Google censoring searches in China again

02/08/2018
google-logos

Google has a new logo and updating its image – but under the surface it’s still that pre-2010 half-evil censor

Eight years after Google pulled out of the censored Chinese internet, they’re back.  It’s been reported that the company is working on a mobile search app that would block certain search terms and allow it to reenter the Chinese market.

Google has engaged in the China-controlled internet space before: but in 2010 it pulled out, citing censorship and hacking as reasons.  It didn’t pull out completely – it still offered a number of apps to Chinese users, including Google Translate and Files Go, and the company has offices in Beijing, Shenzhen and Shanghai – But the largest of its services – search, email, and the Play app store – are all unavailable in the country.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin told the Guardian in 2010 that his opposition to enabling censorship was motivated to his being born in Soviet Russia.   “It touches me more than other people having been born in a country that was totalitarian and having seen that for the first few years of my life,” he said as Google exited the Chinese market after 4 years of cooperating with the authorities.

But now they’re back, working on a mobile search app that would block certain search terms and black-listed material.  The app is being designed for Android devices.

According to tech-based news site The Information, Google is also working on a censored news-aggregation app too. The news app would take its lead from popular algorithmically-curated apps such as Bytedance’s Toutiao – released for the Western market as “TopBuzz” – that eschew human editors in favour of personalised, highly viral content.

Patrick Poon, China Researcher at Amnesty International, called Google’s return to censorship “a gross attack on freedom of information and internet freedom.”

In putting profits before human rights, he said, Google would be setting a chilling precedent and handing the Chinese government a victory.

This is important because many computer users will set a search site as their homepage and even find content by entering key-words into the url bar of their browser.  Because of Google’s ubiquity, it is frequently set as default search engine on browsers, meaning that millions of users will find that their experience of the internet is that delivered through the lens of Google.  If that lens is smudged or cracked by censorship, all these users’ internet experience is skewed.  So it is essential to highlight the fact that Google is not the neutral, trustworthy agent that many users think it to be.

GreatFire, an organisation that monitors internet censorship and enables circumvention of the “Great Firewall of China”, said the move “could be the final nail in the Chinese internet freedom coffin” and that “the ensuing crackdown on freedom of speech will be felt around the globe.”

bmc-orange


EVTOL – the tech to deliver air taxis to the city’s skies

16/07/2018
rolls-royce-evtol-air-taxi-1-768x432

Rolls-Royce EVTOL air taxi concept, launched at Farnborough Air Show July 2018

People have been dreaming of personal flying vehicles since Icarus flew too close to the sun.  But there have been fundamental problems to the concept of air taxis and flying “cars”: noise, pollution and the need for air strips included.  But now the technology to make the dream possible has arrived: EVTOL.

Electric (or hybrid-electric, or electrically-assisted) Vertical Take-Off/Landing means an air vehicle that has the VTOL characteristics of a helicopter but otherwise flies like a fixed-wing airplane.  The VTOL is possible thanks to swivel-wings or swivel engines that are electrically (or hybrid-electrically) powered.  This helps beat the noise problem of helicopters, the pollution that a high concentration of conventionally-fuelled aircraft would cause, and the urban airstrips that fixed-wing vehicles would need.

For example, let’s look at the EVTOL air taxi concept that Rolls-Royce unveilled earlier today (16 July 2018) at the Farnborough Airshow.  The hybrid aircraft, designed to carry four or five passengers, has an M250 gas turbine which delivers around 500kW of electrical power. This is used to drive six rotors that can provide both lift and propulsion, with the wings tilting forward 90 degrees once sufficient altitude has been reached. Four of the rotors can also fold into the wings, leaving two at the rear to provide thrust at cruising altitude while helping to reduce cabin noise. Top speed is estimated at 250mph and range is predicted to be 500 miles. According to Rolls, an onboard battery will bring additional climb power and will be recharged by the M250 engine.

BlackFly-OPENER-Personal-eVTOL

The Blackfly Personal EVTOL

And this is just four days after Opener announced its single-person EVTOL personal aerial vehicle, Blackfly, hailed as the world’s first ultralight, fixed-wing EVTOL  aircraft.  The BlackFly Opener is amphibious and is primarily designed as a small grassy area hopper. It can travel up to 25 miles at 62 mph in the US, or over 80 mph elsewhere.  And in the US anyone can own and operate a Blackfly – there is no need for formal licensing.  And in the pollution stakes: it uses less energy than an electric car, and produces less noise than do petrol-driven cars.

BlackFly-energy-noise-figures

How the Blackfly stacks up on the noise and energy fronts

Unlike Opener, Rolls-Royce produced a concept rather than an actual aircraft.  Nevertheless they claim that the concept is based upon technology that either already exists or is currently under development. If a viable commercial model emerges, the company believes the vehicle could be in service by the early 2020s.  However there will be a lot of competition in this market: Airbus and Uber have both announced plans, Google’s Kittyhawk is taking orders ; and last year, Dubai staged its first autonomous air taxi trial, and authorities there claim personal air mobility could transform the region over the next five years.

In April 2017 after the first Uber Elevate Summit, Electric VTOL News started a catalogue of EVTOL aircraft – it grew at a rate of about one aircraft per week during the first year, but this has now accelerated to an average rate of two aircraft per week as more aircraft are unveiled and new actors join the sector, and now numbers over a hundred aircraft.

As of June 15, 2018, the site had 45 vectored thrust aircraft listed; 12 lift + cruise configurations24 wingless multicopter aircraft; and 23 Hover Bikes/Personal Flying Devices.

In addition, the website now hosts more than 100 news articles and in-depth stories on eVTOL aircraft and developments.

This is an exciting sector and brings ever closer to reality the dream of personal air vehicles – your very own airplane! So keep an eye on the skies!

Buy Me A Coffee


More or less human?

20/05/2018

Humans have been using technology to artificially enhance their bodies for a very long time. Spectacles, hearing aids, false teeth, wooden legs – when our distant ancestor first used a tree branch to lean on as she walked with an injured leg, she was taking the first (painful) steps towards transhumanism.

So what is transhumanism?   Mark O’Connell, in his book To Be A Machine, writes that it is the “belief that we can and should eradicate ageing as a cause of death; that we can and should use technology to augment our bodies and our minds; that we can and should merge with machines, remaking ourselves, finally, in the image of our own higher ideals.”

Of course, the technology that we have used in the past to augment our bodies has been pretty low-tech: false teeth and hearing aids are certainly useful and have caused us to merge with machines up to a point; but it is the scientific advances of tomorrow and next week that have the potential to remake us into something more than human.

And this brings philosophical and ethical challenges.  Soon athletes in some events such as the 100 meter sprint who run on carbon fibre blades will be faster than those who run on legs.  So what should a surgeon  when approached by a prospective patient who wants him to amputate her perfectly good legs and fit her with the latest blades so she can compete at the top levels of her sport?

Many surgeons would refuse to be involved in such a procedure.  But there are also many health professionals who would be more sympathetic to the idea of exchanging inferior body parts with artificial replacements that could make the patient perform better, or live longer.  Cyberneticist Kevin Warwick is such a man.  He has had a number of  implants: one let him experience ultrasonic waves, which he likens to a “bat sense”. At another time:

“I interfaced my nervous system with my computer so that I could control a robot hand and experience what it was touching. I did that when I was in New York, but the hand was in a lab in England.”

And he is far from alone in his enthusiasm. The idea of transhumanism has sprung onto the stage of public attention recently.  It’s been featured in a number of recent blockbuster Hollywood movies, including Transcendence, Lucy and Her.  The Facebook group Singularity Network, one of the largest of hundreds of transhumanist-themed groups on the web, as seen its membership grow from 400 to over 10,000 in 3 years.  And that is just one of hundreds of transhumanist-themed groups on the web.

dilbert-transhumanism

cartoon by scott adams – cheers scott!!

Of course there are plenty of opponents to this creeping transhumanism.  “Blogman – Blacksmith of Truth” is one such naysayer.  In Auricmedia.net he blogs against what he calls the “transhumanist agenda.”  He does not want to have his body altered or invaded by swarms of nanobots, and he doesn’t want other people to go through such procedures either, as he believes transhumans will either imprison “normal” humans on an island or force them to assimilate like the Borg.

It’s true that transhumanists want to convert as many non-believers as possible.  They want to convince the public that embracing the radical science is in the human species’ best interest.  In a religious world where most of society still believes in heavenly afterlives, some people are doubtful if significantly extending human lifespans is philosophically and morally correct. Transhumanists believe the more people that support transhumanism, the more private and government resources will end up in the hands of organizations and companies that aim to improve peoples’ lives and bring mere human mortality to an end.  But some conspiracy theorists would have it that transhumanists are intent on dragging everyone away from their humanity, by any means possible.

Conspiracy nut and talk radio presenter Alex Jones is one such human.  In “Transhumanism: The New Dark Age,” he sets out his stall.  Ray Kurzweil, maybe the best-known long-time transhumanist, has been trying to achieve technological immortality for years.  In this, and in Kurzweil’s popularity among celebrities and executives, he sees proof of a transhumanist elite intent on enslaving human-kind.

“It’s all global government—accept nanotech. Accept wirehead. Accept interfaces, everything’s fine. All of our modern technologies—created by eugenicists. Or farmed out by scientists owned by scientists owned by eugenicists robber barons. The entire society, the whole technotronic plan; robotics, future not needing us, phasing out humanity, all of this, a hellish future, while they’ve been poisoning us and dumbing us down, so we can’t resist their takeover, and then saying we deserve it because all we want to do is watch Dancing with the Stars.

His ranting sometimes suggests lunacy.  But he is popular, so he wields much influence.  And he is not alone in believing in a transhumanist conspiracy.

cyborg-1

When does the cyborg become a machine? pic dc comics

Some of the conspiracy theorists’ fears do raise interesting – possibly important – questions.  If people become cyborgs, replacing limbs and organs with mechanical parts and implants, at what point do they become machines rather than human?  If they have their diseased hearts and kidneys and other organs replaced with ones grown in rats, when does their humanity succumb to rat-ness?  If a man uploads his mind and consciousness into a computer, and has his useless body destroyed, is he still a human?  When no physical trace of him remains, can he still claim any humanity, never mind transhumanity.  Rather than a glorious transhuman status, do they instead become low creatures and kitchen appliances and sundry pieces of equipment?

bmc-orange


Download Windows for FREE!!

28/04/2018

Do you use a Microsoft Windows operating system (eg Windows 7, Windows 8.1, Windows 10) but you’ve lost the installation DVD? Or maybe your computer came with Windows pre-installed and you never had the DVD?  This may have never presented a problem before, but if something goes wrong with your computer you may need that disk to fix it.  And I’m sure you realise just how expensive Windows software can be.

Fortunately Windows installation media can be downloaded for free.  And I’m not talking about “pirate” software from a dodgy torrent uploaded by someone in Uzbekistan.  No, you can download Windows operating system DVD images – Windows 7, 8.1 and 10 – from Microsoft’s website, for free, zero, nada, and it’s not a crack, a “hack” or a hijack!

Of course we’re talking about Microsoft here, which means you ain’t really getting something for nothing.  You can download the installation disk image, and it even comes with the disk-burning software to put it on a DVD or USB stick – but to install the operating system you need to already have a product key/license for the computer you wish to install it on.  But hey, this is pretty good nonetheless.  I know people who have bought a new Windows DVD because their computer got screwed up and they needed to re-install the operating system.  If we’d known about this at the time we could have saved our friends a pretty penny (as new Windows DVDs cost many pretty pennies!).

So, here are the links to the download pages – Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows 10.  Remember, to re-install your OS you will need to know your product key – so find out what it is now, don’t wait until your computer is screwed up!  There’s a guide at this link that describes how to discover your product key (a 25-character alphanumeric code that looks like this -> PRODUCT KEY: XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX). It can be as simple as copying the code from a sticker on the bottom of the laptop, or as involved as writing and executing a powershell script. My preferred method is the command prompt method:

  • open up a command promp with administrative privileges (done by right-clicking the cmd icon and choosing “Run as administrator”
  • paste in this command wmic path softwarelicensingservice get OA3xOriginalProductKey
  • you’ll get the product key in a response that looks like this:

OB6xOriginalProductKey
6XX6X-8XX88-XXX2X-44XXX-XX33X

However, although all this is perfectly legal and even encouraged by Microsoft, you must remain aware and beware the nasty proprietary software pushers!  PC reseller and recycling advocate Eric Lundgren was sent to prison for 15 months for copying and selling these DVDs.  Officially his crime was “conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods and criminal copyright infringement”.

The tech-ignorant judge, and the patently-disingenuous prosecution and Microsoft-supplied “expert” witness, made out that he was selling pirated software even though the software is available legally on Microsoft’s own website.

Afterwards Microsoft and the court said this was about infringement of copyright because Lundgren had printed Microsoft logos on his DVDs.  But  if that was the issue, why didn’t they prosecute him for this charge?

What it boiled down to, was this: these disk images can be downloaded free of charge.  But Microsoft also make money on the side by selling these disks to resellers for $25.  This can’t make Microsoft a huge amount of money.  But there are resellers who can’t be bothered to download and burn the disks themselves so they buy these ridiculously expensive disks and pass the cost on to their customers.  Lundgren saw a way to make himself some cash as well as encourage reuse of old computers.  But (in my opinion) Microsoft saw this as leveraging their own petty-cash-on-the-side racket and went after him in court, painting him as a pirate and counterfeiter, with the aid of a dishonest prostitute I mean prosecutor, and a judge who is at best pig-ignorant and at worst also in Microsoft’s pocket.  (In my opinion.)

Anyway.  Although this free download service may save you some money, make sure it doesn’t save you too much money. Or Microsoft and its paid-for lackeys in the legal profession might come after you.  After all we can’t be allowed to threaten Microsoft’s bottom line can we?  There are far too many vested interests there.

 bmc-purple


Apple vs the FBI: Go on, Apple!

18/02/2016

At the FBI’s urging, a federal magistrate has ordered Apple to create a program that will allow the FBI to get into an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters.  They claim this a one-off thing; they just want to gain access to the shooter’s phone.  On the radio I heard a federal justice spokesman explain it like this:  “If the FBI had a warrant to enter and search a house, but the house had a combination lock that would permanently lock the door if the wrong combination was entered a few times, the FBI would knock the door in using a tank.  All we want is for Apple to supply us with the tank.”

But that is nonsense.  If the locked-door scenario happened, the FBI would bring their own tank to knock the door in.  They wouldn’t ask a lock manufacturer to build the tank for them.

The US government have wanted a back-door into Apple’s iPhones for a while now. This has especially been the case since September 2014, when Apple introduced new encryption into its iPhone operating system that would make it mathematically impossible for the company to unlock them for investigators. This was a departure from the past, when investigators could get access to a device if they sent it to Apple headquarters with a search warrant.

The US authorities are painting this as strictly an anti-terrorism move, and that it would apply only to the iPhone in question.  But that is plain wrong.  Ever since the Ed Snowden revelations, FBI director James Comey has been trying to figure out a way around the software as he and Apple’s Tim Cook have traded barbs publicly and privately.  And now he and his colleagues are using thie San Bernadino murders as a way to create case law that could force tech companies to provide back doors into their products.  The FBI claim they want Apple to create a master key just for the one iPhone; but once the precedence had been set, the authorities would use the Apple master key whenever they felt like it, and would be on sure ground to insist other Silicon Valley companies do the same.

Security professionals have pointed out that back doors are not the way to carry out investigations: see here and here for just a couple of examples.  The tragic San Bernadino shootings are, I’m sorry to say, just a way for the US authorities to get the back doors they want on faulty reasoning.  I’m happy Apple have contested this court order.  I don’t like Apple products or their propriety approach, but I’m at one with them that individual freedom is paramount.  After all, isn’t individual freedom what we are trying to defend from people like ISIS?

In addition to that: criminals might get hold of back door tools and use them to steal identities, bank details etc; and oppressive foreign governments might use them to persecute pro-democracy activists.  The authorities will obviously claim that no one will be able to access these master keys.  But the US government, among others, have suffered theft of data frequently; and foreign governments have spies, whose job is to steal secret tools and information.

To go back to the locked door and tank scenario: in this case the US authorities should bring their own tank – the NSA.  Or do they really expect us to believe that the NSA couldn’t crack this one phone?

Apple-Logo

Apple: doing the right thing


Apple is going to kill the world! Panic!

06/01/2016

I got a stupid email today from campaigning group SumOfUs.org, asking me to sign a petition… about iphone headsets!
Here’s a taste:

“Apple is about to rip off every one of its customers. Again.

If the rumours are true, the new iPhone 7 will have a non-standard, proprietary headphone jack — making every pair of headphones on earth useless. Not only will this force iPhone users to dole out additional cash to replace their hi-fi headphones, it will singlehandedly create mountains of electronic waste — that likely won’t get recycled.

There’s only one reason for this change: to leverage Apple’s market share in order to extract even more profit from its customers. With virtually no third-party manufacturers ready to fill the new market gap, Apple stands to make a killing while we — and our planet — pay the price.”

evil_apple_by_perishhaspower-d379wwn

“Evil Apple” image by perish_is_power, on that deviantart site (said theft aided and abetted by Google – thanks, evil corporation, where would we be without you?

SumOfUs.org has sent me some pretty daft petitions in the past year or so, but this is just too much. So Apple are going to rip off its idiot “loyal customers” by adopting a proprietary technology… so what? This is what Apple does: it makes stuff that will only work with its stuff, and rips off anyone gullible enough to fall for the con.

The eco-spin on the petition – that Apple’s evil plans “will singlehandedly create mountains of electronic waste — that likely won’t get recycled” – is an extra dollop of pathetic. Land-fills all round the world are already full of Apple’s crap because if your i-thing breaks down, all the peripherals are useless and get chucked. Will the headphones scandal be the tipping point? Oh no, call 007 to save us from Apple’s satanic actions!

Sorry, SumOfUs.org, but I’m leaving your mail list (should be called a “spam list” you  jerks).  I’ve suffered a load of shite from you being put in my email inbox without a complaint, because occasionally you brought something important to my attention.  But the important issues have dwindled, and meaningless kibble has taken its place.  And this one – Oh, Apple are selling proprietary, non-reusable crap – hell, it’s not new or surprising.  If you don’t like what Apple does, don’t buy Apple.  I never have.  I’ve got a perfectly fine Sony phone, and I can use any headphones with it.  Stop buying into the con – stop buying Apple.  That will get their attention a lot more effectively than a sad petition.

 


#Vodafone #EE and 3 (#ThreeUK) give police mobile call records at click of a mouse

10/10/2014
Shush!  They can hear you!

Shush! They can hear you!

Mobile phones outnumber land-lines massively. In the UK, there are 82.7m mobile subscriptions in the UK; compare that to 24.4m home landlines and a total of 33.1m fixed landlines (including landlines used for broadband connections). In the UK, 15% of people live in mobile-only households. And that’s the UK, a developed world nation where substantial land-line infrastructure already exists. Think about developing world countries where low rural population concentration and large distances make mobile networks a necessity. An awful lot of business is being carried out on these mobile networks: both private and commercial, on phones or online. You’d think all this communication would be protected by law, right? Duh! wrong answer. According to The Guardian:

Three of the UK’s four big mobile phone networks have made customers’ call records available at the click of a mouse to police forces through automated systems, a Guardian investigation has revealed.

EE, Vodafone and Three operate automated systems that hand over customer data “like a cash machine”,as one phone company employee described it.

Of the 4 big mobile networks, only O2 manually reviews Ripa requests (Ripa is the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which governs who can access systems like the phone networks). EE (the UK’s largest network, consisting of Orange and T-Mobile), Vodafone, and 3, all use systems that largely bypass any need for human intervention, basically meaning that access to these sensitive records is automated. With no manual oversight, mistakes or loopholes in the automated systems will not be detected, and can be misused deliberately.

Privacy advocates are also concerned that the staff within phone companies who deal with Ripa and other requests are often in effect paid by the Home Office – a fact confirmed by several networks – and so may, in turn, be less willing to challenge use of surveillance powers.

According to the Guardian article:

Several mobile phone networks confirmed the bulk of their queries were handled without human intervention. “We do have an automated system,” said a spokesman for EE, the UK’s largest network, which also operates Orange and T-Mobile. “[T]he vast majority of Ripa requests are handled through the automated system.” The spokesman added the system was subject to oversight, with monthly reports being sent to the law enforcement agency requesting the data, and annual reports going to the interception commissioner and the Home Office.

A spokesman for Vodafone said the company processed requests in a similar way. “The overwhelming majority of the Ripa notices we receive are processed automatically in accordance with the strict framework set out by Ripa and underpinned by the code of practice,” he said. “Even with a manual process, we cannot look behind the demand to determine whether it is properly authorised.”

A spokesman for Three, which is also understood to use a largely automated system, said the company was simply complying with legal requirements. “We take both our legal obligations and customer privacy seriously,” he said. “Three works with the government and does no more or less than is required or allowed under the established legal framework.

Only O2 said it manually reviews all of its Ripa requests. “We have a request management system with which the law enforcement agencies can make their requests to us,” said the O2 spokeswoman. “All O2 responses are validated by the disclosure team to ensure that each request is lawful and the data provided is commensurate with the request.”

Mike Harris, director of the Don’t Spy On Us campaign, said the automated systems posed a serious threat to UK freedom of expression. “How do we know that the police through new Home Office systems aren’t making automated requests that reveal journalist’s sources or even the private contacts of politicians?” he said.

“Edward Snowden showed that both the NSA and GCHQ had backdoor access to our private information stored on servers. Now potentially the police have access too, when will Parliament stand up and protect our fundamental civil liberties?”

So much information goes over mobile networks nowadays. Not just phone calls and text messages – there’s also the high volume of data transfer over mobile broadband systems. All this information is available to “investigators” who can interrogate the computer systems directly, with no need to go through a middle-man.

If you use a trustworthy VPN service, and encryption, you may be able to keep the data traffic somewhat more private. But the very action of encrypting your traffic attracts investigators’ attention. And voice and text message data does not even have that limited protection.

A solution, so far as computer and smart phone data is concerned, is available, at least in theory. If we all opted for mobile mesh networking, we could cut out the mobile networks entirely. And it wouldn’t be hard to include traditional speech (and sms) in such a system. And the software is already out there – for example Open Garden. These enmeshed systems are probably the future of mobile connectivity. The only question is: when will mobile users take to it by default? Most people don’t think the government snooping into our communications is a major problem (The “if you’ve done nothing wrong you have nothing to worry about” min-set). Will this apathy win out? I hope not. When I use a 3G modem or tethered smartphone I generally use a VPN. But I haven’t fully checked out the various solutions available – or their pitfalls. And I’m more aware of these issues than average. There’s a good chance we’re trying to tackle a problem that’s already out of control. Do yourself – andf everyone else – a favour. Do a web search for “mesh networks” and the other subjects I’ve mentioned here. Did you know that when you send an email, the message is only as secure as what you might write on a postcard? And things can only get worse.

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