If you care about privacy and the security of your communications, Signal app is likely already on your phone, tablet or computer. If not, it should be and you should be using it.
Some time ago I became troubled that Cellebrite, an Israeli “digital forensics” tool, was law enforcement and government’s method of choice to extract data from iOS and other devices. Whether used for warranted legal investigations by law enforcement, or by oppressive governments looking to stifle dissent in their countries, the company once boasted that they could even hack Signal.
That was too much for Moxie Marlinspike and Brian Acton, the founders of Signal Foundation, who refuted Cellebrite’s claims in this blog post a few weeks ago.
Rather than go in to a lot of detail, let me instead point you to In epic hack, Signal developer turns the tables on forensics firm Cellebrite by Riana Pfefferkorn from the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School. It recaps the entire controversy well.
Suffice to say that I do have concerns that Signal has poked the bear … and in this case the bear is Congress, the Justice Department, the National Security Agency, and any intelligence or law enforcement. I am certain that all of the above would rather have it continue to be trivial and simple to mass surveil the U.S. population and track us through our digital devices.
Perhaps this poking will accelerate U.S. laws being enacted to continue to erode end-to-end encrypted (E2EE) communications. This will make us all more susceptible to surveillance, but most importantly to hacking. Once a backdoor is put in, or some company finds a way in to gain access to our device’s data, hackers will quickly gain access too.
Yes, I do have concerns that E2EE makes law enforcement and intelligence gathering more difficult. But the tradeoff is literally making billions of people vulnerable to catch a fraction of them breaking the law. These agencies have significant tools in their arsenals and don’t need to make us all weaker to do their jobs.
While I’m the most benign person on the planet when it comes to secrets or having something to hide, there is NO WAY that I want my phone, tablet or computer to be MORE vulnerable rather than less. Same thing with my communications: What I say in a text message, voice or video call is no one else’s business over and above myself and the person(s) I’m communicating with at the time.
It’s finally published. This report is a stunning body of work and emphasizes the overwhelming need the United States has to be a (the?) dominant player in artificial intelligence (AI).
Today Apple added the first Retina 5k iMacs to its “vintage” product list. That means that parts availability will be OK until they run out, and then no longer supported for repair or Genius Bar support. See Apple Adds First iMac Models With Retina 5K Display to Vintage Products List for more.
In a way I’m sad to see my my iMac 27-inch from late 2014 being put out to pasture, though it’s served me well and I look forward to the new iMacs coming with rumored new designs and a desktop version running Apple’s screamingly fast Apple Silicon.
When I purchased this machine in December of 2014, I did so with end-of-year money in my company. It has 32GBs of memory, a 1TB SSD, and a core i7, and I paid around $4,800 for it.
Though expensive at the time, it’s been an outstanding machine. The average cost was $800 per year for the six years I’ve owned it and I can unequivocally state that the return on my investment was definitely worth it!
Wow…today is the day my wife and I decided to complete our vote and now we’ll drive it to the Orange County Registrar of Voters to deliver it personally (vs. using the on-purpose-slowed-down U.S. Postal service).
We love our country and democracy and take our voting right as sacred, regardless of the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt) cast on this election by that temporary occupant in the White House.
What a difference voting out here in California has been though. There were 12 Propositions on the ballot, each of which required a lot of study and consideration. The tough part is most, if not all of them, have some sort of unintended consequences which are very difficult to see in advance.
Hope everyone who votes here in CA considers these as carefully as we have, all while deeply appreciating the profound responsibility we all share in making the best decisions we can when voting.
Wherever you live in the United States, please vote…no matter what it takes to do so. If your state supports it, vote as early as you can. It’s a privilege, a right, and a duty.
I’d be remiss if I did not bring to your attention to an accelerating trend sweeping over the web right now, and one I view as timely since our attention is being pulled in dozens of directions at once and there is simply too much content to consume!
The trend is called “Web Stories” and the buzzword used to describe them is that they are “tappable” stories that are bite-sized and easy to swallow. Tappable is an obvious reference to smartphones and tablets being the primary device target for these “story containers”, but I’ve also seen some good full-browser ones being delivered too (that look good on desktops, laptops, and mobile devices). I’ve yet to see a TV-delivered container, but it makes perfect sense and am sure we’ll see some soon.
As I’ve gone through numerous Web Stories, I’ve thought that they’d be great for “How To” tutorials, general learning content, fun stories of any type, or even a replacement for the meme-driven videos we see all the time (I should note that I’m growing weary of text over video that, once you tap to listen to the video’s audio, the text remains).
ABOUT WEB STORIES
The trend is called “Web Stories” and these stories are small, self-contained, encapsulated stories about a single topic. Creating them is leveraging AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) and is a big push for Google. Why? Because the cost to them of dealing with big, bandwidth-intensive web pages is extremely high. So for some time we’ve been seeing Google trying to figure out ways to make the delivery of web content smaller and faster and so AMP was developed.
The problem historically with AMP is that it didn’t offer a whole lot to the world so people didn’t do much with it. It was also a pain in the ass to use in a website and also to build web stories. But in 2020 the world has rapidly moved toward smaller, discrete “containers” of content that would be great on mobile and the tools have evolved too.
The other driver for AMP/WebStories are data caps by mobile providers that can increase cost of bloated websites. Even with a so-called “unlimited” mobile account, almost always there is a gigabyte (GB) “ceiling” for how much bandwidth a mobile network user can consume in a single month. Usually 22 or 23GBs in a monthly billing cycle, once a user goes past that amount their mobile data connection is “throttled” and slowed down significantly. Outside 1st tier economies in the world, data speeds are typically slower and mobile connections not as ubiquitous, which makes rapid delivery of encapsulated content like Web Stories even more compelling.
Others have recognized that smaller, discrete pieces of functionality are important as well. For example, WordPress fundamentally changed how the software’s back-end content creation was done with their Gutenberg approach to creating and editing content. Even Apple has delivered this same sort of concept with App Clips in iOS 14 so we don’t have to launch an app, wade through menus, only to perform one, discrete and simple task.
There is some concern though…
We are living in a time where the lines between free speech, and hate/fake news type speech, are blurring. Increasingly it seems that the arbiters of free speech are for-profit social media and search companies. As such, I now find myself deeply troubled by where we’re headed with what is, and is not, considered a free speech, press and peaceable assembly, as protected by the United States Constitution’s First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Throughout the Trump presidency, I have railed against The Donald’s bloviating, lying and complete misstatement of facts as well as his constant attempts toward stirring up hate and the speech surrounding it. I am so weary of him that I want to puke whenever I listen to his lies, outright anti-pandemic rhetoric, his inflating accomplishments, and specifically his child-like rantings.
My biggest issue, besides his failed leadership (especially on the pandemic), is that he also constantly provides de facto permission for his base to openly display racist, prejudiced, anti-immigrant, misogynist and “America First!” rhetoric — alongside outcries that social media and search companies are intentionally stifling ‘conservative’ speech when those posts are flagged or removed.
Though I hate to admit it, maybe Trump and conservatives have a point about that implied and expressed stifling of conservative tweets, posts and search results (NOTE: I’m intentionally not using the word “censorship” as I don’t think the flagging or removals are to that extent yet, or whether there is any truth to their belief that search results for their published missives are not displaying).
Whether they’re right, or that we detest conservative’s extreme positions so much that most of us think it doesn’t matter if that objectionable speech is stifled, we at least all need to think about whether or not there is any truth to Trump and his minion’s belief. Why? That belief could affect us all where free speech is concerned if we don’t address this now — and consider those outcries seriously and figure out how to manage our online ‘assembly’ as quickly as possible.
In January of 1989, Apple introduced the Macintosh SE/30, an upgrade to the SE model. This new one had a whopping 30 MBs (yes…that’s megabytes) as its hard disk drive. I bought one shortly after its introduction and thought I died and went to heaven to have that much storage for files.
At the time this machine was the best one I could afford since, when introduced, its retail cost was US$4,369 (equivalent to $9,011 in 2019) but I got a deal through a buddy that worked at Apple so saved nearly 40%.
The good news? The unbelievable productivity I gained owning it was totally worth it, especially as it allowed me to accelerate my learning of Aldus PageMaker (which was acquired by Adobe in 1994) and thus my wife and I were able to launch our company, Marketing Directions, Inc. (we began publishing newsletters and reports).
The screen was only nine inches diagonally and was monochrome…mainly because the color Mac II — which was introduced in 1987 — cost an incredible US$5,498 (equivalent to $12,373 in 2019). No way could I afford it, even with a discount, as we’d been married for less than three years and our daughter Liz was not yet one year old.
Using this new computer was liberating, especially since I could store so many files on the hard disk. That said, scrolling from side to side and up and down to perform page layout on an 8.5″ by 11″ page was kind of a nightmare. But with the dozen or so books I’d purchased on graphics, desktop publishing, page layout, and typography, I was able to muddle through, design a newsletter and reports layout, and make it work. (As a reminder, this was early 1989 and the reason I bought all of those books to learn how to create professional-level published works was because there was not a public internet available for five more years. It was also many years past before there were a robust set of needed publishing resources available online).
When I think back on that time (now 31.5 years ago!) I’m still kind of amazed that I was able to leverage this machine in those ways. I will still emphatically state that, if it hadn’t been for the Macintosh and its innovations, our company would never have begun, it would have been unlikely that I ended up working in interactive media, computing, and internet-centric software companies for the remainder of my career. Without my embrace of the Macintosh and its technology ecosystem, I would have just been another tech geek futzing around with Windows, various gadgets, while struggling to make them work together.
I also would not have met Steve Jobs and a few of the Macintosh team while a manufacturer’s rep in the early 1980s, made great friends through Apple, kept stock earned by me while working with Apple in the mid-Nineties, and accumulated enough stock after that to now have a very comfortable retirement. So thank you Steve wherever you are, to Steve Wozniak for kickstarting the company with Jobs, to every human who pushed Apple forward since the beginning, and for today’s outstanding leadership from Tim Cook and his team which is carrying Apple in to the future.
We continue to invest in Apple products and services and are “all in” to the secure, private and amazingly great Apple ecosystem.
It’s happened again: I’ve had yet another friend that lost everything on their phone when it was lost (or possibly stolen?). “Did you back it up,” I asked. He responded, “Don’t even go there…I hadn’t backed it up for almost a year.”
He lost nearly ONE YEAR of photos, videos, text messages, contacts, app data and more. With external drives and cloud backup being so cheap, I’m truly sad for him and his phone loss but can’t really muster much sympathy for him. Sorry ______ (name withheld to protect the sheepish). 😉
Our entire family routinely backs up to external drives for our iMacs and MacBooks. I’ve set up our iPhones and iPads to automatically back up over WiFi whenever home. But all of that data is then backed up to ioSafe Solo G3 waterproof and fireproof drives (I have two of them: a 3TB and a 6TB…the latter to back up my iMac’s internal 1TB SSD and the 3TB ioSafe drive with files on it). Read more about why I love these drives, and recommend them highly, in this post from last year.
Lots of my archive files are stored in my paid, 2TB Dropbox account as well (which, by the way, is a change to my attitude toward no-privacy-required archive files which I’m now willing to store in the cloud). I sync up or upload files, but I’m also using Dropbox’ selective sync capability so huge, archives of photos and videos stay in the cloud only and don’t clutter up my drives and take up space.
Also, external 1, 2, 4, 6 and even 8 TB drives are laughingly cheap right now so there is simply no excuse not to back up. In fact, as of this writing you can buy this Seagate 8TB external drive on Amazon for only $146!
So please…back up your computer and especially your mobile devices and do something about it right now.
By the way, many peaceful protestors recently arrested in the George Floyd protests still don’t have their phones back and many have been told they have no idea when they will be returned. In fact, with the proliferation of geofence warrants, arrests and phone confiscations can happen even long after a protest has concluded. If they were backed up, those persons could buy new phones and restore them.
Over the last few years, I’ve written a few times about senior citizens and technology. There is no better time than right now to figure out how you can connect with those whom you love or care about (and not just seniors!) since there are a lot of lonely and isolated people during this pandemic time.
I’d expect that you certainly don’t want your parents, grandparents, elderly family members, or other seniors — who, without question, are our most vulnerable during this pandemic and will be the last to go out or connect with others in person — to be even lonelier or more isolated than ever before!
Many people have commented on those posts of mine, but even more have used my contact form to reach out to me directly and asked questions, provided solutions they had or knew about, or reinforced my belief that online communication with others can really help.
HMM…MAYBE I COULD HELP HER?
This past week a woman sent me a long message which started off with this:
Hi Steve, I found your blog after realizing I will probably need to purchase something for my father (and mother who has dementia) to do video calls. Like you talked about in your blog it has to be as easy as turning on a device, make sure wifi is connected, and just clicking 1 button (only) to call me. The device can’t be small because Dad has vision and hearing problems. No extra apps, etc.
She also mentioned these requirements:
- My dilemma is that I myself am disabled, and cannot easily go to a store to buy a device, set it up, pack it up and then ship it to him.
- I also don’t want to spend over, let’s say $300-350.
- Also, the device can’t be fidgety like a small tablet.
- Anyway, if you have any other ideas that could fall in or below my price range, I’d love to hear. Esp if it’s geared toward disabled/seniors (e.g. big buttons/keypad/screen). It literally has to be visually and aurally very usable, clear, and with no quirky gadgets.
I thought it might be helpful for you to read most of my response to her since the solution I recommended to her might help you too.
PLEASE NOTE: I know there are a lot of other tablets, devices, and cheaper solutions, so no need to pick apart my suggestion below. Make your own suggestions in the comments.
One other consideration is this: Unless you’ve done what I’ve done in the past — set up laptops, computer towers, tablets, IP-and-mobile phones and other devices for seniors, all while coaching them on their use — then please understand that I’m hypersensitive to the need for something that just works, is easy to set up and easy for seniors to use. That is what I’ve suggested below with my recommendation.