I just watched the two episodes on the public television channel called ‘The Facebook Dilemma*’ – and did not find it reassuring. Facebook has a long history of being too late to address disastrous uses of their platform: for hate speech, for spreading lies, for sowing distrust and division. Should anyone trust them again, ever?
*Facebook should be reinvented (run with different functionality & algorithms) or even be shut down, but it has become too big and powerful.
Congress – and the citizenry – have a responsibility as well. Do we care enough? Here’s former Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos: “We’ve had two years since the main part of the Russian attack against the 2016 election, and very little has been done as a country, as a government, to protect ourselves,” Stamos told FRONTLINE. “We have signaled to the rest of the world that interfering in our elections is something that we won’t really punish or react to.”
There was a big gas transmission pipeline explosion in Prince George, BC, Canada, on Tuesday. Even though it is 500 miles away, it is impacting us here in Seattle as well, since we get some of our natural gas from Canada.
Our local gas utility company is requesting that everyone to turn down their thermostats, and limit the use of hot water and electricity for a day or two. (Natural gas is used for some electricity generation).
Everyone in the United States with a smartphone got a ‘Presidential Alert’ this morning – a test by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Man! Does that mean Trump can spam everyone with a stupid message from his phone? Mercifully, not. These messages are generated & sent from a special FEMA notebook computer, and by law, must be for true emergencies only.
One shudders to think what significant national crises would justify every American to be alerted. I can think of a few. Nuclear war (‘Hey everyone: Kim Jong-un & I are no longer in love, so just so you know, I sent him some ICBMs’). A meteor hit from outer space. A massive electromagnetic pulse from a sun flare (that may very well wipe out FEMA’s ability to send the alert altogether).
I finally went down to University Village mall to go check out Apple’s new store (and new iPhones*). There used to be a perfectly fine Apple store inside the mall, but I guess it was just not cool enough, and so they built a new stand-alone store, just steps away from where the old one was.
*I should probably upgrade my 2015 iPhone 6s at some point soon! The new camera lenses on the iPhone Xs, and the bezel-to-bezel OLED screen would be very welcome.
Vice President & Trump Pleaser Mike Pence talked about Trump’s proposed Space Force today. Trump wants the new proposed branch of the military (the 6th, after Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard) in operation by 2020. Um. It’s a moon shot alright. 1. The new Space Force would have to be authorized by Congress. 2. How about a Cyber Force first, to shore up our cybersecurity? 3. Where will the money come from? The United States is 20 big Apples (trillions) in debt, and will now add another every year (Trump tax cuts). 4. Impeachment proceedings may very well start in 2019.
Residents of Cape Town recorded a record low water usage of 505 million litres (133 million US gals) for the city per day for last week. Still, the target is 450 million litres per day (50 litres/ 13 US gallons per person per day).
Day Zero (no water for faucets) continues to be pushed out, and the winter rainy season has started – but it is still uncertain how much rain it will bring.
Check out this interview that Mathias Döpfner had with Jeff Bezos in Berlin. They cover a lot of ground, and towards the end (skip ahead to 38:00), Jeff reveals why it is so important that humans (eventually) colonize other planets.
In a nutshell: as the animals that we are, our bodies burn energy at a rate of a 100W (of which 60W is for our brains). So: we need 100 W just to be alive. But a modern, civilized human – living in a climate-controlled house, and traveling, and working – easily burns 10 times that 100W, in terms of his or her energy usage. On Earth, the number of humans will keep increasing, as will their energy needs, as civilization progresses. We have become more efficient at harnessing resources from Earth and our sun for energy, but it will not be enough. We have to find extraterrestrial resources to harness, and to generate energy from, to ensure that humans can survive another 1,000 years and more.
Tomorrow is Earth Day. Let’s all pledge to 1. make more use of public transport where possible, and 2. to make our next car an electric one. Electric cars still make up less than 1% of global sales. Yikes.
I spotted a Knightscope security robot today, in a shopping mall parking lot in Bellevue. These are autonomous 6-ft high, 400-lb machines, filled with sensors. The robot scans the environment around it to create 3D images, and to check for unusual situations. I am sure they can already capture car registration numbers. Hmm .. and eventually, recognize the ‘FBI’s Most Wanted’ humans through face recognition?
I am not deleting my Facebook account, but they have lost my trust. Facebook will do almost anything for money. A sample: they enabled Russians to buy fake news ads (and pay in rubles) for the 2016 US Presidential election scandal, they enabled hate speechers to find target audiences on Facebook; allowed third parties to extract personal data, and then failed to follow up to make sure the data is deleted (the Cambridge Analytica scandal); scanned images and links sent from Messenger.
So now I go in every other day into my Facebook settings, and I am systematically deleting anything that they can use to sell me stuff. No more favorite movies or books, deleting my interests, do not enable just anyone to view my profile, do not enable face recognition in my photos, delete all connections to other apps. Sending money with Facebook? (yes, it can be done). Never.
We spotted a Tesla Model 3 across the street while we were having a beer and a bite at Elysian Capitol Hill Brewery on Saturday night. It’s amazing how much smaller in size, just 11 inches in length can make a car look (185″ long vs. 196″ for the Model S). I liked the styling and the lines on the Model 3 a lot.
BloombergBusinessweek calls the Spectre and Meltdown security vulnerabilities in billions of Intel & Apple computers all over the world, that became public early this January, ‘staggering security flaws’. (Intel is getting most of the flak. Ninety percent of the world’s computers, and 99% of servers, run on Intel chips).
So .. is there a somewhat straightforward explanation of these two types of attacks? And what is a poor sap such as me to do with his computers and devices (besides taking up a life in the woods and refrain from using them)?
It turns out almost all the big tech companies (Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and others) have worked together since June 2017 to create software patches so that hackers would not exploit the flaws. But fixing the problem for all platform and hardware combinations still has a long way to go.
As always, users should update their Linux, Windows, Apple MacOS or Apple iOS device operating systems, as soon as upgrades and fixes become available. Use proper passwords (and change them from time to time). Never click on links in suspicious e-mails (or: ‘don’t run someone else’s code on your machine’). Consider installing a Java script blocker such as uBlock Origin for browsers.
The problem is that the patches are causing PCs to freeze up or slow down, among other issues. Linux inventor Linus Torvalds called Intel out and says some of the proposed fixes are ‘complete and utter garbage’.
There was a cute report in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal about millions of Indian smartphone newbies. They just love to use WhatsApp to send sappy ‘Good Morning’ pictures to all their family and friends. And so after a year or so, many users would find their phone storage completely clogged up with ‘Good Morning’ pictures.
Google researchers half a world away, thought at first that there might be a problem with the Android operating system (making the phones freeze up). But when they found the cause was simply a phone filled to the brim with pictures, they posted an Android App that would search for, and clear out, these ‘Good Morning’ pictures by the thousand. Since December there were more than 10 million downloads of the app, and the problem is solved for now.
The Amazon Go store here in downtown Seattle opened today to the public (required for entry: an Amazon account and a phone with the Amazon Go app). I still have to go and check it out.
The main store concept is that there are no check-out lines. There are hundreds of cameras in the ceiling, sensors on the shelves, and bluetooth beacons in the store, to track and update what is taken as the shopper goes through the store. As far as I can tell there are no physical carts that one pushes through the store (I don’t see any in pictures from inside the store). The shopper brings a carry bag/ shoulder bag to put items directly into. So this is smaller volume and higher-end grocery shopping than at say, one’s traditional grocery store.
I decided I’m still not ready to spring for a new iPhone 8 or iPhone X. So I went to the Apple store here in Seattle, to inquire about a replacement battery for my old iPhone 6s. (Apple has a special offer of $29 for battery replacements for certain older phones. Normally they charge $79).
Well – it turned out that I’m going to get the battery for free. The analysis they ran at the store showed that the battery in my phone has gone through 533 charging cycles, and its capacity is now down to 80%. It is also from a batch of batteries that had since been marked as slightly flawed – hence its free replacement.
At 8.10 am on Saturday, more than a million Hawaiians were jolted with an ominous text message: ‘Ballistic missile threat inbound, seek immediate shelter’.
The message was generated by accident by someone during the shift change-over at the Hawaii Emergency Response Management Agency. It took 38 minutes to send a correction text. Governor David Ige announced later that the early warning system was suspended ‘until further notice’, and that the procedure will be changed to require two people to activate the alert*. The White House shrugged. ‘Merely a state exercise’ said deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters, and that President Trump had been informed.
*It’s just mind-boggling that this was not done to start with – and quite incredulous that the designers of the system’s messaging had created no follow-up options of ‘Cancel Alert’ or ‘Threat Over’ or ‘Safe Now’.
Sunday morning: Front Page of the Honolulu Star Advertiser.
I replaced just about all the light bulbs inside my house with light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs this year. It’s amazing: a tungsten-filament bulb that used to run at 60 Watt, can now be replaced with one that run only at 9 W! This is much better still, than the 13 W for compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. General Electric is now stopping production of domestic CFL lamps in favor of LEDs.
So for Christmas lights, many home-owners can now install strings of LED lights as well. Yes, these cost more to purchase, but a lot less to operate. (Every year we see reports of home-owners that set up displays with 100,000 bulbs or more, and that ‘borrow’ electricity from their neighbors to power it all up). LEDs also last longer than traditional incandescent glass lights, and are a safer light source since the bulbs do not get as hot, and are made of epoxy, not glass.
A self-driving shuttle got into an accident on its first day of service in Las Vegas. Aw – but it was a human driver’s fault, actually (or – of course? Can I take the side of the machine even though I am a human?). A large delivery truck operated by its human driver, pulled out into the street from a loading bay. The shuttle came to an abrupt stop, but the truck grazed the front of the shuttle bus. Fortunately, none of the eight passengers, nor the truck driver, were injured.
A coulee is a kind of valley or drainage zone. The Grand Coulee is an ancient river bed in north-central Washington State. And the Grand Coulee Dam is a massive concrete gravity dam on the Columbia River, built to produce hydroelectric power and to provide irrigation water. Only the Three Gorges dam in the Yangtze River in Hubei province, China, is a bigger dam in terms of concrete used for the dam wall and construction.
The original dam was constructed from 1933 to 1940 at a cost of $300 million. The Third Power Plant, constructed from 1967 to 1980, cost $700 million. If the dam were constructed today, it would cost $8.26 billion. The dam today generates some 20 billion kW-hrs of electricity every year, distributed to 11 states.
I watched Apple’s webcast today, of its annual product announcement, beamed from the new Apple ‘spaceship’ headquarters in Cupertino. It’s been ten years since the iPhone took the world by storm in 2007, and today the ‘one more thing’ (as Steve Jobs used to say) was the iPhone X (say ‘ten’, not ‘X’).
Apple ‘haters’ (they hate the ‘fanboys’) were quick to point out that many of the ‘new’ features have been available in Android phones for some time. (Yes .. but it’s new in an iPhone).
I don’t think of myself as an Apple ‘fanboy’! – but I will probably upgrade my iPhone 6 to the iPhone X early next year. It’s all about the camera for me, and the new 12 MP cameras come with nifty software settings and photo options. The new phone can take beautiful portrait pictures with the background filtered out to black, for example. I’d better start putting my money aside: $999 for the 64 GB model and $1,150 for the 256 GB model. That’s the price of a full-blown new notebook computer, since that’s what these phones are: super-mini-tablet computer-cameras-in-our-pockets.