WTF Weekly

my thoughts on the week that was

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

 

17 Jan 2020

It looks like it may have been slightly more than a week since the last WTF Weekly, but I can explain.

Oh, who cares? You don’t want to hear about how I’ve been working on converting my personal site to Hugo and that I’ve been immersed in modifying things to get it going, creating iOS shortcuts for all kinds of site management and blog posting, and generally diving into geeky stuff that has occupied my every waking minute.

So I won’t tell you all that.

Instead, I’ll just say that it’s good to be back, and that I really need to start working on getting THIS domain converted to Hugo and moved over to the same server as scottwillsey.com.

Anyway… about the past ~week (or so)!

Here’s a cool one for you fellow Apple lovers:

Sam Henri Gold Launches The Unofficial Apple Archive

This site is just plain cool. If you’re an Apple nerd, you should know your Apple history if you don’t already. I recently had to explain to some people in a Mr Robot subreddit that an Apple IIe was not a Macintosh.

Kids today.

If they’d had this site, they could have figured all that out for themselves.

Equally cool is that Rogue Amoeba is helping to pay hosting costs for the site. I love them even more than ever.

From the “Slightly Creepy” drawer:

Japan discovers bodies on ‘ghost boat’ of suspected North Korea origin

The coast guard had specifically discovered three bodies with heads, two bodies without heads, and two heads without bodies. It is unclear whether the heads belonged to the bodies.

Is it?? 😂

MLB Cheating Scandal Claims Another Manager as New Rumors of Astros Batters Wearing Buzzers Swirl

All sports have some measure of cheating and ways of pursuing advantages against your opponents, but the Astros crossed both a common sense line and an “up yours” line. Can you imagine if they had won the World Series? As it is, everyone else is going to wonder “what if they hadn’t been cheating?”, and it’s more than a fair question.

Personally I’m not sure the punishment is severe enough given the systemic nature of the crime. Half the people in the organization had to have known about this, including squeaky clean “I play baseball the right way” Brian McCann.

Not impressed.

Interesting news from today that Elon Musk may not appreciate:

U.S. will look at sudden acceleration complaints involving 500,000 Tesla vehicles

Regardless of what happens with any of these Tesla cases, this is our future: constant investigations into whether or not self-driving or semi-self-driving cars are killing us.

It’s Not Just You—Wild Swings in Extreme Weather Are Rising

This should not surprise anyone who has been paying attention and doesn’t have an emotional investment in denying climate change, but we’re in for a wild ride.

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 at scottwillsey.com

 

26 Dec 2019

The Hacker Who Took Down a Country

After the fiasco with Bloomberg’s apparently made-up story about embedded devices on computer logic boards, you may be loathe to trust anything they say about technology again, but this is a good one.

Senate removes phrase ‘white nationalist’ from measure intended to screen military enlistees

Now the argument starts over whether the intent here was to expand the scope of extremism monitoring, or to narrow it.

Either way, I would have preferred the wording stay in to make it very explicit that this type of person is not welcome in the US military.

Massive errors found in facial recognition tech: US study

Facial recognition for purposes of tracking and general identification is troublesome for many reasons, one of which is that we seem to be willing to trust its efficacy more than we should.

Twelve Million Phones, One Dataset, Zero Privacy

I know, I know… another security and privacy related story. But this one is incredible.

Until then, one thing is certain: We are living in the world’s most advanced surveillance system. This system wasn’t created deliberately. It was built through the interplay of technological advance and the profit motive. It was built to make money. The greatest trick technology companies ever played was persuading society to surveil itself.

Here’s one that’s right up my alley:

Scientists Now Know How Sleep Cleans Toxins From the Brain

I don’t need science to tell me how underrated sleep is in this culture of overwork and under-live. I know it. But it’s interesting that we keep proving to ourselves over and over again just how beneficial it is, and why.

And finally, the captivating story of a “standard middle-class American family” who just happened to blow the whistle on Russia’s giant state-sponsored doping program.

The Whistle-Blowers Next Door

I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment:

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

 

18 Dec 2019

Well, it’s official – my migration from Wordpress to Hugo has begun. I’m starting with my personal site, and the rest will eventually follow (including WTF Weekly). I can’t wait to get off Wordpress completely and get to something more performant, especially since the overhead of a dynamic platform makes little sense for this site.

And speaking of security (in case you don’t see the connection, there is one)…

We Tested Ring’s Security. It’s Awful

The Ring story is the gift that keeps on giving for those who love a good tale of security fubar. It’s creepy and funny all at once, and the way Ring wants to blame its users while implementing few best practices and requiring geolocation data is pretty pathetic. One can only hope Vice’s article shames Ring into at least pretending to care about their users.

The Largest Scientific Structure Ever Powers Up in Africa

From the department of “Science is Expensive” comes something that looks like it belongs atop a Star Destroyer – a dish antenna in South Africa that is first of 3,000 dishes that will point their ears towards space to “eavesdrop on electromagnetic radiation up to a quadrillion times weaker than what your cell phone emits”.

Impressive. And expensive: 133 similar dishes come with a $1 billion price tag.

Shiori Ito: Japanese journalist awarded $30,000 in damages in rape case

If you think reporting rape isn’t worth the nightmare in the U.S., try it in Japan. Even if there’s evidence the rape occurred and the police decided to believe you, it still won’t be called rape unless it can be proven the victim was incapable of resistance. The onus is on the victim to prove that it was rape. Lack of desire to participate isn’t enough.

In a way, Shiori Ito’s damages award is a major victory considering how few rapes in Japan are ever even acknowledged, but it’s still not justice.

It’s been over 30 years since I lived in Japan, and it’s truly distressing how little has changed with how women are treated there.

Judge Rules in Favor of U.S. Effort to Take Edward Snowden’s Book Money

I guess I’m not surprised that the US government is never going to let Snowden profit from a book that discusses his case, but it is too bad that our government never misses an opportunity for punitive retribution if it can flex its muscles instead. The powerful don’t like being embarrassed, even when they deserve it.

Hands-on review: Panic’s Playdate device pairs old-school games with new-school content delivery

It’s not just that Panic is local to me, it’s that they’re a company with real taste and creativity – and I love the idea of the Playdate so much. It really reminds me of a fresh take on the Nintendo Game & Watch handhelds we used to play with as kids in Japan.

I don’t know if Panic is going to make money, lose money, or just break even, but I hope this venture works out for them. It’s so cool to see someone trying something different in a world of gadget sameness.

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