I’m seeing so many people struggling with understanding why our nation (and other nations) are essentially in lockdown, especially when “more people die of flu” and “just a tiny few have been identified so far“.

Do you understand how quickly the growth of a virus can move throughout humans? The wheat and chess board problem below is a great illustration of how exponential growth works — similar to how a virus spreads in a human population — and why the governmental reaction is happening to restrict our movements at this point in time.

THE CALIFORNIA EXAMPLE
As of yesterday, all non-essential services in my current State of California are shut down and people are mandated to “shelter in place” so as not to communicate the novel coronavirus to others. But why is this happening now?

According to How overwhelmed is California’s health care system about to be? California may not even be able to handle the surge of COVID-19 cases with the current hospital beds:

“Projections by state health officials have indicated that California hospitals could handle a surge — right now, statewide — of about 10,000 patients. But given the potential for the virus to spread so far and so fast, some models project the state could need twice that, closer to 20,000 extra hospital beds.”

A few facts about the State of California and the death rate and the state’s ventilator need is in order:

  • As of the end of 2018, the population of California is 39.56 million people.
  • Approximately 3.4% of people 60+ years of age are dying from the virus. Others in multiple younger age ranges are ending up with lung damage and both require ventilators to survive or minimize that lung damage.

Yesterday California Governor Newsom made announcements and sent a letter to the Trump administration stating that 56 percent of the state’s population — 25.5 million people — is projected to be infected with the coronavirus over an eight-week period.

With California’s citizenry being left to move about as before the virus emerged, the projection is that within two months a whopping 25.5 million people would have COVID-19 and therefore 3.4% of 25.5 million = 850,000 dead (and an unknown number of younger people with lung damage).

THE WHEAT AND CHESS BOARD – A LINEAR VS. EXPONENTIAL GROWTH EXPLANATION
The reason for the lockdowns is that the deaths are caused by acute respiratory failure requiring ventilators for those afflicted. If there aren’t enough ventilators the death rate goes way up.

The spread of a virus, especially one as communicable as this novel coronavirus, is exponential…and that’s the problem. Left unchecked (i.e., we were NOT locked down) the virus would spread exponentially.

You maybe saying, “Steve…I still don’t get how or why it would grow so fast and why the government’s numbers of people infected are so high.” It’s not your fault if you don’t understand since your brain understands linear growth easily, but your brain is NOT good at understanding exponential growth.

Linear growth is always at the same rate, whereas exponential growth increases in speed over time. If the coronavirus spread at a linear growth rate the numbers are larger than most people can understand since they are so enormous.

To understand both types of growth, let’s look at a chess board which has 64 squares on it and is one where you place grains of wheat on each square.

1) Linear growth is always at the same rate, so this is easy when you put one grain of wheat each day for 64 days. At the end of 64 days you have 64 grains of wheat.

2) How many grains of wheat would be on the chessboard when you finish with exponential growth? Since exponential growth increases in speed over time — just like a virus would spread — let’s see what happens when you double the number of grains each day for 64 days like you would if you were at the mall, in a restaurant, and moving about as you did normally before the virus hit:

  • FIRST DAY: You place one grain of wheat on the first square on the chess board
  • SECOND DAY: You double the grains of wheat on the second chess board square … so now there are two grains on that second square
  • THIRD DAY: You double the grains again and now you have four grains on the third chess board square
  • FOURTH DAY: You double the grains again and now you have eight grains on the fourth chess board square
  • FOURTH THROUGH 64TH DAY: For the next two months continue to double the grains each day and place them on each subsequent square.

At the end of 64 days you would have 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 quadrillion grains of wheat! (NOTE: A quadrillion is a thousand trillion).

THAT is why we are in lockdown and trying hard to flatten the curve, performing social distancing, and trying to stop the exponential spread of this virus until a vaccine (and other mitigation strategies) can be found.

Here’s an interesting video to give you an idea on how quickly exponential growth occurs:

Browser extensions are fraught with danger — which is why I rarely use them — especially those extensions that request your permission to:

  • Access your data for all websites
  • Access browser tabs
  • Access recently closed tabs
  • Read and modify bookmarks
  • Download files and read and modify the browser’s download history
  • Input data to the clipboard
  • Display notifications to you
  • Read and modify browser settings.

I mean…seriously!?! There is not a snowballs-chance-in-Hell that I would ever give permission to a browser extension to rummage around in my browser and change things, possibly add malware code in to my computer or device’s memory (i.e., the clipboard), as well as essentially look over my shoulder while I use that browser!

Photo of investigator and security expert, Brian Krebs

Brian Krebs

As you may have already guessed, I’ve been wary of browser extensions for a long time. I wrote about how dangerous browser extensions are back in 2011: Why We Need a Google Condom for Chrome Extensions and again in 2017: Why Browser Extensions Are Dangerous but there are an increasing number of security experts now recommending caution on your use of browser extensions. One such expert is the cyber investigator Brian Krebs who writes the excellent Krebs on Security blog. His latest post was just published on March 3, 2020 and gives great advice and reasoning behind limiting the browser extensions you install: The Case for Limiting Your Browser Extensions.

Add to that my specific intention to limit (or completely stop) tracking as best I can — which is why I’ve moved from Google’s Chrome to Firefox as my default browser — is why I am not just concerned about malware and rogue extensions, I’m more concerned about third-party trackers and the companies that enable them to flourish to our detriment.

A CRACKDOWN ON EXTENSIONS

Fortunately there is a move by major browser companies (i.e., Google with Chrome and Mozilla with Firefox) to crack down on rogue and dangerous extensions. Ars Technica had this article published January 30, 2020: More than 200 browser extensions ejected from Firefox and Chrome stores:

The crackdowns highlight a problem that has existed for years with extensions available from both Mozilla and Google. While the vast majority are safe, a small but statistically significant sample engage in click fraudsteal user credentials and install currency miners, and spy on end users—in at least one case, millions of users, some of whom were inside large companies and other data-sensitive networks.

WHAT IF THE EXTENSION IS FROM A TRUSTED COMPANY?

Even trusted companies can give you a useful browser extension but you need to decide if you’re willing to make tracking you easier. For example, there is a long-time webpage capture browser extension which boasts “millions of users” and comes from a trusted company, Nimbus Web. Though I routinely need to capture long web pages, I would never install their extension and instead I capture page sections manually. Why wouldn’t I just install Nimbus Web’s extension? Because of the following from their privacy policy which allows them to collect and use our user data from the installed extension, combine it or leverage aggregator’s data, and facilitate advertising to us:

“When you use the Websites or Products, we automatically gather information made available by your web browser (such as Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome), Internet service provider (such as Comcast or Time Warner), and device (such as your computer, phone, or tablet), depending on your settings for each. For example, we may collect your IP address, information about the operating system or type of device you use, the date and time you access the Websites or Products, and the location of your device.

Generally, the information addressed under this section is anonymous and does not, standing alone, directly identify you; however, it could possibly identify you when associated with other information. For example, if a third party were to see your IP address, they would not automatically know your name—yet your name could be associated with your IP address by your Internet service provider if you are the named accountholder.

You could argue that the above is boilerplate and all organizations do some form of this type of data aggregation. But when that data is has specific intents like the following, it shows how they intend to use your data AND allow it to be shared by third parties:

To Advertise to You. We also use Cookies and web beacons, including those placed by Third Parties, to deliver advertising that may be of interest to you. For example, we use the Facebook web beacon to better target and retarget users and potential users of the Websites by advertising to them on Facebook. Twitter, Google Analytics, Google Adwords, and other Third Party Cookies may also be used in our advertising endeavors. We may also use a web beacon in email messages sent to track your response. Cookies and web beacons also help us and our Third-Party advertising partners ensure you do not see the same advertisements over and over and to identify and block unwanted ads.”

What about Third Party practices? 

Third Party Cookies and Web Beacons: Advertising agencies, advertising networks, and other companies (together, “Third Parties”) who place advertisements on the Websites and on the Internet generally may use their own cookies, web beacons, and other technology to collect information about individuals. Except as expressly provided herein, we do not control Third Parties’ use of such technology and we have no responsibility for the use of such technology to gather information about individuals. It is up to you to familiarize yourself with the privacy practices of such Third Parties.”

Remember this quote when something like this useful extension is free, “You are not the customer. You are the product.”

WHAT EXTENSIONS CAN YOU SAFELY INSTALL?

In my main browser Firefox, I have only one extension installed: the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) Privacy Badger. EFF describes Privacy Badger as:

…a browser add-on that stops advertisers and other third-party trackers from secretly tracking where you go and what pages you look at on the web. If an advertiser seems to be tracking you across multiple websites without your permission, Privacy Badger automatically blocks that advertiser from loading any more content in your browser. To the advertiser, it’s like you suddenly disappeared.

Though Firefox’s new privacy and anti-tracking capabilities are excellent, Privacy Badger completes the capability I seek to make tracking and surveillance even harder for the hundreds of third-party trackers out there. Firefox’s creation organization, Mozilla, also has a rigorous vetting process for extensions and has a short list of verified extensions that do not violate their Recommended Extensions program guidelines.

Here is the best article from Mozilla that I’ve seen yet on how to determine whether or not a browser extension is worthy of (and safe to) install. but if you already know these tips (or have read Brian Krebs’ article above), at least pay attention to wise advice like this from Dan Goodin, the writer of the previously linked-to article from Ars Technica:

“There’s no sure-fire way to know if an extension is safe. One general rule is that there’s safety in numbers. An app with millions of installs is likely to receive more scrutiny from researchers than one with only a few thousand. Another guideline: apps from known developers are less likely to engage in malicious or abusive behavior. The best rule is to install extensions only when they truly provide value. Installed extensions that are used rarely or not at all should always be removed.”

UPDATE on 02/07/2020 at 6:38pm PST
Looks like Google is adamant that they do NOT track this way: Google denies Chrome tracking allegation, explains use of ‘X-Client-Data’

As I take steps to extract myself from Google (and others) ubiquitous tracking, I’ve been paying attention to anything related to Google’s Chrome browser. In my news feed yesterday, I came across this threaded discussion in Hacker News:  Google tracks individual users per Chrome installation ID.

I was stunned to learn that every install of Chrome generates a unique ID just for you and it’s possible that Google is using this install ID to track us. As soon as you log in to any Google account with that new installation of Chrome, it’s also likely linked directly to your individual Google profile.

Not only is this completely “evil” on Google’s part if true and they’re using this ID for browser fingerprinting, but it also means it is a complete violation of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GPDR) and would result in massive fines for the company.

In order to get a deeper sense of what was going on, I went out and did a bunch of online searching (using my now preferred search engine, DuckDuckGo, of course). There are dozens of developer and tech site articles and posts that helped me fully understand what is going on, and why developers (and those of us who care about security and privacy) are so upset, concerned, and making a huge fuss to get an answer out of Google.

From LongRoom News:

On Tuesday, Arnaud Granal, a software developer involved with a Chromium-based browser called Kiwi, challenged a Google engineer in a GitHub Issues post about the privacy implications of request header data that gets transmitted by Chrome. Granal called it a unique identifier and suggesting it can be used, by Google at least, for tracking people across the web.”

Even the adblocker software company, Magic Lasso, shared this insight on their blog about the controversy and explained the problem and how this potential tracking occurs:

Each and every install of Chrome, since version 54, have generated a unique ID. Depending upon which settings you configure, the unique ID may be longer or shorter.

Irrespective, when used in combination with other configuration features, Google now generates and retains a unique ID in each Chrome installation. The ID represents your particular Chrome install, and as soon as you log into any Google account, is likely also linked directly to your individual Google profile.

The evil next step is that this unique ID is then sent (in the “x-client-data” field of a Chrome web request) to Google every time the browser accesses a Google web property. This ID is not sent to any non-Google web requests; thereby restricting the tracking capability to Google itself.”

Google needs to address this and quickly. Just about every developer I know has abandoned Chrome and are using Firefox exclusively (as am I).

The Transportation Research Center at Argonne National Laboratory recently published this U.S. Plug-in Electric Vehicle Sales by Model analysis. It turns out the Honda Clarity PHEV is not selling well at all.

Introduced in the fall of 2017, the Honda Clarity PHEV sales for that year were only 903 vehicles. In 2018, sales leapt to 18,602 and, as of the end of 2019, have fallen back to 10,728.

Perhaps radically slowing sales are due to people have so many issues with the car and telling anyone who will listen not to buy it. Or maybe it's because cars like the Tesla Model 3 (with 50% of the EV market as of now) has turned out to be the smarter investment. Or perhaps it's because Honda has pulled back sales to California only, and will likely soon discontinue the car.

Thought you'd enjoy seeing this spreadsheet of sales, by model, in order of market introduction:

To view more details, notes, and acronyms, please download the Excel spreadsheet.

Below are two screenshots of the Excel spreadsheet I downloaded and then highlighted the Honda Clarity Plugin sales in red:

  • The left one is sorted by sales from model introduction.
  • The right one is sorted by total sales. Note that the Tesla Model 3 was shipping at the same time the Honda Clarity was in 2017.

Click on either of them to see a larger view:

Total U.S. PEV Sales since Model Introduction
Total U.S. PEV Sales Overall

It’s been years since I’ve gone to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, so had considered doing so this year as I could grab a cheap airfare or would likely just drive there as I’m only 4.5 hours away! With other commitments I found myself unable to go to CES, so this morning I went on the hunt for good videos from the show, and came across ones from CNET at their dedicated CES website.

As much as I was delighted to find that site and it is filled with excellent videos from the tens of thousands of products at CES, I must admit that I’ve got a love-hate relationship with CNET though, even though I fully realize they (like most media companies) are struggling to find the sweet-spot on making money vs. pissing off their visitors to the point they’ll stop visiting:

  • Their websites are a nightmare of popups, snarly ads, and visual noise which are especially bad when reading on my iPad.
  • For years their “CNET Downloads” site saw near-malware installation on PCs and Macs and I spent many hours cleaning (or helping clean) people’s systems who inadvertently trusted them.

So even though their dedicated CES website is organized very well and it’s easy to find specifically what might interest you, instead of the website you might want to go to CNET TV channel on YouTube instead.

If you don’t want to go poke around their site, embedded below is their “Best of CES 2020” recap you’ll likely find interesting:

Thought I’d be helpful since the holidays are approaching quickly. Enjoy this compilation of Saturday Night Live holiday skits with several I’d never seen before:

In January of 1993, I was attending the MacWorld expo in San Francisco. At a furious pace I was hustling down a hallway to get in to a ballroom presentation when, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a magazine that looked pretty dang cool. It was the WIRED Premiere publication (issue 1.1) and I stopped dead in my tracks and picked one up.

Quickly leafing through it I instantly knew I’d found exactly the right publication for everything I was doing and thinking as it pertained to the future of technology! Ripping out the subscription card I immediately filled it out to subscribe.

I wish I could convey to you what a big deal this magazine was when it appeared, and how profoundly it covered the big ideas and the overall zeitgeist of that era which birthed the commercial internet, companies like Google and Amazon, and tapped in to the explosion of tech and its changes on the world.

The constant (and sometimes jarring) design, colors and layout choices were often disconcerting, but always pushed-the-envelope in keeping with what they were covering: emerging, disruptive and futuristic tech.

Looking back on that first issue now is also a bit amusing — and I wish I could link to a live copy online but cannot find one — but there is one advertisement I found particularly delightful from Apple, proudly touting the ability to fax from the Powerbook 170 which I just so happened to own at that moment:

Click image for a larger view
The third ad from the front of the magazine was this one from Apple.
Note that the “killer app” for use of this Powerbook 170 is “Fax Transmittal”.

For at least 15 years, Wired magazine was my tech-bible. I devoured each issue and learned a lot along the way, and have used the Wired iPad app to download and read each issue. Unfortunately there is so much tech writing online now, the magazine has become less relevant (dare I say “boring”?) and I reluctantly just cancelled my subscription which will expire with the February 2020 issue.

SOME WIRED TIDBITS

Here are some items you may find of interest:

  • The Internet Archive has TechNation “internet radio show” (the term ‘podcast’ was not yet invented) and you can listen to Dr. Moria Gunn interview the founders of Wired magazine, Jane Metcalfe and Louis Rosetto, and it is very enlightening (This part of the show starts at 32:18). They discuss how “Wired” is different from its predecessors, addressing the complete societal impact of technology and its latest breakthroughs. Other topics include the phenomenal success of “Wired”’s premier issue and why the BBC is “wired” while National Public Radio is “tired.”
  • Lastly, here is the Wired Magazine Promo Reel from the lead-up to the premiere issue that I found at the Internet Archive (which, by the way, I have always found to be THE best resource for anything digitally significant from history):

UPDATE November 18, 2019
Since the dealership is closed on Sunday, I waited until this morning to call for a jump-start. The tow-truck driver tested the 12V battery and it was down to 4%! After jump-starting the car, the display was going crazy with errors and all idiot lights on, so I asked the driver to tow the car to the dealership…I don’t trust that I’d make it there.

Today is Saturday, November 16, 2019 and my wife, son and I were going to take off for a family luncheon event. I went in to the garage to move the Honda Clarity so they could climb in easily, and I was stunned to discover…

…that for THE FOURTH TIME SINCE JUNE the Clarity would NOT START!

The dealer, Rancho Santa Margarita Honda, has had the car for a total of 15 days at their facility since I purchased it, they’ve gone through the car at length, and cannot determine what’s wrong.

After the last time it didn’t start at the end of October, the Service Drive Manager, Doug Jezowski, promised me he’d contact Honda and have a field service engineer (FSE) come out to examine the car. I dropped it off on Tuesday, November 5th so they could perform the 10,000 mile service a bit early, and so the FSE would have time to do his magic diagnosis.

After having the car for four days, Doug called me on Saturday the 9th to tell me that “the FSE can’t come out just yet and it might be another two weeks or so” and that I could come over and pick up the car.

To say I am filled with rage is an understatement!!!!!!

I don’t trust the car. Can’t count on it starting or, after this happened three days after I bought the car,  my wife won’t drive it and I’m leery of the car and its performance. But the car not starting is a fucking joke for a car that retails for nearly $38,000.

Here is what happened each time my car won’t start:

 

Lemon Law Attorneys

On Monday I’m going to pull together all paperwork and formally engage with a Los Angeles law firm that specializes in California lemon law. At this point I just want Honda to buy the car back since they do not seem to give a shit about whether or not they fix the car.

Other Honda Clarity Complaints

Here are others having the same issues:

My Own Fault for Trusting Honda

Then there’s this old clip from the movie Animal House which sums up how I’m feeling … and identifying with Flounder as fraternity rush chairman, “Otter” (played by Tim Matheson), puts his arm around him and says this:

As family and friends have asked me again and again about what’s up with my Honda Clarity, I thought I’d do yet another an update.

Last Friday afternoon I hopped in to my car to run errands after not having driven the car for two days (I’m heads-down on a project so didn’t go anywhere). Pushing the Power On button did … nothing. “Oh shit!” I thought, “the Clarity is dead again!

So for the second time in the month of September, I contacted Honda Roadside Assistance and they dispatched a tow truck to give me a jump. As it was nearly 5pm the dealer, Rancho Santa Margarita Honda, couldn’t see the car until Monday. It is now Tuesday afternoon and they need to order a part (the “battery charge monitoring system”) and will keep the vehicle until Wednesday.

This is getting ridiculous. My wife won’t drive the car after our first incident, and now I don’t trust the car being able to start if it sits for more than a day. Also, my confidence in the dealership is low, as-is my belief in American Honda doing the right thing and fixing this car.

I’m doing three things to go forward:

  1. Working with Honda Customer Support who has assigned a Regional Case Manager so we’ll see if that individual can finally be effective and take some action.
  2. Contacted Tesla to see what they’d give me for a trade-in on the Clarity for a Model 3 Long Range.
  3. Contacted the Ana Brown, Customer Relations Manager at American Honda Motor Company, Inc.

So we’ll see what happens next.