Posts categorized “Technology”

2014 Year in Review - The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous (and the Funny)

January 3, 2015   6:54 pm

I missed this in 2013, and this is not a 3-post series as usual. Instead of writing a lot about each topic, I’ll give a short reason I categorized it where I did. Please make no assumptions or conclusions about what I don’t say; the fact that people are so apt to do that should probably make the “Bad” list, but not this year. Since this is a single post, we’ll lead with…

The Good

  • No Terrorism at World Stage Events - 2014 saw the Winter Olympics in Russia and the World Cup in Brazil. Neither were marred by terrorism.
  • 16 Out of 20 Ain’t Bad - Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood did not want to provide coverage for 4 of the 20 forms of “birth control” mandated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as they work post-conception (an “abortofacient”). The Supreme Court agreed, in a rare victory for religious freedom.
  • Plummeting Oil Prices - In spite of the current administration’s best efforts, our economy overcame them. The “Drill, Baby, Drill” crowd was vindicated, as an explosion in US oil production caused prices to drop substantially. Fracking has enabled this boom while preserving the environment, and the drop in prices has hit hostile-to-us oil-based economies hard. It’s a big win-win that progressives still can’t throughly grasp.
  • Republicans Win Control of Congress - This is a qualified “good” entry, assuming that they’ll govern as they ran. Hey, there’s a first time for everything, right?
  • Tennessee Football Rises - Playing an SEC schedule and non-gimme out-of-conference games with the youngest team in FBS is a recipe for a 3-9 season; the Vols made it 6-6 (and, since this is written after their bowl, 7-6) and have great momentum for 2015.

The Bad

  • The Deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner - Neither the Brown nor Garner families had loved ones with them this Christmas that they had last Christmas. There may be speculation as to the incidents surrounding their deaths (and neither are going to trial, so we’ll likely never fully know), but even the public knowing every little detail of what happened will not bring these young men back to their families.
  • Colorado Going to Pot - The first year’s experiment with legalized marijuana has not gone well. Assurances that children will not be able to easily get it have evaporated, and nearly all the tax money it’s generated has gone to enforcement. Their governor caught some heat for saying that the citizens acted foolishly, but the facts certainly indicate he was correct in his assessment.
  • Ebola - 2014 was the year Ebola came to America. While there were some ridiculous things with how it was handled, the bad was limited, with some who contracted the disease surviving, and a new set of medical protocols helping to protect those who care for people.
  • ISIS - Nearly 10 years after being freed, Iraq fell back into enslavement thanks to a group coming in to make a hostile takeover, combined with an army that was not willing to fight for what it had won. Islamic law marches on, while Christians die, in a place where thousands of Americans gave their lives to win freedom.
  • Russian Aggression Versus Ukraine - Russia invaded and took over part of another sovereign nation. They do not appear to be done yet.

The Ridiculous

  • The Handling of the Death of Michael Brown / The Reaction to the Brown Grand Jury Verdict / The Reaction to the Garner Grand Jury Verdict - Ferguson and Missouri police handled the initial aftermath of Brown’s shooting about as poorly as you could. The riots once the grand jury failed to indict Darren Wilson were unnecessary and unhelpful (and unwanted by Michael Brown’s family), and the “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” gesture would have been impactful had it been based in verified fact (which it was not). This was also the case where “unarmed teen” is supposed to imply harmless, peaceful, law-abiding child, but video showed a certain store owner who would dispute that characterization. Once the Garner verdict came out, there were die-ins all across the country, proving nothing, but inconveniencing people who had nothing to do with anything surrounding the case. Two dead New York policemen and one in Florida, at last reports, still hadn’t brought Michael Brown or Eric Garner back to their families. (If I have a chance, there will be much more on this in my MLK post.)

    p.s. ALL lives matter.

  • Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Missing E-mails - Under oath, and subpoena from Congress, IRS chief Lois Lerner claimed to have lost her e-mail. This was after other e-mails came out that pretty much confirmed their deliberate targeting of conservative groups leading up to the 2012 election. While those e-mails were “found” toward the end of the year, this Watergate-esque dodge was pathetic. IT does not work that way, and if it does, those people need to be fired.

  • Computer Security - This was a bad year for computer security. “HeartBleed,” “Shell Shock,” and “Poodle” were names given to long-existing exploits that were discovered in the software that runs much of the Internet. Target fessed up about how large their breach was, and Home Depot let a lot of customer information get away as well. Finally, targeted attacks released iCloud data from celebrities, while an (internal? North Korean? We don’t know yet…) attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment released salaries, movies, even e-mails among leaders and actors. (Maybe we should sic the Guardians of Peace on the IRS!) Hopefully some good will come of this; if nothing else, it will make people think about security before they trust a “cloud” service with their information.

  • Kaci Hickox - Kaci is a nurse who was exposed to Ebola. She defied quarantine, though, and created a lot of concern. While she ultimately was not found to have the disease, her foolish, selfish actions stirred up a lot of concern in her community. As a medical professional, she should have known better. But, of course, if she had, then her name wouldn’t be on some random guy’s blog in a year-in-review post, would it?

The Funny

Continuing his tradition which he didn’t miss last year, Dave Barry has his take on the year’s events.

Here’s to 2015 - let’s hope it’s a good one!

CNN Is Racist and Dumb

August 6, 2013   5:29 pm

A screen capture from CNN's home page, showing a person in a hoodie hunched over a keyboard, with the caption '5 scary new hacks'Sounds harsh, but what else am I to make of this picture?

First off, the dumb part. Why would a computer hacker, hacking computers across a network, need to obscure his face? (In CNN’s defense, they’re not the only ones to use dumb pictures to caption hacking.) Companies like CNN have smart technology people writing for them, as well as freelancers and others. Why does this type of image persist? Look at Kevin Mitnick, Dan Kaminsky, Meredith L. Patterson, or Shawn Fanning (creator of Napster, but branded by non-tech people as a hacker, or worse). Do any of those look like “hackers” to you? This metaphor makes people more likely to not believe it when they actually see a hacker.

And second - a hoodie? Are you serious, CNN? Weren’t you lecturing us a scant two weeks ago on how people in hoodies were perfectly fine? They were as pure as the wind-driven snow, representing everything that is right with the country, and people who thought otherwise were terrible racists? How do we know this guy isn’t just updating Facebook on a public computer before he makes his way home from the convenience store? But, no - you definitely have him portrayed as the bad guy in this image. You are convicted by your own words; shame on you, CNN. I’ll be waiting for your apology (but I won’t be holding my breath).

2011 Year in Review - The Ridiculous

January 2, 2012   2:00 pm

This is the first (or last, depending on how you’re reading these) entry in the series “2011 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous.” 2011 may go down in history as one of the craziest yet. It’ll be tough to narrow it down to just a few things to keep this at a reasonable length - but, we’ll try.

Occupy Wall Street

For me, this was an easy pick. This movement, starting in the fall and continuing in some cities to this day, stands for… well, that’s part of it. They claimed inspiration from the Arab Spring, but had the minor detail that they weren’t under an oppressive regime. They boldly proclaimed that they were the 99% of income earners, railing against the income inequality between themselves and the top 1%. The phrase “I am the 99%” became one of their rallying cries. The main problem with the movement, however, was the absolute lack of a goal. What did they hope to accomplish? A list was posted online, but then others said that this list was not right. I addressed some of the issues surrounding that in my #OWS, Educate Thyself series, so I won’t re-hash that here.

Some claimed that this was the liberal’s response to the conservative Tea Party movement of 2010. However, their rap sheet grew rapidly, including rape, homicide, public indecency, and disturbing the peace. Public health concerns grew over these encampments, evidenced by a tuberculosis outbreak in Atlanta and “Zucotti Lung” among New York’s occupiers. This was no Tea Party. As some within the group tried to organize, others worked against organization, which led to confusion all around.

Then the time came to evict these protesters, which led to even more ridiculousness. Some mayors were more adamant than others, and some even spoke against their own police forces. Pepper spray flew in many cities, and on the campus of the University of California Davis. Occupiers in Portland are trying to shut down ports. As winter sets in, many of the camps have closed, but the aimless angst continues. The needed conversations regarding ridiculous executive compensation and police tactics will likely be drowned out by the shouting.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)

This is a late-breaking entry, but it still happened in 2011. This bill gives the US Government the right to redirect Domain Name Service (DNS) entries for sites that host or participate in software piracy to a different site, similar to the ICE domain seizures that have been happening for a while now. There are many problems with this idea (which may sound good to some, on the surface). First, this breaks the DNS system, particularly the upcoming DNS Secure (DNSSec) protocol, which aims to prevent the DNS cache poisoning attacks that are becoming quite prevalent. Secondly, the concept of seizing an entire domain over suspected (not proven) activity circumvents due process; many large sites are approaching common-carrier status, and apart from DMCA take-down notices, aren’t able to police or censor their content. It completely misses the point of how the Internet works. Creating a system like this just invites abuse, which is ironic, considering the law purports to be trying to fight it.

The main forces behind this legislation are the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), two organizations who have shown themselves clueless as to how the Internet works time and time again. This brings in the biggest problem of all. This is the equivalent of the horse-and-buggy lobby writing laws against cars, to ensure their continued existence. There were many fine buggy crafstmen, I’m sure, who were put out of work by these new horseless carriages. Those craftsmen who chose to adapt and learn new skills were successful; those who sat on the sidelines were not.

The RIAA and MPAA have fought tooth and nail against technology for decades. (Anyone remember DAT?) They are slow to adapt. It was said that FM radio was going to kill record sales, because people wouldn’t buy them when they could hear the music for free. The cassette recorder would kill album sales, because people could record music themselves. The VCR would kill movie sales, because people could record movies from TV, cable, and LaserDiscs. They’ve proved themselves on the wrong side of technology at nearly every turn, and they’re wrong here. Their current efforts are doing two things - frustrating people like Tom Merritt, who want to comply with the law, and encouraging piracy.

Casey Anthony

Back in 2008, a young girl named Caylee Anthony disappeared in Florida. Her mom reported her missing, and a half a year later, her remains were found. Through the police investigation, the clues they found all pointed toward one conclusion - her mother Casey had killed her and hidden her body. I won’t recount all the details for that - you can see them at that link. It’s not ridiculous, it’s just sad.

The ridiculous parts of this, though, were plentiful. The first was the “Trial of the Century” hype; this was, to some extent, a self-fulfilling prophecy. The media should cover the story, they should not be the story. The trial should have been covered, but the circus that was the trial was absolutely ridiculous. The second was Casey’s behavior. Her daughter is dead, she knows about it (according to her testimony), yet she’s out partying like there’s no tomorrow. Even if that were her regular M.O., I can assure you that if one of my children is missing, I wouldn’t be occupying my usual schedule. The third was her defense - Caylee died in the pool, and she was too scared to call the police, instead dumping the child’s body and instigating a huge manhunt for this child. Really? And her parents supported her in these claims! The fourth was the verdict - not guilty. There was so much wrong with this case, even if there wasn’t enough for capital murder, there were lesser charges that were also found not guilty.

The narrative is drama-filled, Casey is an attractive young lady, so this story is probably not done. I wish it were. I hesitated on putting her on this list, because attention to people like this only encourages them.

CelebuTwits

This seemed to be the year when many folks found out how Twitter works the hard way. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) tweeted a picture of his (let’s just say “namesake”) to a follower. Instead of using a direct message, which is private, he simply typed an @ symbol followed by the follower’s name, which is public to whoever views his timeline. He claimed to have been hacked; these claims were refuted, and he admitted to sending the message, as well as to many indiscretions against his newly-pregnant wife. He resigned his seat in the wake of this.

Other celebrities had trouble with the filter that’s supposed to sit between the texting fingers and the brain. Gilbert Gottfried tweeted jokes about the Japanese tsunami, and was dropped as the voice of the AFLAC duck. Ashton Kutcher tweeted his support of Penn State’s Joe Paterno in the wake of Paterno’s firing, which he later clarified once he learned the reasons behind. Alec Baldwin explored a New York mayoral run via Twitter, and ended up canceling his account after being booted from an airline flight for failing to turn off his iPad. His reason? Words with Friends. And, early in the year, Twitter was one of the places where Charlie Sheen’s epic breakdown unfolded, giving birth to the hashtag #WINNING.

 

As with all of these reviews, this is nowhere close to an exhaustive list; but, that’ll do. Some of these are ongoing; we’ll hope and pray that if they make next year’s list, it’ll be on the good list due to their dissolution.

2010 Year in Review - The Good

January 13, 2011   6:00 pm

This post begins (and ends) my look back at 2010 called “2010 Year in Review - The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous.” If you’ve been reading them as I posted them, this is the end; if you’re new, just keep scrolling, and all three posts are there in order. What follows is a non-exhaustive list of the things I considered good in 2010.

Firesheep

Toward the end of October, a Firefox plugin called Firesheep was released. This plugin illustrated a gaping security flaw in the way a large number of sites handle trusted communications. While the media reaction was negative, with accusations of this being a hacker tool, I think it’s a good thing. Firesheep didn’t create the problem, but it did illustrate, in vivid detail, how easily non-secure web traffic can be intercepted and impersonated. With the explosion of Facebook (which does login securely, then switches back to insecure, and has not changed as of this writing) over this past year, the time was right to remind people that there are serious flaws that need to be addressed.

I should note, for those unfamiliar with this whole scenario, this only affected open, unencrypted Wi-Fi points; if you’re connected to a secured wireless network or a switched wired network, the plugin wouldn’t be able to see your traffic. In response to the plugin, many sites have begun enforcing or offering an always-encrypted (https) connection to their sites. Also, note that WEP-secured networks are now able to be broken in less than a minute - WPA or WPA2 is what you want to use to secure your wireless network.

Forest Home

I don’t know if Forest Home Christian Camp in Forest Falls, CA was better-than-ever in 2010, as 2010 was the year I became acquainted with it; however, I can state unequivocally that 2010 was a great year to attend Forest Home’s family camp! We checked in on a Sunday and checked out on a Saturday, and were blessed from the time we got there until the time we left. Worship, eating, hiking, exploring, a night-time zip line - and that was just the first 36 hours. They have a lake (fed from melting snow - refreshing!), several hiking trails, swimming pool with diving boards, mini-golf course, as well as a game/lounge area with pool and ping-pong tables. If you’re looking for activities, they’ve got it.

But what made the week there such an amazing week was the quiet times. There was singing and teaching in the morning with the director, Kent Kraning, and singing and teaching in the evening, let our week by Dr. Erik Thoennes of Biola University. Other than those times (where all age groups had their own programs), there were hikes before breakfast, family devotion times after breakfast, free time in the afternoons between lunch and dinner, and time after the evening sessions where you could reflect on what you’d heard. One of their core values is solitude - getting away from the noise so that you can hear God speak. I presented a laundry list of activities, but through the campground, there were benches and seats where you could just stop, sit, think, and pray. It’s amazing how clearly God can speak when you unplug for a week and listen. I pray that 2010 is only the beginning of many years of family camp at Forest Home.

Personal Fitness

2009 was the year I got my head right, and 2010 was the year my body followed. The scale said I was 17 pounds lighter at the start of 2011 than I was at the start of 2010, and I can tell that I’m in the best shape of my adult life (possibly excluding the month or so immediately after basic training). The big change in 2010 was the way I view food - food is fuel, not fun. We used to celebrate everything with food as a central focus - birthdays, holidays, date nights, even fitness achievements. I have actually celebrated passing a fitness test by going to Outback Steakhouse for an order of Aussie Cheese Fries. How ironic and self-defeating is that? The quantity of food that I now eat is less than half of what I used to eat, and I’m still consuming enough calories that I have the energy to exercise. Of course, I’m not perfect - occasionally I will have more than I know I should, but it’s still nowhere near the huge amount of food I used to eat.

NASCAR Parity

NASCAR in 2009 was a two-horse race between Joe Gibbs Racing (Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, and Joey Logano) and Hendrick Motorsports (Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.). 2010 saw the resurgence of Richard Childress Racing (Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, and Clint Bowyer) and Roush Fenway Racing (Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, David Ragan, and Greg Biffle), and steady improvements in Earnhardt Ganassi Racing (Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray). That’s a lot of driver names, and while some of them weren’t title-competitive this year, the teams are becoming more and more balanced. Every year brings new rules to which teams must adjust, so 2011 is still up in the air; however, the parity that existed in 2010 is a good thing for the sport, and makes for good races for its fans.

2010 Year in Review - The Bad

January 12, 2011   6:00 pm

This is the middle post of my three-post “Year in Review - The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous.” The linked words in that title will take you to the other two posts. Here are the things that I considered bad in 2010.

Wikileaks

Wikileaks began as a whistleblower website, where people could release information about injustices. In 2010, they made a leap into classified government documents. Purportedly stolen by PFC Bradley Manning, these documents were not only embarrassing for some government agencies, the information contained in those documents identified informants and other non-public allies in the War or Terror. While the creator of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, is currently in custody (due to some somewhat-questionable sex crime charges), there is little legal enforceability on a citizen of another country disclosing secrets of another. Several US companies have severed ties with the site, and kudos to them for that; however, I believe that the net result of this will be bad.

ObamaCare

What I’ve identified as the most ridiculous quote of 2010 (“We have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it”) was spoken in reference to this bill. Going by the formal name of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (colloquially known as “Obamacare”), this bill enacted many reforms to our health care system, most notably in the area of insurance coverage. The bill mandates that all people purchase and retain health care insurance (a provision already rule unconstitutional), stipulates that insurers must cover preexisting conditions and may not drop insured people for certain conditions, and provides for the creation of a public co-op. There may be more, but at 1,300+ pages, who knows?

We are already seeing the unintended consequences of this legislation. Insurance rates are going up, with many companies raising rates 25% or more. This shouldn’t catch anyone by surprise; what is called “insurance” in the bill is more like a membership. Insurance is a bet against bad things happening, which is the entire reason preexisting conditions aren’t covered. Where’s the bet when you know the outcome? Insurance rates are not designed for this type of use. (Conspiracy theorists could speculate that those who passed the law knew this. They really wanted public control, but the people didn’t want it - instead, they passed a bill that will bankrupt the insurance companies. Then, who rides in to save the day? Liberal government!)

Insurance is but one of the problems with this bill; there are many others where the unintended consequences outweigh the intended benefits. Hopefully, the 112th Congress can undo this monstrosity before most of its provisions become effective. Until then, though, this remains on the bad list.

The FCC Implements Net Neutrality

“Net neutrality” is the concept that network service providers (ISPs, cell carriers, etc.) must treat all network traffic equally. This means that they cannot favor certain types of packets (ex. their own video streaming) while slowing down other packets (ex. competitors’ video streaming, voice over IP). While, on the surface, this sound good, it fails to take into account bandwidth considerations, and the consequences of that bandwidth being used up. A TV signal can be broadcast through the air, and whether one TV or a million TVs receive the signal, the signal is the same; however, the same signal received over the Internet must be duplicated once for each end point receiving it - it is a request-response network. It’s not as cut-and-dried of an issue as some of its more ardent supporters would like to paint it.

Congress has failed to implement net neutrality legislation, and courts have ruled that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has no jurisdiction to implement it on its own. That didn’t stop the intrepid FCC, which issued net neutrality guidelines near the end of the year. Hopefully 2011 will find these regulations to be unenforceable; as it stands now, though, these regulations are bad, and have the potential to slow innovation around the network.

Paying for Facebook: A Lesson in Economics

May 11, 2009   3:32 am

This is the first time my blog and Facebook accounts have crossed. If you’re not a member of Facebook, you may not know exactly what I’m talking about. However, you know my enjoyment of economic discussions, and this is a good learning opportunity.

Recently, several of my Facebook friends joined a group called “We Will Not Pay for Facebook.” They’re not alone - this group boasts over 4.4 million members. The group had articles referring to the profit that the current owner is making on the site, and various purchase offers. Then there was this…

Because of Facebook’s huge popularity Mark Zuckerberg is getting a lot of offers from people wanting to buy Facebook. People Who WILL turn it into a paysite.

The assumption here is that if anyone buys the service, they will change it to a pay site. This is FUD*, and to illustrate this, we’ll look at Facebook compared to another site, Classmates.

What makes Facebook valuable is its large (and exponentially growing) user base. Facebook can charge advertisers a premium for ads placed there, and if they make it paid-per-view, they make even more money, because they get lots of eyes on them. There are people who, like me, pay for very few websites (the only one I’m currently paying to use is Geocaching), and were Facebook a pay site, would not have signed up it. With this high user base, and high business value, comes the innovation - while few people I know like the new “stream” home page, there are things that Facebook can do that few other sites can match.

Contrast this with Classmates - this site has been up longer than Facebook, does pretty much the same thing as Facebook, yet is nowhere near as hot a commodity or as valuable a business as Facebook. Why is this? The fee model. Classmates requires a fee for an account (or at least they did when I looked at them, which hasn’t been recently).

If someone bought Facebook and changed it to a fee model, it would kill the business value of the site. Sure, you’d have people who got addicted to the free stuff and would pay to maintain their addiction, but you’d have other people (myself included) who would simply let the account go. I have other ways of doing pretty much anything that site can do. It’s nice to have it all in one place, but it’s not worth $3.95/mo to me. All this would severely stifle the growth of the site, thereby reducing its business value.

If this happened, there would then be demand - demand for another free bring-it-all-together social networking site. The entire science of economics is defined as the study of the allocation of scarce resources. Demand causes resources to be allocated - whether it was “iShare,” or “Friends and Family,” or “Facepedia,” some other site would sprout up that would provide the services that Facebook used to provide.

That being said - I don’t see Facebook going to a fee model, whether it changes hands or not. It just doesn’t make economic sense. And, if the owners decide to go that route, it still won’t be a big deal, as something else will rise up to replace it. Don’t believe the FUD. :)

* Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt - rumors of impending doom not based in fact