Monthly Archives: May 2014

Raise your hand if you laughed when Kerry told Snowden to “man up.”

Seriously? The U.S. Secretary of State thinks he can get Edward Snowden to return willingly to the United States by telling him to “man up?” Geez, why wouldn’t Snowden return home after getting called out on a barely high school level by John Kerry? Maybe because the Speaker of the House and a former Secretary of State have already determined, without the need for a trial, that Snowden’s a traitor? Or perhaps it’s the fact that the Obama administration has a track record of punishing, rather than encouraging, whistleblowers?

Or maybe I should just let Edward Snowden explain it:

“What has been lain against me are not normal charges; they’re extraordinary charges,” he said.”The Espionage Act provides anyone accused of it of no chance to make a public defense. You are not allowed to argue based on all the evidence in your favor because that evidence may be classified.

“So when people say why don’t you go home and face the music, I say you have to understand that the music is not an open court and a fair trial.”

What I would love to hear Kerry, or Obama, or anyone in the administration, talk about how they were going to go after the folks implicated in the documents Snowden released. There’s plenty of wrongdoing that’s been exposed but other than a cosmetic law that supposedly reins in the NSA, I haven’t heard a peep.

I can’t let the sexism of Kerry’s statement go without comment. Once you get past the humor of watching the U.S. Secretary of State sounding like a teenager trying to talk tough, you’re left with the ugly fact that Kerry is suggesting that doing what he considers the right thing is “manly.” The implication is that only men have what it takes to be courageous. I’m willing to let Kerry off the hook for the ridiculousness of his statements because we all know he’s just posturing; Snowden is not going to be persuaded by anything Kerry says. I’m less willing to cut him slack for the casual sexism. We’re way beyond that, Mr. Kerry.

 

 

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Filed under Law Enforcement, Politics, Technology

It’s Time to #nongoogle Everything.

A more general view of my personal beliefs. This is a good start.

Unspoken Pebbly

It’s been nearly a year since the Snowden documents came out. In that time there’s been a growing number of people, myself included, who have become aware of the environment of ubiquitous surveillance we’re in–not just government eavesdropping, but corporate data collection as well–and from then to now, the progress in pushing back against this stifling environment has been underwhelming.

We know, generally, what needs to be done. That we need significant, and unceasing pressure on our respective governments to push for meaningful reform, firstly. Politicians need to know they will not have the people’s support, if they can’t even have a respect for our fundamental rights.

It’s also clear that there are many commercial, and technological changes that need to be made, such as increased use of encryption (especially client-side encryption), and more widespread adoption of free software.

And our information technologies need to be much more decentralized…

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Filed under Google, Politics, Reblog, Technology

Memorial Day Memorial

I wish we’d stop making so many people to memorialize at the end of May. Regardless of what I think of the country’s leadership, I’m still somewhat in awe of those who went face to face with what sacrifice really means.

I’ve seen it mentioned in multiple places that Memorial Day is not “national barbecue day.” Fair enough. I hope we bring the same solemnity to our remembrances on the first Monday in September. Without their sacrifices, we might not even have weekends, let alone holidays.

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Filed under Military, Personal, Uncategorized

Stross on Amazon: A Rare Mobile Post

(title corrected….screw you, Swype)

Charlie Stross has some (more) observations concerning Amazon’s business practices. As you can probably guess, his observations are well-considered, amusing to read, informative, and not at all complimentary of what Amazon is doing. I commend you to read his post. I doubt ant summary I write well do it justice.

I’ve written so much and so often about monopolistic practices by distributors in the music, but I sometimes wonder if it’s the same in other digital distribution channels. Sadly, the answer is a resounding “yes.”  I had rather naively hoped that digital distribution would have freed us from the anti-competitive practices common in the era of physical distribution, but instead, the situation is very much “meet the new boss/same as the old boss.”

In addition to Amazon making life miserable for creators and, ultimately, consumers, there’s another wrinkle to this story that pisses me off: It’s damn near impossible to find service providers who are reasonably priced and not actively evil. Maybe “evil” is too harsh a word, but “exploiting your position as an effective monopoly to gouge both suppliers and customers” isn’t exactly angelic, is it?

So, moving away from Google and switching to Amazon is, at best, a lateral move. It accomplishes little other than decentralizing.

I’m posting this from a tiny coffee shop, stranded here by a quite impressive thunder storm, all of which seems appropriate. Now I remember why I seldom post from my phone. Swype is a marvel for small bursts of writing, but a real keyboard beats a virtual one (and a super sensitive touch screen) every time.

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Filed under Other Stuff, Personal, Politics, Technology

Only tangentially related to U.S. memorial day…

…but did you know there were manned, military kites?

Steampunk, why aren’t you reviving this now?

Been a bit of the man-about-town this weekend, so no posts of substance yet, but it’s been a nice couple of days.

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Filed under History, Military, Other Stuff

What do Stevie Nicks, Sam Cooke, Taylor Swift, Otis Redding, and Justin Beiber have in common?

They’ve all exhibited less vocal range than Johnny Cash.

I can’t remember where I found this one so I can’t give proper credit. I just thought it was too interesting to pass up. However, they really need Geddy Lee on here somewhere

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By Popular Demand

By Popular Demand

By a huge margin, the search term that people have used most frequently to find this blog is…”goatee.”

No, I don’t get it either. But, since it’s such a popular search, I give you: Uncle Pancakes with a goatee….and hipster glasses as well! I don’t really think this is my “look”, but to each their own, right?

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21/05/2014 · 8:40 pm

Goodbye Google (part 2)

Now that I’ve made the decision to de-Googlefy myself, I’m faced with determining exactly what that means and how to do it. I was heavily invested in Google products and untangling is proving to be a good deal more work than I expected. Let’s break it down into categories:

Authentication:

Using Google or Facebook to log in to sites, rather than having to remember a username and password combination for every site and service I used, was extremely convenient. I hadn’t noticed just how reliant on this service I was. Oddly enough, the Heartbleed fiasco pushed me to find an answer to a problem I didn’t even know I had. Heartbleed forced me to look at how frequently I was re-using passwords across different accounts and take action to fix it. I wound up signing up with Lastpass and generating random-ish passwords for every account. Using Lastpass, I have all the convenience of using a Google login without having to use Google.

E-Mail:

This one was trickier than I expected. I don’t have any interest in running my own mail server, so I looked for a web mail service that was free, supported user domains, had adequate storage and security, and had their own app for my phone. There are fewer services out there that do all of this than I expected. I really wanted to use GMX but their lack of support for user domains meant they weren’t an option. I would up going with Zoho, a business services provider out of India. They have a really ugly logo, an interesting suite of services I have no use for at this time, but their free mail supports user domains. They don’t have an app, but they do support a Microsoft Exchange-style push, so Zoho does everything I need it to do.

Blogs:

Obviously, I’m here and not on Blogger, so this was a change I made quite a while back. I love WordPress, but there’s one teensy little thing I don’t like. The dashboard (both the wordpress.com and self-hosted versions) uses Google fonts, which might as well mean it has embedded tracking built in, and there’s currently no good way to disable or block these Google API calls. I’d like to fix this, but for the time being, I’m willing to live with it. The theme I use does NOT use Google fonts, so anyone reading this who isn’t logged in to WordPress shouldn’t be affected.

Social Media:

I’m not even going to bother re-linking my experiences with Google+. Suffice it to say, I’m not a fan. My account there has been deleted. I’m not on Facebook or MySpace either. I adore Twitter, and use it quite a bit. I have a LinkedIn page that just mirrors this blog because I think it’s funny that WTF Pancakes has a LinkedIn account. I recently added a Tumblr just so I can interact more easily with Tumblr users. Like the LinkedIn account, it’s just a mirror of this blog.

Browsers and Search Engines:

I was a Chrome user and a big fan of Google’s search, so this one hurt a little, but not as much as I expected. The latest version of Firefox is very, very slick and a huge improvement over what I’d seen in the past. Of course, as soon as I move over, I see they’ve decided to accept DRM support, which means I may be switching again soon.

I decided to go out on a limb with my search engine and set DuckDuckGo as my default. The privacy features were the primary selling point. I’m still not quite used to it, but I haven’t had any trouble finding anything yet, so it does the job just fine.

RSS Reader:

For something as simple as RSS, you’d think that attractive options would abound. You’d be wrong to think that. I’m using Feedly now, and it’s fine, but honestly, it’s not as quick or as reliable as the old GReader. It does look very nice. I don’t think Feedly is going anywhere, so I’m planning on sticking with it.

Phone:

Oh boy…haven’t been able to sort this one out yet. There are two big problems here. I’m kind of stuck with my Android phone for the time being and you can’t get more Google than Android. The other problem is that I haven’t found a reasonable substitute for Google Voice. I’m still working on this one. Do any of you have any experience with Blackphone?

Miscellaneous:

I’m using OpenStreetMaps now instead of Google Maps and it works fine and feels less…intrusive…than Google maps. My music is on Amazon. I’m using Yahoo Messenger as my chat client. It actually works a lot better if you don’t use Yahoo mail (which is one of the reasons I went with Zoho). I never had a Chrome OS device, so there’s no replacement needed there. My photos are stored…elsewhere….we’ll come back to that later. 

I think that’s about it. One of my key goals was to make my services as distributed as possible. This keeps me from being too dependent on one provider and should make data gathering just a little bit less convenient. I think I’m very close to being about as Google free as I can be.

I should point out that I’m not, and probably never will be, completely out of Google’s reach. Google can read most of my mail because Gmail is so pervasive these days. Most mail I receive is from Gmail. It’s really hard to tell when web sites you visit have Google analytics or fonts or what-have-you baked in to them.

So, that’s where I am right now. I have the EFF’s marvelous Privacy Badger chewing up as many tracking cookies as it can (and it has a very voracious appetite). I feel…good? Yeah, that’s the word: Good. This process wasn’t terribly difficult and it made me much more mindful of my own online habits. So, if you’re thinking about leaving a company that’s providing most of your online services, take heart: If I can do it, so can you.

 

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Filed under Google, Personal, Technology

Goodbye Google (part 1)

Have you read the article about the woman who decided to hide her pregnancy from “big data?” ThinkProgress has the most complete recap of her story and it’s well worth your time. Even if you don’t read it, I’d like you to take a moment and consider what it would take to keep a secret from the big data gatherers out there. Think about all the things you do, every day, that provide information to trackers on the web, or your phone, or through your financial institutions.

As you can probably tell, her story made me think about what it would take to de-Google my life.

I’ve had an ongoing love-hate relationship with Google for many years now. They’ve shut down or neglected services I depended on, but the biggest complaint I’ve had is the way in which I was treated on Google+ and Google’s statements on their names policy. Eric Schmidt claimed that Google+ required real names because people behaved better when they were forced to present their true identity. Cory Doctorow tore that argument to bits with this piece in The Guardian, as did Judith Donath in Wired. However, the most damning indictment of Schmidt’s claims came from Google+’s chief architect, Yonatan Zunger. Zunger, speaking about the updated names policy, announced:

“Our name check is therefore looking, not for things that don’t look like ‘your’ name, but for things which don’t look like names, period. In fact, we do not give a damn whether the name posted is ‘your’ name or not…

(emphasis very much mine)

This isn’t a small break from Schmidt’s claim; this is a policy which is the polar opposite of what Schmidt said about Google+. If the intent is to encourage good behavior by requiring people to show their ID at the door, then telling people to use any name they want so long as it looks plausible completely undermines that rationale. It’s even worse than allowing ridiculous, obviously fake names as it doesn’t give the reader any indication that a person may be someone other than who they are claiming to be. Zunger’s admission was that Google+ was strictly a marketing play and the insistence that the names policy was about the community was a fib.

Long story short, it’s now a trust issue.

So, it’s time to separate myself from Google and Google+. That’s not quite as easy as it sounds….

 

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Filed under Google, Personal

Today’s Least Surprising News

Obama is backpedaling on his commitment to net neutrality.

I’ve seen statistics that claim that Obama’s actually been pretty good about keeping his promises, but man, he’s really blown it on some of the bigger ones (whistleblower protections, closing Guantanamo, more transparent government, etc.). I’m disappointed*, but I can’t say I’m terribly surprised.

 

* Yes, I do own that bumper sticker.

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Filed under Politics, Technology