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Web’s Inventor Calls for Net Neutrality

The NeXT computer on which Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote the World Wide Web

The NeXT computer on which
Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote the World Wide Web

This year the World Wide Web turns 25 years old. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man who invented the Web, is imploring the world to keep the Web free, open, neutral and robust.

There is no question that Berners-Lee has deep and profound concerns about the direction the Web has taken. From global mass surveillance to net neutrality, he clearly sees his baby, the World Wide Web, as one of the most powerful inventions in human history but one in jeopardy of being subsumed by governments, corporations, or others in power positions. 

He’s created a website, Webat25.org, highlighting what he discusses in this video below and it is one you should visit.

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Are We Living in a Bizarro Universe?

Bizarro: art from the cover of Superman #202 (Dec. 1967). Art by Curt Swan & George Klein.

Superman’s alternate universe doppelganger ‘Bizarro’: art from the cover of Superman #202 (Dec. 1967). Art by Curt Swan & George Klein.

Unless my family and I are living in an alternate Bizarro universe, it’s pretty clear that we all will soon be paying a lot more for our internet broadband connections and our internet choices will be throttled.

I say that because of the net neutrality battle going on right now, one the internet service providers (ISPs), and especially the cable providers who also provide television, think this is one they cannot afford to lose.

None of the ISPs want Netflix, Apple’s AppleTV, Google’s $35 Chromecast, or a service like Aereo to either continue to succeed or be in a good or better position to do so.  Unless, of course, the ISPs are allowed to make the internet a toll road where only those who pay can get through or go fast.

If the cable companies and other ISPs “win” the net neutrality battle, our TV streaming options will collapse, we will all pay more for our internet connections, all while having to continue to pay “bundled” prices for cable TV channels we never watch.  [Read more...]

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Thoughts About the Secret Police

stasi

The Ministry for State Security (German: Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, MfS), commonly known as the Stasi, has been described as one of the most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agencies in the world. (More here at Wikipedia)

All last evening, and over lunch today, I’ve been reading dozens and dozens of articles on the shitstorm going on with respect to the National Security Agency and their scooping up data about Verizon phone calls and how the NSA has access to major companies (see U.S. intelligence mining data from nine U.S. Internet companies in broad secret program) to collect our emails, photos, tweets, chat logs and more. Last night and today the aggregator Google News displayed links to over 2,000 articles (and that doesn’t count all of the blog posts) about this ongoing issue. 

But it was a post today that crystallized the FEAR about what’s going on in a way I’d not yet read from anyone or any news outlet.

Your iPhone Works for the Secret Police, from Harvard Business Review blogger James Allworth, recapped our fear about what the NSA mass data vacuuming means for all of us. As someone whose ancestry hails from Prussia and Germany — and that I’ve spent alot of time in Germany, especially just a few years after the Berlin Wall fell — I can tell you that the effects of the Stasi repression was still palpable. Allworth points to the Stasi as an example of an intelligence service run amok and what it could lead to:

The infamous East German secret police, the Stasi, managed to infiltrate every part of German life, from factories, to schools, to apartment blocks — the Stasi had eyes and ears everywhere. When East Germany collapsed in 1989, it was reported to have over 90,000 employees and over 170,000 informants. Including the part-time informants, that made for about one in every 63 East Germans collaborating to collect intelligence on their fellow citizens. You can imagine what that must have meant: people had to live with the fact that every time they said something, there was a very real chance that it was being listened to by someone other than for whom they intended. No secret police force in history has ever spied on its own people on a scale like the Stasi did in East Germany. In large part because of that, those two words — “East Germany” — are indelibly imprinted on the psyche of the West as an example of how important the principles of liberal democracy are in protecting us from such things happening again. And indeed, the idea that it would happen seems anathema to most people in the western world today — almost unthinkable.

President Obama, Congressional leaders and any others are defending the subversion of our Constitution and the 4th amendment as “legal” and “sanctioned”. But when everything is secret, how can we do what President Reagan said about our relationship with the former Soviet Union “Trust…but verify”? The answer is “we can’t” and what’s going on right now in the present-day United States would have been a Stasi leader’s wet dream back then.

If you read nothing else about this important issue, take a few minutes and read Allworth’s article here

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Why Higher Education is Dead

stormyThe storm is coming and half of the higher education institutions in the United States will be dead in the next 15 years.

While it would be easy for me to pontificate about higher education and its failings, I’m not qualified other than I’m a father of a recent college graduate and have a second child who will be entering his second year in the fall. That is why I look to experts and watch trends in order to connect the dots, all while feeling anger toward the higher education “industry” who keep building structures and trying to out-compete each other for students.

My recent college grad in sociology is struggling to find a good job in human resources for a good company. She is now second-guessing the wisdom of investing in education in her field and is seriously wondering whether or not her sheepskin “was worth it.” I know several other twenty-somethings who feel exactly the same way (and two of them are living at home with their folks in order to save money and pay off student loans).

Though I’m not qualified as a higher ed industry expert, I don’t need a weatherman to tell me if the sun is shining outside (I can just look out a window). That said, it does take a much larger view and more data to be able to forecast coming storms in the next several days or week—which is what satellite imagery and sophisticated computer models perform and enable meteorologists to be fairly good at predicting what’s coming next.

The storm clouds are already overhead. [Read more...]

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The Minneapolis Star’s Demise

final-mpls-starMy dad died less than a month ago (here is our tribute site to dad) and my sisters and I have been going through the house and his belongings. Besides removing anything of value and cleaning the place out, we have a relative staying there who also has uncovered some cool stuff like this old newspaper in a crawl space which I saw and went through yesterday. Dated Friday, April 2, 1982, it was the last of the Minneapolis Star evening editions which was then merged in to the morning paper to make today’s Minneapolis StarTribune.

Paging through this yellowed rag brought back a lot of memories of the role this newspaper played in our lives and yet it was another reminder of how the old makes way for the new. People, and information delivery methods, all outlive our usefulness as direct economic contributors. The history of mass media shows how the first “high circulation” newspaper was the London Times in the early 1800s, so the major daily newspaper is but a blip in the timeline of humanity. 

Bill Borsch photo

Bill Borsch

Thankfully, as evidenced by how wonderful it was for my dad to be around for twenty five years after he retired at 62 years of age, dad’s influence and ‘usefulness’ to everyone around him continued on.

But back to newspapers. A lot has been written about the demise of ‘traditional’ media like TV, radio, magazines and newspapers. Most of us are aware that things are downtrending, some magazines have gone to digital only, and clearly newspapers are struggling. 

[Read more...]

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Today Show Doesn’t ‘Get’ the Internet!

My 18 year old son, a guy born in 1994, just showed his Mom and I this video from 1994. If you don’t think we’ve come a looooong way in technology, just watch this:

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Google Chrome: Why I Said, “No thanks”

chrome-iconThough I use Google Chrome all-day, every-day…I radically minimize the use of plugins and extensions. Why? Because it’s like going to the hardware store to get a new housekey made and having to agree in writing that, “You agree the locksmith can make a duplicate key and use it whenever he/she cares to do so.

The thing is, as I described in my September 2011 post, “Don’t Just “Allow” Permissions for Cloud Apps,” there are just too many opportunities for rogue infiltration of my computers if I load ones that are inherently insecure (because I’d have to grant access to all my tabs, web history and more). I just don’t agree willy-nilly to terms and conditions and actually think-through what sorts of potential insecurities and “holes” I’m opening myself up to if I choose to use an extension or plugin.

Google makes it clear that you have to be very, very careful when you load Google Chrome extensions. I’m often blown away when I see how many developers, many of whom are outside the U.S., deliver NPAPI extensionsGoogle says on that page that developers should strongly consider these security considerations with NPAPI:

Including an NPAPI plugin in your extension is dangerous because plugins have unrestricted access to the local machine. If your plugin contains a vulnerability, an attacker might be able to exploit that vulnerability to install malicious software on the user’s machine. Instead, avoid including an NPAPI plugin whenever possible.

Though Google is working on an experimental new plugin/extension API called “Pepper,” today I decided (in advance of a client session) to experiment with Google Remote Desktop. It works well, my client uses Chrome, but when I went to implement the extension on my main machine I encountered this:

Chrome Remote Desktop 'agreement'

Wait a second. What is that last sentence, “Perform these operations when I’m not using the application” I’m agreeing to if I install it?

Figuring that it would be fast to discover more detail behind that bullet point and get comfortable I wasn’t opening myself (and our entire office network) to who-knows-what, I did a Google search on that phrase. Basically I found nothing. Then I went to the Google Chromium project (the project behind Chrome the ChromeOS, etc.) and looked at their “security brag sheet.” Again, nothing.

Does this mean that, if my computer and Chrome are running and I’m not around, that Google (or whomever they grant access to) can view any of my computer’s desktops? Security neophytes would think, “Come on…your locksmith analogy is a straw man argument and Google would never allow that sort of intrusiveness.” Maybe, but if CISPA passes (PDF), like I posted about yesterday, Google won’t have a choice in opening up desktops to intelligence and policing agencies (though, in Google’s defense, they are rattling their sabers).

I clicked “No thanks” to using Google Remote Desktop until Google reveals—and their description is verified by security specialists—that Google Remote Desktop isn’t a backdoor. You should too until Google makes it crystal clear what we’re signing up for when we install their, and third-party, extensions.

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CISPA…It’s Back!

Would it be OK for the government to collect all of your private data in one place, share it between agencies, enable companies to send anything “suspicious” to our intelligence agencies, all in the name of keeping us “safe?”  What if your Facebook friends and photos you post were collected and sent to the government by Facebook? What if your internet provider (e.g., Comcast, Time Warner) or mobile provider (e.g., AT&T, Verizon) intercepted and sent your check-ins, photos posted, emails sent, websites visited and all your digital traffic to a government intelligence agency?

It’s happening now and a bill, CISPA, will only make it easier.

spyCISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, has been reintroduced in the House of Representatives. It’s the contentious bill that would provide a poorly-defined “cybersecurity” exception to existing privacy law. CISPA offers broad immunities to companies who choose to share data with government agencies — including the private communications of users — in the name of cybersecurity. It also creates avenues for companies to share data with any federal agencies, including military intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency.

Andrew Couts at Digital Trends — a refreshingly pragmatic voice in technology — pointed out in this article All You Need to Know about Washington’s Big Cybersecurity Push that this CISPA bill isn’t horrible, just far too incomplete.

The problem with CISPA—and many of these Washington knee-jerk “homeland security” legislative reactions—is that the legislation itself has far too many holes in it, the obvious potential for abuse exists with the usual lack of strong oversight, and companies have been granted immunity (just like AT&T was in the ongoing NSA Warrantless Wiretapping fiasco) so there are no checks-and-balances on them either.

As an aside, if you don’t know about the NSA $2 billion plus data center nearing completion you should. Read this Wired article from last April and it will make you stop-and-think about what the government might do with all the data they’ll increasingly have access to if CISPA passes as-is: The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say). It always amazes me that the gun-nuts out there are SO concerned about their 2nd amendment rights being taken away but are either clueless, too stupid, or not bothered to become aware of the fundamental Constitutional rights U.S. citizens have already lost…and continue to lose bit-by-bit.

Couts said this in his article:

Like Obama’s cybersecurity order, CISPA’s primary aim is to increase the sharing of cyber threat information (or CTI, as the cool kids call it). Unlike Obama’s order, however, CISPA allows the sharing of information in both directions – from government to business, and vice versa. Sharing is not required by the law, but it is allowed.

CISPA also provides broad legal immunity to companies that collect and share CTI with the federal government, as long as they do so “in good faith” – which might mean businesses can’t be sued or charged with crimes for collecting and sharing CTI under CISPA. Furthermore, CISPA shields the shared CTI from transparency mechanisms, like the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Read the full text of CISPA here: PDF.

HOW TO OPPOSE CISPA (it’s really easy and fast to do so): That’s why I oppose this legislation. Since I’m a member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) I was particularly pleased that they made it extremely simple and fast to send a letter to your congressional representatives. You can do so here and it will take 2-5 minutes.  [Read more...]

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Is Your WiFi Weak? Get MOCA Boxes Now!

MOCAWiFi signal strength in my house has always frustrated me, especially now that we have our AppleTV upstairs, another in the family room, my daughter streams Netflix through her Playstation downstairs, my son online games with his XBox upstairs and I am the guy who gets the brunt of everyone screaming, “Dad! The internet is really slow!

Since I was not about to go back to the Stone Age and wire my house with ethernet, I tried every solution I could think of: Two Apple Airport Express devices as network extenders (they stream music too) and a Belkin repeater in our home theatre area. I even tried three of these powerful WiFi routers at various times but my signal strength never did boost enough to make much of a difference. All of our WiFi connected devices worked, but doing anything on them was still slow in some areas of the house and our TV streaming quality was almost always crappy (especially if we were all online watching streaming TV and on our iPads, iPhones or computers).

moca-box

MOCA boxes are inexpensive.
A 2-pack at Amazon is $115

Over dinner one night with our brides, I began whining to my brother-in-law about my wireless troubles (he owns Audio by Design in Minneapolis, a high-end installer). He chuckled and then said to me, “Why not install MOCA devices?” I had NO idea what he was talking about and, after he gleefully pointed out he finally had something about technology he could tell me, he told me all about why MOCA was so good, how it was so much better than ethernet over powerline, and that using WiFi repeaters like I had done in my house simply weren’t effective.

Turns out that there is so much available frequency capacity in the coax cable that runs throughout most homes that it’s trivial to piggyback on it with an ethernet protocol. The Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MOCA) was started to leverage that available coax and man-oh-man…it works really well! (Read more here at Wikipedia).

It took me less than 10 minutes to hook up one box between my cable modem and the wall and the second one downstairs between my daughter’s TV and the wall (an ethernet cable then went to her Playstation for Netflix streaming). The next night she came upstairs and exclaimed, “Wow! Streaming is perfect Dad!” We then bought two more and hooked up our home theatre and our upstairs AppleTV and now we experience zero stuttering, buffering, slow connections or anything else.

Take a peek at this MOCA video to learn more about what it can do (and there are a lot more MOCA videos here):

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Impressions of Cory Doctorow’s “Homeland”

My son, Alex, is an ardent fan and admirer of Cory Doctorow‘s fiction. I really appreciate the way Cory’s mind works, his deep and abiding passion for freedom from the clueless and the oppressors, his ability to bring awareness to things I’d otherwise miss at BoingBoing, and that he understands technology and internetworking in ways that few among us do. But what I like most is that Cory can communicate all of that in his writings, public speaking, work for organizations like the EFF, and in entertaining ways that teach young people like my son about the forces at work for good and for evil with tech.

Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow

Since Alex loved one of Cory’s works, Little Brother (so much so that he’s read it seven times), in early December I poked around Cory’s website to see what was new so maybe I could come up with a Christmas present for my son.  Much to my delight I saw that he had a new novel, Homeland, a sequel to Little Brother. I instantly logged on to Amazon but saw that it didn’t ship until February!

Now what? Since I’d emailed a couple of times with Cory back in 2009 (about Alex’ and my experience with Little Brother as I explain here in this post) I sent him a note to find out if there was any way to buy an early copy. Unfortunately the answer was ‘no’ but was stunned when he replied:

Hey Steve! Sorry we can’t make a “real” book appear for Xmas, but I can give you an early, eyes-only, do-not-distribute ebook version of the book to share with the kid? (You could print it and stick it in a three-ring binder under the tree, I suppose!).

I immediately ordered a copy from Amazon so Alex would get it as soon as possible and then printed the PDF and bound it. To say Alex was blown away at Christmas is an understatement! Thank you Cory.

But what about the book Homeland? Is it good? Alex and I agree: though Little Brother was a resounding success and a great book, Homeland is better and a perfect sequel (and I think it would make a great movie…but I digress). Here is a schedule of Cory’s stops on his Homeland tour if you’d like to connect with him directly and learn more about Homeland firsthand.

PODCAST
Alex and I agreed we’d do a podcast when we both finished the book. I put Homeland on my iPad and, since Alex is in his first of college and jammed with homework, it took him a bit longer to get to reading it but he finished it this past weekend. Both of us loved the book and we talk about it at length in this just under 20 minute podcast:  Download here

Bottom line? Go and buy Homeland now.