Boots & Sabers

The blogging will continue until morale improves...

Category: Technology

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An outdated version of Windows and a weak cybersecurity network allowed hackers to access a Florida wastewater treatment plant’s computer system and momentarily tamper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.

Surveyor 2 Rocket Stage Enters Earth Orbit

Cool.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A mysterious object temporarily orbiting Earth is a 54-year-old rocket, not an asteroid after all, astronomers confirmed Wednesday.

Observations by a telescope in Hawaii clinched its identity, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The object was classified as an asteroid after its discovery in September. But NASA’s top asteroid expert, Paul Chodas, quickly suspected it was the Centaur upper rocket stage from Surveyor 2, a failed 1966 moon-landing mission. Size estimates had put it in the range of the old Centaur, which was about 32 feet (10 meters) long and 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter.

Chodas was proven right after a team led by the University of Arizona’s Vishnu Reddy used an infrared telescope in Hawaii to observe not only the mystery object, but — just on Tuesday — a Centaur from 1971 still orbiting Earth. The data from the images matched.

[…]

The object formally known as 2020 SO entered a wide, lopsided orbit around Earth last month and, on Tuesday, made its closest approach at just over 31,000 miles (50,476 kilometers). It will depart the neighborhood in March, shooting back into its own orbit around the sun. Its next return: 2036.

Predicting The Shape of Protein Folds

Wonderful!

Predicting how a protein folds into a unique three-dimensional shape has puzzled scientists for half a century.

London-based AI lab, DeepMind, has largely cracked the problem, say the organisers of a scientific challenge.

A better understanding of protein shapes could play a pivotal role in the development of novel drugs to treat disease.

The advance by DeepMind is expected to accelerate research into a host of illnesses, including Covid-19.

Their program determined the shape of proteins at a level of accuracy comparable to expensive and time-consuming lab methods, they say.

Dr Andriy Kryshtafovych, from University of California (UC), Davis in the US, one of the panel of scientific adjudicators, described the achievement as “truly remarkable”.

“Being able to investigate the shape of proteins quickly and accurately has the potential to revolutionise life sciences,” he said.

Warp Speed Vaccine

A lot of work went into this.

Every American will be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of June next year if they want one, according to Operation Warp Speed’s director of supply.

The first vaccine doses will be rolled out in December to the highest at risk after they get FDA approval, then they will slowly be dished out the remaining public.

On Monday, Lt. General Paul A. Ostrowski told CNBC that there would be enough to vaccinate everyone in the US by the end of June.

Will You Take the COVID Vaccine?

Well?

Pfizer said Friday it is asking U.S. regulators to allow emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine, starting the clock on a process that could bring limited first shots as early as next month and eventually an end to the pandemic — but not until after a long, hard winter.

The action comes days after Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech announced that its vaccine appears 95% effective at preventing mild to severe COVID-19 disease in a large, ongoing study.

The companies said that protection plus a good safety record means the vaccine should qualify for emergency use authorization, something the Food and Drug Administration can grant before the final testing is fully complete. In addition to Friday’s FDA submission, they have already started “rolling” applications in Europe and the U.K. and intend to submit similar information soon.

I am not one who rejects vaccines. I have taken all of the normal ones throughout my life and believe them to be a prudent way to prevent severe illnesses with minor risk. There’s no way I’m taking the first round of a vaccine that was rushed to market to prevent a disease that my immune system will almost certainly be able to fight of when I get it. For people who are in a higher risk category for COVID, y’all’s risk/benefit assessment may be different. But I would count on wide swaths of Americans taking a pass for a while until we see how the first few waves of vaccinations go.

The question will be… what will the government and businesses do to force it? We have already see several businesses jumping to find ways to force their customers to get a vaccine. We are in a dangerous transition point in our nation’s history. I’m not sure that we will ever get back.

Obama Says Social Media Companies are Acting Like Publishers and Not Platforms

I agree!

Former U.S. President Barack Obama said that the extent to which social media companies claim they “are more like a phone company than they are like The Atlantic” is not “tenable,” he told the publication in an interview published Monday.

“They are making editorial choices, whether they’ve buried them in algorithms or not,” the former president said in the interview. “The First Amendment doesn’t require private companies to provide a platform for any view that is out there. At the end of the day, we’re going to have to find a combination of government regulations and corporate practices that address this, because it’s going to get worse. If you can perpetrate crazy lies and conspiracy theories just with texts, imagine what you can do when you can make it look like you or me saying anything on video. We’re pretty close to that now.”

Obama’s statement that social media platforms should be considered more like publishers than public utilities would have significant implications on how the companies are regulated.

[…]

President-elect Joe Biden has harshly criticized Section 230 and Facebook itself in an interview with The New York Times editorial board published earlier this year.

“Section 230 should be revoked, immediately should be revoked, number one. For Zuckerberg and other platforms,” Biden said at the time, referring to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, taking a more extreme position than many of the Democrats and Republicans currently seeking to tweak the laws’ protections.

In October, I said:

In purposefully, actively, and personally deciding to stomp on a negative story about Joe Biden that was published by a reputable newspaper in the midst of a political campaign, Facebook and Twitter have definitively and unmistakably crossed the line from being internet platforms to publishers. As such, the legal protections granted to them under Section 230 must be withdrawn so that they can be regulated like The New York Times, Fox News, MSNBC, and all of the other publishers that filter, edit, and curate the information they provide to their subscribers.

Facebook and Twitter can’t have it both ways. If they want the legal protections provided under Section 230, then they must allow all information to flow freely. If they want to be information gatekeepers, then those protections must be withdrawn so that people have legal remedies against abuse.

Another Possible COVID-19 Vaccine

Great news.

A new vaccine that protects against Covid-19 is nearly 95% effective, early data from US company Moderna shows.

The results come hot on the heels of similar results from Pfizer, and add to growing confidence that vaccines can help end the pandemic.

Both companies used a highly innovative and experimental approach to designing their vaccines.

Moderna says it is a “great day” and they plan to apply for approval to use the vaccine in the next few weeks.

However, this is still early data and key questions remain unanswered.

 

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