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Thursday: Alien Occupation

Since I missed a Monday post with a movie clip I think I’ll whip out a golden oldie for today’s post.

This movie — especially this particular scene — still gets to me 37 years after it was first released. The ‘chestburster’ as scene is commonly known is the culmination of a body horror trope in Ridley Scott’s science fiction epic, Alien. The horror arises from knowing something happened to the spacecraft Nostromo’s executive officer Kane when a ‘facehugger’ leapt from a pod in an alien ship, eating through his space helmet, leaving him unresponsive as long as the facehugger remained attached to his face. There is a brief sense of relief once the facehugger detaches and Kane returns to consciousness and normal daily functions. But something isn’t right as the subtle extra scrutiny of the science officer Ash foreshadows at the beginning of this scene.

Director Ridley Scott employed a different variant of body horror in his second contribution to the Alien franchise, this time by way of a xenomorph implanted in her mimicking pregnancy in scientist Shaw. She is sterile, and she knows whatever this is growing inside her must be removed and destroyed or it will kill both her and the remaining crew. The clip shared here and others available in YouTube actually don’t convey the complete body horror — immediately before Shaw enters this AI-operated surgical pod she is thwarted by the pod’s programming for a default male patient. In spite of her mounting panic and growing pain she must flail at the program to enter alternative commands which will remove the thing growing inside her.

I suspect the clips available in YouTube were uploaded by men, or they would understand how integral to Shaw’s body horror is the inability to simply and quickly tell this surgical pod GET THIS FUCKING THING OUT OF ME RIGHT THE FUCK NOW.

I don’t know if any man (by which I mean cis-man) can really understand this horror. Oh sure, men can realistically find themselves host to things like tapeworms and ticks and other creatures which they can have removed. But the horror of frustration, being occupied by something that isn’t right, not normal, shouldn’t continue, putting its host at mortal risk — and not being able to simply demand it should be removed, or expect resources to avoid its implantation and occupation in one’s self? No. Cis-men do not know this terror.

Now imagine the dull background terror of young women in this country who must listen to white straight male legislators demand ridiculous and offensive hurdles before they will consider funding birth control to prevent sexual transmission of Zika, or fund abortions of Zika-infected fetuses which put their mothers at risk of maternal mortality while the fetuses may not be viable or result in deformed infants who’ll live short painful lives. Imagine the horror experienced by 84 pregnant women in Florida alone who’ve tested positive for Zika and are now being monitored, who don’t know the long-term outcomes for themselves or their infants should their fetuses be affected by the virus.

Body horror, daily, due to occupation not only by infectious agents alien to a woman’s body, but occupation by patriarchy.

I expect to get pooh-poohed by men in comments to which I preemptively say fuck off. I’ve had a conversation this week about Zika risks with my 20-something daughter; she turned down an invitation this past week to vacation with friends in Miami. It’s a realistic problem for her should she accidentally get pregnant before/during/immediately following her trip there.

We also talked about one of her college-age friend’s experiences with Guillain–Barré syndrome. It’s taken that young woman nearly three years to recover and resume normal function. She didn’t acquire the syndrome from Zika, but Guillain–Barré’s a risk with Zika infections. There’s too little research yet about the magnitude of the risk — this vacation is not worth the gamble.

But imagine those who live there and can’t take adequate precautions against exposure for economic reasons — imagine the low-level dread. Imagine, too, the employment decisions people are beginning to make should job offers pop up in areas with local Zika transmission.

What’s it going to take to get through to legislators — their own experience of body horror? Movies depicting body horror don’t seem to be enough.

Wheels
Put these two stories together — the next question is, “Who at VW ordered the emissions cheat device from Bosch before 2008?”

Pretty strong incentives for Volkswagen to destroy email evidence. I wonder what Bosch did with their emails?

Self-driving electric cars are incredibly close to full commercialization based on these two stories:

  • Michigan’s state senate bill seeks approval of driverless cars (ReadWrite) — Bill would change state’s code to permit “the motor vehicle to be operated without any control or monitoring by a human operator.” Hope a final version ensures human intervention as necessary by brakes and/or steering wheel. I wonder which manufacturer or association helped write this code revision?
  • California now committed to dramatic changes in greenhouse gas emissions (Los Angeles Times) — State had already been on target to achieve serious reductions in emissions by 2020; the new law enacts an even steeper reduction by 2030 in order to slow climate change effects and improve air quality.

I don’t know if I’m ready to see these on the road in Michigan. Hope the closed test track manufacturers are using here will offer realistic snow/sleet/ice experience; if self-driving cars can’t navigate that, I don’t want to be near them. And if Michigan legislators are ready to sign off on self-driving cars, I hope like hell the NHTSAA is way ahead of them — especially since emissions reductions laws like California’s are banking heavily on self-driving electric cars.

Google-y-do

  • Google’s parent Alphabet-ting on burritos from the sky (Bloomberg) — No. No. NO. Not chocolate, not doughnuts, not wine or beer, but Alphabet subsidiary Project Wing is testing drone delivery of Chipotle burritos to Virginia Tech students? Ugh. This has fail all over it. Watch out anyhow, pizza delivery persons, your jobs could be on the bubble if hot burritos by drone succeed.
  • API company Apigee to join Google’s fold (Fortune) — This is part of a big business model shift at Google. My guess is this acquisition was driven by antitrust suits, slowing Google account growth, and fallout from Oracle’s suit against Google over Java APIs. Application programming interfaces (APIs) are discrete programming subroutines which, in a manner of speaking, act like glue between different programs, allowing programmers to obtain resources from one system for use in a different function without requiring the programmer to have more than passing understanding of the resource. An API producer would allow Google’s other systems to access or be used by non-Google systems.
  • Google to facilitate storage of Drive content at cloud service Box (PC World) — Here’s where an API is necessary: a Google Drive user selects Box instead of Drive for storage, and the API routes the Drive documents to Box instead of Drive. Next: imagine other Google services, like YouTube-created/edited videos or Google Photo-edited images, allowing storage or use by other businesses outside of Google.

Longread: Digitalization and its panopticonic effect on society
Columbia’s Edward Mendelson, Lionel Trilling Professor in Humanities and a contributor at PC Magazine, takes a non-technical look at the effect our ever-on, ever-observing, ever-connected technology has on us.

Catch you later!

Monday Morning: Brittle

The Emperor’s Palace was the most splendid in the world, all made of priceless porcelain, but so brittle and delicate that you had to take great care how you touched it. …

— excerpt, The Nightingale from The Yellow Fair Book by Andrew Lang

Last week I’d observed that Apple’s stock value had fallen by ~7% after its financial report was released. The conventional wisdom is that the devaluation was driven by Apple’s first under-performing quarter of iPhone sales, indicating weaker demand for iPhones going forward. Commenter Ian remarked that Apple’s business model is “brittle.” This perspective ignores the meltdown across the entire stock global market caused by China’s currency devaluation, disproportionately impacting China’s consumption habits. It also ignores great untapped or under-served markets across other continents yet to be developed.

But more importantly, this “wisdom” misses a much bigger story, which chip and PC manufacturers have also reflected in their sales. The video above, now already two years old, explains very neatly that we have fully turned a corner on devices: our smartphones are and have been replacing our desktops.

Granted, most folks don’t go through the hassle of purchasing HDMI+USB connectors to attach larger displays along with keyboards. They continue to work on their phones as much as possible, passing content to and from cloud storage when they need to work from a keyboard attached to a PC. But as desktops and their attached monitors age, they are replaced in a way that supports smartphones as our main computing devices — flatscreen monitors, USB keyboards and mice, more powerful small-footprint external storage.

And ever increasing software-as-a-service (SaaS) combined with cloud storage.

Apple’s business model isn’t and hasn’t been just iPhones. Not since the debut of the iPod in October 2001 has Apple’s business model been solely focused on devices and the operating system required to drive them. Heck, not since the debut of iTunes in January 2001 has that been true.

Is there a finite limit to iPhones’ market? Yeah. Same for competing Android-driven devices. But is Apple’s business just iPhones? Not if iTunes — a SaaS application — is an indicator. As of 2014, there were ~66 million iPhones in the U.S., compared to ~800 million iTunes users. And Apple’s current SaaS offerings have exploded over time; the Apple store offers millions of apps created by more than nine million registered developers.

At least nine million registered developers. That number alone should tell you something about the real business model.

iPhones are a delivery mechanism, as are Android-based phones. The video embedded above shows just how powerful Android mobile devices can be, and the shift long underway is not based on Apple’s platform alone. If any business model is brittle right now, it’s desktop computing and any software businesses that rely solely on desktops. How does that change your worldview about the economy and cybersecurity? Did anyone even notice how little news was generated about the FBI accessing the San Bernardino shooter’s PCs? Was that simply because of the locked Apple iOS account, or was it in part because the case mirrored society’s shift to computing and communications on mobile devices?

File under ‘Stupid Michigan Legislators‘: Life sentences for automotive hackers?
Hey. Maybe you jackasses in Michigan’s state senate ought to deal with the permanent poisoning of nearly 8000 children in Flint before doing something really stupid like making one specific kind of hacking a felony worthy of a life sentence. And maybe you ought to do a little more homework on hacking — it’s incredibly stupid to charge a criminal with a life sentence for a crime as simple as entry permitted by wide-open unlocked doors. Are we going to allocate state money to chase hackers who may not even be in this country? Are we going to pony up funds for social media monitoring to catch hackers talking about breaching wide-open cars? Will this law deter citizen white hats who identify automakers’ vulnerabilities? File this mess, too, under ‘Idiotic Wastes of Taxpayers’ Money Along with Bathroom Legislation by Bigots‘. This kind of stuff makes me wonder why any smart people still live in this state.

File this, too, under ‘Stupid Michigan Legislators‘: Lansing Board of Water and Light hit by ransomware
Guess where the first ransomware attack on a U.S. utility happened? Do I need to spell it out how ridiculous it looks for the electric and water utility for the state’s capitol city to be attacked by ransomware while the state’s legislature is worrying about who’s using the right bathroom? Maybe you jackasses in Lansing ought to look at funding assessment and security improvements for ALL the state’s utilities, including both water safety and electricity continuity.

Venezuela changes clocks to reduce electricity consumption
Drought-stricken Venezuela already reduced its work week a month ago to reduce electricity demand. Now the country has bumped its clocks forward by 30 minutes to make more use of cooler early hour during daylight. The country has also instituted rolling blackouts to cutback on electricity. Cue the right-wing pundits claiming socialism has failed — except that socialism has absolutely nothing to do with a lack of rainfall to fill reservoirs.

Coca Cola suing for water as India’s drought deepens
This is a strong piece, worth a read: Whose Water Is It Anyway?

After a long battle, the UN declared in 2010 that clean water was a fundamental right of all citizens. Easier said than done. The essential, alarming question has become, ‘Who does the groundwater belong to?’ Coca Cola is still fighting a case in Kerala where the farmers rebelled against them for using groundwater for their bottling plants. The paddy fields for miles around dried up as water for Coke or the company’s branded bottled water was extracted and transported to richer urban consumers.

Who did that groundwater belong to? Who do our rivers belong to? To the rich and powerful who can afford the resources to draw water in huge quantities for their industries. Or pollute the rivers with effluent from their industries. Or transport water over huge distances at huge expense to turn it into profit in urban areas.

Justus Rosenberg: One of Hannah Arendt’s rescuers
Ed Walker brought this piece to my attention, a profile of 95-year-old Justus Rosenberg featured in this weekend’s New York Times. I love the last two grafs especially; Miriam Davenport characterized Rosenberg as “a nice, intelligent youngster with no family, no money, no influence, no hope, no fascinating past,” yet he was among those who “…were a symbol of sorts, to me, in those days […] Everyone was moving Heaven and earth to save famous men, anti-fascist intellectuals, etc.” Rosenberg was a superhero without a cape.

That’s our week started. See you tomorrow morning!

See you tomorrow morning!