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Thursday Morning: A Little Green Around The Gills

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to those of you who observe this opportunity to drink beer (tinted green or otherwise) and eat boiled dinner and wear green! We’ll know the hardcore among you tomorrow by your hangovers.

Folks overseas don’t understand how St. Patrick’s Day blew up to the same proportions as other holidays like Halloween, blaming it on American commercialization. But the holiday as observed in the U.S., like Halloween, has roots in immigration. Four to five million Irish immigrated to the U.S.; their descendants here are nearly 40 million today, roughly seven times the number of actual Irish in Ireland now. With this many Irish-Americans, even a tepid observation of St. Patrick’s Day here would be visible abroad.

In addition to all things green, we’ll be watching this week’s second #FlintWaterCrisis hearing. Representatives Chaffetz and Cummings can go all shouty on Michigan’s OneLawyeredUpNerd Governor Rick Snyder and EPA’s Gina McCarthy though I have my doubts anything new will emerge. (And you’ll see me get really angry if Rep. SlackerForMichigan Tim Walberg shows up to merely make face on camera. Useless helicoptering.)

Unlike Tuesday, I hope like hell somebody brings up Legionnaire’s cases and deaths in Flint after the cut-over of Flint’s water to Flint River. Thousands of children may have been permanently poisoned by lead, but people sickened and died because of this complete failure of government-as-a-business.

I can’t stress this enough: There were fatalities in Flint because of the water.

Hearing details – set a reminder now:

Thursday 17-MAR — 9:00 AM — Gov. Snyder (R-MI) & EPA Head McCarthy: House Hearing on Flint, MI Water Crisis (est 3 hours, on C-SPAN3)   Link to House Oversight Committee calendar entry

You can find my timeline on Flint’s water here — as noted Tuesday, it’s a work in progress and still needs more entries.

Moving on…

Apple leaves Amazon for Google’s cloud service
Wait, what?! File under ‘Wow, I didn’t know!’ because I really though Apple housed all its cloud services under its own roof. I mean, I’ve written about data farms before, pointed to a new Apple location. I didn’t know Apple had outsourced some of its iCloud to Amazon.

Which makes Senator Ron Wyden’s remarks about asking the NSA with regard to the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone even more interesting.

No wonder Apple is moving to Google, considering Amazon’s relationship with certain government agencies as a cloud service provider. Some of Apple’s data will remain with Amazon for now; we might wonder if this is content like iTunes versus users’ data. Keep your eyes open for future Apple cloud migrations.

US Navy sailors’ electronic devices combed for data by Iran
Gee, encrypted devices and communications sure are handy when members of the military are taken into custody by other countries. Too bad the Navy’s devices weren’t as secure as desired when Iran’s navy detained an American vessel in January this year. To be fair, we don’t know what all was obtained, if any of the data was usable. But if the devices were fully encrypted, Iran probably wouldn’t have said anything.

American Express’ customers’ data breached — in 2013
Looks like a select number of AmEx customers will receive a data breach notice with this explanation:

We became aware that a third party service provider engaged by numerous merchants experienced unauthorized access to its system. Account information of some of our Card Members, including some of your account information, may have been involved. It is important to note that American Express owned or controlled systems were not compromised by this incident, and we are providing this notice to you as a precautionary measure.

The breach happened on December 7, 2013, well into the Christmas shopping season, but we’re just finding out now? “Third party service” means “not our fault” — which may explain why AmEx shareholders (NASDAQ:AXP) haven’t been notified of a potential risk to stock value as yet. Who/what was the third party service? Where’s their notification to public and shareholders?

I need to brew some coffee and limber up before the hearing on Flint, track down my foam footballs and baseballs to throw at the TV while Gov. Snyder goes on about how sorry he is and how he’s going to fix Flint’s water crisis. Oh, and find an emesis basin. See you here tomorrow morning!

Monday Morning: Put Your Pom-poms Down

A certain state governor (or his PR team) tweeted a bunch of smack last night during the Democratic presidential candidates’ debate. Like this:

RSnyder_tweet_06MAR2016

It is to laugh. Every decision made by this administration about Flint has been about money, not about the right thing, and not even about the legal thing.

He put his pom-poms down last week long enough to lawyer up, though. Mm-hmm.

By the way, that’s the NSFW version – here’s the language-sanitized clean version of that video for your office space. Crank the volume and bring it.

All around Apple town

  • Email provider Lavabit filed an amicus brief in #AppleVsFBI, arguing the FBI’s demands could have adverse affects on businesses:

    Such precedence would likely result in many businesses moving their operations offshore, therefore, making it more difficult for law enforcement to obtain even ordinary assistance from such companies…

    Wow, sounds familiar, huh? Brief’s worth a read (pdf).

  • Apple VP of software engineering Craig Federighi wrote an op-ed for yesterday’s WaPo, restating an opinion Apple and many of its supporters already expressed:

    “…it’s so disappointing that the FBI, Justice Department and others in law enforcement are pressing us to turn back the clock to a less-secure time and less-secure technologies. …”

  • The stakes get higher in #AppleVsFBI as Apple prepares to launch several new iPhones and an iPad on March 21. We all know a decision by Judge Pym will affect these devices in the future, not just the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone 5C.
  • And just to keep Apple users even more on their toes, there’s now Apple ransomware on the loose. So far only Mac devices have been targeted, but it’s only a matter of time before other Apple devices are similarly affected. I’d put my money on higher profile users or those using iPhones to remotely control costly systems.

Quickety-lickety

And on this day in 1876, U.S. Patent 174,465 for Improvement in Telegraphy was granted to Alexander Graham Bell.

What will they write about this day in another 140 years? Do something worth writing about.

Thursday Morning: Don’t Feel Bad

While I am sorry a family has lost their father, I can’t mourn the bizarre passing yesterday of Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon.

McClendon had been indicted Tuesday for price fixing on real estate related to natural gas and oil development. Charges against him had been expected since 2012 when the violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act came to light.

But for a Michigander like me, this is not a remote and abstract story. Property over the Collingwood Shale formation in Northern Michigan was included in collusion between McClendon and Encana Oil & Gas executives to “avoid bidding up” prices. Between Chesapeake and Canadian corporation Encana, the two businesses owned nearly a million acres of Michigan — a chunk of land the size of Rhode Island.

Imagine it: two corporations buying a state-sized mass of land at rigged prices within a state. And all of it with underground water connected to a couple of the largest freshwater bodies in the world, much of it earmarked for fracking.

Energy visionary“? That’s what other resources leeches might call McClendon, who was at the heart of a dispute over Lake Michigan shoreline property. The land had been willed to “the children” of Benton Harbor by former residents J.N. and Carrie Klock, in memory of their daughter Jean, for use as a public park. In dedicating the land, J.N. Klock said, “…See to it that the park is the children’s.”

It was the only such lakefront park for Benton Harbor, a financially-challenged city with 89% African American residents. But the property adjoined the intended development of a Jack Nicklaus golf course, and the McClendon family as well as other notable figures (like Rep. Fred Upton and Whirlpool CEO Jeff Fettig) lived in the neighborhood of both the intended golf course and Jean Klock Park. The dispute caused considerable heartburn for Benton Harbor residents. It still boggles my mind that wealthy parasites like McClendon simply felt they could ignore the intent of the Klocks’ intentions, their proxies arguing the pricey (read: unaffordable to the average Benton Harborite) golf course would meet the standard of public access.

Note also, that Benton Harbor was among the Michigan cities to which an emergency financial manager had been appointed because of its municipal financial crisis — just like Flint, Michigan.

I can only imagine what other parasitic nonsense will emerge in the debris field left by McClendon. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Quick hits

That’s enough damage for now. Be anti-parasitic and do something nice for others today.

Tuesday Morning: Guidance to Be True

Now an oldie but goodie, this Fiona Apple ditty. The subtle undertow of irony seems fitting today.

Speaking of guidance…

Google’s self-driving car went boom
Oops. Autonomous vehicles still not a thing when they can’t avoid something the size of a bus. Thank goodness nobody was hurt. Granted, until now Google’s self-driving test cars were not the cause of accidents — human drivers have been at fault far more often. In this particular accident, both the car and the human test driver may have been at fault.

VW’s CEO Mueller spins the (PR) wheels on agreement with U.S.
This is now a habit: before every major international automotive show, VW’s Matthias Mueller grants an interview to offer upbeat commentary on the emissions standards cheating scandal, this time ahead of the 2016 Geneva International Auto Show. Not certain if this is helping at all; there’s not much PR can do when no truly effective technical fix exists while potential liability to the U.S. alone may approach $46 billion. Probably a better use of my time to skip Mueller’s spin and spend my time slobbering over the Bugatti Chiron. ~fanning self~

Apple all the time

#YearInSpace ends this evening for astronaut Scott Kelly
Undocking begins at 7:45 p.m. EST with landing expected at 11:25 p.m. EST, barring any unforeseen wrinkles like negative weather conditions. NASA-TV will cover the event live. Can’t wait to hear results of comparison testing between Scott and his earth-bound twin Mark after Scott’s year in space.

Department of No

That’s enough for now. I’m off to be a bad, bad girl. Stay safe.

Monday Morning: Swivel, Heads

Somebody out there knows what this tune means in my household. For our purposes this Monday morning, it’s a reminder to take a look around — all the way around. Something might be gaining on you.

Let’s look…

Android users: Be more vigilant about apps from Google Play
Better check your data usage and outbound traffic. Seems +300 “porn clicker” apps worked their way around Google Play’s app checking process. The apps rack up traffic, fraudulently earning advertising income; they persist because of users’ negligence in vetting and monitoring downloaded apps (because Pr0N!) and weakness in Google’s vetting. If this stuff gets on your Android device, what else is on it?

IRS’ data breach bigger than first reported
This may also depend on when first reporting occurred. The number of taxpayers affected is now ~700,000 according to the IRS this past Friday, which is considerably larger than the ~464,000 estimated in January this year. But the number of taxpayers affected has grown steadily since May 15th last year and earlier.

Did we miss the ‘push for exotic new weapons’?
Nope. Those of us paying attention haven’t missed the Defense Department’s long-running efforts developing new tools and weapons based on robotics and artificial intelligence. If anything, folks paying attention notice how little the investment in DARPA has yielded in payoff, noting non-defense development moving faster, further, cheaper — a la SuitX’s $40K exoskeleton, versus decades-plus investment by DARPA in exoskeleton vaporware. But apparently last Tuesday’s op-ed by David Ignatius in WaPo on the development of “new exotic weapons” that may be deployed against China and Russia spawned fresh discussion to draw our attention to this work. THAT is the new development — not the weapons, but the chatter, beginning with the Pentagon and eager beaver reporter-repeaters. This bit here, emphasis mine:

Pentagon officials have started talking openly about using the latest tools of artificial intelligence and machine learning to create robot weapons, “human-machine teams” and enhanced, super-powered soldiers. It may sound like science fiction, but Pentagon officials say they have concluded that such high-tech systems are the best way to combat rapid improvements by the Russian and Chinese militaries.

Breathless, much? Come the feck on. We’ve been waiting decades for these tools and weapons after throwing billions of dollars down this dark rathole called DARPA, and we’ve yet to see anything commercially viable in the way of an exoskeleton in the field. And don’t point to SKYNET and ask us to marvel at machine learning, because the targeting failure rate is so high, it’s proven humans behind it aren’t learning more and faster than the machines are.

Speaking of faster development outside DARPA: Disney deploying anti-drones?
The Star Wars franchise represents huge bank — multiple billions — to its owner Disney. Control of intellectual property during production is paramount, to ensure fan interest remains high until the next film is released. It’s rumored Disney has taken measures to reduce IP poaching by fan drones, possibly including anti-drones managed by a security firm protecting the current production location in Croatia. I give this rumor more weight than the Pentagon’s buzz about exoskeletons on the battlefield.

Lickety-split quickies

That’s a wrap — keep your eyes peeled. To quote Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Friday Morning: Afro-Cuban Coffee

I should just dedicate Fridays to different genres of jazz. Today feels like a good day for Afro-Cuban jazz.

This chap, Francisco Raúl Gutiérrez Grillo, who performed under the name Machito with his Afro-Cubans, was an incredibly important innovator shaping Afro-Cuban jazz as well as modern American music. He was important to race in the music industry as well, as his Afro-Cubans may have been the first multi-racial band.

I’m brewing some Café Bustelo before I bust out my dancing shoes. ¡Vamonos!

Judge applies ‘Parkinson’s Law’ to VW emissions cheat case
You know the adage, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”? U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer gave Volkswagen 30 days to come up with a fix* for all the emissions standards cheating passenger diesel engine cars in the class action lawsuits he oversees in San Francisco. Gotta’ love this:

“It’s an ongoing harm that has to be addressed … I’ve found the process is a function of how much time people have available to fill. The story about lawyers is that that if you give them a year to do something, it will take them a year to do something. If you give them 30 days to do something, they’ll do something in 30 days.”

As time passes, vehicle owners are increasingly damaged as no one wants to buy their cars and their investment is lost. Hence the aggressive time limit.

* Caution: that link to SFGate may autoplay video and ad content. Really, SFGate? That’s such hideously bad form.

Rough road ahead in Saudi Arabia to a post-oil world
This piece in WaPo paints a grim picture of cheap oil’s impact on Saudi Arabia — and there are huge pieces missing. Worth a read while asking yourself how much Saudis are spending on military efforts against Yemen and Syria, and what new industries they’re investing in to replace oil-based employment.

Took long enough: Software and social media firms get Apple’s back
Did their legal departments finally read the case thoroughly and realize they had skin in this game, too? Who knows — but Google as well as Microsoft are planning to file amicus briefs in support of Apple. Microsoft had already indicated they would support Apple in a congressional hearing yesterday morning; Google piped up later. The latest skinny is that Facebook and Twitter both intend to file briefs as well in favor of Apple. Looks like Microsoft’s current management took an 180-degree turn away from progenitor Bill Gates’ initial response, hmm?

Hit and run

That’s a wrap on this week. Keep your eyes peeled for news dumps while folks are still picking apart last night’s GOP-cast reality TV show. And make time to dance.

EDIT — 8:40 AM — Ugh, why didn’t the Detroit News publish this piece *yesterday* instead of a Friday morning? Michigan’s Gov. Snyder’s “inner circle” exchanged emails advising a switchback from Flint River a year before the switchback took place, and only three weeks before Snyder’s re-election. There was enough content in this to go to press without waiting for a quote from one of the former advisers.

Friday Morning: It’s Five Somewhere

This week has been really long. Painfully dragged out. Mid-week snowstorm probably didn’t help. But here we are, survivors with another week and yet another Presidential campaign debate under our belts.

I’ll keep it short and snappy given how much ugly we’ve been through.

Your information security is only as good as the stupidest person on staff
“Hello, FBI? I’m new here and I don’t have my code. Can you help a girl out?” No joke, that’s about all it took for one unnamed hacktivist to get inside the FBI. And yet the FBI demands backdoors into all mobile devices. I can’t even…

Meet your new immortal overlord: Your self-driving car
This first graf scares the crap out of me:

The computer algorithms that pilot self-driving cars may soon be considered the functional equivalents of human drivers. That’s the early opinion of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration—and so begins our slow-burn acquiescence in the battle of man versus machine.

And not even for the reasons that PC World’s editor-in-chief Jon Phillips outlines in his editorial. If a governmental agency recognizes an algorithm as equal to a human, how long before humans are actually subordinate to artificial intelligence?  It’s bad enough corporations — legal constructs — have nearly the same rights as humans and can live forever. This needs to die on the vine right now — especially since Google is ramping up hiring for its line of self-driving cars.

Speaking of Google…

Busy week on Zika front

Media commentator Douglas Rushkoff interviewed on digital society

You left Facebook in 2013. How is that working out for you?

Professionally, I’m thinking it may be good for one’s career and business to be off social media altogether. Chris Anderson was wrong. “Free” doesn’t lead to anything but more free. Working for free isn’t leverage to do a talk for loads of money; now they even want you to talk for free. What am I supposed to do? Join YouTube and get three cents for every 100,000 views of my video? That is crap; that is insane! …

A worthwhile read, give it a whirl when the dust begins to settle.

Here’s hoping the weekend moves as slowly as this week did. Huli pau!

Thursday: Thunder Much

[image: Thor's Battle Against the Jötnar by Mårten Eskil Winge, c. 1872, via Wikimedia]

[image: Thor’s Battle Against the Jötnar by Mårten Eskil Winge, c. 1872, via Wikimedia]

It’s Thor’s Day, the Norse god of thunder’s day. This dude has a really poor selection of images available until the 20th century, and most are commercial. Doesn’t say much about his powers, does it.

Speaking of powers, mine are tapped out. I have a massive, partially-completed timeline on the Flint water crisis scheduled to post at 9:00 a.m. EST. When you see it, you’ll understand why my thunder’s depleted. I’ll throw a couple eye-catching items here for now; use this as an open thread.

In case I forget: Skål!

North Korean military chief executed for corruption
NK’s execution of Army General Ri Yong-Gil seems really oddly timed within a week of NK’s satellite launch. Makes one wonder if the launch and the execution were related. The termination is attributed to Kim Jong-Un’s continued efforts at retaining power.

Hundreds of thousands of stolen Social Security numbers used to attack IRS
Where the heck did hackers get 464,000 Social Security numbers? And how the heck did they use 101,000 of them to hammer away at the IRS to obtain e-pin number for filings? The IRS says no one’s personal taxpayer data has been compromised, nor were any filings messed up in this automated mass attack last month.

Comcast pleads with ISP customers in Atlanta
Looks like somebody’s nervous about Google Fiber coming to Atlanta, cutting into their broadband market. A pity, that, should have offered better customer service and more competitive pricing. If Comcast had already delivered these, there’d be no reason for Google to bother in that market.

Absolut-ly profitable year ahead for Pernod Ricard
Huh. I guess it makes sense, with the world in such upheaval that booze would be profitable. Pernod Ricard’s projections of one to three percent growth this year remain unchanged as the second-largest distiller in the world names a new leader for its North American business.

By Thor’s hammer…it’s tequila time somewhere. What’s the old Norse word for booze?

What Would It Take for the Government to Obtain Google’s Counter-Terror Ads Algos?

Some weeks ago, the government went to Silicon Valley to ask for new ways to counter ISIS’ propaganda. We’re now seeing the response to that request, with the report that Google will show positive ads when people search for extremist content.

In a new development, Google said it’s testing ways to counter extremist propaganda with positive messages on YouTube and in Google search results.

Google executive Anthony House told MPs that taking extremist videos down from YouTube isn’t enough, and people searching for that content should be presented with competing narratives:

We should get the bad stuff down, but it’s also extremely important that people are able to find good information, that when people are feeling isolated, that when they go online, they find a community of hope, not a community of harm.

There are two programs being tested by Google to make sure the positive messages are seen by people seeking out extremist content: one to make sure the “good” kind of videos are easily found on YouTube; and another to display positive messages when people search for extremist-related terms.

The second program involves giving grants to nonprofit organizations to use Google AdWords to display competing ads alongside the search results for those extremist-related terms.

If Google wants to do this, that’s fine.

But I’m wondering about the legal standard here. It’s unclear whether Google will only show these “positive” (whoever and however that gets defined) when people search for “extremist” content, or whether they’ll show Google ads to those whose email content reflects an interest in “extremist” material.

In both cases, however, Google will use material that counts as “content” to decide to show these ads.

And then what happens? That is, what happens to Google’s records determining that these users should get that content? Do the records, stripped of the content itself, count as a third party record that can be obtained with a subpoena? Or do they count as content?

Congress hasn’t passed legislation requiring tech companies to report their terrorist users. But does having Google use its algorithms to determine who is an extremist give the government a way to find out who Google thinks is an extremist?

Thursday Morning: Fast and Furious Edition

[image (modified): Adam Wilson via Flickr]

[image (modified): Adam Wilson via Flickr]

Insane amount of overseas news overnight. Clearly did not include me winning $1.5B Powerball lottery. Attacks in Jakarta and Turkey are no joke.

Let’s move on.

Some U.S. utilities’ still wide open to hacking
Dudes, how many times do you need to be told your cheese is still hanging out in the wind? Some heads should roll at this point. US government’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team’s Marty Edwards sounded pretty torqued about this situation at the S4 ICS Security Conference this week. I don’t blame him; if a utility gets hacked, it’s not like your grandmother’s PC getting held ransom. It means the public’s health and safety are at risk. Get on it.

Your cellphone is listening to your TV — and you
Bruce Schneier wrote about the Internet of Things’ expansive monitoring of consumers, citing the example of SilverPush — an application which listens to your television to determine your consumption habits. Bet some folks thought this was an app still in the offing. Nope. In use now, to determine current TV program listings and ratings. Listening-to-your-consumption apps have now been around for years.

Wonder if our pets can hear all this racket inaudible to humans? Will pet food companies embed ads shouting out to our pets?

But you may be able to hide from devices
…depending on whether you are using location-based services, and if you can use the app developed by Binghamton University. A paper on this technology was presented last month at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) GLOBECOM Conference, Symposium on Communication & Information System Security. The lead researcher explained the purpose of the app:

“With Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others we provide a huge amount of data to the service providers everyday. In particular, we upload personal photos, location information, daily updates, to the Internet without any protection,” Guo said. “There is such a chance for tragedy if that information is used to in a bad way.”

The app isn’t yet available, but when it is, it should prevent personally identifying location-based data from being used by the wrong folks.

VW emissions scandal: Well, this is blunt
I think you can kiss the idea of nuance goodbye, gang.

“Volkswagen made a decision to cheat on emissions tests and then tried to cover it up,” said CARB chair Mary Nichols in a statement.
“They continued and compounded the lie, and when they were caught they tried to deny it. The result is thousands of tons of nitrogen oxide that have harmed the health of Californians.”

Yeah. That.

The last bits
Nest thermostats froze out consumers after a botched update. (Do you really need internet-mediated temperature controls?)
Phone numbers may become a thing of the past if Facebook has its way. (Um, hell no to the Facebook. Just no.)
Senator Al Franken quizzes Google about data collection and usage on K-12 students. (Hope he checks toy manufacturers like Mattel and VTech, too.)

That’s a wrap, hope your day passes at a comfortable speed.