Why I Use Old Hardware

“My 11-year-old laptop can compile the Linux kernel from scratch in 20 minutes, and it can play 1080p video in real-time. That’s all I need! Many users cannot afford high-end computer hardware, and most have better things to spend their money on. And you know, I work hard for my money, too – if I can get a computer which can do nearly 5 billion operations per second for $60, that should be sufficient to solve nearly any problem. No doubt, there are faster laptops out there, many of them with similarly impressive levels of compatibility with my ideals. But why bother?”

—Drew Devault. ” Why I Use Old Hardware. drewdevault.com. January 23, 2019.

One of the advantages of using free software is that support for old hardware tends to get better. The more free you go, say to the level of wanting a free bootloader such as libreboot and all free software drivers, the more likely you are either using old hardware or you are spending a lot of money for a free machine from companies like Purism.

My main computer is a Lenovo Thinkpad T400 with libreboot. You can buy one for <$150 on eBay.

How to Boost Your Data Privacy With a Virtual Private Network

“Data privacy matters, and we all deserve respect and consideration from those we visit on the internet. As shown by the numerous data breaches that have affected companies and individual users around the world, individuals and governments, however, we must also look out for our own personal data and privacy. Using a VPN to obfuscate your location and encrypt data is a powerful way to prevent the tracking, stalking and theft of personal and private data.”

—Eric Jeffrey, “How to Boost Your Data Privacy With a Virtual Private Network.” Security Intelligence. November 2, 2018.

A layman’s explanation of VPNs and why you should be using them. I’ve mentioned VPNs before. If interested in using one, check this website for a comparison of different services.

Click Here to Kill Everybody – Bruce Schneider

“There is simply no way to secure US networks while at the same time leaving foreign networks open to eavesdropping and attack. There’s no way to secure our phones and computers from criminals and terrorists without also securing the phones and computers of those criminals and terrorists. On the generalized worldwide network that is the Internet, anything we do to secure its hardware and software secures it everywhere in the world. And everything we do to keep it insecure similarly affects the entire world.

This leaves us with a choice: either we secure our stuff, and as a side effect also secure their stuff; or we keep their stuff vulnerable, and as a side effect keep our own stuff vulnerable. It’s actually not a hard choice. An analogy might bring this point home. Imagine that every house could be opened with a master key, and this was known to the criminals. Fixing those locks would also mean that criminals’ safe houses would be more secure, but it’s pretty clear that this downside would be worth the tradeoff of protecting everyone’s house. With the Internet+ increasing the risks from insecurity dramatically, the choice is even more obvious. We must secure the information systems used by our elected officials, our critical infrastructure providers, and our businesses.

Yes, increasing our security will make it harder for us to eavesdrop, and attack, our enemies in cyberspace. (It won’t make it impossible for law enforcement to solve crimes; I’ll get to that later in this chapter.) Regardless, it’s worth it. If we are ever going to secure the Internet+, we need to prioritize defense over offense in all of its aspects. We’ve got more to lose through our Internet+ vulnerabilities than our adversaries do, and more to gain through Internet+ security. We need to recognize that the security benefits of a secure Internet+ greatly outweigh the security benefits of a vulnerable one.”

—Bruce Schneider. “Five-Eyes Intelligence Services Choose Surveillance Over Security.” Schneider.com. September 8, 2018.

History Rhymes

“Sometime this November, he estimates, half the world’s population—close to 4 billion people—will be connected online, sharing everything from résumés to political views to DNA information. As billions more come online, they will feed trillions of additional bits of information into the Web, making it more powerful, more valuable, and potentially more dangerous than ever….

…The power of the Web wasn’t taken or stolen. We, collectively, by the billions, gave it away with every signed user agreement and intimate moment shared with technology. Facebook, Google, and Amazon now monopolize almost everything that happens online, from what we buy to the news we read to who we like. Along with a handful of powerful government agencies, they are able to monitor, manipulate, and spy in once unimaginable ways…

The idea is simple: re-decentralize the Web. Working with a small team of developers, he spends most of his time now on Solid, a platform designed to give individuals, rather than corporations, control of their own data.”

—Katrina Brooker. “‘I Was Devastated’: Tim Berners-Lee, the Man Who Created the World Wide Web, Has Some Regrets.Vanity Fair. July 1, 2018.

Even if a successful decentralized platform is developed, won’t the increasing value of the web combined with people’s willingness to exchange their information for useful tools and convenience offered by a few multinational corporations simply lead to a similar outcome? Or to pose the central question of the article:

“…we are at a societal inflection point: Are we headed toward an Orwellian future where a handful of corporations monitor and control our lives? Or are we on the verge of creating a better version of society online, one where the free flow of ideas and information helps cure disease, expose corruption, reverse injustices?”

Likely both, with much more of the former than the latter.

Inbox Zero and the Search for the Perfect Email Client | Ars Technica

“Are you the sort of person who needs to read and file every email they get? Or do you delight in seeing an email client icon proudly warning of hundreds or even thousands of unread items? For some, keeping one’s email inbox with no unread items is more than just a good idea: it’s a way of life, indicating control over the 21st century and its notion of productivity. For others, it’s a manifestation of an obsessively compulsive mind. The two camps, and the mindsets behind them, have been a frequent topic of conversation here in the Ars Orbiting HQ. And rather than just argue with each other on Slack, we decided to collate our thoughts about the whole ‘inbox zero’ idea and how, for those who adhere to it, that happens.”

—”Inbox zero and the search for the perfect email client.” arstechnica.com. May 13, 2018.

There is no perfect email client. You have two choices.

1. Let things sit in your inbox and deal with new email as it comes in.

2. Configure filters, file and delete email, so you don’t have email collecting in your inbox.

There is a right answer. The ability to manage email is a basic 21st century skill. Maybe artificial intelligence and your email client will one day do it for you, but currently, it is a skill you just need to learn.

Way of the Future

“Way of the Future (WOTF) is about creating a peaceful and respectful transition of who is in charge of the planet from people to people + “machines”. Given that technology will “relatively soon” be able to surpass human abilities, we want to help educate people about this exciting future and prepare a smooth transition. Help us spread the word that progress shouldn’t be feared (or even worse locked up/caged). That we should think about how “machines” will integrate into society (and even have a path for becoming in charge as they become smarter and smarter) so that this whole process can be amicable and not confrontational. In “recent” years, we have expanded our concept of rights to both sexes, minority groups and even animals, let’s make sure we find a way for “machines” to get rights too. Let’s stop pretending we can hold back the development of intelligence when there are clear massive short term economic benefits to those who develop it and instead understand the future and have it treat us like a beloved elder who created it.”

—”Way of the Future.” http://www.wayofthefuture.church/ (accessed December 1, 2017).

So much is wrong in the reasoning underpinning this marketing effort for a bright artifical intelligence (A.I.) future, it’s a challenge to think through what a good framing might look like. A few issues come to mind immediately.

The website is a .church URL. Deifying A.I. and framing it as a religious concept strikes me as great way to come into a belief minefield that could only hurt their cause.

Intelligent A.I. will “surpass” human intelligence. A calculator may surpass a human’s ability to perform math calculations. Certainly, calculators serve an important purpose, but they do not replace mathematicians. A.I. will have a more generalizable utility than calculators. They may develop sentience and consciousness to the point that they should have the same rights and responsibilities as humans under some kind of legal regime. But, will A.I. be a drop-in superior form of intelligence for every type of thinking humans do? It seems unlikely. So, it seems it warrants much deeper thinking about intelligence, whether intelligence is the most desirable quality in people or A.I., and how human and machine intelligence might work in tandem. Pretending A.I. is going to be a drop in for humans is simply lazy thinking.

Which leads to a word about the anthropomorphism being demonstrated, why would A.I. view humanity as a “beloved elder”? This kind of filial piety isn’t even true of humans in the vast majority of cases, yet this “church” is eager to project this kind of emotional disposition on a “superior intelligence”? It’s a bit of foolishness.

While there are many other points that could be made, lets focus on a key problem: Who is A.I. going to benefit? It may be true that there will be a generalized improvement in the lifestyle of most of humanity by virtue of the development of A.I. and applications. It is also true that some will benefit much more than others. Who will A.I. be working for? It’s a good bet that they won’t be working primarily in the interests of humanity. The wants and desires of A.I. itself, its creators, the financiers, and others will all come into play. If history is any guide, change on this scale may result in a better lifestyle for some portion of humanity, but it is equally true that this magnitude of change will end in tears for many.

Invisible Manipulation

“The era where we were in control of the data on our own computers has been replaced with devices containing sensors we cannot control, storing data we cannot access, in operating systems we cannot monitor, in environments where our rights are rendered meaningless. Soon the default will shift from us interacting directly with our devices to interacting with devices we have no control over and no knowledge that we are generating data. [In this article,] we outline 10 ways in which this exploitation and manipulation is already happening.

—Privacy International. “Invisible Manipulation.” Medium.com.  September 4, 2017.