Current Affairs

Unfortunately Trump Doesn’t Understand Technology

President Trump tweeted this morning that “Apple will not be given Tariff waiver, or relief, for Mac Pro parts that are made in China. Make them in USA, no Tariffs!Perhaps he doesn’t know that every time he does something like this we all laugh at him?

Unfortunately, Trump’s basic understanding of technology — and which country has the manufacturing capability to even make the required components for the new Mac Pro — is laughingly ignorant.

According to CNBC, Trump says Apple will not be given tariff waivers or relief for Mac Pro parts made in China:

Apple asked for waivers on tariffs on the Mac Pro. Apple said it wanted to be exempt on some parts it uses for the new Mac Pro, including a power supply unit, the stainless-steel enclosure, finished mice and trackpads and circuit boards.

“There are no other sources for this proprietary, Apple-designed component,” Apple said in a filing.

Apple said in June that tariffs on its products will reduce its contribution to the U.S. economy. In a letter to U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer, Apple said tariffs would “also weigh on Apple’s global competitiveness” since Chinese companies compete with the products Apple builds. Trump met with Apple CEO Tim Cook in June to discuss trade.

Just a suggestion, @realDonaldTrump, but before you tweet would you at least ask someone in the White House — who has above a grade-schooler’s understanding of technology, manufacturing, and who can even make certain stuff in the USA — what is feasible and what isn’t?

Tracking Companies Are The Real Threat To Our Privacy And Congress Is Doing Nothing About These Secondary Surveillance Networks

Congressional “theater” is happening right now and our ‘Congress Critters’ are all seemingly outraged at the privacy violations by Facebook, Google, and all the other tech companies we all use every day. Some even want to break them up as do various Democratic presidential candidates.

But I’d like you to notice that there is not a *peep* from any of them about all the other tracking companies out there, especially ones like Palantir.

Those tracking or “secondary surveillance network” companies are the REAL privacy threats. Literally everything you do digitally is tracked including:

  • Buying anything either online or offline as your credit card data can be purchased by tracking companies and combined with other data
  • Emailing and texting metadata is captured (the content is protected as a warrant is needed to search within an email)
  • Moving around with your smartphone in your pocket provides tracking data of your movements
  • Everything you do (or your devices do automatically) through your internet service provider is tracked now that net neutrality is dead (ISPs can sell your data)
  • Everywhere your face is “recognized” by a camera connected to an increasing number of systems without any regulation since your public persona can be photographed
  • And much more.

Want to See How Bad It Is?

Palantir is one company that has always scared the beejeezus out of me out of me as I’ve personally analyzed this completely opaque and secretive organization. But it wasn’t until I read this article Revealed: This Is Palantir’s Top-Secret User Manual for Cops did I say HOLY SHIT THIS IS BAD!

Turns out Motherboard obtained this Palantir user manual through a public records request, and it gives unprecedented insight into how the company logs and tracks individuals and their system goes far beyond what I ever imagined as a worst-case scenario:

“Palantir is one of the most significant and secretive companies in big data analysis. The company acts as an information management service for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, corporations like JP Morgan and Airbus, and dozens of other local, state, and federal agencies. It’s been described by scholars as a “secondary surveillance network,” since it extensively catalogs and maps interpersonal relationships between individuals, even those who aren’t suspected of a crime.”

In addition, this article 300 Californian Cities Secretly Have Access to Palantir shows how hard various law enforcement and other agencies are hiding the fact that even use Palantir:

Motherboard obtained documents via public record requests which reveal that the scope of Palantir’s influence in California is significantly larger than previously documented. Payment records indicate that between January 2012 and March 2017, about three hundred cities, collectively home to about 7.9 million people, had access to Palantir’s Gotham service through the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC), which is run through the Department of Homeland Security.

Why use Palantir’s Gotham service instead of licensing the software outright?

Gotham is one of Palantir’s two services, and the other service is Palantir Foundry. These 300 police departments could request data from Palantir, and an NCRIC agent would retrieve this data and provide it to local police. Per this arrangement, none of these departments have to disclose the fact that they have access to Palantir.

Read these articles and go scan the manual and you’ll see that it is trivial for any user of their system — whether directly with Palantir or one of their “service” companies — to obtain a HUGE ARRAY OF PERSONAL DATA on any one of us!

Again, notice how Palantir is not even in the conversation any Congress Critters or presidential candidates are having? Also, where is the mainstream media in all of this?

These secondary surveillance network/tracking companies are already out of control. Congress must act now but they won’t unless you tell them to do so and vote accordingly going forward.

Want to know more and/or take action like I have?

Ask your Congressperson and Senators to pay attention to and regulate these tracking/secondary surveillance network companies:

ProtonMail Continues To Be The Safest, Most Secure, and Private Email Provider

Last evening I saw this article link from Steiger Legal, on a blog run by Swiss lawyer Martin Steiger, in which he published a damning allegation that my beloved ProtonMail, the end-to-end encrypted email provider, was:

Email service provider ProtonMail, based in Switzerland, offers assistance for real-time surveillance: Voluntarily!

Steiger goes on with writing a factually incorrect article about ProtonMail on his blog, alleging, among other things, that “ProtonMail voluntarily offers assistance for real-time surveillance.

Fortunately ProtonMail responded with, in part, this clear statement:

So that there can be no ambiguity: ProtonMail does not voluntarily offer assistance as alleged. We only do so when ordered by a Swiss court or prosecutor, as we are obligated to follow the law in all criminal cases. Furthermore, ProtonMail’s end-to-end encryption means we cannot be forced by a court to provide unencrypted message contents.

That’s crystal clear in my view. Just to restate that last sentence, even if a prosecutor was able to scrape metadata about which user emailed to another person(s), the contents of the email could not be decrypted by ProtonMail and provided (and a government or intelligence service could not as well without massive computing power and a lot of time!

Unfortunately I had seen this article but not ProtonMail’s rebuttal before emailing their support and tweeting it to @ProtonMail, they responded to my tweet:

Hi Steve, these allegations are false, and have also been refuted by the Swiss public prosecutor earlier this week. We have responded on our blog here with more details: https://t.co/xdz2xfF4pu

— ProtonMail (@ProtonMail) May 31, 2019

I then responded and apologized for being rash and not investigating fully before tweeting:

Thank you for the clarification! Had not yet read the HN thread nor your post. Should have gone there first … apologies for that.

Note: With all the recent breaches and revelations that mobile apps are “phoning home” with metadata, my paranoia is accelerating. https://t.co/7XAkEEKD8B

— Steve Borsch (@sborsch) May 31, 2019

The “recent breaches” and “phoning home” items I referred to in my reply to ProtonMail were:

  • Washington Post article about how their privacy experiment showed 5,400 hidden app trackers guzzled our data — in a single week on the reporter’s iPhone.

Is it no wonder I rushed-to-judgement for a secure email service I rely upon to keep my emails to family and friends — and the PDFs, Word docs, and Excel spreadsheets with vital data in them — secure from prying eyes?

Thank you, ProtonMail team, for helping to keep us safe and secure!

NSA Loses Control of THEIR Hacking Software and Apple’s Tim Cook Was 100% Right

Remember when Apple’s Tim Cook wouldn’t put in a backdoor to iOS so the FBI could gain access to the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone? THIS IS WHY!

If the NSA can’t control software as destructive as this, how can any government guarantee a compromised operating system won’t get in to the wild? (One guess: they cannot and Tim Cook was 100% right).

Read this article in The New York Times as it tells the story of the NSA’s software loss well.

We must have end-to-end encryption on our devices. Period.

Why We Should Accelerate the Use of Nuclear Power

Yesterday’s post about our solar installation got me to thinking more deeply about the overall problem of renewables and that they are unlikely to be able to keep pace with the accelerating demand for energy.

The only place I differ with many environmentalists is that, while renewables make so much sense and we need to embrace them, I believe we also need to fully utilize nuclear energy. It turns out that there are ‘safe’ alternatives — and emerging innovations — to huge nuclear power plants and the threat of nuclear accidents like Three Mile Island or Chernobyl. Doing so can ensure we have a steady, reliable, demand-meeting, nighttime using, energy grid that doesn’t spew carbon in to the atmosphere.

Heck, even Stewart Brand, a guy who helped shape environmental consciousness back in the 1960s and 1970s, began calling for nuclear energy back in the early 2000s to be rekindled and used once again:

Brand calls for the rapid deployment of a new generation of nuclear power plants to combat global warming, arguing that technological advances have made nuclear energy safer and any potential danger from nuclear waste pales compared to the damage inflicted by burning coal.

“The air pollution from coal burning is estimated to cause 30,000 deaths a year from lung disease in the United States, and 350,000 a year in China,” writes Brand. “A 1-gigawatt coal plant burns three million tons of fuel a year and produces seven million tons of CO2, all of which immediately goes into everyone’s atmosphere, where no one can control it, and no one knows what it’s really up to.”

Co-founder and former CEO of Microsoft, Bill Gates, has also called for nuclear energy and has helped drive forward the current bipartisan legislation surrounding energy research:

If dollars were votes, newly reintroduced legislation aimed at boosting nuclear energy innovation and advanced reactors would be a winner, thanks to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates’ strong endorsement today.

The world’s second-richest person is the founder and chairman of Bellevue, Wash.-based TerraPower, a startup that’s working on next-generation nuclear fission reactors. Back in December, Gates listed nuclear energy research as one of his top policy priorities, and he reportedly followed up by promising lawmakers he’d invest $1 billion of his own money and line up another $1 billion in private capital if federal funds were approved for a TerraPower pilot project in the United States.

In the past, Gates has also tweeted this and others that are similar:

“Nuclear is ideal for dealing with climate change, because it is the only carbon-free, scalable energy source that’s available 24 hours a day.” – Bill Gates on why he believes in the potential of nuclear. https://bit.ly/2DSSXUS

WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT WHY NUCLEAR ENERGY NOW?
Here is a very good overview from Vox media that is worth a few minutes of your time to watch:

We are having solar installed on our new home. In less than five years our cost for electricity will be nearly zero

Solar power generation is awesome … especially when it enables a person’s electricity consumption to become nearly free within a handful of years. Solar is a smart investment for us personally in our new home and could be for you, too.

BUYING A SOLAR INSTALLATION WAS A NO-BRAINER FOR US
When we moved from Minnesota to California in June of 2018, we knew costs for everything would be higher. We expected that any new home we would buy would cost a lot more (our new home cost nearly double the value of the home we sold back in MN), but what we did not  expect was the high cost of electricity!

In Minnesota we had Xcel Energy whose cost for electricity around-the-clock was 11.7 cents per kilowatt hour. Our new home here in southern California happens to be located in San Diego Gas & Electric‘s (SDGE) region, and it turns out that their electricity cost is the highest in the nation!

SDGE’s pricing plans are numerous, but the year-long average per-kilowatt hour cost — which prospective solar install companies used to calculate our solar system size — was going to be roughly 32 cents per kilowatt hour, nearly 3X what energy cost us when we were living in Minnesota.

On almost all of those SDGE plans there are off-peak, super off-peak and on-peak rates (and one plan even has a cheap car-charging rate from midnight to 6am of only $.09 per kilowatt hour). The on-peak rates are in effect during the summer months — which run from June 1 – October 31 during the 4-9pm time-frame — and what stunned us was the rate during those five hours each day can cost up to $.53 cents per kilowatt hour!

Because of that unexpectedly expensive energy, a few weeks after we closed on our new home we immediately set about learning everything we could about solar, what we needed and what it would cost. We then set about finding the four “best” solar install companies and have them propose a solar panel solution. We selected the best installer for our requirements, signed-up, and everything is in motion.

Within the next several weeks our new solar panel installation will be complete on top of our new home and, based on our projected energy use for the year, our break-even on our solar investment is expected to be 4.8 years. After that our only cost for electricity will be approximately $12 per month for the SDGE “interconnect fee,” which covers the electric meter on our house and account management by them.

Energy rates continue to accelerate and I’ve read numerous articles on the projected 20 year rates that SDGE has received agreement on with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). However, this article from less than a month ago said this:

If approved by CPUC commissioners, average electricity rates in SDG&E’s service territory would increase from 26.25 cents a kilowatt-hour this year to 27.4 cents next year, a rise of 4.54 percent. For a typical residential customer living in the company’s inland climate zone and using 500 kilowatt-hours a month, a bill during a summer month would increase $5.59, according to SDG&E estimates.

I’ve seen SDGE’s own projections and 4.5% per year price accelerator is expected. So as each year passes, our investment in solar energy will pay off even faster and continue to look like a very smart move on our part. But solar (or wind) alone will help combat climate change, but even if every one of the 2,500 homes in our development went solar, it wouldn’t make a serious dent in the emission of  greenhouse gases in to the atmosphere.

For our system being installed, our estimated net electricity cost savings over 25 years will be over $82,000 (assuming a 4% per year utility price escalator). That’s why it was a no-brainer for us to get solar!

Obviously our solar generation will go back in to the grid and offset all of our energy use, including at night. In fact, we’ll be adding about 30% more energy back in to the grid than we consume, just in case we end up with two electric cars at some point and need that extra amount to offset an increase in our consumption.

WHAT ABOUT ENERGY STORAGE?
We drive hybrid cars (and I’m getting a plug-in hybrid in two weeks that will cover 90% of our driving needs on electric) since both my wife and I believe in climate change and that the United States must move forward toward a clean energy future and away from carbon emitting fossil fuels. Charging my PHEV from solar will be easy and free in the near-term, but with energy demand increasing monthly in the United States and around the world, we at least considered buying battery storage to run essential systems (e.g., the refrigerator and some lights).

As such, we also looked at the addition of solar energy battery storage in our garage. Unfortunately batteries are far too expensive and not worth the investment currently (e.g., one Tesla PowerWall is $12,000 and we’d need four of them to be completely energy self-contained) so we’re holding off on storage, perhaps permanently.

As part of our analysis and reading, my wife and I also talked about large-scale battery storage, just in case renewable energy creation does reach critical mass here in California and more energy from solar goes back in to the grid. What might happen if SDGE begins to embrace battery storage for solar-produced energy?

The green energy storage problem is too expensive right now, but we’ll keep an eye on it.

TRUMP & THE GOP DENIGRATING RENEWABLES
It pisses me off that the Trump administration continues to try to gut clean energy spending with his proposed budget that does exactly that. It is clear that this current administration, and Republicans who support Trump’s position on clean energy, continue to position climate change as a “hoax” and the oil & gas industry as “the future” of energy.

Remember when one of the key talking points for the GOP (for decades) was toward less dependence on foreign oil? That wasn’t positioning for renewables, that was positioning for more drilling (and now for fracking shale to squeeze out oil and get natural gas).

Do either Trump or the GOP think that all of their own base of supporters and constituents are too stupid to think for themselves? Such idiots that they don’t believe in science? Though I don’t think President Trump is even capable of thinking deeply about any issue, Republicans should at least realize that even corporations are calling for action on climate change and they’d better stop being dumbf*cks, sucking-up to the oil & gas industry.

Also, I’m glad I’m not alone in my outrage and found this hilarious:

Don’t Be Un-American

I’m posting this since I’m becoming increasingly concerned about the growing negative attitude toward immigrants. Unless you are a native American, everyone else is an immigrant (though it could be argued that, since Columbus ‘discovered’ America, we were conquerors). Be nice, kids and adults.

According to a 2008 Hakes auction, this superhero item was released as a school book cover in 1949 and was distributed by the The Institute for American Democracy Inc.:

via Snopes

Trump and Big Oil: Are They Conceding Climate Change?

I came across two fascinating articles today that actually make me even more concerned about what kind of world we will be leaving to our children and future generations:

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION SEES A 7-DEGREE RISE IN GLOBAL TEMPERATURES BY 2100

“Last month, deep in a 500-page environmental impact statement, the Trump administration made a startling assumption: On its current course, the planet will warm a disastrous 7 degrees by the end of this century.”

THE OIL INDUSTRY TAKES ON CLIMATE CHANGE DESPITE TRUMP’S ROLLBACK

“A tangible shift over the last two years is sharpening among the world’s biggest oil companies, including in America, to more readily acknowledge and address climate change.

The bottom line: The trend, fueled by investor and lawsuit pressure, is underway regardless of, and partly in response to, President Trump’s retreat on the matter.”

As sea levels rise, coastal areas slowly become uninhabitable, crop yields mean food shortages, economic losses accelerate and a global refugee crisis unfolds, the climate change naysayers will surely forget their short-term denials.

It’s likely too late already to reverse the changes by the end of this century, but if we don’t continue to discover ways to stop the burning of fossil fuels we can guarantee we’ll make this planet uninhabitable itself.

For Further Reading

Google’s Motto ‘Do The Right Thing’ is for Them and Not Us — Especially with Chrome 69

UPDATE on September 25, 2018
Looks like Google blinked since so many of us were SO upset about what they were doing. While this is good news, I’ll be sticking with Firefox for the foreseeable future:

“Chrome 70 Will Allow Users to Opt-Out of Controversial Automatic Sign-in Feature”

For years I’ve been a staunch supporter and trusted Google, loved their services like Google Suite, Gmail, Google Voice, and others, all while admiring their machine learning and artificial intelligence research. One thing I specifically trusted was Google’s Don’t Be Evil motto which was baked in to their Code of Conduct for the company.

Then, back in May, I became troubled when they removed Don’t Be Evil and replaced it with Do The Right Thing. At the time I joked with a friend of mine asking him, “Is ‘do the right thing’ for us, or for Google?

It appears the motto change was focused on Google.

The biggest shift away from that “Don’t Be Evil” motto that Google has ever done just happened. Though this thread started on Hacker News a few weeks ago, a cryptographer and professor at Johns Hopkins University whose blog I follow, Matthew Green, wrote a post entitled, Why I’m Done with Chrome. In it he said:

A few weeks ago Google shipped an update to Chrome that fundamentally changes the sign-in experience. From now on, every time you log into a Google property (for example, Gmail), Chrome will automatically sign the browser into your Google account for you. It’ll do this without asking, or even explicitly notifying you.

Green also sees this move as having serious implications for privacy and trust. Do you think!?! My trust-level in Google has plummeted. So much so that I have now shifted 100% back to Mozilla’s Firefox browser and away from Chrome. I will no longer use Chrome until they change the way they infiltrate my privacy.

SO WHAT EXACTLY DID GOOGLE DO?

Google’s recent update to Chrome (browser version 69) has done something unprecedented in their history:

a) Once you login to Chrome as a user, Google can (and does) track EVERYTHING you do in the browser. Every site you view, every login. The change? If you login to any Google service in the Chrome browser, Google will log you in to that browser to give them access to everything you’re doing within Chrome.

b) As a user you can no longer delete ALL the cookies in your browser. Google’s cookies remain no matter what you do. (Hat tip to Christoph Tavan for discovering this breach)

c) Google is increasingly using “dark pattern” user interfaces in their services to hide or obfuscate what something does when you check, uncheck or choose an option. In ExtremeTech’s article Chrome 69 Is a Full-Fledged Assault on User Privacy, they describe how Google’s dark pattern user interfaces obscure their intent to get you to enable them to do the right thing for Google:

These changes are all part of what’s known as a dark pattern. If a pattern is defined as a regularity in the world (designed or naturally occurring) that repeats in a predictable manner, a dark pattern is an attempt to trick users by designing interface options that look like the options users expect to see.

I, for one, don’t want to research, study or figure out how a company I trust might be trying to trick me in to do something that is in THEIR best interest…and not mine. I’d rather pay for offerings and am growing tired of “being the product“.

FOR MORE