WTF Weekly

my thoughts on the week that was

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. ↩︎

 

04 Feb 2020

HUGE SITE NEWS! Or something.

You’ll notice immediately that WTF Weekly has a new look. I’m still working on it, so please be patient, but it wasn’t just about the look. I’ve moved from a Wordpress site to a static site generated programmatically with Hugo. It has advantages from a maintenance viewpoint, among other things, but mainly hopefully the experience will be as good if not better for you, the reader.

Wuhan resident: ‘We’d rather die at home than go to quarantine’

I guess the biggest news this week has to be China and the Coronavirus. It seems evident that the situation is worse than the Chinese government wants to admit, but how much? Getting a clear picture might be difficult without people willing to face their government’s wrath.

How the coronavirus crisis has brewed a ‘revolt of the professionals’ in China

Any nation that handles a legitimate health crisis by worrying about appearances first is going to cause problems for the entire rest of the planet. It’s time for the Chinese government to let its professionals do their jobs, and part of their jobs is interacting with international health organizations.

The WHO keeps sticking up for China as the coronavirus gets worse and experts paint a far darker picture

It seems crazy to me that doctors rightfully sounding the alarm about the Coronavirus in China two months ago were threatened by the state police for making “false comments”. This could still play out badly with China’s authoritarianism putting people all over the planet at risk.

The US Fast-Tracked a Coronavirus Test to Speed Up Diagnoses

You can take this as a cause for concern because it means the CDC and FDA have genuine reason for panic about Coronavirus, or view it optimistically as they’re trying improve their quick response time.

Honestly I’m not sure where the truth about the appropriate level of concern lies, but I’d say this is definitely an actual serious problem. Many times in the past we’ve been warned about flu and other outbreaks potentially becoming pandemics that never have, but this may well be different.

Anyway… how about that old fruit company to take your mind off death, incompetence, and rule by fear?

Apple in 2019: The Six Colors report card

Jason Snell’s 2019 Apple report card is pretty interesting. It rightfully paints an unsurprising picture of incredibly dubious software quality, which is a real disappointment from a company that used to be known both for it’s software design sense and software reliability. Personally, I could tally up a huge list of frustrating and work-impeding iOS bugs that I fight with regularly.

Oddly enough, Catalina has been rock solid for me.

Leaked Documents Expose the Secretive Market for Your Web Browsing Data

In other bad software news, even though it should be no surprise by now, everything you do on the internet is sold to everyone by everyone.

This kind of thing is important to expose, despite what the “yeah, yeah, this is not news” types would have you believe, because naming and shaming is always going to help companies think harder about this. They want to operate under the radar and not have you realize they’re selling you to any and all bidders.

That’s it for this week. Stay safe and maybe indefinitely postpone that Tour of Asia vacation you were planning for the spring.

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