WTF Weekly

my thoughts on the week that was

24 Mar 2020

The world is going to hell in a hand basket, and the US is being led there by an orange man who rules by feelings instead of listening to experts.

It sucks.

In better news, iPadOS 13.4 came out today, complete with trackpad support. It’s really nice. Apple rethought the cursor for iOS rather than just bolting on an arrow straight from macOS.

Covid-19’s Impact on Libraries Goes Beyond Books

“My library was filled with older people,” Pearson says. “I just wanted to go out and scream, ‘Go home. What are you doing here?’ I knew that if we didn’t make that move to close the building, they would never stop coming. We were, at that point, doing more harm than good.”

This is a great article focused on libraries and the impact of shuttering them during this pandemic, but the paragraph above could be applied to just about everything in the public space right now. People are behaving stupidly, and now our lard of a leader is starting to encourage them to. It can’t end well.

Apple Releases iOS and iPadOS 13.4 with iPad Cursor Support and Keyboard Improvements, iCloud Drive Shared Folders, and More

The trackpad support in iOS 13.4 is glorious. I’m using it right now as I type this on my iPad Air (I paired the Magic Trackpad formerly assigned as a second input device on my iMac to it).

I use my iPad so much for everything now that I know at some point I will get the 2020 11” iPad Pro and the Magic Keyboard with trackpad for it.

And to the Ken Rays of the world who can’t understand why people who sometimes use the keyboard on their iPad don’t just “get a laptop”, it’s barely worth explaining. It’s a different OS, different apps, different feel, AND it becomes an amazing book reader or TV watcher at any time. No laptop has ever been a nice tablet.

Virtual F1 and Lando Norris provide light relief in testing times

Lando Norris may be the best thing that’s happened to F1 in decades. He’s already provided fun and humor to his fans even in the best of times, and these are not the best of times.

Whether Virtual F1 will really become a thing or not remains to be seen, but both Virtual Lando and Real Lando most definitely are.

How ‘silent spreaders’ are fueling the coronavirus pandemic

Now here’s something I feel like our orange comb-over-in-chief doesn’t understand: anyone wandering around in public, no matter how seemingly healthy, can help create and ramp a pandemic.

But since these “undocumented” carriers so outnumbered those whose infections were confirmed, their effect was far greater, the researchers who conducted the simulation found. They concluded that in the outbreak’s earliest days — between Jan. 10 and Jan. 23 — people well enough to have stayed out of the hospital probably played a key role in the coronavirus’ explosive spread.

‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ at the Museum of the Bible are all forgeries

Don’t you hate when you’re running a museum full of Biblically relevant exhibits and you find out that some of the most cherished are forgeries? Yep, that sucks.

The huge hospital ships deploying to Los Angeles and New York used to be oil tankers

It’s interesting that this hasn’t been mentioned anywhere else as far as I know, but two converted oil tankers are heading to each coast to serve as overflow hospitals for non-Covid-19 patients in order to allow hospitals to focus on those infected with the virus.

A Navy spokesperson is quoted here talking about the practical reasons, but there’s not a word about who planned this, ordered it, or who will be coordinating between the ship and hospital medical staff.

Weird.

Hit me up on Twitter to yell at me about typos or to talk about anything I’ve included here.

You can find more of my thoughts on tech and other projects on my personal site at scottwillsey.com

 

09 Mar 2020

Hello again, and don’t worry:

The US Has a ‘Plan’ to Fight Coronavirus: You

There are multiple “D” plans in place in the U.S. to deal with Coronavirus. The president is in DENIAL. The CDC is just DUMBFOUNDED.

“The equity and justice issues for this epidemic are going to be enormous,” Gostin says. “People who are poor tend to be sicker. They’re going to be more vulnerable. They’re going to need medications. They’re going to need food, social support, mental support. They’re going to need health care. But we have no plan. Not only don’t we have a Plan B, we don’t even have a Plan A.”

Basically Americans tend to plan by going into survivalist mode rather than acting as a cohesive society, which isn’t surprising at all given our rugged individualist myth and our national gun religion based upon it.

Speaking of preparedness, GOOD NEWS! You no longer need to fear your iPhone as a source of death and disease!

Amid Coronavirus Outbreak, Apple Confirms That It’s Okay to Clean Your iPhone With Disinfectant

I think I’ll start taking Clorox wipes to random people’s phones at work and see what happens.

Fukushima powers up one of world’s biggest hydrogen plants

Near the Fukushima nuclear power plant that gained notoriety for its colossal failure in the wake of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, the Japanese have opened a large solar-powered hydrogen plant.

I’ll admit that I know nothing about hydrogen power or why we don’t hear a lot about it. The Japanese seem to think it’s promising, but I don’t know what industries are equipped to make use of hydrogen power.

The facility makes hydrogen by decomposing water, using electricity generated from its solar power plant.

Makes me wonder if they’re using water from Fukushima, and if the location is a complete coincidence or not…

This Small Company Is Turning Utah Into a Surveillance Panopticon

2020 seems to be the year of rushing headlong into our dystopian future. Anyone who thought Snowden’s 2013 NSA surveillance disclosures would lead to a serious national conversation on the topic are surely disabused of that notion by now. It’s getting worse, and fast.

The worst thing about the current state of our society is that it enables companies like Banjo and weirdos like Damien Patton to cash in on the “surveillance is good for you” mantra that governments everywhere are adopting, which no one really seems to be pushing back against in meaningful numbers.

“We essentially do most of what Palantir does, we just do it live,” Bryan Smith, Banjo’s top lobbyist, told the Salt Lake Valley Emergency Communications Center Operations Board, which is made up of police chiefs and 911 dispatch officials, in August. “So Palantir is a tool you use for analysis, kind of to deep dive investigate certain things. What we want to do is deliver you the information right at the moment.”

It’s a bit mind-boggling when a company can openly posture itself as an even more capable Palantir, and assume that’s to be taken as a positive. Authoritarianism is definitely alive and well in the U.S. of A.

EARN IT is a direct attack on end-to-end encryption

Listen, no one wants child porn on the internet,1 and we want law enforcement to be able to find and prosecute actual criminals. The problem is that “think of the children” is always their go-to when trying to remove some civil liberty or super essential technology.

It’s extremely difficult to believe that this bill stems from an honest consideration of the rights of child victims, and that this legislation is anything other than a direct attack on the use of end-to-end encryption.

My hope is that the Internet community and civil society will treat this proposal with the seriousness it deserves, and that we’ll see Senators rally behind a bill that actually protects children from abuse, rather than using those issues as a cynical attempt to bring about a “backdoor ban” on encryption.

I’m starting to think I should have named this site “Dystopian Diaries”. It’s a pretty depressing world we live in at the moment.

Hit me up on Twitter to yell at me about typos or to talk about anything I’ve included here.

You can find more of my thoughts on tech and other projects on my personal site at scottwillsey.com


  1. No one who isn’t a creepy pig, I should say. ↩︎

 

26 Feb 2020

Coronavirus pandemic a question of ‘when’ not ‘if’, warns U.S.

In what will no doubt be considered a massive understatement, I’m going to float the idea that this is probably the worst possible time to have a corrupt and incompetent administration in charge of our country. The Chinese did themselves in to a large extent by trying to substitute their fantasy for reality, and their government isn’t even incompetent, it’s “just” authoritarian.

Aside from the obvious human impact, the economic and social impacts are going to get increasingly depressing as well. Life won’t go on as usual for quite some time if this keeps spreading in pockets around the world and threatening to teeter into pandemic status.

Apple and Tesla under fire over software engineer’s fatal Autopilot crash

I’m not going to say that technology shouldn’t prevent people from being idiots in cars, but… people ARE being idiots in cars. I don’t see how anyone familiar with Tesla Autopilot would feel comfortable enough with it to play games on their phone instead of paying attention, especially after well-publicized cases like the guy who died watching movies in his Tesla.

These Tesla people are nuts.

Remembering Katherine Johnson, NASA’s ‘Hidden Figures’ hero, for her love of numbers

The world lost a stellar human being on February 24th. Katherine Johnson was a natural mathematician who contributed both to the space race and the breaking down of barriers for women and African-Americans in the 1960’s.

“Quietly the quality of my contribution began to outweigh the arbitrary laws of racial segregation and the dictates that held back my gender,” Johnson wrote of her early days working as a computer. “I truly loved going to work every single day.”

Incredibly, her job of performing complex calculations by hand, ones that a majority of people would be incapable of understanding, was labeled “subprofessional”. Without her work, many more men would have died in the space program.

What a legend.

Why Rudy Giuliani’s Twitter typos are a security fail

The opposite of a legend: idiot extraordinaire, Rudy Giuliani.

It’s hilarious how bad this guy is at everything, including what was supposedly his expertise: making the web safer.1

Linking to non-existent domains seems harmless, and it probably would be if most of us unknowns were doing it, but when someone famous and stupid does it, malicious types can register that domain and present visitors with some nasty surprises.

It’s such a needless self-and-others-own by Giuliani, but that is one thing he’s actually pretty good at.

Nasty Android malware reinfects its targets, and no one knows how

The headline of this article claims “no one knows how”, but it seems like we do know how – somehow Android allows certain files to persist even after factory resets. That seems nutty. But then again, Android in general seems nutty to me. It’s been a security dumpster fire for however long its been in existence.

Hit me up on Twitter to yell at me about typos or to talk about anything I’ve included here.

You can find more of my thoughts on tech and other projects on my personal site at scottwillsey.com


  1. It’s impossible to say that with a straight face, btw. ↩︎

 

18 Feb 2020

Happy week! Some things happened again this week, odd as that might sound.

App Used by Netanyahu’s Likud Leaks Israel’s Entire Voter Registry

If you’re feeling sad inside about how messed up and incompetent our political parties are in the US, this might cheer you up: Israelis are bad at elections too. Likud, the party of Netanyahu, managed to dump the personal information of every single voter in the registry in an epic self-own, thanks to an amateur hour app developer called Feed-b. B-team, indeed.

44 Americans On The Diamond Princess Cruise Ship Diagnosed With Coronavirus

As soon as I heard they were quarantining people on a ship with passengers with Coronavirus, I knew they were all going to start catching it. And sure enough…

Really, it’s worse than the headline indicates:

Another 70 cases of the coronavirus infection have been confirmed aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, currently quarantined in Japan, according to Japanese health officials.

Why Bloomberg may turn unstoppable soon

I don’t get the Bloomberg appeal, I really don’t. Supposedly a lot of Democrat voters think that Obama endorses Bloomberg, but I don’t know how much that has to do with his current popularity.

Even without Bloomberg, I think the Democrats are divided and that each candidate has little chance to garner enough support to win an election. Maybe I should be glad that Bloomberg seems to be getting so much traction then – except I don’t think I want a Bloomberg presidency either.

Signal Is Finally Bringing Its Secure Messaging to the Masses

I’ll admit to having mixed feelings about Signal. I like the concepts of privacy and security it is based on, but it’s always been a necessarily non-integrated and basic messaging app that no one wants to use.

Now WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton is helping Moxie Marlinspike set about changing that by providing money and invaluable experience in how to build a platform.

Signal has gone from one to watch to tired to one to watch again. I’m interested in seeing how much traction they gain and who their ultimate audience winds up being.

And one more from Wired, but it’s too good not to link to:

How a Space Engineer Made Her Own Rotary Cell Phone

I mean… I can’t see wanting one to use as a phone except maybe at home, but I want one anyway.

I just thought for a long time that rotary dials are so cool, they don’t have a use in modern society, and I’d love to make myself some device that uses it for data entry. And then I thought, Well, it might as well be a phone. And if I’m gonna do this, it should be something that I could really use. It wouldn’t just be a novelty. It would be something I could actually fit in my pocket, that I’d want to use as my primary cell phone.

Home-brew hardware engineering is so rare anymore that this is just a fun story. I love it.

Hit me up on Twitter to yell at me about typos or to talk about anything I’ve included here.

You can find more of my thoughts on tech and other projects on my personal site at scottwillsey.com

 

11 Feb 2020

Last week I spent most of WTF going on about Coronavirus, and while that’s still very much a thing and while China’s dear leaders are still very much making things worse for all of us, I suspect you’d agree a change of pace would be nice.

Here’s one:

The Secret History of Facial Recognition

This is neither news, nor especially new (although the research and the article are recent), but it is a fascinating story. It might not surprise anyone to find that one of the pioneers of facial recognition was wildly optimistic about technology even while witnessing horrible things being done with it.1

Long read? Check. Wild, mesmerizing story worth every second? Check.

Osaka airport set to become Japan’s 1st airport with toilet for dogs

Ever get stuck in a buys airport fighting crowds of people trying desperately to find a restroom? Imagine how your dog must feel.

A regional airport in Osaka apparently has imagined just that, and they’ve got just the solution to make sure all of their visitors’ dogs can be good boys and girls and avoid soiling the carpet or unloading in a shiny metal tube in the sky.

EXCLUSIVE: The cyber attack the UN tried to keep under wraps

Even worse than dog poop at airports that isn’t kept under wraps is the UN trying to keep security breaches that could significantly impact the personal safety of a lot of people under wraps when they should be letting it out of the doggie bag.

Ok,that analogy stinks, but you get the drift. The UN has a lot of sensitive information about a lot of people whose safety could conceivably be compromised were anyone who wanted access to have it. And yet, rather than notify affected parties that they’ve been breached, they just completely clammed up.

Although it is unclear what documents and data the hackers obtained in the 2019 incident, the report seen by TNH implies that internal documents, databases, emails, commercial information, and personal data may have been available to the intruders – sensitive data that could have far-reaching repercussions for staff, individuals, and organisations communicating with and doing business with the UN.

Not cool, UN. Not cool.

New York Times Journalist Targeted by Saudi-linked Pegasus Spyware Operator

Also not cool: the Saudi freaking government.

I love how they call the Pegasus operator “Kingdom”. Gee, I wonder who they might have in mind? Considering journalists and dissidents are being targeted, it doesn’t take a security expert to figure it out.

Chinese Vlogger Detailing Life – and Death — Amid Coronavirus Outbreak in Wuhan Disappears, Allegedly ‘Forcibly Quarantined’

I promised no more Coronavirus, but I lied, because I spotted this, and holy 💩, it must be a madhouse inside Wuhan right now.

I hope these guys who disappeared really were quarantined for examination rather than just actually disappeared for good.

I’ve seen a lot of “we can defy reality if we shout our own version hard enough” behavior in my time, but the Chinese are taking to 11 by trying to characterize necessary assessments of the situation as punishable rumor-mongering. They’ve got to quit trying to save face and denying what’s happening and deal with the problem, otherwise the whole world might pay for their stubborn refusal to acknowledge what everyone on the planet already knows.

Hit me up on Twitter to yell at me about typos or to talk about anything I’ve included here.

You can find more of my thoughts on tech and other projects on my personal site at scottwillsey.com


  1. Like nuking the shit out of Enewetak Atoll, for one. ↩︎