Shhh! Your TV is listening…

Samsung Privacy Policy: Watch What You Say Around Your Smart TV
http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/samsung-privacy-policy-watch-smart-tv/story?id=28829387

Not terribly surprising to me given that with the proper malware installed on your phone anyone can listen to any nearby conversation and that people can also turn on your video camera on your computers to see what there is to see (increasingly, TVs are also coming with cameras!). ‘Tis the new world order, us paranoid people just have to adjust…

Posted in InformationTechnology, Infosec, Society | Leave a comment

Wow! Email encryption relies on just ONE guy!

The World’s Email Encryption Software Relies on One Guy, Who is Going Broke
Werner Koch’s code powers the email encryption programs around the world. If only somebody would pay him for the work.
http://www.propublica.org/article/the-worlds-email-encryption-software-relies-on-one-guy-who-is-going-broke

Also interesting comments here.

It is amazing how many fundamental pieces of open source software are dependent on a handful (or just one) person. There are a few that are supported by large groups, for instance Linux, Apache, gcc, but so many are hanging by a thread. It would be nice to see some process whereby these people could be compensated, but I am not holding my breath.

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‘Expensive’ placebos work better than ‘cheap’ ones!

Does getting ‘expensive’ drug affect how much patient benefits?
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-01/aaon-dg012215.php

Since I talk about the placebo effect from time to time I figure this might be interesting to my reader(s)…

For the study, 12 people with Parkinson’s disease were told that they would receive shots of two formulations of the same drug, with the second shot given after the first shot wore off. They were told that the formulations were believed to be of similar effectiveness, but that they differed in manufacturing cost–$100 per dose versus $1,500 per dose. Participants were told that the study was intended to prove that the drugs, while priced differently, were equally effective.

In reality, the participants received only a saline solution for both injections, but were told they were receiving either the “cheap” or “expensive” drug first. Before and after each shot, participants took several tests to measure their motor skills and also had brain scans to measure brain activity.

When people received the “expensive” drug first, their motor skills improved by 28 percent compared to when they received the “cheap” drug. On one test of motor skills, people’s scores improved by seven points when taking the “expensive” drug first, but improved by only three points when taking the “cheap” drug.

Posted in Healthcare, Psychology, Science | Leave a comment

Forming your own echo chamber

The propagandists have won: What Fox News and the pornography revolution have in common
Truthiness has replaced truth. Now that we all have our own facts, we may rue the day we personalized the news
http://www.salon.com/2014/12/21/the_propagandists_have_won_what_fox_news_and_the_pornography_revolution_have_in_common/

I rant about ‘sheeple‘ a lot here and am often frustrated trying to understand why we are that way. While this book excerpt (here is the book on Amazon; I haven’t bought it because I already haven’t read a pile of books I have purchased in the past) doesn’t exactly explain _why_ we are so stupidly credulous, it does describe how we are getting better and better at being so.

There are a lot of interesting parts in the excerpt, the author seems to be a good writer, insofar as turning a phrase. I particularly like how she likens our search for ‘real’ pornography with our search for ‘real’ news (where ‘real’ basically is just confirming our preconceived notions).

Anyway, I encourage my reader(s) to at least take a look at the excerpt…

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Whose side are _you_ on?

Free speech and state power: Americans shouldn’t feel complacent about French hypocrisy
Yeah, the French look like merde arresting a comedian for a Facebook post. But we’re free-speech hypocrites too
http://www.salon.com/2015/01/17/free_speech_and_state_power_americans_shouldnt_feel_complacent_about_french_hypocrisy/

Another thoughtful article on Salon; though to be fair, Salon is really a liberal Fox News and tend to spew hysterical left-leaning nonsense (as opposed to the right-leaning nonsense of Fox). Since Greenwald left (he is currently at the Intercept) I have to admit that I don’t spend much time there and often scroll through the Salon main page and don’t even read a single article. However, this one caught my eye as something that gets right to the heart of this ‘free speech’ matter. I will toss out a few quotes in an effort to get my reader(s) to take a deeper look…

In the aftermath of 9/11, Americans eagerly surrendered a wide range of constitutional rights and liberties in the name of an imaginary security. We have accepted a subtly restricted zone of free speech – where we “watch what we say, [and] watch what we do,” in the Rumsfeldian phrase — and have entirely abandoned our traditional conception of privacy rights. It’s not entirely coincidental that the censorious jingoism and groupthink of the Fox News right finds a faint echo on the left, in campus speech codes and similar phenomena designed to purge public discourse of sexism or racism or homophobia. Both sides accept the premise that suppressing undesirable forms of expression is a valid use of power.

We, as a nation of sheeple, neither have, nor deserve security. This goes for ‘free’ speech as well. When the only ‘free’ speech is speech that identifies with those in power (“watch what we say, [and] watch what we do,”) and the ability to be critical of the government or any institution within or without it (hello religious right wing!) is absent then there is no free speech. ‘You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.’

What we have here in the good old USofA is just a half step from being the French way of ‘free’ speech.

I have no desire to revisit the tiresome debate among leftists and liberals about whether or not to embrace Charlie Hebdo, which was always a distraction from more urgent political issues. But this was precisely the question: What was Charlie Hebdo’s relationship to power? Was it an equal-opportunity, anti-authoritarian gadfly, as its defenders professed? Or did it consistently “punch down,” by mocking the faith of a despised and marginalized minority on behalf of a racist power structure? Implicit in the question lay the idea that, if the latter theory were borne out, Charlie Hebdo’s so-called freedom was not freedom at all and not worth defending. In the utopian society that lay just over the horizon it would be banned by righteous edict, or at least shamed into nonexistence.

Everything I have read about Charlie indicates he is (was) a frothing-at-the-mouth islamaphobe and was far from an ‘equal opportunity’ gadfly. As such, his ability to rant about the “despised and marginalized minority” has nothing to do with freedom of speech. I also find incredibly hypocritical “those prominent politicians who marched for freedom of expression in Paris”. However, since sheepleness seems a state of being human, I guess it shouldn’t be unexpected at all.

Beneath the complicated and contradictory debate over free speech lies an essential philosophical conflict that doesn’t get discussed openly enough. In American terms, it is often depicted as the division between wild-eyed right-wing libertarians (and a much smaller number of wild-eyed left-wing anarchists) and the normal people who want a normal government. But here’s a telegram from Captain Obvious, or maybe from Mr. Orwell: We don’t have a normal government, people. The conflict over the nature and purpose of state power cannot be boiled down to conventional binaries like right vs. left, or Islam vs. the West, or democracy vs. terrorism, or capitalism vs. whatever-can-be-said-to-oppose capitalism, although it intersects with all those things in unpredictable ways. Either you embrace the idea of state power – the power of your own state, or somebody else’s, or an imaginary state yet to come — as a tool for purifying minds and hearts, encouraging good speech and driving out the bad kind, or you don’t. It’s time to be clear about which side we’re on.

So, whose side are you on? The police state or the people?

Posted in Government, Law, Politics, Psychology, Society | Leave a comment

Free speech is a sham in the ‘free’ world

France Arrests a Comedian For His Facebook Comments, Showing the Sham of the West’s “Free Speech” Celebration
https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/01/14/days-hosting-massive-free-speech-march-france-arrests-comedian-facebook-comments/

I really don’t have much to add, so much like my previous post I just want to ‘retweet’ it. It never ceases to amaze me that people can be so completely two faced and (apparently) not even realize it. ‘We’ are never at fault, ‘they’ are always at fault.

BTW, wasn’t it just a few years ago that ‘french fries’ were renamed ‘freedom fries‘ in our Great Nation’s Capital?

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Steadily chipping away…

The Most Important Trial in America
The federal government’s case against the proprietor of a ‘darknet’ website could forever alter how we all use the Internet.
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/01/14/the-most-important-trial-in-america.html

This is something that deserves higher visibility, so I will do my small (tiny (infinitesimal)) part to widen the scope. I agree with this statement:

I have no idea if he is innocent or guilty of all or some of the charges against him, but the manner in which his prosecution is playing out should disturb anyone who cares about justice.

When the government is allowed to break laws willy nilly and the justice department stands idly by, we are no longer a nation of laws. Of course, this has been a reality for quite a while, but sometimes it is hard to convince the sheeple that these things are important. Perhaps one day the government will finally reach a point where they take on someone who isn’t successfully demonized and the sheeple will rally. Or perhaps not…

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Another stupid sheeple rant

I guess this would part 2 of my earlier sheeple rant. I just got to whine/bombast a bit to feel better and my dear reader(s) get to take the brunt (my wife gets tired of hearing me run over the same subject over and over (and over) again).

In case you are interested, this specific post was triggered by this particular article:

Ivy League’s meritocracy lie: How Harvard and Yale cook the books for the 1 percent
“We are credentializing a new elite by legitimizing people with an inflated sense of their own merit”
http://www.salon.com/2015/01/11/ivy_leagues_meritocracy_lie_how_harvard_and_yale_cook_the_books_for_the_1_percent/

Not that it really matters, this has been bugging me for a while…

Really, I am asking for an explanation: how is it that the human species has advanced so far technologically yet is seemingly entirely populated by cretins, hooligans and charlatans? If I didn’t have to look at myself in the mirror, no doubt I would have turned to fleecing the sheeple decades ago, yet despite being a misanthropist for some reason I just can’t abide with the idea of taking advantage of these credulous idiots.

As discussed in my previous post (rant) I have developed this theory of the majority of humans being seekers of low energy locations with the occasional hill climber that scouts for new low energy locations (no doubt the selection of verbiage due to my past research into search and optimization). However, at least lately here in the US, it seems increasingly likely that if this theory does indeed have any validity the number of hill climbers must be vanishingly low as it seems that nearly ever individual I have interacted with (not to exempt myself; sadly I am human and as such share the species negative characteristics no matter how much I try to avoid it) has shown at least a predisposition to sheeple-ness and outright clueless idiocy when it regards reality. We, as individuals, seem determined to stick with a bad situation even when it is often trivial to change it. Eternal optimists hoping for the best? I note that in myself: here we are rapidly approaching the 48th month of effort on our greenhouse/pool when I recall quite clearly thinking that we could be done in a year or so. Right now my wife and I are in discussions for the next project and despite just minutes earlier complaining about my inability to accurately predict how long things will take, I catch myself confidently about to assert that the new construction will be done in less than 2 years, quite likely less than a year. What kind of moron keeps doing that? With all the evidence to the contrary personally experienced I still can’t help myself.

If I, as someone who has made it a largely life-long effort to be self aware and to consider alternative viewpoints on subjects even if I dislike them (unlike, say, what seems evidently largely the entire rest of the population (in the US for sure) that only hears information that confirms preconceived notions) find it nearly impossible to refrain from idiotic, contrary to reality statements, no wonder the average fellow human finds it nearly impossible. Once again, how did we manage to arise to our level of technology? The US has become remarkably anti-science, yet is slavishly addicted to technology (I used to consider them two sides of the same coin, but increasingly it is obvious, in the US anyway, that people think they can have the latter without learning about the former). Clearly people can produce complex things in total ignorance (the science behind Candy Crush takes a decade or more for an intelligent, interested person to learn, given a good basic high school education), yet that ignorance increasingly seems willful. People are actively choosing _not_ to know things (not just in politics, which seems crystal clear for the majority) even when knowing, by virtue of the Internet and the WWW, is practically trivial today. I freely admit that I call things ‘magic‘ when I am too lazy to take the time to understand something, but I believe I am doing so with a clear understanding of what I am missing (I do endeavor to understand some magic, though some, such as circuit diagrams, still elude me despite my efforts). The average member of the sheeple class (I am doing away with the caveat of ‘at least here in the US’ because it is tedious, but please read in that caveat whenever you see a sweeping reference), on the other hand, seems to revel in their unwillingness to even care about the underlying science of the technology they are so obsessed with.

Is it because I feel I am somewhat a renaissance man (I have been accused of such by others)? Because I feel that everyone _should_ understand basic science, technology, engineering and math? Perhaps I am that hill climber I babble about (though I have naught to show for my efforts to date) and care about nuclear energy, alternative fuels, molecular scale computer devices, orchids, weight carrying capacity of parallel strand engineered lumber, why fiberglass resin seems to gel earlier when exposed to fiberglass threads, pleasing women, raising a headstrong boy (to list a few; inspired by Robert Heinlein), perhaps I feel that is the human norm. I recall as a young teenager always thinking that people were always thinking and finding it rather astonishing to learn that my average peer seemed to spend no time thinking at all. ‘Thinking’ in this context is about learning new things, trying out new associations between concepts, hypothesizing and then testing, etc. Very slowly I came to realize that I was rare in that regard. Rare, though doesn’t automatically lead to any form of greatness (though, much like my stubborn insistence that our next construction effort will take a fraction of the time of past efforts, I optimistically think that such greatness is just a year or two away; e.g., my vanity patent efforts).

So what is with us? Why are we so intent on not knowing? We had good excuses generations ago, but those excuses are irrelevant today. Left, right, rich, poor, degreed, uneducated, woman, man, no one seems to be interested in learning things if they are the slightest bit outside their comfort zone. We routinely ignore information that goes against our preconceived notions to the point where we no longer recognize even the capacity to be wrong about even the most fundamental things. The next thing you will find is people denying gravity because it is inconvenient. It won’t stop them from suffering the consequences of jumping off the building, though. The ‘sad’ thing about nature is it doesn’t give a damn about how stupid we are.

OK, I seem to have got this angst off my chest, thank you all for your time and attention…

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In other words, people don’t commit crimes, corporate culture commits crimes!

The $9 Billion Witness: Meet JPMorgan Chase’s Worst Nightmare
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-9-billion-witness-20141106

Matt has moved back to Rolling Stone and I am starting to catch up on his old posts, so this might be the first of a few. I have often attempted to tell people that the ‘historic’ $13 billion find that Chase agreed to was nothing more than a slap on the wrist and represented a trivial fraction of the profit they made and a teeny tiny fraction of the economic harm they caused. This post details that it is even worse; in addition to, naturally, the fine being paid by the share holders (the CEO got a raise!), the fine itself is being used as a tax deduction. Four of the supposed $13 billion isn’t even real money at all, it is just accounting trickery to inflate the $9 billion number (which, after writing off the taxes, is really much closer to $5.5 billion (this on a company that nets that much each quarter)).

Matt’s article makes it crystal clear the complicity of our supposed government watchdogs on the coverup. This is, of course, just a single instance of our government’s efforts to work with Wall Street to cover up crimes that should result in hard jail time for many executives.

Anyway, here are a couple of excerpts to attempt to get my reader(s) to take a look:

In September, at a speech at NYU, Holder defended the lack of prosecutions of top executives on the grounds that, in the corporate context, sometimes bad things just happen without actual people being responsible. “Responsibility remains so diffuse, and top executives so insulated,” Holder said, “that any misconduct could again be considered more a symptom of the institution’s culture than a result of the willful actions of any single individual.”

Because after all this activity, all these court actions, all these penalties (both real and abortive), even after a fair amount of noise in the press, the target companies remain more ascendant than ever. The people who stole all those billions are still in place. And the bank is more untouchable than ever – former Debevoise & Plimpton hotshots Mary Jo White and Andrew Ceresny, who represented Chase for some of this case, have since been named to the two top jobs at the SEC. As for the bank itself, its stock price has gone up since the settlement and flirts weekly with five-year highs. They may lose the odd battle, but the markets clearly believe the banks won the war. Truth is one thing, and if the right people fight hard enough, you might get to hear it from time to time. But justice is different, and still far enough away.

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Have a maximally inefficient Christmas!

Have yourself an inefficient Christmas
http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/12/22/have-yourself-an-inefficient-christmas/

This may not be as amusing to my reader(s) as it is to me, but what the heck, I have been rather serious on this blog for a while…

The idea is that there is this tug of war between a purposeless gift on the part of the receiver and something that stands out and becomes remembered and perhaps cherished. I am a Scrooge from way back, I stopped liking Christmas gift giving probably around 13 or perhaps a bit younger (I don’t care for birthdays either). My rationale is that every gift choice I would care for that is reasonably priced I already have, so what remains is unreasonably priced items or stuff I don’t care for. Except for children (though I largely remain a Scrooge, allowing my wife to manage that aspect), I tend to project these thoughts on others so would rather just skip the whole process. It is interesting, though, the idea the author mentions, that someone might be clever/insightful/lucky enough to conceive of a gift that you don’t realize you actually desire/need until it is presented. I have some older friends who doggedly resist any efforts to connect on-line (meaning they remain in the 20th century and lack smart phones or Internet access) and though they express interest in watching our satellite TV, they have adamantly resisted any suggestion that we get them a dish so they can watch more than the handful of channels they get over the air (and don’t get me started on their refusal to purchase a new TV to replace their gigantic tube that is probably causing the floor to sag because of its mass). I sometimes consider giving one of these ‘gifts’ despite their avowed objection in the hopes that once they have it available they might come to see the utility, but so far I have honored their rejection (it certainly ‘helps’ in that regard that we are dramatically over extended on our construction efforts).

My wife and her siblings engage in a gift exchange. Each sibling purchases a gift at a pre-set amount, then they draw lots, pick a gift, then open it. Interestingly, the earlier openers then have the option to swap gifts after they have seen what the later opener’s gift is. What is really fascinating to me is how often the gift that was purchased for the exchange winds up back in the hands of the original purchaser. It seems the current strategy is to purchase a gift you yourself would like, then if you don’t get to open that gift, swap for it later. Sort of like the stories of spouses each purchasing a gift for the other that the other then gives back to them. At least you would never be disappointed.

So, what do you think? Should gift giving be ‘efficient’ or is our current culture of swapping generally meaningless gifts the optimal path?

Posted in Economics, Psychology | Leave a comment