privacy in the trump era


Android 6 encryption configuration. Apple’s iOS is automatically enabled when you create a device pin or use biometrics.

I’ve been fighting for my right to privacy for quite a while now, ever since 9/11 and the bad legislation that quickly came out as part of the aftermath, which enabled and legalized broad digital surveillance. I base my sense of personal privacy on the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which states:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

My life has for decades extended into the digital domain, through e-mail and remove logins to other systems, and has since at least the mid 1980s when a lot of this was beginning to take shape. There is no hard demarcation between my physical home and its properties and the digital domain. For example I now get many of my bills delivered to my on-line mail account. It makes it far easier to find them, especially if I need to return an item or get it serviced. I can simply look it up on my phone and show it to the store staff. And yet, because of the Patriot Act and National Security Letters (NSL) any and all of my online life and digital “papers” can be made available to the demanding government party. Along with the NSL comes a defacto gag order that prohibits the on-line service from every telling me such a demand was made.

And that doesn’t begin to cover how my information is spied upon by the NSA and GCHQ, looking for whatever they deem important. Swept up in this world-wide dragnet is everything I send across the web. Assurances by the spooks who run those places that essentially if I have nothing to fear then nothing will happen is no assurance at all. And so, to have some sort of sense of privacy in some channels and corners on the web, to protect my Fourth Amendment rights, I’ve taken to doing the following:

  • Where-ever possible I enable encryption on my data at rest. This includes, but isn’t limited to, emails and other personal electronic documents. The devices I own and that have encryption enabled include my iPhone, MacBook Pro, and all my iPads.
  • I use an encrypted email service that isn’t hosted in the US for my data in transit. This service uses end-to-end encryption for the emails (meaning emails from/to me and to/from those that also use this service). Emails that are temporarily at rest on the service’s servers are encrypted. They don’t have the key. The only part of the service that isn’t encrypted is the metadata used to route the encrypted emails.
  • I use an encrypted chat tool for end-to-end encryption, again for my data in transit. Again, the metadata used to set up the connection isn’t encrypted.

I’ve limited encryption, so far, to those few critical areas of my digital life I feel need this level of protection from prying eyes. And just to make sure you, the reader, understand, this won’t always stop the determined spook. Given enough computation horsepower at the NSA, for example, I’m sure they could brute-force a decryption attack if they felt it was needed. My use of encryption in this case isn’t so much to stop, as to slow down the inevitable. And of course if they did crack my encryption I’d never know. Sad times we live in…

It’s a pity I have go to this much trouble, but that’s the nature of the world we live in. The digital surveillance state has been building up slowly since the late 1970s, eroding our basic freedoms all in the name of safety. We’ve now reached a point where there’s little (if any) difference between domestic and foreign security services. Everybody want’s to spy on you. And with the election of Trump as president, domestic spying will only get worse. This carefully crafted surveillance  system, built up over decades, is not in the hands of a man whose heinousness knows no bounds, especially if he wants to know, on a whim, what you might or might not know.

via Daily Prompt: Privacy

computational photography example – iphone 7 plus vs olympus e-m5 + 12-40mm pro zoom

Computational photography or computational imaging refers to digital image capture and processing techniques that use digital computation instead of optical processes.


owl_iphone7p_noblur owl_iphone7p_blur

You’re looking at two versions of a photograph taken with an iPhone 7 Plus using the Portrait mode of the built-in camera app. The iPhone 7 camera app creates two versions of the same image, one without the effect, and one with. The one with is obviously the one on the right. These are straight out of the phone, with no other post processing. The iPhone photo was taken using the second 56mm equivalent lens and sensor that comes with the iPhone 7 Plus. The bokeh background blur in the second image was achieved with the iPhone 7 Plus’ computational photographic capabilities.

This bottom photo was taken with my Olympus OM-D E-M5 and the M.Zuiko 12-40mm PRO zoom lens at 32 mm, giving an equivalent focal length of 64mm, at an aperture of f/3.2. Not exact, but close enough.

My biggest take away from this comparison is how well the iPhone Portrait effect computes bokeh compared to my Olympus. If I stick my nose in close enough and really pixel-peep I’m sure I could find issues with the iPhone’s Portrait effect. But then, I’d be ignoring the real point of this, and that’s how a Version 1.0 release of this software is creating an effect that up to this point was achievable only with an optical system. Whether it’s good or not is irrelevant at this point. That fact that a smart phone can achieve an out-of-focus effect very equivalent, if not identical, to what my Olympus can achieve is astounding to me. And here’s the important point to remember; the iPhone’s effect will only get better over time as new releases of the software, with better algorithms, are released. With the Olympus system, I’m “stuck” with what the lens can deliver (which, frankly, I’m quite happy with). And what the iPhone is currently achieving bodes both good and bad for standard photography cameras. This will only ramp up the competition by smart phones against cameras, especially the fixed lens cameras. Perhaps it’s time for general camera makers to wake up and add an equivalent capability to their existing camera lines, especially when using the lower-cost kit zooms.

And while we’re on the subject of computational photography, let’s also mention that micro four thirds has used a very limited version of this since its inception, primarily in distortion (pincushion and barrel) correction. It’s the iPhone which has stepped up the game a few notches with this Portrait effect.

Does this mean the iPhone can replace a camera such as the OM-D? That depends on a case-by-case analysis. It can certainly complement the use of such a camera in overall terms. In an environment with reasonable lighting there’s no reason why you can’t reach for an iPhone 7 Plus as much as you might the E-M5. But when it comes to shooting fast action, or needing low-light capabilities, or faster focusing (and the E-M5 with the 12-40mm is quite fast), or a more fluid shooting situation, then I’d probably reach for my E-M5, assuming it’s within reach at the time.

My iPhone 7 Plus has reached a level of quality and sophistication that I can consider it my backup camera to my Olympus. When I think of a total camera package that allows for immediate post processing as well as immediate sharing, the iPhone 7 Plus with all its integrated capabilities is a better solution than my E-M5. While I do have an SDHC adapter that allows me to read my E-M5 files directly onto my iPhone and iPad, that’s an extra step that can get tiresome, especially if a lot of images are involved. And that adapter is just one more item to loose track of.

I like what I can achieve with the iPhone 7, just like I like what I can achieve with the Olympus E-M5 and the 12-40mm zoom. The iPhone 7 Plus has greatly expanded my technical choices. Now if only my artistic capabilities would grow to match.

living the american dystopian dream, part 2

Robot Goes To Jersey City – David Rodriguez – Blender 2.77a

Recently I’ve been driven to high dudgeon by what I’ve perceived Silicon Valley has morphed into over the last ten to fifteen years, a destroyer of the American dream.

As I was growing up and on into my thirties, Silicon Valley was about silicon-based hardware. Everything from the transistor on up to multi-core processors and uncountable peripheral chips flowed from the labs and companies that called Silicon Valley home. Software helped drive the sale of hardware; assemblers, language compilers (C, FORTRAN, PL/M, Pascal, etc), embedded operating systems like iRMX, and complete full-up development systems like the HP 64000. All these tools helped build practical products, from computers to network to medical to radio gear, on up to electronics launched into space on satellites and human qualified spacecraft. It attracted people from all over and was a powerful creator of quality, high-paying jobs.

The Valley occupants during this time made money like crazy, and it made them crazy for more money in turn.

Now a jaded decadence has descended on the valley. Companies like Google (starting out doing search alone) and Facebook (which started out as The Facebook, a place for college students to gather around an electronic watering hole) have grown ever more complicated as more and more people have congregated to these services, like matter around a black hole. Technologies like artificial intelligence (which is perpetually “just ten years away,” and looks like it always will be) and virtual reality (which we’ve been trying to make work since at least 1995) have now become préféré Valley-wide, leading to such wild predictions as self-driving cars and VR-driven revolutions in gaming and movies, and the ever-perpetual prediction of the Singularity that will lead to the world-stradling AI overlords and make humanity obsolete.


Here’s a Venn Diagram I came across on Twitter of all places (via @davidjbland), that succinctly sums up the problems with current Silicon Valley occupants:

Substitute “bots” (which are being driven by the New New AI) with just about any other current favorite for the same effect. Or as Matt Assay wrote in “Dear Silicon Valley: Stop saying stupid stuff“:

Are you still reading? Why aren’t you out building a bot? Or building apps for self-driving cars? Or doing Something That Matters™?

I suspect it’s because you have a job — one that pays you in real dollars, not the venture money that can subsidize a dream long enough to turn it into reality, but is equally as likely to obscure the hard steps necessary to getting companies to pay for your product.

Those “real dollars,” as noted, require real customers paying real money. It’s not surprising, therefore, that people like Red Hat’s Gordon Haff grow frustrated with the Valley’s preoccupation with myths: “Will people just stop talking as if the fully autonomous vehicle thing is going to be here in a few years?”

The mundane is here to stay. It’s what’s affordable. It’s what successful companies do to Make Money. Customers want to purchase affordable goods and services that actually make sense to them and their needs and fit within their ever shrinking budget. The current group of Silicon Valley mavens believe they can sell you silicon snake-oil, and you, the general public, will be gullible enough to buy it regardless of cost (considering the rise of Trump, they may not be that far off the mark).

Here’s another important aspect of the New World Silicon Valley Order: today’s all-software Valley companies are doing everything they can to put you out of a job. David R. Wheeler (@David_R_Wheeler) has been writing for some number of years the incredibly negative impact that the latest advances coming out of Silicon Valley will have on current job holders. This is a deliberate drive on the part of Silicon Valley. The Valley has gone from being a job creator to a job destroyer, something they’re increasingly proud of. And that raises the interesting question for the Valley: if everyone is out of a job, who’s going to buy your goods and services? You’re already in the process of sucking all the money out of the rest of the economy, now you’re destroying the ability of people to earn more, and thus, spend part of it with you.

I have no idea what the peaceful solution to this problem is. But I do know from plenty of history that such gross inequalities have ended in bloody revolution. It will be interesting to see if such a revolution could take place in this day and time, what with the blanket domestic surveillance system in use primarily by the NSA that was originally created for tracking you and your Web viewing habits to help target ads at you to pay for your free Internet, another product of Silicon Valley.

We do indeed live in interesting times.

nokia shenanigans

nokiaChatter around the web has Microsoft selling the feature phone side of Microsoft Nokia to a subsidiary of Foxconn for $350 million. Then Nokia is licensing its “strategic brand and intellectual property” to HMD global, one of the same participants with Foxconn buying the feature phone business. Looks like Nokia is looking to re-enter the mobile hardware business with feature and smart phones as well as tablets. And all of these new Nokia devices will be running Android.

Which begs the question of why Nokia sold its mobile phone business to Microsoft in the first place. The two executives responsible for this on-going tragedy, Stephen Elop (formerly of Microsoft, then formerly of Nokia, and then formerly of Microsoft again) and Steve Ballmer are no longer at Microsoft. Both left with considerable golden parachutes, while the tens of thousands of lower-level Nokia employees have been cut over time with far less rewards. An entire business destroyed because of Ballmer’s ego and gross mismanagement of mobile.

It will be interesting to see if Nokia can be truly resurrected. I know I personally will never buy another Nokia device, having long since left it for HTC, then Samsung, and finally (finally!) Apple. That’s not to say I won’t ever leave Apple, but if I did, I’d never go back to Nokia. I’d sooner do without than buy another Nokia mobile phone or other device.

why intel deserves its current problems

ARM-powered-RGBThe news is out that Intel is abandoning the mobile segment and laying off 12,000 employees world-wide. The primary issues are ARM and it’s deeply entrenched hold on the mobile marketplace combined with a decline in the overall PC market, due in no small part to everyone moving to ARM-powered mobile computers called smartphones. Intel got into this position quite frankly because of its arrogant X86-only worldview.

Intel used to make ARM-based processors nearly 20 years ago. Intel got into ARM-based manufacturing when it purchased Digital Equipment Corporation’s (DEC) StrongARM division in 1997 as part of a lawsuit settlement. Intel manufactured StrongARM until around 2000, when it introduced XScale, a new at-that-time ARM-based series of chips. XScale production continued until around June of 2006 when the XScale line was sold to Marvel. Once that sale was consummated Intel turned back to its X86 chips and attempted to manufacture low-powered versions that would supposedly compete against ARM in the mobile processing market. Intel, unless they paid (bribed) a vendor to do so, never won any significant design wins.

This situation continued for nearly a decade, with Intel spending billions in R&D and marketing, trying to push into a market its prior leadership never took seriously until way too late. The biggest killer of the Atom SoCs has been Apple, with its A-series of ARM-based chips, especially A8 and now A9. Apple has pushed performance-wise to within a very short distance of Intel’s low-end i3 entry level X86 chips, and blown the Atom series of embedded chips out of the water in the process. It was Apple after all that helped develop ARM back in the early 1990s for use in the Newton hand-held device from that era. Apple got back into custom ARM design in a big way when it purchased P.A. Semi in 2008 and Intrinsity in 2010. Both those strategic purchases gave Apple a lean, mean design team that helped create a power stingy, yet computationally powerful family of processors for its line of products. While it’s doubtful that ARM will replace Intel in Macs, ARM is already in the majority of Apple products that make the lion’s share of Apple profits. And none of those processor profits flows back to Intel because there are no Intel processors in those mobile Apple products.

Intel could have been in a better position technologically and financially if they’d kept the XScale line. But they didn’t own ARM IP the way they owned and controlled X86 IP. Their focus on control coupled with short-term profitability blinded them to the long-term trends in mobile computing that were obvious even in the mid-2000s; away from anything X86 and towards ARM in general. Add in the Intel hubris about X86 and you have a nasty combination that’ll be studied in business schools for many years to come. Intel won’t go out of business any time soon, and they may yet evolve into something smaller that provides better long-term survivability, but their days of being bullying Chipzilla to the rest of the semiconductor world is over.

Long live ARM.