No more versionsing. Just Keep it Spinning

Apple vs Government vs Terrorists

There’s a couple of items that seem to be missing from the February 2016 debate on whether Apple should assist the FBI in hacking into the cell phone used by deceased criminal / terrorist murderers.

Supposedly, this is a perfect case for avoiding most privacy issues. The bad evildoers are dead, so no privacy issues, and the phone is owned by their employer anyway, which is a public agency. Just one problem. If you make a way to crack into this phone, you’ve basically made a way to get into any phone. And even if you haven’t made a general backdoor, you’ve demonstrated you can and therefore are you going to start getting tons of court orders to keep doing this?

So let’s look at one obvious thing, but then a couple of items I think aren’t being looked at very closely just yet…

  • The FBI claims the order to hack the phone is narrowly described to focus on ONE phone. But how does the FBI know what it takes to get in there? Apple says the only way to do it is for them to re-cast their entire operating system. There’s really no apparent what – that I can think of in any case – where a hack would be inherently specific to one individual device.

What I’m not seeing anyone really talk about…

There are some other issues raised by what’s going on with this court order that I haven’t seen much focus on as yet.

  • Government Coercion of Forced Labor. Supposedly, when the Government requires Company compliance with various types of expensive regulations, they pay some form of reasonable accommodation fees to help them accomplish required tasks. But in this case, how could you possibly do that? You’re essentially ordering a private business to embark on a technical research project to discover what it would take to accomplish this goal, and then implement it. How much will that take in time and money? And what business opportunities will be lost by having those personnel assigned to this task instead of what they’d otherwise be doing?
  • Self Determination by Workers. Work may be at will in most states. So a company can fire you for pretty much any reason at any time. Maybe not for Government, Unions or some other types of work, but at most tech firms I’ve ever heard of, it’s At Will employemnt. So what happens if an Apple coder says s/he won’t do this work for philosophical reasons? Do they get fired? Or are they found in contempt of a court order and then they go to jail? Either way, what would Apple do then? Do they have to seek out and hire additional talent to accomplish this goal?

The slippery slope here is about a lot more than just privacy violations. It’s about what level of Government coercion can be used to force Specific Performance by Companies and individual workers. The State certainly has an interest in trying to gather evidence regarding terrorism, (or any other illegal activities), and to protect its citizens. And for that matter, I’d personally hope most would agree we’re all for our various police agencies aggressively seeking to protect us and stop the bad guys.

It’s probably true that with modern encryption more and more bad actors are putting more of their plans in digital forms only so there’s little to no evidence of the kind police agencies might have collected in the past. Police are then left with little other than actual actions by others, which can be harder to track. Perhaps after an incident there’s physical evidence, but with a complete inability to get at any plans or communications there’s clearly an increased advantage to criminals unlike ever before.

But here’s the thing: This is where we are. This is what we’re left with. We can’t allow the U.S. Government the kind of reach they’re looking for here because the philosophical and practical costs are too high and as importantly, DON’T SOLVE THE PROBLEM. Even if you can get into a device, users can have apps on devices that have encryption themselves. And there will be other devices not made in the U.S. that will add these capabilities, regardless of rules to not deploy them in the U.S. Even if this order ends up with the hacking of this phone, all we will have done is moved the threat down to the app level.

If this order prevails and Apple is compelled to do this, all that will happen is a major loss to end user privacy, major new risks for hacking of anyone, and likely a loss of business to Apple overseas as others prefer providers that don’t cripple encryption in their products.


My Build of a Kendall Extra Wide Dresser


I’m writing up some of the things I did during my build of a Kendall style extra wide dresser. I’m doing this in the hope that some of the tools or techniques I used may be helpful to others. I sort of hesitated to write this all up on my own hardly ever used blog as I kind of didn’t want to just add MORE stuff for folks to read who might be doing such a build. But I did some things a little differently that I thought some might find of interest. At the same time, each of us likely modifies plans just a bit as we each have different tools that could dictate how we go about certain tasks. [Read the rest of this entry...]


Home Auto and Personal Survival Kit Preparation


I am not a “Doomsday Prepper.” While the list below seems long, most of it is stuff you likely have lying around anyway, just perhaps not well organized. Because friends and others have asked me for my list when this has come up in conversation, I’ve decided to just put it up here. This isn’t about building an underground shelter in your back yard. It’s just about what a prudent family should have prepared in the not-so-unlikely event of modern services simply being unavailable for a time.

My assumption here is that this setup is for a family with a vehicle and home. It’s not meant to be some big all encompassing list for what to do while commuting should you need to eat fellow commuters if the train gets stuck. As a long time volunteer EMT, pilot, backpacker, etc., it’s just that over time I’ve come to collect what I believe to be the “table stakes” items one should have at home for basic self and family care. This isn’t just about terrorism paranoia. But stuff happens. Natural disasters; winter storms, hurricanes, disease outbreaks, etc. happen. Our brittle infrastructure risks long term power failures. And yes, there’s terrorism. It should be that a week or so without our usual services is just an inconvenience, not a life-threatening situation. Obviously, you have to adjust your own list for you own situation. I also understand that not everyone is into owning a weapon or wants to go to effort to get a pistol permit. Everything is optional. Everything depends on what you want / need.

EDC (Every Day Carry)

- Flashlight
- Multitool
- G-Shock watch

Medium Backpack (Bug Out / Go Bag)

(In the Bag… use Dry Bags)

- Personal Documents (ID / Passport / Copy of Birth Cert., Etc.)
- Prescription meds
- Cash
- Sunglasses
- Bandana
- Work Gloves
- Warm hat
- Cell phone w/Power cord and solar charger

- SAS Survival Guidebook
- Daytrex Calorie Bars (6 Bars = 18 Days for 1 person.)
- Gun – Both clips and 50 rounds
- Multitool
- SOG Knife w/cord cutter and window breaker (Escape Model FF-25)
- Two Nalgene Water Bottles
- Miox Water Purifier w/Salt Pellets
- Katadhyn Water Purifier
- Firestarter Flint
- Lighter
- Princeton Tec Amp 3 flashlight
- Survival blanket
- Compass
- Signal Whistle
- Emergency Guide
- 2 N95 Masks
- 2 Hot packs
- Mess Kit
- laser pointer

- First Aid Kit (from back of truck w/Sam Splint, EMT Shears, Steri-strips, triangular bandages, etc.)
- Sun Screen
- Chap stick
- Bug repellent
- Stitch Kit / Steristrips
- Rad Tablets (Potassium Iodide)
- Immodium / Antacid
- Claritin / Benedryl
- Advil / Aleve
- Antibiotic Creme
- Superglue for kit

- Toilet paper
- Soap / Hand Sanitizer
- Toothbrush / Paste
- Dental Floss
- Razor
- Towel

- Safari Hat
- 2 pair underwear
- 3 pair socks
- 2 lightweight shirts (UnderArmor)
- 1 med weight layer (UnderArmor)
- 2 pair cargo shorts
- 1 pair cargo pants
- Rain gear
- 1 spare lightweight hiking shoes
- Spare Belt

- Marmot Tent
- Sleeping Bag (the lightweight one)
- 50′ Paracord
- Sewing Kit
- Duct Tape
- Pen and Waterproof pad
- Headlamp flashlight
- 2 Carabiners
- Camp Stove & White Gas
- Several Freeze Dried Meals

Medium Backpack 2
- If any kids: All kid stuff in 2nd pack.

Truck / Vehicle Evac – Add the Following

Survival / Critical:
- 2 Five Gallon Water Jugs
- Non scented bleach for H20 (filter, then 2 drops / qt or 8 / gal, double for cloudy / cold)
- All the gasoline cans we’ve got.
- Spare pocket knife
- Buck knife
- Breakdown Shovel
- Freeplay Flashlight
- Freeplay Radio
- ALL Freeze Dried Food / Canned Goods / Everything
- Camp Stove w/Propane  -   Back pack stove with white gas
- Cookware, Plates, Plastic Cups and Utensils
- Sharpening Stone
- Fire Extinguisher

- Medicated Wipes
- All toilet paper. Several paper towels.
- 2 Towels

- 5 pair underwear
- 5 pair socks
- 2 pair long pants
- 2 shirts and 2 sweatshirts or sweaters
- lightweight jacket
- heavy jacket
- Boots
- Sneakers

Extra / Bonus Gear
- Bicycle and bike pump.
- All batteries (esp. C / AA / AAA and CR123 Lithiums)
- Whole case of hot pack hand warmers
- Gun bag with all 9MM ammo
- .22 Rifle with all 22cal ammo
- Plastic Tarp
- Tool Kit (with sockets)
- Crowbar / Bolt Cutters / Hammer / Nails
- Waste Bucket and heavy duty plastic bags
- Binoculars
- Folding Saw
- Large and Small Axe
- Zip ties
- Vitamin C / D3
- Jump ‘n Carry Charger
- Air Inflator
- Tow Strap

Home / Shelter in Place Items

- At least one month of food:
-  Shelf stable meals: Pasta, canned goods, backup freeze dried / MREs
- Manual can opener
- 2 – 5 Gallon Water Containers (Use Water Preserver / Bleach drops in a pinch.)
- Several rolls duct tape.
- Extra Candles
- Warehouse club sized packs of AAA, AA, C batteries.
- Several sheets of 4′ x 8′ plywood.
- Screws / nails for plywood.
- LIttle Giant ladder.
- Generator / Fuel / Oil
- Make sure at least one grill propane tank is full.
- At least two small propane tanks for camp stove.
- 2 large tarps.
- Chainsaw
- Powdered chlorinated lime – for disinfectant / hygiene

- Computers all backed up to cloud service backup drives.


Windows 8 Review of Silverlight – Weak Choice

So you’re Microsoft. Windows 7 was fortunately usable as compared to some of the seriously flawed operating systems you put out just prior. But somehow the world has still changed. Macintosh is truly on a tear; likely due to users becoming more familiar with Apple in general via iPods, iPhones, iPads, etc. And sure, their OS in general is pretty damn good.

Now you come out with Windows 8. Maybe people are interested in taking a look, and you’re going to require Silverlight to see a demo? Silverlight? Which is on maybe 50% of browsers? THIS is what many will face when they go to look?

Microsoft Requiring Silverlight to view Windows 8 demo

They’re already taking some risk with such a radical re-thinking of their OS. Have the Product Marketing folks simply said, “Well, maybe most Mac users won’t typically have Silverlight installed, but… we’re not going to convert Mac users anyway, so let’s not worry about if they come here.” I’d love to get my hands on their analytics for this site and find out how many show up without the Silverlight Plugin installed. And how many actually bother to get it to come back.

Really poor choice.


Apple and Microsoft Can Both be Lousey – Just in their Own Ways

The fact that they both have their user hostile moments could be a reason why mass market consumer adoption may take much longer than it otherwise would for certain in home technologies. Sure, the penetration velocity of Smart Phones is stunning, especially as compared to other historical technologies. But where are we with the living room set top box? Or home automation, which could arguably save real money and offer some environmental benefits? Not very far. Why?

Because for Core Important Items we Use All the Time, the Stuff Really has to Work.

Somehow manufacturers stepped up to this challenge for mobile Phones, but still don’t get it for the home.

Microsoft and Apple are both great companies in their own ways. But they also suck in their own special ways as well. And people likely have at least a general sense of this. Personally, it scares the hell out of me when I think of people using some of their products for any kind of serious mission critical applications. Whether it’s using the iPad as an Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) as a pilot for charts and such, or Windows as embedded software in medical devices. It could be that embedded Windows uses a very stable version of the OS. It’s just hard to reconcile that idea with just how bad some of their other items work. (Or don’t.) How either one of them will fare in the race to own the set top box is a total crap shoot to me. Because mass market consumers simply will not let their televisions or homes be messed with unless they have confidence their couch ensconced butts will not be overly put out just to tune in The Biggest Loser. Let’s consider…

Apple Elegance. Unless You’re Multi-Platform

I love my iPhone. And my iPad. And my MacBook Pro. Sure, I’ve got some little nits here and there, but in general I could semi-gush about these products. Except for one thing; perhaps two. I’ve also got a powerful Windows 7 box that for historical reasons has my iTunes running on it. And it’s going to stay that way because my traveling laptop gets beat on so much there’s no way I’m putting everything on it just to wait for the day I kill it for good. Ever run iTunes on the Windows platform? Well… don’t if you can avoid it. It’s just begging to see this…

It’s a scary thing. Even if you back up your stuff and you’re fairly sure you can restore it all after you get past this, there’s a moment of just “oh #@$” It’s not just about potentially losing data. It’s about all the TIME it takes to deal with such things. Couple this with the fact that the restore files are somewhat opaque. That is, your Contacts, for example. Sure, you can back them up to Outlook or Windows Contacts on a pc; but even these aren’t very accessible platforms. That is, let’s say I just want the file with the Contacts so I can save it in an online backup or an old-fahsioned thumb drive. It’s do-able. But you’re basically going to have to either install an App to help with this, or go through Outlook or Windows Contacts and then do an export or similar. This post isn’t about this or any other problem in particular. It’s about being CUMBERSOME. And that for day-to-day living, typical consumers fear these hassles; and rightly so.

What customer who’s been PC based – which is still most of them – who is integrating Apple products into their life is going to trust something like Apple TV to work properly? Who will trust any of their boxes to integrate with other technologies; especially when a game console  like the PS3 or Xbox can already do so much more; albeit at a higher price point?


Microsoft Piggishness: Trying to Keep the Gate

Meanwhile, let’s take a peek at some recent behavior from the people who brought us Windows ME and Vista, but at least seem to have Windows 7 working ok, and see how they’re doing in the home. The only place they exist besides perhaps a PC is the Xbox. And thanks to the genius of the Kinect system, they’re still alive here. And yet… will people adopt this system to do more? To control more of their living room or their home? Will people adopt the Xbox when Microsoft forces you to pay $100 / year to be a Gold Member in order to use a Netflix subscription you already pay for? Sony’s PS3 doesn’t force you to do that. And what about the Microsoft Credits to pay for On Demand shows or TV Series? Why not just use dollars? Someone in marketing probably realized the dollar costs are too high, so let’s figure out some other units. Then we can have bonus packs and giveaway’s and so on. Just one problem. You force people to have to do mental gymnastics every time to figure out what stuff costs. So they’re either going to abandon right there or finish the math and realize the stuff is radically overpriced. Maybe they’d even try the Xfinity service, IF they can get the Authentication Server when it’s in good enough of a mood to work. What Consumers with this kind of experience are going to want to embed such technologies further? Who wants to run more of their home services on Xbox vs. PS3 vs. (or in addition to ) AppleTV, etc., when what they already use is so clunky.

Being Teflon Lets You Get Away With Good Enough

Ever search for an App on the Apple App Store? It’s among the worst search experiences you can have with modern tools. And yet, Apple is King of the App world in terms of dollars spent. It’s amazing. Stunning.

Ever try to pipe web content through a Windows Media Server to an Xbox to get around the fact that there’s not an open browser on the Xbox? Fun, huh?

I do understand… deeply… and sincerely… issues of product roadmaps, product feature planning, market timing and so on. And some things unquestionably require market ecosystem maturity before release. Nevertheless, today’s modern ideas of Agile product development for the web does not necessarily translate easily to mass market consumer electronics and their associated service components. What constitutes “Minimum Viable Product” still requires a wide swath of related products and services to work well together. It all comes back to the time issue. And money of course. But time, which is essentially attention, is the most precious item in short supply now. Products will not break through the early adopter phase with these kinds of problems. But worse, having shown such problems to just about everyone, even when they are ready there’s quite possibly going to be a much longer adoption period. Simply due to lack of trust garnered from very real disappointing experiences.

How can such problems be avoided? It’s simple. Make the stuff you put into the world work. Being a little faster to market than the next guy doesn’t help if the whole marketplace sector is tainted by bad experience from multiple vendors.


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