Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness

Seriously Minneapolis StarTribune? “U.S. security at stake as Apple defies order”

Click for an update - 4:04pm
Update: Was just emailed an article by iOS forensics expert, Jonathan Zdziarski, who wrote, “Apple, FBI and the Burden of Forensic Methodology” which refutes some people’s characterization that it’s a trivial matter for Apple to break-in to the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone 5c and that it’s not. Apple would have to create “an instrument” which would be vetted by multiple parties, making it highly likely the tool would escape “into the wild” and therefore compromise iPhones all over the world. Read his post to see all the ways this is likely to happen!
iphone-in-handTo say I was stunned reading this editorial in this morning’s Minneapolis StarTribune is an understatement. I rarely get fired up enough to write a letter to the editor, but this time I felt compelled since they got this so wrong and I’m embarrassed for them that they published this editorial.

I just sent them my rebuttal and I reprint it below with the StarTribune’s paragraphs in italics and green. Also, since the StarTribune apparently did little-to-no research, I’ve provided them with helpful links.

Curiously the StarTribune changed the linkbait-like editorial title in the online version by toning it down, perhaps realizing that characterizing it as “Apple defies order” is wrong: National security is at stake in Apple’s faceoff with feds.

U.S. security at stake as Apple defies order

Apple Inc., the world’s largest info-tech company, now stands in defiance of a federal court order, saying it will fight attempts to force it to help the FBI crack the iPhone of a San Bernardino terrorist involved in a major attack on U.S. soil that left 14 dead and 22 injured. Apple says the government is overreaching and would be setting a dangerous precedent.

The company is wrong on both counts, but the world of encrypted information is a complex one. It is worthwhile to proceed carefully, because this could prove to be a critical showdown in the growing clash between privacy and national security.

Your editorial, “U.S. security at stake as Apple defies order” was one of the most stunningly naive positions I’ve read yet when it comes to the controversy over Apple’s stand on weakening the encryption of one, single iPhone. A weakening that would instantly open a Pandora’s box of cyber threat problems of which you are obviously clueless and seemingly dismissed out-of-hand.

First, it should be noted that the government negotiated for two months with Apple executives. When those talks fell apart, Justice Department officials turned to a federal judge, who ordered the company to create a way to bypass the security feature on the phone. The FBI had obtained a warrant to search the phone and, not incidentally, the consent of the employer that had issued the phone to Syed Rizwah Farook.

First off, it should be noted that the FBI permitted San Bernardino officials to change the password on the terrorist’s iCloud account (rebutted by FBI, now blaming official) and only then, obviously realizing their mistake, requested Apple’s help. Had they not done so Apple has stated publicly it would have been possible to obtain the shooter’s iCloud backup data. Since this mistake was made, the FBI then negotiated with Apple to recover what they could. Discovering that doing so was not possible, and subsequently failing in convincing Apple to create software to weaken iOS (the operating system that controls the iPhone and iPad) so they could break into the device without having it ‘wiped’ by its ten password attempt limit, the FBI then obtained a court order hoping to force Apple to create a method to do so.

Apple has complied with what Justice officials characterize as “a significant number” of government requests in the past, including unlocking individual phones. Apple CEO Tim Cook has become increasingly concerned about customer privacy, particularly after 2013 revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden about massive government surveillance operations. The company has continued to tighten its security systems and decided to no longer maintain a way into individual phones. Farook’s iPhone 5c was among those with a 10-tries-and-wipe feature that essentially turns it into a brick if too many false passwords are entered. Newer operating systems employ ever-more-sophisticated security features.

The government’s authority to get private information, such as texts, photos and other stored data, through a warrant is not at issue. The key here is whether the government can compel a private company to create a means of access that the company contends will weaken its premier product.

Cook maintains that creating a “master key” to disable security on Farook’s phone ultimately would jeopardize every iPhone. With more than 100 million in use across the country, that is no small threat. There are, however, technology experts who say Apple could create a bypass — allowing for what’s called a brute force hack — without affecting other phones.

With respect to your position on Apple’s creating this sort of “bypass” for this single iPhone, all while acknowledging this is not a “small threat” for the 100 million iPhones already in existence, you then opined, “There are, however, technology experts who say Apple could create a bypass” “without affecting other phones.” This is your supposed justification for minimizing the threat of putting in a backdoor (or what you euphemistically characterize as a “bypass”) for those 100 million+ iPhones already in existence? Who are these so-called “experts” anyway?  Read More

Seeking Meaning: Why Baby Boomers Refuse to Retire

boomers

As baby boomers my wife and I approach our “third half” of life (i.e., retirement) with both excitement and trepidation. We’re excited we’ve saved and invested so we can travel, be in a warm climate and out of Minnesota winters, and focus on those things we love best like family, friends, reading, learning, and above all, having experiences. But at the same time we’re nervous about being bored and not having a purpose and we certainly don’t want to essentially hang around until we die.

Turns out baby boomers like us are seeking meaning and are increasingly turning away from a life of leisure and instead moving toward ones filled with activity and purpose. Fast Company had this article about it today that is one of the best ones I’ve yet read about the “new” retirement and what it’s like:

How will all these aging boomers thrive in the 21st century? According to many experts on aging, it’s increasingly by staying in the workforce, at the very least on a part-time basis. As noted by Gallup in their “Many Baby Boomers Reluctant to Retire” report, “Nearly half of boomers still working say they don’t expect to retire until they are 66 or older, including one in 10 who predict they will never retire.”

So it’s not about needing money. It’s about what value we’ll bring to the world in our third half and the meaning that will instill in both of us.

Read more at Fast Company….

You May Never Be Able To Grab The Carrot

dangling-carrotIf you are enticed to become “a stakeholder” in a company or startup by having the stock options or warrants carrot dangled in front of you as an incentive, my own “stock options and warrants” tales of woe are a flip-side you need to hear. Especially since you’ll hear A LOT of the “You’re gonna GET RICH” from those trying to hire you or colleagues naive enough to think stock values go up automatically.

TALE #1: STOCK OPTIONS
In December of 1999 I accepted a job at Vignette, at the time the fastest growing software company in history. With the initial shares I received, and the ones I’d be granted and earn-out over four years, I began to consider the realistic possibility that I’d enjoy an options gain of $5-6M over that four year vesting period.

You know about the “dotcom” crash in March of 2000, right? I sure do because Vignette never recovered and the stock (and my initial options) tanked. Though subsequent option grants were adjusted downward, those ended up in value too. It’s been said that “you can make a lot of money on the way up and the way down” if you hang in there with a downtrending company and I did, but that money was NOT made on stock options. When I left in 2003 with thousands of fully vested shares…they all were so far ‘underwater’ that all were worthless.

Vignette_Logo_1000x288Don’t think “Oh poor Stevie…he missed out on being rich” since I’ve done all right over the years and have a wonderful family, friends, my health and (hopefully, if the economy holds) a solid retirement portfolio. Plus, my Vignette experience was a remarkably good one. I worked with lots of great people, met and hung out with a handful of executive-level customers, most of whom I’m still in touch with to this day. Went on club trips (my wife and I took our kids with us to Maui to the Four Seasons) and learned a lot playing the enterprise game at that level.

Sure would have been nice to make millions though, heh? Yes, but after a stint running strategic alliances at Lawson Software (now part of Infor), I ended up going off on my own to perform management consulting and had an opportunity with startups and young companies that gained me tens of thousands of stock warrants…ones that would surely make me rich. Or so I hoped.  Read More

Give Yourself for Christmas

Often I roll my eyes over people’s Facebook postings of clutching-at-your-heartstrings videos, but this one was surprisingly thought-provoking. My wife’s cousin posted this today and thought I’d share it.

Comes from a woman named Anna Johndrow, who published it in December of last year and she said this about it, “I found the message of this video from IKEA in Spain so touching and special that I translated and subtitled it. Hope you enjoy. Please share.

NSA Files Decoded

guardian-nsa-files-decodedThe Edward Snowden revelations about the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and its vacuum surveillance, sadly seems to be fading from the public consciousness. Undoubtedly this is viewed as a positive by the intelligence community since they are continuing to accelerate their programs now seemingly unabated.

Awareness is one reason I was pleased to see this article that The Guardian wins an Emmy for coverage of NSA revelations. Their multimedia piece NSA Files Decoded is one of the best, most comprehensive and informative (dare I say “entertaining?”) pieces I’ve seen yet. Congratulations to The Guardian team!

If you care at all about the world our children and grandchildren will inherit, then you owe it to yourself to watch the videos or read articles at NSA Files Decoded. You might also consider paying attention to a relatively new website, The Intercept, so that you can stay aware, stay informed, and not be one of those who are naive about the unprecedented and growing power of the intelligence community and its surveillance of all U.S. citizens.

A Vacation in Rome: Angels, Demons and Dirt

angelOur vacation this year was to Rome, Italy and it was good and bad. I’ve been trying to reconcile this trip in my own mind but am still wrestling with it so thought best to get it out of my head and in a post.

Our family approached this trip with great anticipation. My kids are 26 and 19 so it is likely our last vacation together as only the four of us. Having never been to Rome, we planned for months. Here’s what we discovered, though these opinions are more mine than my wife or kids:

THE BAD

Tough to see, but the area in front of our five star hotel is littered with cigarette butts and trash...which is *everywhere* in Rome

Tough to see, but the area in front of our five star hotel is littered with cigarette butts and trash…which is *everywhere* in Rome (click for larger view)

1) THE FILTH: Oh my God is Rome filthy. Old is one thing, but cigarette butts, wrappers, cans and bottles, homeless people’s food debris (and urine) is everywhere, and no one has cleaned a sidewalk here since the time of Caesar (or so it seems). It is just simply dirty.

What really stunned me, though, was the endless graffiti. It covers every surface from upscale hotels and office buildings, to subway cars to every shop and apartment building.

graffiti1

Even in the town near Ostia Antica, the ancient Roman port city, there was graffiti on buildings.

Over several days as we were in neighborhood after neighborhood, tony shopping districts, the subway, towns outside Rome, and even major attractions, and the thought that kept coming in to my mind constantly was, “Man…Rome is a shithole!” and I couldn’t figure out if Romans didn’t care about Rome, or corruption is rampant so no one does much work, or something that makes people put up with this in a city with as much potential as this one.

graffiti2

Every subway car was covered, windows etched with knives, and graffiti was all over the inside too.

This filth, or lackadaisical attitude about the cleanliness of the city, even translates to the overwhelming majority of cars driven by Romans in the city. Nearly every vehicle I looked at on the road, in parking lots and parked on the side of roads was scratched, dinged and just simply dirty. Even new cars. I just didn’t get it, especially from this land and people who have designed and given us Ferraris and Lamborghinis.

I actually had my small wallet in a front pocket but the pickpocket got it anyway

I actually had my small wallet in a front pocket but the pickpocket got it anyway

2) THE CRIME: Our last day we were riding the metro bus from a museum near the Vatican and my wallet was pickpocketed. Even though I’d taken incredible caution for the entire trip—especially since every guidebook warns over-and-over again to wear a moneybelt and be extremely cautious—this time I slipped it into my pocket so someone grabbed it. To say I was upset and angry is an understatement, so much so my daughter got off the bus since I was “making a scene.”

Coat of arms of the Carabinieri

Coat of arms of the Carabinieri

We went back to our hotel room to cancel my credit cards and place a fraud alert on our credit report, when a call came in from the front desk. Turns out a team from the Carabinieri, the Italian national military police, had busted a gang of Romanian pickpockets and they found my wallet in one guy’s backpack!

I got everything back. To say I was stunned and amazed is putting it mildly. Based on all the TripAdvisor forum posts, the articles and forum post at travel expert Rick Steves website, this type of crime is rampant in Rome and, as Steves said in one article, “...at least one person on every tour is pickpocketed.”

The scams, people hustling, and the ripoffs made me feel like I was traveling to a third world country, not a modern one like Italy.

But there was a lot of good and amazing things to see and experience and we had those too, thankfully.

Read More

Listening Point

Listening Point on Burntside Lake

Listening Point on Burntside Lake

Wilderness. It is a concept fading from our consciousness as more humans populate the earth and those growing up now increasingly have their attention focused on the virtual.

The wild places—those where it is just you, the natural world, and the past, present and future you become aware of when you truly listen and observe what is around you—are arguably more important now than ever before in our fast-paced world.

This is something that Sigurd Olson lived and taught. If it weren’t for Olson, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) would not exist.

Yesterday I had a chance to visit Olson’s cabin on Burntside Lake in northern Minnesota, a place he called Listening Point, and one now on the National Historic Register.

Read More

Become a Free Agent Now

If you haven’t recognized that work is quickly shifting toward free agency and away from longer term employment, you really must understand what is happening to the nature of work if you hope to perform it and make any money going forward. Depending upon whom you read, the last several decades have seen an accelerating shift to an information, knowledge or creative age. However you choose to term it, they all mean the same thing: humans are moving toward ever-higher value work and away from more rote, assembly, industrial or lower value effort.

The difference now is that the internet and our tools (e.g., mobile devices, Wifi, collaborative web and app tools, etc.) has made it easier than ever before for us to work when, where and for whom we want.

The concept of free agency came from professional sports (via Wikipedia): In professional sports, a free agent is a player who is eligible to sign with any club or franchise, i.e. not under contract to any specific team. The term is also used in reference to a player who is under contract at present, but who is allowed to solicit contract offers from other teams. In some circumstances, the free agent’s options are limited by league rules.

free-agent-nationThat free agency concept was built upon by the author Daniel Pink (a guy whose books I embrace) but with a twist: sports free agency means a player can consider offers from other teams while the business concept means that one is essentially doing work for multiple companies, organizations or individuals.

The term free agent for business is believed to have been coined by Pink, author of a 1997 cover story in Fast Company titled “Free Agent Nation” and his subsequent book by the same name. From a Wikipedia article on business free agencyIn business, a free agent refers to someone who works independently for oneself, rather than for a single employer.These include self-employed workers, freelancers, independent contractors and temporary workers, who altogether represent about 44 percent of the U.S. labor force.

Besides the internet, there are other influences catalyzing the shift to a new, free agency age. For instance, the Affordable Care Act (i.e., “Obamacare”) is being looked at by many in the venture capital community and elsewhere as potentially one of the biggest catalysts to entrepreneurship ever (see Obamacare & the Coming Entrepreneurship Boom and Affordable Care Act Could Be Good for Entrepreneurship). The latter article points to this report (PDF) that says the number of self-employed people is expected to rise by 1.5 million as a direct result of the health care overhaul. Good news to anyone who is still stunned by the lack of hiring going on in the U.S. even today.

You might already be participating right now as a free agent. Many of my colleagues and peers are and they vary in age from 28 to 64. You may also be thinking right now, “OK Borsch…I get it that work is transforming and that I should be doing something about it. But what exactly?

Thought you’d never ask.  Read More

Obamacare: $500 More?

laughing-execsHealth insurers were likely howling with laughter in their executive conference rooms when they came to realize the windfall coming their way due to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (i.e., “Obamacare”). 

Though many of us have been eagerly anticipating the overhaul of the healthcare system to drive down the spiraling-out-of-control healthcare costs nationwide, it’s unlikely it will do that (at least initially) and will almost certainly cost us all more money every month as well.

It’s going to cost my family and I approximately $500 more per month starting in JanuaryLet me give you my real-world example:

  • WHAT WE PAY TODAY: As a self-employed couple, my wife, son and my healthcare coverage costs us $1,173 per month (for a high, $5,000 per year deductible each). I should also note that this cost has gone up since our health insurers have been slowly ratcheting up costs, undoubtedly because they can “grandfather” in any cost increases before the healthcare marketplaces kick in this January. 
  • mnsureWHAT IT WILL COST US IN JANUARY OF 2014: The Minnesota marketplace called “MNSure” is coming online January 2014 and their website has this calculator. Based upon our ages and household income level, it estimates* our payments to be $1,667 per month!   (*The calculator estimates since the State of Minnesota DOES NOT YET KNOW what the premiums will cost. Seriously? MNSure comes online in just over four months and you can only ballpark the cost!?!).

That is an increase of $494 per month in our monthly premiums for a “Silver” plan — a 42% potential increase! There will be three tiers of plans: Bronze, Silver, and Gold. A Bronze level plan will cover roughly 60% of the costs of services MNSure offers. Silver will cover roughly 70%, Gold will cover roughly 80% percent, and Platinum will cover roughly 90% of the costs of the benefits provided.

OBAMACARE FACTS
A website that explains much about Obamacare called Obamacare Facts had a section on Health Insurance Premiums was enlightening but useless as far as anticipating (or even calculating) what we (or you) will write checks for coming in January.

Here is the punchline and why you can absolutely be guaranteed your healthcare premiums will increase come January:

Some insurance companies are using the confusion over ObamaCare to raise premiums on unsuspecting Americans in order to capitalize before more protections are put in place, grandfathering people into more expensive plans. This is in response to protections going into effect in 2014 and the need to cover more high-risk Americans. If this has happened to you, please tell us who your insurer is and give us some other background so we can continue to investigate who is behind this.

Note On Health Insurance Premiums: Your provider can “grandfather you in” by upping your premium now and keeping it that way once the insurance cap protections kick in in 2014. They can also grandfather you into plans that don’t provide coverage options that are required under the Affordable Care Act until 2015.

Sigh. We’ll have to see what benefits Obamacare actually brings but even I, a former cheerleader for heathcare reform, have put my pom-poms down and I’ve sat down on the bench.