Boots & Sabers

The blogging will continue until morale improves...

Category: Technology

Facebook’s Political Activism

In case it wasn’t clear, Facebook is not just banning incendiary or hateful speech. They are banning speech they don’t like. They are a political advocacy organization.

Facebook has removed a video of former US President Donald Trump from the page of his daughter-in-law Lara Trump.

The social media giant banned Mr Trump from its platform in January following riots by his supporters on the Capitol building in Washington.

Lara Trump, a new Fox News contributor, posted a video of herself interviewing Mr Trump on a range of issues.

“;l;;gmlxzssaw”

That’s comforting.

The perils of working from home while managing the social media account of a major military power have been thrown into sharp relief after the US Strategic Command tweeted a confusing string of gibberish.

 

Thirteen mysterious characters long, the tweet – “;l;;gmlxzssaw – prompted some on social media to jokingly suggest it was confidential information, for example a password or a nuclear launch code, that had accidentally been leaked.

 

[…]

 

The Strategic Command’s freedom of information officer said in a statement that “the command’s Twitter manager, while in a telework status, momentarily left the command’s Twitter account open and unattended. His very young child took advantage of the situation and started playing with the keys and unfortunately, and unknowingly, posted the tweet.”

The retired US army lieutenant general Mark Hertling summed up a lot of the response by posting: “It’s a pocket tweet from our nuclear headquarters. Everything’s fine,” with a laughing emoji.

Blockchain in Food Supply

If (when) this comes into use, it will be interesting to see to societal ripples.

As it pertains to the food supply, blockchain is an efficient and decentralized way to secure a timeline of analytical information from the farm, processor, distributor and retailer so every ingredient’s source is traceable. Harris compared the food supply and its trend toward blockchain as paralleling Spotify, Amazon and Netflix in their users’ relationship with music, books and movies.

“I foresee the day when nutrition labels will each have a QR code so consumers can use their phone to access the history of nearly every ingredient in that item,” Harris said. “In fact, some companies are already supplying this information.”

The Next Agricultural Revolution

Wisconsin’s farmers are in the vanguard!

Three big developments have rung in the start of the agricultural digital revolution. First, the development of sensor technology that is both astonishingly small and, crucially, cheap. Secondly, the communications technologies required to move data between the field and the computational cloud, and third, the technology to process mind-boggling volumes of information with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

 

“This may help a farmer know there is something brewing in the herd or the orchard that needs attention,” says Susan McCouch, director of the Cornell Institute for Digital Agriculture. McCouch predicts that sensors in irrigation systems could be designed to receive signals broadcast from satellites to make decisions about whether to water crops – but only if both the land is dry and no rain is forecast.

 

“This is how you marry the Internet of Things with the Internet of Living Things, and that needs massive data interpretation capabilities,” she says. “For example, we are currently working with dairy cows, placing nanosensors in the rumen of the cow so that when it is not ruminating in a healthy way, the farmer and the vet can identify which animals are having problems before there are symptoms.”

 

Up until now most advances in the industry have fallen under what is loosely termed “precision agriculture”, where the advent of GPS and advances in farm machinery have allowed farmers to more accurately sow, treat, and harvest crops, though the focus has typically been on large-scale commodity arable crops such as wheat, soy, and canola (also known as rapeseed). This technology has now been coupled with satellite and drone imagery to monitor weed levels and canopy coverage, soil analysis, weather patterns and historic crop yield data from specific fields which are then fed into data crunching systems which use AI and machine learning to guide on-farm decision making.

 

This layering of vast amounts of data and subsequent modelling is allowing farmers to make decisions that are far more likely to lead to farming success. The more information they have, the more accurately they can predict the outcomes of farming decisions. Should they plant that crop in that field? If they spray that crop this week rather than next what might the outcome be given the weather forecast? Does this plant variety respond better with a soil of this type? Knowledge brings powerful predictability into farming and a raft of businesses are out there harvesting the data to help bring in the gold-rush.

China Launches Another Attack on U.S.

Biological. Economic. Cyber. China is waging a war on the U.S. whether we want to admit it or not.

The US is expressing growing concern over a hack on Microsoft’s Exchange email software that the tech company has blamed on China.

“This is an active threat,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday. “Everyone running these servers – government, private sector, academia – needs to act now to patch them.”

 

Microsoft said hackers had used its mail server to attack their targets.

 

It is reported that tens of thousands of US organisations may be impacted.

The US has long accused the Chinese government of cyber-espionage, something Beijing denies.

Wisconsin Vaccine Registry Site Delayed

Sheesh

Wisconsin’s promised vaccine registry site will be delayed for a second time as the state health department works out glitches with the Microsoft-designed software.

 

And when the website does launch, it will likely feature just a few local health departments at first, health officials said.

 

In a news briefing Tuesday, state Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said the department “ran into some components that were not functioning the way we anticipated” during pilot testing last week and over the weekend.

 

“We made the decision that quality trumped speed in this one,” she said.

Perseverance Has Landed

Huzzah

The American space agency has successfully landed its Perseverance rover in a deep crater near the planet’s equator called Jezero.

 

“The good news is the spacecraft, I think, is in great shape,” said Matt Wallace, the mission’s deputy project manager.

 

Engineers at Nasa’s mission control in California erupted with joy when the confirmation of touchdown came through.

 

The six-wheeled vehicle will now spend at least the next two years drilling into the local rocks, looking for evidence of past life.

Hacking Our Infrastructure

It’s always troubling to see how easy it is to hack our primary infrastructure.

An outdated version of Windows and a weak cybersecurity network allowed hackers to access a Florida wastewater treatment plant’s computer system and momentarily tamper with the water supply, federal investigators revealed in a memo obtained by ABC News.

 

The FBI’s Cyber Division on Tuesday notified law enforcement agencies and businesses to warn them about the computer vulnerabilities, which led to the Bruce T. Haddock Water Treatment Plant in Oldsmar being hacked on Feb. 5.

My Lawyer is a Cat

Hilarious.

Texas lawyer Rod Ponton was left flummoxed when he discovered his face was appearing as a cat during a court session on Zoom.

 

As his assistant tried to rectify the issue, he can be heard saying, “I’m here live, I’m not a cat.”

 

Tweeting about the incident, Judge Roy Ferguson, who presided over the session, said it showed “the legal community’s effort to continue representing their clients in these challenging times”.

Censoring the Internet

Since we’re on the topic, this guy has some interesting thoughts.

In fact, focus on censorship and “cancel culture” actually distracts from solving the problem of disinformation — and all the chaos and confusion and real-world harm it brings with it — in a way that preserves free speech, Pomerantsev said.

 

“A lot of the virality is amplified artificially. That’s kind of how a lot of these platforms were designed,” he said. “That kind of artificial amplification I think really has to end.

 

“Fake amplification — everything from gaming algorithms and search engine optimization through to amplification through coordinated inauthentic activity — I think that probably has to end if the internet is going to be a just reflection of society and not this kind of weird funhouse mirror that distorts everything,” Pomerantsev said.

 

One of the first steps toward reducing disinformation is algorithm transparency: revealing how the social media and Big Tech companies engineer which information rises to the top and is seen by large numbers of people. Google, Facebook and TikTok have all taken some recent steps in this direction, Axios reported this week, but it was voluntary and most experts think this issue needs to be overseen by government regulators.

Myanmar Closes Internet

Before you get all high and mighty, didn’t we just do this in America to a lesser degree? While we did not shut down the internet totally, we did have an active elite who took it upon themselves to silence dissenters by blocking their access to ubiquitous platforms. The perquisites for a seizure of power in the age of mass media have been the same for hundreds of years – first, take control of the means of communication. In the 20th century, this meant occupying the radio and TV stations. Today, it means silencing dissent on social media.

Myanmar’s military rulers have shut down the country’s internet as thousands of people joined the largest rally yet against Monday’s coup.

 

A near-total internet blackout is in effect with connectivity falling to 16% of ordinary levels, said the monitoring group NetBlocks Internet Observatory.

 

In the main city, Yangon, crowds chanted “Military dictator, fail, fail; Democracy, win, win”.

 

Police with riot shields have blocked the main roads into the city centre.

 

The internet shutdown happened hours after the military had blocked access to Twitter and Instagram to stop people mobilising for protests. Facebook had been banned a day earlier.

My Pillow CEO Removed From Twitter

Heh.

Trump-supporting MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell has become the latest to be banned from Twitter.

 

Lindell, who fervently supported the Stop the Steal campaign over apparent election fraud, was banned by the social media giant for ‘spreading misinformation’.

 

His account is now ‘permanently suspended’.

One wonders about the long term business sense of moves like this. The value proposition of a platform like Twitter from the public view is that it is a place to read and share views from all different perspectives about any number of things. One of those things is politics. From a business standpoint, people give Twitter money to get access to that user base and to get data about that user base. As Twitter limits the user base to just those of a particular political persuasion, the value of that user base decreases.

Take it out of the realm of politics. People use Twitter to comment about sports. What if Twitter decided that hockey sucks and people who express support for hockey are suspended because it is “misleading” and “false” to say that hockey is a superior sport than football. By making that editorial decision and curating the user base in such a fashion, Twitter is limiting the number of businesses that will pay them money for user data. The companies that sell hockey equipment or rent ice rinks will look elsewhere to reach their potential customers.

Not that I care if Twitter thrives or not, but it just seems like a stupid business decision. I’d be wary of their future if I were a significant shareholder.

Assembly Democrats Want to Continue Virtually

I agree with Vos on this one.

Assembly Democrats are demanding legislators be allowed to attend floor sessions and other meetings remotely as Republicans signal they will require lawmakers to conduct much of their business in person during the upcoming legislative session, even as the coronavirus pandemic persists into 2021.

 

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, indicated on Tuesday that the Assembly may no longer allow remote accommodations, representing a rollback of COVID-19 accommodations allowed during much of the pandemic.

 

“People all across Wisconsin safely go to work every day and members of the Assembly are capable of doing so as well,” he said in a statement. “The Assembly will convene safely as other legislatures across the country have done during the pandemic. Members and staff are being asked to follow CDC guidelines, practice social distancing, wear a mask and wash their hands frequently.”

 

Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, and other Democratic members told Vos on Tuesday they want the chamber to continue current Assembly accommodations into the next session, such as remote-work options for staff and the ability for lawmakers to join floor sessions and committee hearings and sessions virtually.

First, Vos is right. People all over the state are going to work every day. They are doing so safely. We pay these legislators a full time wage and we, as citizens, have a reasonable expectation for them to put on pants and go to work. Perhaps they should lead by example for the rest of the state.

 

Second, there is value in doing this in person. Many of us have shifted to a more virtual work style through 2020. There are some good sides like saving on clothes/commuting expenses, save time between meetings, can squeeze more work into the day with that time savings, etc, but we also lose a lot without conducting business in person. Those hallway chats can be productive. Eating lunch together or helping a colleague dig their car out of the snow develops relationships. The infamous “grab a drink after work” builds rapport. Being able to read someone’s body language helps facilitate understanding. Humans are natural social animals and conducting complex negotiations successfully requires all of the senses to do it successfully. By being virtual, the Assembly is robbed of the social dynamic and people retreat into their virtual castles of dogma. The isolation of a virtual environment promotes distrust, linear thinking, and fear. Working with people on a screen is not the same as doing it in person. They become avatars instead of people.

These people are making massive decisions that impact the lives of millions. It is not asking too much for them to go to work to conduct the business of the realm.

Brexit Revives Netscape Communicator 4.x

I loved Netscape.

References to decades-old computer software are included in the new Brexit agreement, including a description of Netscape Communicator and Mozilla Mail as being “modern” services.

 

Experts believe officials must have copied and pasted chunks of text from old legislation into the document.

 

The references are on page 921 of the trade deal, in a section on encryption technology.

 

It also recommends using systems that are now vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

 

The text cites “modern e-mail software packages including Outlook, Mozilla Mail as well as Netscape Communicator 4.x.”

 

The latter two are now defunct – the last major release of Netscape Communicator was in 1997.

Small Businessman Sues Twitter for Labeling Him a “Hacker”

This will be an interesting case.

A computer repair shop owner who Hunter Biden handed his laptops over to in April 2019 is suing Twitter for defamation, claiming moderators labeled him a hacker.

John Paul Mac Isaac is seeking $500 million in damages from Twitter after The New York Post’s story about Biden, obtained from the 50-year-old’s laptop, was labeled as potentially coming from hacked material.

Facebook and Twitter both restricted viewing of the Post’s story, and Twitter pointed to its ban on posting ‘hacked materials’ as an explanation.

Mac Isaac claims, according to The Verge, that Twitter specifically made this decision to ‘communicate to the world that [Mac Isaac] is a hacker.’

He says that his business began to receive threats and negative reviews after Twitter’s moderation decision, and that he is ‘now widely considered a hacker’ because of Twitter.

Ignore the Hunter Biden connection and the ridiculous dollar amount. This is a case where Twitter employees – not Twitter users – specifically labeled this guy a hacker and damaged his reputation and livelihood. The facts of the case are self-evident. So the court will have to decide if a company like Twitter can be held liable for the defamatory actions of its employees. In a normal world, this seems like it would be a slam dunk. After all, if a company like Microsoft or General Mills had their employees defame someone in public, they could be held accountable. But in today’s hyper-charged environment, who knows?

Glass the Arctic

I’m sure there won’t be any unintended consequences with this.

As planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, some have been driven to explore desperate measures. One proposal put forward by the California-based non-profit Arctic Ice Project appears as daring as it is bizarre: to scatter a thin layer of reflective glass powder over parts of the Arctic, in an effort to protect it from the Sun’s rays and help ice grow back. “We’re trying to break [that] feedback loop and start rebuilding,” says engineer Leslie Field, an adjunct lecturer at Stanford University and chief technical officer of the organisation.

Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine Approved

Pretty soon, we are going to have a dozen vaccines and a great argument over which one is best. As with most medical things, the answer is “it depends…” humans are infinitely different and the introduction of a foreign substance will have an infinite number of consequences. Still, it’s good to have choices.

Moderna has been approved by the US government as the country’s second Covid-19 vaccine, clearing the way for millions of doses to be released.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorised the US-made jab about a week after approving a Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine which is now being distributed.

The US has agreed to purchase 200 million doses of Moderna, and six million may be ready to ship now.

Oracle And HP Move to Texas

The flight from California is accelerating. Let’s just hope that they don’t turn Texas blue in the process.

Tech giant Oracle Corp. said Friday it will move its headquarters from Silicon Valley to Austin, Texas, and let many employees choose their office locations and decide whether to work from home.

The business software maker said it will keep major hubs at its current home in Redwood City, California, and other locations.

‘We believe these moves best position Oracle for growth and provide our personnel with more flexibility about where and how they work,’ the company said in a regulatory filing.

[…]

This month, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, one of the early companies in Silicon Valley, said it will move to the Houston area and build a campus with two five-story buildings by 2022.

‘HPE’s largest U.S. employment hub, Houston is an attractive market to recruit and retain future diverse talent, and is where the company is currently constructing a state-of-the-art new campus,’ the company said in a statement.

[…]

Texas also offers a lower cost of living and no state income tax, both of which may appeal Oracle as well as South Africa-born Musk, 49, who overtook Bill Gates to become the world’s second-wealthiest person last month as Tesla stock reached ever-greater heights.

I would point out that there is nothing stopping Wisconsin from attracting businesses like this. It’s a choice.

Disney Shifts to Streaming

The industry shift continues. I expect that this isn’t going to revert back.

Disney has unveiled plans for a major expansion of its Star Wars and Marvel franchises on its Disney+ subscription streaming service.

The company said that its upcoming films Peter Pan & Wendy and Tom Hank’s Pinocchio will be launched directly onto Disney+, skipping theatres.

Disney is the latest major studio to divert its focus from cinema to streaming.

Last week Warner Brothers said all its 2021 releases would debut on HBO Max.

And, of course, they are going to flood the zone with the same stuff until we’re all sick of it and the market cries uncle.

Disney said that it planned to offer 10 new TV series in Its Marvel and Star Wars franchises over the next few years.

 

States and Fed Sue to Break Up Facebook

Excellent.

The US government and a coalition of 48 states and districts have filed parallel lawsuits against Facebook in a major antitrust offensive that accused the social media behemoth of anticompetitive behavior and could ultimately force its breakup.

At the heart of both antitrust actions, announced on Wednesday, is Facebook’s dominance of the social media landscape, and whether the company gobbled up potential competitors and blocked market access to others that could have eaten into its staggering market share.

One lawsuit brings together nearly every state in the US, a coalition led by New York’s attorney general, Letitia James. The suit accuses Facebook abusing its market power to quash smaller competitors.

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