 99% of the “tele-monsters”. But there was that single ring before NOMOROBO would pick up the line and then disconnect the “tele-monster”. So I found a “First Ring Eliminator” on Amazon and installed that. Now I don’t hear that annoying first ring. (It’s unfortunately not available right now.)

Continue reading “Giving a Tele-Monster, a taste of his own medicine.”

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Science Security

China is stealing our science. They steal copyrighted material, they steal proprietary information, they steal research, they steal research results, and they are grooming a large number of U.S. university researchers to be poached to staff Chinese labs in China.

There was a confab on “Science Security” at the recent meeting of the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities. It was written up for Inside Higher Ed, but it is on the public side of their paywall so you can all read it. I found it to be a fascinating read. Here is the intro:... [Read More]

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Jeff Bezos in 1997: The Origin, Concept, and Promise of Amazon.com

In June, 1997, Jeff Bezos, who still had hair, gave a brief interview during the Special Libraries conference in Seattle.  He explains why he chose books as the first product on which to concentrate, and how building something on-line which couldn’t exist in the real world (a bookstore with access to every book available anywhere) distinguished Amazon from other early E-commerce ventures and generated large amounts of free publicity and word-of-mouth referrals.

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California wind event in Pennsylvania?

Well we had five brief outages of the power tonight, so brief that the clocks on the stove, toaster and alarm clock did not reset. I thought I was in a California wind event! But no, just storms passing through Pennsylvania. I was reading some very old Popular Science articles via google archives and I got rebooted five times.  The wife ain’t too happy either, waiting for the cable TV box to reload takes five minutes.

So next available couple of extra bucks I get I will either buy new car batteries for my big UPS, and run a line from there to my computer area, or buy two little UPSs, one for the TV and Cable box and One for my computer.

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Sympathy for the Devil

Here is Mark Zuckerberg, whose Zucker-butt was summoned for six hours in the witness chair before the U.S. House Financial Services Committee to testify about Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency.  The committee was chaired by that world-renowned authority on finance and economics, “Mad” Maxine Waters.  Here is a link to the full hearing.

During the interminable proceedings, questioning passed to intergalactic-scale economics savant, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for her five minutes in the spotlight.  It almost makes you have sympathy for Zuckerberg.... [Read More]

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Xi v. Christians

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.””

Continue reading “Xi v. Christians”

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Greta Says…

Greta Thunberg: “How sate you deny? Ratburger.org rocks!”

Now you can make Greta the Mindless Climate Puppet say anything you want!  A graphic designer has created a new, free typeface called “Greta Grotesk” based upon the lettering of young Miss Thunberg’s signs.  You can download the font from this page.  The font is in OpenType format (.otf), which is compatible with many systems; here is how to install such fonts on Ubuntu Linux.... [Read More]

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Dark Cloud: “Software as a Service”

Storm cloud cartoonEver 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]

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Saturday Night Science: Tools for Online Privacy

Spy vs. SpyThis 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]

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Book Review: Permanent Record

“Permanent Record” by Edward SnowdenThe 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]

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