Fun with HTML: ‮ Writing Backwards ‭ / Writing Backwards

The HTML Entity for changing the directionality of text from right-to-left (rtl) is 8238. To change it back to left-to-right (ltr), use 8237.

Repeating the paragraph above with rtl and ending with the ltr:

‮”The HTML Entity for changing the directionality of text from right-to-left (rtl) is 8238. To change it back to left-to-right (ltr), use 8237.”‭

Possible legitimate use: if it is used in a profile that might be scraped, it will likely throw unexpected results, such as reversing text in auto-generated spam email.

But, there’s a few situations where this could be used to amusing effect or to be jackass. Don’t be a jackass.

h/t Tim Carry.

Newly Disclosed NSA Documents Shed Further Light on Five Eyes Alliance

“(Compare that with, for example, the statement by David Lange, the former prime minister of New Zealand, who remarked that “it was not until I read [the] book [“Secret Power” by Nicky Hager, which details the history of New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau] that I had any idea that we had been committed to an international integrated electronic network.” He continued that “it is an outrage that I and other ministers were told so little, and this raises the question of to whom those concerned saw themselves ultimately answerable.”)”

—Scarlet Kim and Paulina Perrin, “Newly Disclosed NSA Documents Shed Further Light on Five Eyes Alliance.” Lawfare. March 25, 2018.

The reason that ideas like “the deep state” resonate with some people is that there is truth to them. While I’m sure incoming Presidents and Prime Ministers are given access to a great deal of “secret” information, it would take years to cover every important agreement or established ways of doing things, like the Five Eyes agreement. Who decides? And what kind of accountability is there? This illustrates that the likely answer is, “None.”

Found: A Quadrillion Ways for String Theory to Make Our Universe

“According to string theory, all particles and fundamental forces arise from the vibrational states of tiny strings. For mathematical consistency, these strings vibrate in 10-dimensional spacetime. And for consistency with our familiar everyday experience of the universe, with three spatial dimensions and the dimension of time, the additional six dimensions are ‘compacted’ so as to be undetectable.

Different compactifications lead to different solutions. In string theory, a “solution” implies a vacuum of spacetime that is governed by Einstein’s theory of gravity coupled to a quantum field theory. Each solution describes a unique universe, with its own set of particles, fundamental forces and other such defining properties.”

—Anil Ananthaswamy, “Found: A Quadrillion Ways for String Theory to Make Our Universe.” Scientific American. March 28, 2018.

Note to self: read Brian Greene’s Elegant Universe.

Information Realism

“…the universe is a mental construct displayed on the screen of perception.”

—Bernardo Kastrup, “Physics Is Pointing Inexorably to Mind.” Scientific American. March 25, 2019.

Said better by Spoon Boy, in The Matrix:

“Do not try and bend the spoon, that’s impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth…there is no spoon. Then you’ll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.”

Cracker Country

I met someone recently. And during the course of conversation, we discovered we grew up around the same area. The conversation went along these lines:

  • Stranger: I’m from X.
  • Me: Oh, really? I grew up near there.
  • Stranger: Where are you from?
  • Me: The Y/Z area.
  • Stranger: Don’t take this the wrong way, but we used to call that, “Cracker Country.”
  • Me: *laughs* There’s probably some truth to that when you and I lived there [a long time ago], but it’s probably less true now.

Everyone involved in this conversation was white, whatever that means.

The Y/Z area was a place in the gap between rural and suburban. It used to have large blocks of pastureland for cows. They have since been converted into a suburban landscape. I remember a school dance that featured a “hoe down” as a theme. It was telling choice, walking a fine line between irony and actuality.

It was a town of the middle and lower classes that was white, which is true even today. I have no memories of any black people in my school or in the area. Issues of race were, and in many ways still are, invisible.

I shared this exchange with a family member from that area. They took it “the wrong way.” They found “cracker” offensive. My reaction to the term is closer to this one in the Gawker. It doesn’t bother me at all.

But, why? What is the difference? I don’t live there. I didn’t feel like I belonged when I was there. I left when I came of age and never returned. Maybe it doesn’t bother me because I don’t identify with the place.

But, would it be different if I still lived there? What if I were someone with stereotypical “cracker” interests? What if I attended a Baptist church? Loved fishing, hunting and/or shooting at the range? What if I worked construction or raised cattle for a living?

Conversations on race and class are always complicated. The closer you are to a stereotype, the more you’ll resent that stereotype. The other side of intersectionality is that the lower someone is on an axis such as class, the more they will focus on other axes, including white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, etc. to help increase their social standing.

37 Difficult Questions From My Mixed-Race Son

“Mommy, I have changed my name to “The Sixth Jackson.”

Wait, really? I’m supposed to say, ‘This in my son, ‘The Sixth Jackson.’?’

No. You are supposed to say, “This is the Sixth Jackson.” And then I will show them my moves. And then they will understand.


—Mira Jacob. “37 Difficult Questions From My Mixed-Race Son.” Buzzfeed. June 8, 2015.

New to me. Mentioned as part of Mira Jacob’s just released, “Good Talk,” which is a graphic memoir of conversations that have this quote at their heart:

“I can’t protect you from spending a lifetime caught between the beautiful dream of a diverse nation and the complicated reality of one.”

h/t Longreads.

Preinstalled Android Apps are Harvesting and Sharing Your Data

“Many Android phones ship with software that has been pre-installed by the smartphone vendor…

…Not only did preinstalled applications harvest geolocation information, personal email, phone call metadata and contacts, but some of them even monitored which applications users installed and opened. In many cases, personal information was funneled straight back to advertising companies.”

—Danny Bradbury, “Preinstalled Android apps are harvesting and sharing your data.” Naked Security. March 27, 2019.

At this point, if you were unaware of the fact that the feudal internet, i.e., Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, make their money through surveillance, you aren’t paying attention. These companies are trying to convince you that they care about your privacy. It’s a lie. Consider a recent Apple commercial:

It’s bullshit. The problem with Apple is that that they made almost $11 billion dollars in revenue in the first quarter of 2019 selling software services, such as the App Store, iTunes, Apple Pay and now Apple News. So, they are the advertiser. It’s not privacy. It’s a business strategy of captivity, just like Netflix. The goal is to keep you paying for devices and subscriptions, and selling ads undermines the model.

Apple is a walled garden or ecosystem. It’s designed for lock in. It’s the Hotel California of the feudal internet. You can check out any time you like (by buying an Android device), but you can never leave (because Apple services don’t work right on Android and vice versa).

Another point? You have zero control over your information. Apple can decide to focus on their iAd network tomorrow, if it serves their business interests. Privacy is simply a differentiator today. It very well might not be tomorrow.

If you’re on an Android device, unlike with Apple, you can always install a custom ROM, like LineageOS. So, there is some choice with Android beyond the default.. But, what does that really mean?

Looking at the LineageOS stats page, ~1.75 million devices have the most popular ROM on them. The number of mobile device users worldwide? ~4.5 billion. That’s about 0.04% of devices, a statistical nullity.

Even if you have the technical expertise to install LineageOS or manage to buy a device off eBay, you still have the problem that most Android apps require GApps, which phones home to Google. Of course, they need your location for Google Maps to work for you, but your interaction with the Google Maps app works for Google as well, which turns around and uses your location information for advertising, e.g., making restaurant suggestions, building it’s own products, etc. Did that hardware store you just went to have handicapped access? Google wants to know.

Amazon, Apple and Netflix seem similar in that they are working off selling services and subscriptions. So, they are less focused on advertising. But, they are trying to drive sales, just as any advertiser. On the other end, there is Google and Facebook which are primarily about advertising. Microsoft is probably somewhere in-between these two extremes.

Then, you have all the also-rans. Comcast, the telecommunication companies, app developers and untold others who will use any information they can get, by hook or by crook, to make money. In the end, you pay for a device that has been subject to data sharing agreements that have not been disclosed to you, the user.

It’s particularly galling when you pay for a device or service, such as for cable or a telecommunications network access, and the company you buy it from turns around and sells the details of your usage to the highest bidder. At least with a “free” service like Facebook, you know you are the product. When you are paying for a device or service, you might think you are also not the product. But, that would be a mistake.

Again, it’s a question of lock in. Don’t like Comcast? What’s the alternative? Don’t like AT&T? When every other telecommunications company does exactly the same thing, what are you going to do, change your carrier? No carrier is talking about privacy. Most people probably assume who they call and their location information is private, but it isn’t.

You can do things to limit your exposure to surveillance capitalism. You can install Linux on your computers. You can install LineageOS on your phone. You can use a VPN. You can get off social media. You can be careful about what apps you install. But, even with all of that, the environment is such that you’ll still show up, whether it is through facial recognition software applied to someone else’s social media account or some other means.

Surveillance capitalism is never going to be about privacy. It’s useful to limit our exposure to the degree possible through technical means, but this approach is limited. Other strategies need to be developed, such as legal, economic and so forth, so that the incentives change. So, long as most services are concentrated in the hands of a few feudal internet companies, surveillance capitalism will be maximally exploitive.