I’m still drafting this, too much stuff to weed through this morning. I’ll update as I write. Snag a cup of joe and a pączki while you wait. Make mine raspberry filled, please!
Economic indicators say “Maybe, Try Again”
Asian and European stock markets were a mess this morning. There’s no sign of an agreement between OPEC nations on production and pricing, which may lead to yet more floundering in the stock market. Yet one indicator — truck tonnage on the roads — doesn’t show signs of a recession in the U.S.
UK court cases topsy-turvy: LIBOR Six and a secret trial
Warning: this article omits information that the Guardian and other news organisations are currently prohibited from publishing.
The case, R v Incedal and Rarmoul-Bouhadjar, continues to look like a star chamber, with very little information available to the public about the case. The accused have been charged and served time, but the media has been unable to freely access information about the case, and their appeal has now been denied. A very ugly precedent for a so-called free country.
Facebook: French trouble, and no free internet in India
Boy kicked out of school because of his DNA
This is a really sad story not resolved by the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). The boy has cystic fibrosis; his parents informed the school on his paperwork, as they should in such cases. But because of the risks to the boy or his siblings with similar genes, the boy was asked to leave. GINA, unfortunately, does not protect against discrimination in education, only in healthcare and employment. This is a problem Congress should take up with an amendment to GINA. No child should be discriminated against in education because of their genes over which they have no control, any more than a child should be discriminated against because of their race, gender identity, or sexuality.
All right, get your party on, scarf down the last of your excess sweets, for tomorrow is sackcloth and ashes. I can hardly wait for the sugar hangover to come.
Most of the time, I’m here in Michigan and I’m taking out the garbage every Monday. — Bob Seger
Morning-after blues now set in, feeling the weight of too much beer and cheese, doing the Walk of Shame, reeking of regret. Gotta’ love American excess in all things, including sports.
Take out last night’s garbage, pour yourself an herbal tea or a detox smoothie, and let’s get back at it. Speaking of garbage…
VW expected to make appetizing offer to U.S. passenger diesel owners — BUT…
The German car maker has still not decided whether vehicle owners will be offered cash, car buy-backs, repairs or replacement cars, Kenneth Feinberg told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.
In other words, everything compensation manager Kenneth Feinberg said on behalf of VW for a German media outlet is vaporware. Best to keep in mind Feinberg has previously represented shining examples of corporate ethics like BP after the Deepwater Horizon spill.
Zika, Zika, Zika…
The virus is now driving some people mad — and they’re not even infected. Like Republican presidential candidates who believe persons traveling to the U.S. should be quarantined if they come to the U.S. from Brazil (Christie), or could be quarantined if they have been infected (Carson). Or scientists pushing to kill all the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, without much thought for what removal of a species of insects will do to the rest of the ecological system which they’ve made home. Viruses are opportunistic; lose one host and they’ll hop to another. Are scientists modeling that next likely host?
Electronic toy maker VTech offers to buy LeapFrog
LeapFrog was popular with my kids 10 years ago; their line of educational toys helped my kids’ grades with spelling test games. But LeapFrog made a strategic error leaving the smaller handheld games for children’s tablets, and is now limping along. VTech has its own problems with technology, like the recent breach of user data, exposing millions of children and their families. Perhaps LeapFrog’s information technology will help shore up VTech’s through this acquisition.
Death from outer space
A bus driver in India may have been the first recorded casualty of a meteorite this weekend. Three others were injured when the meteorite exploded, leaving a small crater and broken windows.
Gong Xi Fa Cai or Gong Hey Fat Choy to you, depending on whether you speak Mandarin or Cantonese, as we enter the Year of the Monkey. Oops, perhaps you shouldn’t take out the trash just yet, especially if it requires sweeping. It’s bad luck to do so on the first new moon of the year — you might sweep your good luck out the door! Oh, your team lost last night? Sweep away. Best wishes for a prosperous new year!
And all of the communications generates massive amounts of data surely monitored in some way, no matter what our glorious government may tell us to the contrary. The Super Bowl is a National Special Security Event (NSSE), rated with a Special Event Assignment Rating (SEAR) level 1. The designation ensures the advance planning and involvement of all the three-letter federal agencies responsible for intelligence and counterterrorism you can think of, as well as their state and local counterparts. They will be watching physical and electronic behavior closely.
Part of the advance preparation includes establishing a large no-fly zone around the Bay Area. Non-government drones will also be prohibited in this airspace.
What’s not clear to the public: what measures have been taken to assure communications continuity in the same region? Yeah, yeah — we all know they’ll be watching, but how many of the more than one million visitors to the Bay Area for the Super Bowl are aware of the unsolved 15 or 16 telecom cable cuts that happened over the last couple of years? What percentage of local residents have paid or are paying any attention at all to telecommunications infrastructure, or whether crews “working” on infrastructure are legitimate or not?
Planning for a SEAR 1 event begins almost as soon as the venue is announced — perhaps even earlier. In the case of Super Bowl 50, planning began at least as early as the date the game was announced nearly 34 months ago on March 28th, 2014. The Levi’s stadium was still under construction as late as August that same year.
And the first cable cut event happened nearly a year earlier, on April 16, 2013 — six months after Levi’s Stadium was declared one of two finalists to host the 50th Super Bowl, and one month before Levi’s was awarded the slot by NFL owners.
News about a series of 11 cable cuts drew national attention last summer when the FBI asked for the public’s assistance. These events happened to the east of San Francisco Bay though some of them are surely inside the 32-mile radius no-fly zone observed this evening.
But what about the other cuts which took place after April 2013, and after the last of 11 cuts in June 2015? News reports vary but refer to a total of 15 or 16 cuts about which law enforcement has insufficient information to charge anyone with vandalism or worse. A report last month quotes an FBI spokesperson saying there were 15 attacks against fiber optic cable since 2014. Based on the date, the number of cuts excludes the first event from April 2013, suggesting an additional four cuts have occurred since June 2015.
Where did these cuts occur? Were they located inside tonight’s no-fly zone? Will any disruption to communications services be noticed this evening, when so many users are flooding telecommunications infrastructure? Will residents and visitors alike even notice any unusual technicians at work if there is any disruption?
Keep your eyes peeled, football fans.
I got nasty habits; I take tea at three.
— Mick Jagger
Hah. Just be careful what water you use to make that tea, Mick. Could be an entirely different realm of nasty.
Late start here, too much to read this morning. I’ll keep updating this as I write. Start your day off, though, by reading Marcy’s post from last night. The claws are coming out, the life boats are getting punctured.
Many WordPress-powered sites infected with ransomware
Your next assignment this morning: check and update applications as out-of-date versions of Adobe Flash Player, Adobe Reader, Microsoft Silverlight, or Internet Explorer are most prone to this new wave of ransomware affecting WordPress sites. Back up all your data files to offline media in case you are hit with ransomware, and make it a habit to back up data files more frequently.
Planes inbound to the UK from regions with Zika virus may be sprayed
Take one tightly-closed oversized can, spray interior with insecticide, then insert humans before sealing for several hours. This sounds like a spectacularly bad idea to me. What about you? Yet this is what the UK is poised to do with planes flying in from areas with frequent Zika infections.
Comcast a possible smartphone service provider
NO. I don’t even have Comcast, yet I think this company is one of the worst suited to offering smartphones and service to their users. The company has expressed interest in bidding on spectrum for wireless, however. Comcast has struggled for years with one of — if not THE — worst reps for customer service. How do they think they will manage to expand their service offering without pissing off more customers?
AT&T obstructing muni broadband
No surprise here that AT&T is lobbying hard against more broadband, especially that offered by communities. The public knows there’s a problem with marketplace competition when they don’t have multiple choices for broadband, and they want solutions even if they have to build it themselves. When AT&T annoys a Republican lawmaker while squelching competition, they’ve gone too far. Keep an eye on this one as it may shape muni broadband everywhere.
VW delayed both its earnings report scheduled March 10th and its annual meeting scheduled April 21. The car maker says it needs more time to assess impact of the emissions control scandal on its books. New dates for the report and meeting have not been announced.
Volkswagen Financial Services, the banking arm of VW’s holding company structure which finances auto sales and leases, suffers from the ongoing scandal. Ratings firms have downgraded both the bank and parent firm. Not mentioned in the article: potential negative impact of emissions control scandal on VW’s captive reinsurer, Volkswagen Insurance Company Ltd (VICO).
Both the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency filed a civil suit against VW in Detroit this week. Separate criminal charges are still possible.
That’s a wrap, I’m all caught up on my usual read-feed. Get nasty as you want come 5:00 p.m. because it’s Friday!
You know the joke: 4:30 p.m. is better than an hour away from 5:00 p.m., right? Thursday is better than a week away from the weekend. For folks traveling home for the Lunar New Year holiday in China, there are four days left to get home, and the train stations are crazy-full. But today is better than five days away from family and friends.
Goldman Sachs questions capitalism
YEAH. I KNOW. I did a double-take when I read the hed on this piece. In a GS analysts’ note they wrote, “There are broader questions to be asked about the efficacy of capitalism.” They’re freaking out because the market isn’t acting the way it’s supposed to, where new entrants respond to fat margins generated by first-to-market or mature producers.
I wonder how much longer it will take them to realize they killed the golden goose with their plutocratic rewards for oligopolies? How long before they realize this isn’t capitalism at all?
Whistleblower tells Swiss (and banks) to get over themselves on whistleblowing
Interviewed last week, former UBS banker Bradley Birkenfeld said, “We have to make some changes in Switzerland — it’s long overdue … The environment there is hostile toward people exposing corruption.” Birkenfeld’s remarks prod Swiss lawmakers currently at work on whistleblowing legislation. When passed, the law is not expected to offer protections employees have in the U.S. and the UK (and we know those are thin and constantly under attack). But perhaps the law will prevent cases like Nestle SA’s suit against a former executive who disclosed food safety risks. That suit and another alleging a former UBS employee libeled the bank may be affected assuming the EU adopts the same approach toward whistleblowing and corruption reduction.
“Computer failure” at IRS halts acceptance of tax return e-filings
No details about the nature of the “computer failure” apart from a “hardware problem” or “hardware failure” appeared in any reports yesterday afternoon and overnight. The IRS expects to have repairs completed today to allow e-filings once again; filings already submitted are not affected.
FBI agent on new car purchases: entering ‘wild, wild west’
Four cybersecurity experts spoke at a meeting of the Automotive Press Association in Detroit yesterday, one of whom was an FBI cyber squad agent. The feedback from the speakers wasn’t reassuring, apart from the observation by a specialist from a start-up automotive cyber security firm that they did not know of a “real world incident where someone’s vehicle was attacked and taken over remotely by someone hacking into the vehicle.” A lawyer whose firm handles automotive industry cyber threats undercut any feeling of relief with an observation that judges aren’t savvy about cyber crime on vehicles. I think I’ll stick with my old school car for a while longer.
The Repair Coalition formed to protect the ‘Right to Repair’
Speaking of old school car, I hope I can continue to get it repaired in the future without worrying about lawsuits for copyright violations. We’ve already seen tractor owners in conflict with John Deere over repairs, and exemptions to copyright for repair have been granted only after tedious and costly effort, and then to the farmer only, not to their mechanic. Hence the emergence of The Repair Coalition, which takes aim at repealing the DMCA’s Section 1201 — terms in it make it illegal to “circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under [the DMCA].”
It’s long been an American ethic to “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without,” an ethic we need to restore to primacy if we are to reduce our CO2 footprint. Repairing rather than tossing goods is essential to our environmental health, let alone a necessity when wages for lower income workers remain stagnant.
That’s a wrap — I could go on but now we’re better than a day away from Friday. Whew.
Zika virus infects media with crappy reporting
I can’t tell you how many times in the last 24 hours I yelled at my computer, “Are you f****** kidding me with this crap?” With so many news outlets focused on hot takes rather than getting the story right, stupidity reached pandemic levels faster than mosquito-borne viruses. And all because Dallas County health officials and the Center for Disease Control used the words “sexually transmitted” in reference to a new Zika case in the U.S.
The following sampling of heds, tweets, and reports? WRONG.
The first case in which Zika virus was contracted inside the continental U.S. occurred in 2008. This was the first sexual transmission of the virus in the continental U.S. as well. Scientist Brian Foy had been studying Zika in Senegal during an outbreak; he had been infected by the virus, became ill, and was still carrying the virus when he came home to Colorado. His wife became infected though she had not traveled abroad, had not been bitten by a mosquito, and children residing in their home did not contract the virus. More details on the case can be found here.
The first cases of Zika virus in the U.S. in this outbreak were not locally transmitted inside the U.S., but contracted outside the continental 48 states and diagnosed on return here. States in which cases have been reported include Hawaii, New York, Virginia, Arkansas, Florida, and now Texas — in the case of the traveler who brought the disease home and infected their partner through sex.
It’s incredible how very little effort many news outlets put into researching the virus’ history or the case in Texas. Bonus points to Newsweek for trying to get it wrong in multiple tweets for the same story.
Gonna’ be a massive Patch Day for F-35 sometime soon
Whether or not Monday’s earthshaking sonic booms over New Jersey were generated by F-35 test flights, there’s still a long and scary list of bugs to be fixed on the fighter jet before it is ready for primetime. Just read this; any pilot testing these now is either a stone-cold hero, or a crazed numbnuts, and they’d better weigh between 136 and 165 pounds to improve their odds of survival.
Oral Roberts University mandates students wear FitBits for tracking
Guess the old “Mark of the Beast” is interpreted loosely at ORU in Oklahoma. Fitness is measured on campus by more than theological benchmarks. Begs the question: who would Jesus monitor?
The last straw: Fisher Price Wi-Fi-enabled toys leave kids’ info out in the open
Fisher Price is the fourth known manufacturer of products aimed at children and their families in which the privacy and safety of children were compromised by poor information security. In this case, Smart Toy Bears are leaking information about their young owners. Maybe it’s about time that either the FCC or FTC or Congress looks into this trend and the possibility toy makers are not at all concerned with keeping their youngest customers safe.
Forgot to note the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing on lead contaminated drinking water in Flint, Michigan at 9:00 a.m. EST. C-SPAN3 will carry the hearing live.
Tap the brakes a few more times before you take off, eh? It’s all downhill from here.
The lesson: it’s hell by choice. Let’s choose better. What’ll we choose today?
BPS, replacement for plastic additive BPA, not so safe after all
Here’s a questionable choice we could examine: using BPS in “BPA-free” plastics. A study by Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA found that BPS negatively affects reproductive organs and increased the likelihood of “premature birth” in zebrafish, accelerating development of the embryos. Relatively small amounts and short exposures produced effects.
As disturbing as this finding may be, the FDA’s approach to BPA is worrisome. Unchanged since 2014 in spite of the many studies on BPA, the FDA’s website says BPA is safe. Wonder how long it will be before the FDA’s site says BPS is likewise safe?
Exoskeleton assists paraplegic for only $40,000
Adjustable to its wearer’s body, SuitX’s exoskeleton helps paraplegic users to walk, though crutches are still needed. It’s not a perfect answer to mobility given the amount of time it takes to put on the gear, but it could help paraplegics avoid injuries due to sitting for too long in wheelchairs. It’s much less expensive than a competing exoskeleton at $70K; the price is expected to fall over time.
SuitX received an NSF grant of $750,000 last April for its exoskeleton work. Seems like a ridiculous bargain considering how much we’ve already invested in DARPA and other MIC-development of exoskeletons with nothing commercial to show for it. Perhaps we should choose to fund more NSF grants instead of DOD research?
Patches and more patches — Cisco, Android, Microsoft
Dudes behaving badly
I know I’ve missed something I meant to post, but I’ll choose to post it tomorrow and crawl back into my nest this morning to avoid my shadow. In the meantime, don’t drive angry!
Need more of it than usual given the wacky stuff I’ve been reading into the wee hours over the weekend — like this stuff:
Former DHS Secretary now University of California prez surveils staff emails
Holy cats. This is ugly. After an alleged network security breach in June last year at UCLA’s medical center, an outside party was contracted by University of California president Janet Napolitano to monitor networks at all of University of California’s campuses. Collection of content both inbound and outbound, in violation of UoC-Berkeley’s IT policy, is alleged. UCOP has been opaque about the reason for the monitoring or data collection. Keep an eye on this case.
DDoS attack on HSBC crimps UK freelancers’ tax filing
The end of January in the United Kingdom is the filing deadline for the self-employed. Unfortunately, those who banked with HSBC lost access to their records for roughly four hours on Friday due to a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. It’s the second service outage inside a month for HSBC. The last outage lasted roughly two days but was not attributed to a DDoS. If UK lawmakers were testy after the first outage in January, they’re going to be ugly today.
Oil crash: massive wealth transfer, or increased dependency on oil?
Francisco Blanch, Commodities and Derivatives Strategist at BofA Merrill Lynch, claims plummeting oil prices have transferred roughly $3 trillion to consumers away from oil producers, and the resulting uptick in consumption will spur the economy. This assumption neatly ignores the likelihood consumers will have to pay one way or another for increasing losses due to unchecked climate change. Buying more insurance against weather damage and paying more taxes to replace infrastructure, as well as paying more for food due to crop losses won’t stimulate anything but consumer frustration.
War of words inside military about F-35’s readiness
In a December memo, the Defense Department’s director of operational test and evaluation Michael Gilmore wrote that the Joint Program Office’s July 2017 deadline for the F-35 jet’s full warfighting capability is “not realistic.” Software completion, testing and debugging is the risk. Folks in JPO are pushing back, with at least one official grousing online. So not cool, JPO. Address the concerns and then get to work on that software. Americans are paying for a working jet, not trash talk on Facebook.
Speaking of military…Sonic boom(s) caused minor earthquake in New Jersey
Just for fun, browse through a Twitter search for tweets from last Friday. Something caused more than one sonic boom — perhaps as many as nine — loud enough to register as an earthquake on USGS’ meters. At first, the military said it knew nothing about it, claiming there are no training exercises or other missions in the area. NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility-Virginia, Federal Aviation Administration, and the North American Aerospace Defense Command had no knowledge of flights in the area capable of generating sonic booms. But then the Navy piped up later, saying the Naval Test Wing Atlantic had been conducting test flights. Though not named, the F-35 fighter is believed to be the source of the booms. Were JPO and Lockheed Martin trying to make a rather loud and indiscreet point?
Or were the sonic booms due to some other unknown/unspecified cause, given Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst’s inability to explain the booms when asked? USGS’ website is still taking feedback from folks in New Jersey — did you feel the earth move, too?
Time to taper off from espresso and move to an Americano. Hope your Monday is as caffeinated as you need it to be.
Sun Tzu said,
“There are five occasions when victory can be foretold: When the general knows the time to fight and when not to fight…”
Fridays are lousy times for fights, eh? Unless it’s just for fun.
Speaking of fun…
Oil crash wreaking havoc with MIC
Huh. Who could have guessed when buyers of defense goods suffer deep cuts in income, their suppliers feel the same pinch?
Kolkata-based call center workers arrested for telecom fraud
Some cyberthreats aren’t malware or hackers, but human beings with ready access to customers’ personal information and banking. In this case, three call center employees at Wipro-India working on UK accounts committed fraud of undisclosed nature, costing thousands of pounds. Seems to me these folks couldn’t have been too bright, traceability should have been easy. And being located in India offered no protection for either the criminals or the victims.
Zika virus may be transmitted sexually?
At least two cases so far suggest the virus may be transferred between partners during sex. One case involved a Colorado State University researcher who came down with Zika in 2008 after infection in Senegal. His wife came down with it after he came home from abroad; both tested positive for Zika antibodies. His children in the same household did not get sick, however.
Ukrainian power plant attackers now using BlackEnergy-infected Word documents
Though earlier attempts to launch BlackEnergy relied on Powerpoint and Excel documents, the attackers now use Word documents — but all document types contained macros that were enabled. Kaspersky’s SecureList says the entities most at risk for BlackEnergy infection are:
At some point, this will move beyond energy and government targets. Keep your software patched and updated, run antivirus frequently, don’t open emails or documents you weren’t expecting, and only enable macros after validating the document’s source. This is pretty much standard operating practice for the last decade if you’ve been smart.
If you’re looking for something to read this weekend, you might try comparing two different translations of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. The quote I used above is from the E. F. Calthrop version; the same bit in the Lionel Giles version renders,
“Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory: … He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. …”
The Giles version is both more simplistic — at some points too much so — but filled with supplemental commentators’ content fleshing out interpretation. Relevant to political and business warfare, as much as traditional and asymmetric warfare today.
Save me a seat at the bar at the end of the day!
War All The Time — seems appropriate now, and it’s been more than a dozen years since this song was released. Also rather pathetic that MTV censored a reference to suicide in this tune, like a drop of merthiolate on a gaping wound.
Say it isn’t so, girl! Wendy’s investigating possible breaches
On the face it, this doesn’t sound like a corporate-wide cybersecurity event. It may be confined to specific stores. But fast food chain Wendy’s contracted a security firm to look into unauthorized credit card charges made to cards used at their stores. Wendy’s joins Jimmy John’s and Chick-Fil-A in the growing list of compromised fast food chains.
Ransomware infects Israel’s Electric Authority
No outage has been reported as a result of ransomware infection of Israel’s electrical power system via phishing. Computers may have been isolated from the system’s network, though. The full extent of the malware’s impact is difficult to determine from reports available online; some likened this to the cyberattack on a Ukrainian power plant, and others called this a hacking, though neither description appears to fit well.
California struggles with self-driving car regulations
Oh dear Cthulhu…this bit:
Google has concluded that human error is the biggest risk in driving, and the company wants to remove the steering wheel and pedals from cars, giving people minimal ability to take over.
But computers never, ever make mistakes, right? No wonder California is struggling with this…but no. Even though Google’s DeepMind AI mastered GO a decade early, it can’t master California’s highways.
New high-speed wireless internet service launched by former Aereo CEO
Using microwave technology, new gigabit internet service provider Starry will begin in Boston this year once the FCC approves a limited test run in 15 cities. For now, this looks like a solution for urban areas, but it could be an alternative in rural areas where existing telecoms/ISPs fail to provide high-speed internet in spite of federal funds allocated to expand coverage. Imagine using wind turbine towers for Starry microcells to carry gigabit service to rural America.
All right, everybody back to the front, back to the foreverwar.