News

Thanksgiving – Weathering the Storm

Yesterday, while sitting in Starbucks writing a few notes with my iPhone and waiting for my coffee, I could see storm clouds darkening the sky far off in the distance. It’s not an unusual sight and often is nothing to get too excited about. The news reports have all been about the high winds and wintry weather warnings due in our area. I’m referring to the news I actually pay any attention to. Politics are avoided. With Thanksgiving in a few days, it’s not a bad strategy to avoid unnecessary nonsense.

Now a day later I can hear the rain on the roof of the shop start tapping along with the blowing wind as the temperature drops down to a more seasonable cool temperature range of misery. I had spent some time earlier this morning playing around with the Chromebook’s Linux beta support and running Tshark and tcpdump in the Linux shell. I was able to install non-graphical dependent programs using apt. Apt seems to work better than expected, but I’m not convinced I’d actually use a Chromebook for any pcap file decoding. Lately I’ve been trying to be more practical in my minimalist approach to any computer usage I would use as a “grab and go” daily driver.

With the latest Windows 10 update, I must reluctantly admit that the latest Microsoft OS incarnation does fulfill the majority of my computing needs. I had expected that I would limit my choice to either Debian on a IdeaPad or a Chromebook. Neither has proven to be as flexible and as functional as the latest Windows update. This is somewhat annoying to me because I always feel the need to have Wireshark available on my laptops in case I need to assist someone who needs help troubleshooting communication issues which may actually be application related as opposed to true telecommunication issues. Since Wireshark has such wide protocol support it has become my favorite troubleshooting tool for many situations. OSX, Linux, and Windows support Wireshark well enough, however most of the users I deal with predominantly use Windows 10. Some have recently moved from Windows 7 to Windows 10, and sometimes have issues that I don’t see Linux users dealing with. Message analyzer is no longer supported, so Wireshark continues to be the easiest network monitoring tool for many.

I would still recommend Chromebooks for anyone who needs a low cost and efficient computer for basic web browsing, email, content writing, and basic photo editing. I know Thanksgiving can be an opportunity for friends and family of some fellow computer enthusiasts to ask for computer assistance and or recommendations. This year I would not be surprised to find Windows 7 to Windows 10 as one of the popular topics – other than politics or smartphone comparisons.

This year weather will probably be a safe topic to discuss, but don’t be surprised if the conversation turns to Black Friday shopping. What better topic to discuss the pros and cons of different operating systems, Phone, tablet, or PC based upgrades with associated “savings” deals could spur interesting conversations – provided the weather doesn’t dominate the conversations.

My advice this year is either go for a Chromebook if you have basic Internet related content needs, but if you happen to be one those workforce members who just got updated at work from Windows 7 to Windows 10, then having your own personal computer running Windows 10 Home might be useful for some self learning opportunities. This could be useful in becoming more comfortable in using an upgraded work computer. You can still load Linux as a virtual machine, or Windows Subsystem for Linux. I find myself using Powershell more than I had expected just because it’s available and has a lot of potential for simplifying some tasks you might otherwise normally use the dreaded point and click method

If you’re more involved heavy with media related content creation, than a Mac is probably worth the additional cost. If you already have a reliable computer, than you may find the latest Windows update as a fresh install is all you need. This could make your computer feel like a brand new model. The only issues that limit this is how long a certain model of hardware is supported by the OS upgrade, or manufactured driver support. Usually I can get more use out of a older computer by installing a lightweight Debian based Linux distribution. Unbelievable as it sounds, the latest Win 10 upgrade is running rather well on some of my older laptops – including Netbooks. It may be worth looking into before spending your hard earned money on a new laptop.

I think I might just hold onto what I already have. I’m getting everything done I need to, and I rely more on my phone than any laptop. Upgrading could be worth looking into since my iPhone 7 is starting to lose battery life.

I guess if the weather degrades anymore this Thanksgiving, I’ll at least have my phone with me. Maybe this Thanksgiving laptops aren’t even a topic that will come up. It’s all about phones this year. Even tablets seem to have faded into the background. The weather is always topical – especially if the rain blows hard enough, and the temperature becomes hard to ignore.

Area 51 Goofy Goofy Goofy!

Earthquake at China Lake, Power outage in NYC, tropical storm, flooding, strong thunderstorms and more strange weather – all random events with very little in common other than a cautious reminder that things happen. Sometimes you can avoid trouble, sometimes you can’t.
Now there are those who can’t get into enough trouble, so they look for it.
The idea that there are people toying with the idea of walking into Area 51 (Groom Lake)to see what’s there.
This seems like a bad idea. You’re either going to get in trouble and have a big let down, or you might actually find an alien who is famished. That would probably be much worse.
If there are actual space aliens at Area 51, leave them alone. They’re probably doing important work redesigning the next iPhone, or working on Hot Fixes for Windows 10.
You most likely wouldn’t notice a space alien if you walked right past one.
Look for the antenna. They usually disguise the antenna on top of their head as a “man bun”, but it’s really just to hide their Omni directional antenna.
A tall hat will also work in some situations. I know there are non-aliens who wear tall hats and have a man bun,
So it’s not an exact science. You need another test to determine if the being you are conferring with is a space alien from another world. This is where you swap out the Jiff peanut butter with Skippy. Extraterrestrials can’t tell the difference – some even think there eating Peter Pan.
Now if you can’t do the peanut butter test because there might be a slight allergy to Peanut issue you’d rather avoid, the next best test to determine if you’re dealing with another human being is the “Wish I had a MAC” Test.
If the subject you’re dealing with already uses a Mac, but wishes they could trade it in for any other Operating System Laptop – run away!
If they use Windows 10, and are perfectly happy with it – you’ll never know. If they use Linux or a Chromebook – they’ll just ignore you anyways as they finish off the Jiff and Skippy.
This is of course just plain goofy, but so is some of the silly stuff you find on the trending Internet.
There are a lot of strange events and interesting news you can find, not all of it is true – or meant to be anything more than entertainment. Unfortunately most news is basically someone’s idea of entertainment. Some news is “enhanced” to make it seem more important. Weather event coverage can often seem over the top. All this noise is setup to attract more viewers, not just for them, but their advertisers too. The same is true for some stories you find on the Internet.
If you want to find out what’s really going on, don’t expect to always find it on the mainstream news. Sometimes you’re going to have to look for it.
I’m not planning on going to Area 51. They’ve probably already relocated all the cool alien stuff somewhere less conspicuous. Ill be happy when we use the alien technology to make a bug free Operating system.
So far it looks like we have yet to decode their alien computer systems. Maybe extraterrestrials still use UNIX.

Trust or Bust

As the news spins tales of Cyber War threats, malicious activity between power brokers, privacy loss, and now UFO activity the focus still remains on political angles to convince the public all is not well. Everything must have an angle for someone’s agenda, whether it be political, or financial. Yes, we live with the possibility of Cyber War offensively and defensively to some degree. Could this be because we rely way too much on computer networks, a limited selection of operating systems and applications? What’s the average user supposed to do? Simple, don’t rely on something you can’t control. Businesses are limited by financial decisions – sometimes this is not so good. Individuals are also limited by financial realities but will often find that they have more flexibility in the choices they make towards technology reliance.

Many companies are still using Windows 7 and are struggling with transitioning to Windows 10. Many users who use Windows 7 at work usually have already switched to (Windows 10) many years ago – because it’s what was available to them when they purchased a new computer. Why are large companies much slower to transition? Many have expensive software applications and licenses that may incur a cost when updating, or simply require expensive upgrades. (financial reasons). You too may have had to upgrade some software and/or hardware. I’m sure there are still individuals using Windows 7 but remember that corporations often use enterprise versions as opposed to Home or even Pro editions.

You don’t even have to use the same operating system or distribution that everyone else uses – you have more freedom to choose other systems, and other software. The bad guys are going to focus on the most popular and dependent systems. They know who is slow moving and often constrained by inadequate support mechanisms. It’s an odds game, but a smaller company or individual user can be a little nimbler when reacting to and dealing with rapid changes required to operate effectively. Let the propaganda machines spew out their discombobulated sensationalism.

You have freewill – at least for now. Use it wisely. I don’t think anyone should disregard the real news or the fake news. Be prudent and keep your options open. With all the bad press lately about Google, I still have faith in their Chromebook security. I trust it way more than any Microsoft OS. You may have a different opinion, which is of course your choice. It’s good to have choices. I’ll continue to work with Linux distributions, and will on occasion see what’s new with the latest Windows 10 release. I think Windows 10 is secure and stable, just not to the same degree that I feel Chromebooks do for minimal application use. There are many programs that only run well on Microsoft, but I don’t usually need to use them.

I’ll use a Mac once in a while because it is good for content creative work, and to stay up to date with new software developments for Logic Pro X and some video editors, but for basic writing and research the Chromebook is just enough and more.

I did start up my generator yesterday to make sure it’s ready for any type of power outage, but after a few bad storms, it’s a pretty common thing to be prepared. This doesn’t mean I’m worried about UFO invasions, another war, or Cyber-attacks. It just means I choose to be ready for any type of storm – real or imagined. If the Internet goes down, I still know how to get through the day without looking everything up online or checking social media. Believe it or not, computers are still useful without connectivity to the web.

Computers and phones still require power, but solar power is usually sufficient if done correctly. There are still radio communications which include shortwave, cell towers, and even satellite (unless the aliens start messing with them). Usually most disasters around here are local and short lived – weather seems to never take a vacation. Trees continue to fall over onto the power and phone lines. Stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The Chromebook won’t be connected, but I can always take on the road to somewhere it can be – or simply take a break from computers and do something else.

Have enough coffee on hand to last at least two weeks, donuts (usually gone by day one), and cans of chicken soup. Water always comes up as a big thing to have on hand, and some cans of tuna fish. I’m not sure how long Mountain Dew lasts because I don’t drink it, but it might be a useful bartering tool for trade should you need to trade for more donuts. This is probably bad advice, but about as believable as most of the news out there.

 

 

10 Year Challenge: AI Edition

The “10 Year Challenge” seems like any other social media challenge, however it may have a major effect in the world of facial recognition.

The Challenge as it is now, is to post two pictures of yourself side by side. One of the pictures is from 2008 while the other is from 2018.

Seems pretty harmless at first glance, however Fortune 500 adviser and tech writer Kate O’Neill had this to say on Twitter.

Me 10 years ago: probably would have played along with the profile picture aging meme going around on Facebook and Instagram Me now: ponders how all this data could be mined to train facial recognition algorithms on age progression and age recognition

Kate O’Neill

With the growth of data mining and facial recognition software it will be interesting to see if this has any effect.

Fak3 N3w5

Where do we get a large portion of our news and information from? Most likely a media source that makes money from advertising, donations, or some type of funding.

Other sources to think about are person to person or rumor. There is also personal experiences that many people can draw from. And what facilitates much of this consumption and/or interaction? The Internet, Television, and to a lesser extent print and radio broadcast.

The buzzword of the moment is of course “Fake News”. This is nothing new, in the old days we referred to propaganda, advertising, and fiction as “ Fake”. What’s considered fake to some people could be someone else’s reality. A lot of effort can put into supporting, persuading, or disproving what others believe. The current atmosphere is fertile for breeding distrust, especially in what we are presented with from multiple news and information sources. Can we believe anything anymore?

How do we differentiate between “Real News” (hopefully this refers to news based on truth),  and “Fake News” (possibly based on dis-information and dishonesty). What do you do, follow the crowd, follow your own beliefs, or roll the dice and hope for the best when we consume information?

A current trend is to remove, block, or label some sources of “Fake News”. One group decides another group’s information is incorrect because they believe they are right, and anything they judge to be wrong – is. This is truly an oversimplification of the dilemma, but my point is not to determine what is “Real News” and What is “Fake News”, but how can anyone navigate through all the noise? Usually when there is a problem, we look for solutions, and to produce solutions we often use tools. People used to use rational thought, but what you consider rational thought may not be what someone else considers rational thought. So let’s concentrate on tools for now.

I checked out a few Chrome extensions that are presented as capable of differentiating between what is “Real” and what is “Fake” or “click-bait”.  They also allow you to flag certain information as “Fake” or “Real”. So these flags are considered into the “Algorithm” that determines the “Authenticity” of the information presented. Links to “Fake” web sources are highlighted by some extensions. I tried out a few of these “tools” and wasn’t impressed. I’m not sure that I want to put too much faith into artificial intelligence and how many “flags” viewers assign to websites. This doesn’t mean I won’t do a little research when I come across something that doesn’t look or sound quite believable. A healthy dose of skepticism often works for me. I also rely on faith, not always a popular discourse, but sometimes faith is all some have to work with.

I shall abandon the search for an easy solution to filter out Real News from Fake News and leverage the power of the computer only to assist me in determining truth from fiction. We are not limited to a few popular (or formally popular) major news outlets, nor are we limited to only the most popular search engines. This is true for the moment, but will these options still be available in the future? Imagine if free speech was only allowed for the few and not for all. Imagine if one group of like minded individuals controlled all the information. Imagine if History was subjected to only one point of view, and if the future was subjected to restrictions instead of freedoms.

Imagine if we allowed a computer program to determine what was real and what was not.

Would it matter who wrote that program? Maybe what we currently believe to be real is actually fake, and what we perceive as fake is remarkably real. The problems show up when we create Fake News to facilitate an agenda. When propaganda is used as a means to inflict harm in order to build something up or tear something down. All this talk about Fake News sounds somewhat similar to malware, virus, and adware, yet an antivirus program is possibly more efficient in filtering out the bad stuff than some of the current Fake News filters. You would think a list of Fake News sites and a heuristic approach to identifying Fake News would be the most efficient way to weed out garbage, but even antivirus programs have their weaknesses.

How would such a program label religions, alternative medicine, or subjective reasoning?

If we include politics, we can see that what we are presented with often appears to lean one way or another. Not all news agencies appear to follow this objective, but most people can spot the entertainment value. Don’t forget “errors”. Even in the world of computers we deal with errors. Garbage in almost always results in garbage out. Just try not to process too much garbage in. The difference between humans and computers – at least presently, is not that you have the ability to think, but that you have the freedom to think. Don’t let that freedom slip away.

You may need it someday.

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