Tuesday, August 30, 2016

About that iPhone emergency patch

The government of the U.A.E. used it to to target a human rights activist:
I am pleased to announce a new Citizen Lab report: “The Million Dollar Dissident: NSO Group’s iPhone Zero-Days used against a UAE Human Rights Defender,” authored by senior researchers Bill Marczak and John Scott Railton.
If you are one of hundreds of millions of people that own an iPhone, today you will receive a critical security patch.  While updating your software, you should pause for a moment to thank human rights activist, Ahmed Mansoor.
Mansoor is a citizen of the United Arab Emirates, and because he’s a human rights activist in an autocratic country his government views him as a menace.  For security researchers at the Citizen Lab, on the other hand, Mansoor’s unfortunate experiences are the gift that won’t stop giving.
Interesting story.

Monday, August 29, 2016

R.I.P. Gene Wilder

Thanks for all the laughs.

Making 1911s From Scratch

In a thatch hut, with a hacksaw, a hand drill, and some assorted files. It isn't just that they can make an operational firearm, they can make a functional 1911.

About Colin Kaepernick

When they say it's about the principle, it's actually about the money.

Chris Lynch has a great analysis about how Kaepernick - a backup quarterback - has created a controversy that will give him a big payday:
Kaepernick has a disastrously large contract. He signed a 6-year $114 million contract in 2014 that has $61 million guaranteed. He could have used some of that $61 million to quietly become a benefactor to so very many. Instead he's become a lightning rod, complete ingrate prick, salary cap albatross or potential season long distraction depending on your point of view.

From the San Francisco 49er's point of view this is a distraction they didn't need from a player with an almost $20 million cap hit if they cut him. For their back-up QB! And if the team cuts him there will be people who complain that it was because Chip Kelly doesn't like black people ...

I have to wonder if this is some sort of diabolical genius on the part of Kaepernick. Say if he no longer wants to play football but wants to collect all of his guaranteed money. This would be almost the perfect plan. Just sitting during the anthem isn't against the law or even team policy. Sure many people will hate him but this might be a way out of playing football and maybe even into some high paying speaking gigs for clueless kids at liberal arts colleges. I haven't seen anything this diabolical since Al Gore made millions pretending to care about global warming.
The 49ers simply cannot win now.  If they cut him there will be a huge outcry against them.  Remember, this is San Francisco, perhaps the most famously liberal area in the country.  While your typical football fan is more patriotic than the average bear, it's Silicon Valley wealthy who fill the stadium in Frisco.  They're all to the left of Karl Marx.

Or the 49ers keep him and pay him, even though he's only gone 10-14 in the last two seasons.

He's got them over a barrel, right good.

Internet Of Things gets a security patch?

I did not expect that:
In a shocking development, smart lock manufacturer August has been caught promptly patching security holes discovered in its product. 
At this year's DEF CON, security researcher Anthony Rose gave a presentation where he outlined how a whole range of "smart locks" were hackable. 
But what was surprising was that just 10 days later, August had put out patches that fix the holes. Even Rose was surprised, tweeting: "August just patched their web services to stop guest from being able to insert backdoor keys in homekit locks! Kudos to their engineers."

Kudos indeed.  Now if we could just get the other 11 manufacturers named by Mr. Rose to act likewise, we'll really get somewhere.

Quote of the Day: On Democracy

What you have under a representative, egalitarian, winner take all, democracy is a shifting coalition of about 51% of voters aligned to threaten about 49%.
If you’re getting more than 51% of the vote (which is certainly possible) that just means you’re leaving rents on the table. You could take more, and/or give less, and still win the election.
Additionally, maximum rent extraction occurs if your coalition comprises the cheapest 51% of voters, in other words, the most useless and parasitic.
His conclusions are also pretty interesting.  I would add that this situation is very likely to be Game-Theory stable as well - meaning that the only (likely temporary) way out is an external shock, or internal revolt.

Implications for the Trumpening are left unexplored.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Red Rooster Carry Out - Damascus, MD

This place is (as they say in New England) wicked local. While they have sandwiches, and BBQ chicken is king. $2.99 for two pieces of dark meat. They also have dinners which include fries, cole slaw, and a biscuit.

It was $12 for one dinner, 2 extra pieces of chicken, and two drinks. Everything tastes great.

Probably that's why they've been here since 1971. Recommended.

William Herschel - Symphony No 12 in D major

Image via Der Wik
On this day in 1789, William Herschel discovered Enceladus, a moon of Saturn.

Herschel was a polymath in an age famous for polymaths.  As an astronomer, he discovered the planet Uranus as well as four moons of Saturn.  As an economist, he noted the striking correlation between the number of sunspots visible on the sun and the price of grain.  When experimenting with new techniques for observing sunspots, he discovered infrared radiation.  He was the first to note that the Martian ice caps vary by season.  Pointing his magnifying devices inwards, not outwards, he established via microscope observation that coral was not a plant (the cells did not have cell walls).

In his spare time, he was a prolific composer, with eighteen symphonies and many shorter works to his credit.  His was a remarkable  career in an age of remarkable careers.  So remarkable that I've posted his music before, as well as mentioning him in a number of other posts.  He may be the only scientist that could have his own blog post tag here.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Your travel Protip for the day

Uncle Jay brings the snark as only he can in a hilarious post that ends with really good advice for when you fly internationally.

And since he really is a professional traveler, this really is a ProTip ...

Steve Earle & The Dukes - The Other Kind

Steve Earle has led a life that would make a good country song: dropped out of high school, worked blue collar jobs during the day while playing in a band at night, married seven (!) times, did time in prison for drugs and weapons charges.  But through it all, he's written a ton of great music that blends country with good solid rock.

This song from his 1990 album The Hard Way reached #37 on the rock charts.

The Other Kind (Songwriter: Steve Earle)
I woke up this morning and I took a look around at all that I got
These days I've been lookin' in the mirror and wondering if that's me lookin' back or not
I'm still the apple of my mama's eye
I'm my daddy's worst fears realized
Here of late all this real estate don't seem all that real to me sometimes
I'm back out on that road again
Turn this beast into the wind
There are those that break and bend
I'm the other kind, I'm the other kind
Now my old buddy, what's his name, says, "Man what the hell are you thinkin' 'bout
Fool, you got two of everything, but you hang your head just like you was down and out";
And I'm damn sure not suffering from a lack of love
There's plenty more where that came from
Ah - but leave it up to me to say something wrong and hurt someone before I'm done
You see it used to be I was really free
I didn't need no gasoline to run
Before you could say Jack Kerouac you'd turn your back and I'd be gone
Yeah nowadays I got me two good wheels and I seek refuge in aluminum and steel
Aw, it takes me out there for just a little while
And the years fall away with every mile

Friday, August 26, 2016

URGENT: Yeah, you really need to update your iPhone

The good news is that I haven't heard of mass attacks (yet) using these attacks.  The bad news is that it typically doesn't take long for those to start once the Bad Guys know that something is possible.

The attack sends a web link to a page that contains malware.  This malware is unpleasant - it's the first remote jailbreak exploit, so it basically takes total control of you iDevice.

In your iPhone (and iPad), click the "Settings" app, then "General" then "Updates" and select "Check for updates".  You want iOS 9.3.5.  I'm not sure if this applies to iPads as well but recommend that you check.

Like I said, I expect there's a Bad Moon rising.  We'll likely see mass exploitation of this in a few days.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Wolfgang would not like this

He's the only dog I've ever known who won't stick his head out of the car window.

Possibly the Start of a Series

I don't know how many I will find. Here's the first one, anyway. A glimpse at life as it was lived in old America, before the rise of the EPA, political correctness, and the general nanny state.

A 4.5 mile road and beach course. Stock cars (real stock cars, not just a shell over a professional race car). People lining the course. Daytona 1952.

Why self-driving cars are a lot further from practical use than we think

It turns out that this is a really, really hard problem:
Rosenband added that four-way junctions with no lights are still a nightmare for the robot cars. An example junction is California and Powell in San Francisco, which has the added bonus of two cable car lines going through it. Human motorists rely on eye contact to know when it's safe to go or just take the initiative and move first. A driver-less car gets stuck trying to safely nudge its way across the box. 
"At four-way stops, oftentimes cars arrive sorta at the same time and it's a coin flip for who goes first. We have to make it comfortable for the person in the car; you don’t want the vehicle to inch forward and then slam the brakes, and you also want to be courteous to other drivers," Rosenband explained.
This is a great overview of the problems of computer/sensor recognition of what is trivially easy for humans.  There are great examples here of the problems that we overcome instantly and naturally, but which flummox the computer:  the red balloon next to a green traffic light, the traffic light partially obscured by a bus, a traffic light with the setting sun right behind it which blinds the sensor.

We handle this via common sense, but you can't program common sense.  They're trying, though:
You can teach a computer what an under-construction sign looks like so that when it sees one, it knows to drive around someone digging a hole in the road. But what happens when there is no sign, and one of the workers is directing traffic with their hands? What happens when a cop waves the car on to continue, or to slow down and stop? You'll have to train the car for that scenario. 
What happens when the computer sees a ball bouncing across a street – will it anticipate a child suddenly stepping out of nowhere and chasing after their toy into oncoming traffic? Only if you teach it.
And this is the heart of the problem: you have to define literally every possible failure condition and program those into the software.  Even with machine learning, there are too many to be practical.  If you miss one and a car kills someone, the lawsuits will be enormous.

This is an outstanding article on the complexity that technologists are trying to bite off.  While unstated, you get a real feel for how they want to fly high - perhaps so close to the sun that their wings will melt.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Atom Smasher has lost his dog

"I know every dog is the best dog ever, but Sam was the best dog ever."

We love them because they love us unconditionally.  In their eyes we see ourselves reflected, not as we are but as we would wish to be.
Near this Spot are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferosity,
and all the virtues of Man
without his Vices.

- Lord Byron's epitaph to his beloved Newfoundland, Boatswain

Man, it's hard to buy a gun there

Especially if you're a senior citizen and somewhat hard of hearing ...


But this sure is funny:
A plucky German nudist out for a swim at a local lake was left in agony after an angler hooked his worm. 
Herbert Fendt - an alias the embarrassed man adopted to spare his family's blushes - was taking a dip in the Kaisersee, near Augsberg in south-eastern Germany, when the tackle-on-tackle action occurred. 
Initially the man thought he’d caught his todger on some weeds in the lake - a popular spot for fisherman and nudists - but soon discovered the cause of the pain. 
“I cried out to the fisherman ashore shouting ‘do not pull, do not pull’. I was terrified he was going to try to reel me in,” Fendt told the local press.
The rest of the article is just as funny.  The Germans are indeed very german.

Patriot Guard Riders escort Civil War veteran from Oregon to Maine

Desjardin learned that the 20th Maine veteran’s ashes were in Oregon when he was researching what had happened to each soldier who fought in the regiment. He proposed the state bring Williams home.
“I discovered that his remains were in a can on a shelf in a shed out in Oregon and had been there for 94 years, unclaimed,” the historian said. “Back home is better than a shelf on a shed in Oregon.”
This is the Patriot Guard Riders:

They escort the living and departed veterans on their journeys.  They escorted Pvt. Williams in relays all cross the country:
Williams’ ashes traveled across the country in style, accompanied by a battalion of Patriot Guard Riders who handed the box off from one group of motorcyclists to the next like a kind of modern-day Pony Express. Many of those riders came to Togus on Monday to witness Williams’ cremains being handed over to Maine VA officials, including Neil Wagner of Royersford, Pennsylvania.
“When I found out they were bringing a Civil War veteran, I said, ‘I can’t miss this one.’ I could be part of history,” he said. “It was very humbling. Every time he was handed off to a different guard group there were tears shed because he was getting closer to home.”
And 150 riders met him at the state line, to escort him back to Maine.  Bravo Zulu.

If you're in Augusta, Maine, you can pay your respects to Pvt. Williams through mid September at the Maine Veteran's Memorial  Cemetery, after which he will be buried next to his parents.

Hat tip (and thanks) to childhood buddy Rick for a pointer to this story.