Tuesday, December 12, 2017

If an app is free, is it trustworthy?

In the case of some popular software, not necessarily.

Personal data belonging to over 31 million customers of a popular virtual keyboard app has leaked online, after the app's developer failed to secure the database's server.

The server is owned by Eitan Fitusi, co-founder of AI.type, a customizable and personalizable on-screen keyboard, which boasts more than 40 million users across the world.

But the server wasn't protected with a password, allowing anyone to access the company's database of user records, totaling more than 577 gigabytes of sensitive data.

. . .

Each record contains a basic collected data, including the user's full name, email addresses, and how many days the app was installed. Each record also included a user's precise location, including their city and country.

. . .

More complete records also include the device's IMSI and IMEI number, the device's make and model, its screen resolution, and the device's specific Android version.

A large portion of the records also included the user's phone number and the name of their cell phone provider, and in some cases their IP address and name of their internet provider if connected to Wi-Fi. Many records contain specific details of a user's public Google profile, including email addresses, dates of birth, genders, and profile photos.

We also found several tables of contact data uploaded from a user's phone. One table listed 10.7 million email addresses, while another contained 374.6 million phone numbers. It's not clear for what reason the app uploaded email addresses and phone numbers of contacts on users' phones.

Several tables contained lists of each app installed on a user's device, such as banking apps and dating apps.

There's more at the link.  It makes for disturbing reading.

This is very worrying for two reasons.  The first and most obvious is that the app developer did not password-protect user information, leaving it vulnerable to hacking.  The second, more insidious concern is that most users probably did not have any idea of how much information about them and their telephones, contacts, etc. the app was collecting.  Privacy?  What privacy?

This is by no means the only instance where a 'free' app proved to be risky at best.  One of the best-known cleanup programs, CCleaner (the free version of which I've used myself for a very long time), was recently infected with malware, which downloaded itself to users along with a program update.  That affected my computer, too.  It took a lot of hard work by a lot of people, and disruption to many users' computers, to deal with the problem.

Moral of the story:  free software isn't necessarily free of malware, viruses, and bugs.  Even paid software isn't immune.  Use at your own risk.


When the cure for terrorism is worse than the disease

There's a conundrum in anti-terror operations.  Military necessity dictates stopping, killing and capturing terrorists.  However, the priorities of ordinary citizens are, more often than not, simply survival;  and, after survival, the security of their property and possessions.  This has led to many situations where military counter-terror operations have been opposed by local civilians, on the grounds that they are suffering more from them than the terrorists.  (Iraq and Afghanistan have provided many examples.)

The most recent such situation occurred in Marawi, in the Philippines, earlier this year.

More than six months after Filipino and foreign fighters claiming allegiance to the Islamic State stormed this lakeside city, setting off a monthslong war with U.S.-backed Philippine troops, liberated Marawi lies in ruins and its people seethe.

The heart of the city has been bombed and burned beyond recognition, its domed mosques pierced by mortar fire. Homes stand roofless, blackened. There are armored vehicles on the streets.

Some 200,000 residents are still scattered across the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, living with weary relatives or in displacement camps thick with mud and worry.

Those who have been allowed to return found their homes sacked and looted - safes open, jewelry snatched, appliances gone.

Many are angry at the men who seized their city in a failed bid to establish a caliphate, taking hostages and targeting civilians. They are angry, too, at the forces that fought those men, namely the Philippine army and its backer, the United States.

. . .

In late May, Philippine troops stormed a compound in Marawi, expecting to make some arrests. Instead, they set off fighting that lasted more than 150 days.

After a prolonged gun battle, the Philippine army slowly pushed the militants toward the city's center, where they dug in. "It was heavy urban fighting," said Col. Romeo Brawner, a U.S.-trained soldier who is now the deputy commander of a Marawi task force.

. . .

More than six months after the fighting started and more than two months after Duterte declared Marawi liberated, it still looks and feels like a war zone, with the destruction centered in the city's heart, along the shore of Lake Lanao, and radiating outward.

The center is a no-go zone controlled by soldiers. Militants had turned the houses that are still standing into snipers' nests, where furniture has been trashed and pro-Islamic State graffiti is still on the walls.

It may be years before the main battleground is habitable. At the periphery, where people have been allowed to move back and schools are reopening, families are returning to wrecked and emptied homes.

. . .

The bombing is a source of tremendous anger here. "Why didn't they warn us, 'Hey, be prepared because we are going to deploy an airstrike?' " asked Drieza Lininding, a displaced resident who runs the Moro Consensus Group, a nonprofit that seeks to counter radicalization.

The strikes sent people fleeing without money, documents, weapons and other valuables - much of which has since been taken from damaged homes. The military denies assertions that it was behind systematic looting, but civilians, including Lininding, are not sold.

"Who are we going to blame for that looting? Nobody could do this without using a truck," he said.

There's more at the link, along with photographs.  It's well worth clicking over there to read the article in full.

I remember seeing many similar situations in Africa, in South Africa, Rhodesia, Mozambique, Angola, the Congo, Rwanda and other countries.  In every case, government and/or military priorities dictated an offensive against terrorists.  In every case, the locals suffered because of it.  Many died.  Many lost loved ones, even entire families.  Many lost everything they owned.  None of them could understand how their government could completely ignore their needs and priorities, in order to concentrate on the military mission of killing terrorists.

I don't have an answer to that conundrum.  All I know is, having seen at first hand how innocent people suffer through military and/or terrorist action on both sides, my preference is to work against terrorists in less indiscriminate ways.  Military action may, indeed, be unavoidable;  but could not military forces do more to evacuate civilians from danger zones, or refrain from using weapons that target an area, regardless of who may be in it?  As for fighting in a major urban environment, that's virtually guaranteed to cause mass civilian casualties, simply because they're stuck there.  Avenues in and out are likely to be blocked by fighting, or damage resulting from fighting.  Who's going to pay any attention to their needs?  With the notable exception of US and First World armies, most soldiers will not.  Their priority is to stay alive themselves, and to hell with anything and anyone who stands in the way of that.  As General George S. Patton famously said, "The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his."  Most combat veterans of my acquaintance (including myself, when I was still wearing a uniform) would wholeheartedly agree.

I truly feel for the citizens of Marawi.  They've been largely abandoned by their government.  What does their future hold?  Only what they can rebuild for themselves.  It's a cold, hard, brutal world out there.


A piece of aviation history

The Sikorsky R-4 was the first helicopter to go into mass production for the US armed forces (and a few for Britain's Royal Air Force).  Between 1942 and 1944, 131 were built.

The aircraft was announced to the public in 1942.  It was the first time most people had ever heard the word 'helicopter', and the aircraft's capabilities were, at the time, extraordinary.  Here's the first publicity film of the R-4.

The R-4 saw combat in Burma, where it was used for combat rescue and casualty evacuation from the thick jungle.  You can read about its first combat rescue mission here.  It also made the first helicopter landing on a ship, in trials aboard the British merchant ship Empire Mersey in 1944.

The R-4 wasn't very successful, being grossly under-powered, but it was the first of its kind.  More and better successors would build on the foundation it laid.


Monday, December 11, 2017

Browsing cat is browsing

I think Ashbutt's trying to tell us, "You'd better not be looking at pictures of other cats!"


The solution to rape and sexual assault

From Just Violet on Gab:

True dat.  I prefer ladies who use the bullet box as well as the ballot box.


A conspiracy of lies

Glenn Greenwald, famous for breaking the news about Edward Snowden, has published a devastating critique of the US news media in general.  He as good as accuses them of deliberate conspiracy and subterfuge.  Here's an excerpt.

Friday was one of the most embarrassing days for the U.S. media in quite a long time. The humiliation orgy was kicked off by CNN, with MSNBC and CBS close behind, with countless pundits, commentators and operatives joining the party throughout the day. By the end of the day, it was clear that several of the nation’s largest and most influential news outlets had spread an explosive but completely false news story to millions of people, while refusing to provide any explanation of how it happened.

. . .

Think about what this means. It means that at least two — and possibly more — sources, which these media outlets all assessed as credible in terms of having access to sensitive information, all fed the same false information to multiple news outlets at the same time. For multiple reasons, the probability is very high that these sources were Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee (or their high-level staff members), which is the committee that obtained access to Trump Jr.’s emails, although it’s certainly possible that it’s someone else. We won’t know until these news outlets deign to report this crucial information to the public: which “multiple sources” acted jointly to disseminate incredibly inflammatory, false information to the nation’s largest news outlets?

. . .

Thus far, these media corporations are doing the opposite of what journalists ought to do: rather than informing the public about what happened and providing minimal transparency and accountability for themselves and the high-level officials who caused this to happen, they are hiding behind meaningless, obfuscating statements crafted by PR executives and lawyers.

How can journalists and news outlets so flamboyantly act offended when they’re attacked as being “Fake News” when this is the conduct behind which they hide when they get caught disseminating incredibly consequential false stories?

. . .

... what one should expect with journalistic “mistakes” is that they sometimes go in one direction, and other times go in the other direction. That’s exactly what has not happened here. Virtually every false story published goes only in one direction: to be as inflammatory and damaging as possible on the Trump/Russia story and about Russia particularly. At some point, once “mistakes” all start going in the same direction, toward advancing the same agenda, they cease looking like mistakes.

No matter your views on those political controversies, no matter how much you hate Trump or regard Russia as a grave villain and threat to our cherished democracy and freedoms, it has to be acknowledged that when the U.S. media is spewing constant false news about all of this, that, too, is a grave threat to our democracy and cherished freedom.

There's more at the link.

It's hard to argue with Mr. Greenwald's conclusions.  I think we have to accept that the US news media in general are now nothing more than a propaganda arm for political extremism.  That's not just the Democratic Party, either.  It's every progressive, left-wing, liberal cause du jour.  Anything or anyone straying from the path of political correctness is to be attacked and/or silenced - and selective reporting is as bad as censorship, in that it silences voices who think differently.

We are now in an era of deliberate, corporate-sponsored censorship of the news.  If that doesn't scare you, you don't deserve to live in a democracy.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sunday morning music

Let's have a bit of rock nostalgia - with added Cream.  Here's their complete reunion concert at the Royal Albert Hall, London, in 2005.

That brings back some memories;  but why do the boys look so old?  I mean, it was only yesterday . . . wasn't it?


Saturday, December 9, 2017

C'mon, baby, light my fire!

Delta Airlines from Raleigh, NC to Atlanta, GA.

I'm amazed the person filming that was so composed.  If I'd been in his shoes, I'd have been leaving footprints across the seat tops on my way to the emergency exit!


Sexual harassment is much worse in the Third World

Amid all the brouhaha about sexual harassment in the United States, don't forget that it's much, much worse in the Third World.  A recent article in the Los Angeles Times, about women in Lesotho (where I lived for most of a year), highlights the problem.

The epidemic of sexual violence against women in Lesotho, a nation of 2.2 million people, is arguably the worst in the world. But it is rarely reported.

I spent three weeks in the country, dodging unwanted advances and hearing stories of frequent, unpunished sexual assaults. It was the most threatening environment for women that I had ever navigated. If somehow you still don’t recognize the sweeping scale of sexual assault, if you think women across the world don’t need to fight for each other with everything we have, try visiting Lesotho, where holding a man accountable for sexual violence is almost impossible.

. . .

The epidemic of sexual violence against women in this nation of 2.2 million people is arguably the worst in the world, but it is rarely reported. The problem, women’s rights advocates say, begins in childhood. Girls are taught to be compliant, to quietly endure suffering and to serve men.

The director of a local aid organization told me grown men regularly flirt with her 8-year-old daughter in the grocery store, capitalizing early on a grossly unequal power dynamic. UNICEF found that 19% of girls under 18 in Lesotho are forced into (illegal) marriages, oftentimes with older men. The rate of new HIV infections is the highest in the world (one in four people have the disease) thanks in no small part to a virtual army of Harvey Weinsteins preying on economically disadvantaged young women.

In response to questionnaires circulated by Catholic Relief Services in Lesotho, women have reported that in school, teachers request sex from female students in return for passing grades. At garment factories, security guards require women seeking jobs to have sex before entering the building. Inside, bosses want sex in exchange for hiring women and offering them overtime (which women need to obtain food for children they raise alone because the fathers are often out committing sexual abuse). Marriage offers little protection, as husbands feel free to demand sex at home whenever they please.

Women rarely discuss or report any of these encounters. The subject of sex is taboo, and aggressors are unlikely to face consequences. Women who do report sexual abuse risk retaliation.

Police are routinely the culprits and even those who are not may be nonchalant about sex crimes. Cases are delayed or dismissed with petty excuses. One aid worker told me police failed to prosecute the rape of a 5-year-old girl because the perpetrator said he was sorry.

There's more at the link.

I'm here to tell you, that article is largely accurate.  I saw it during the several months that I lived in Lesotho, and from what I hear, things have gotten worse since then.  Add to that the ghastly prevalence of child rape, due to the so-called 'virgin cleansing myth', and you have a recipe for nightmares.

In talks to school classes in various parts of the USA, in the twenty-odd years that I've lived here, I routinely tell girls that they should thank God they live here, rather than in the Third World.  I describe to them what life can be (and all too often is) like for women there.  Almost uniformly, they don't believe me.  They think I'm making it up, or trying to scare them.  That's why I keep articles such as this on file, to persuade them that the rest of the world is nothing like America.  However, some of them still won't believe me.

If they and their ilk go to the Third World, all too often they learn the hard way that I wasn't joking.



Doofus Of The Day #990

Today's award goes to a woman from Long Island, NY.

Authorities say a woman arriving at a Long Island court to answer a marijuana possession summons was smoking pot when she parked her vehicle in the local police chief's spot ... [She had] been ticketed in May for unlawful possession of marijuana.

Police say she was arriving for her court appearance in Northport on Monday night when she cut off an unmarked police car in the parking lot while talking on her cellphone ... she then pulled into the parking spot clearly marked as reserved for the village's police chief ... when the officers asked the woman to roll down her window, pot smoke billowed out.

There's more at the link.

Let's see . . .
  • Using a cellphone while driving?  Check.
  • Cutting off a police car while doing so?  Check.
  • Driving under the influence?  Check.
  • All this while on her way to appear in court for a previous offense?  Check.
  • And, last but not least, taking the police chief's reserved parking spot?  Check.

Under the circumstances, she couldn't possibly have been more of a doofus if she tried - or, if she could, I don't want to know about it!


Friday, December 8, 2017

Lightning as you've never seen it before

Here's some amazing photography from Dustin Farrell.  You can read more about it here.

I'll be looking at lightning in a whole new light now (you should pardon the expression!).


What did I tell you?

A few weeks ago, writing about the allegations of sexual misconduct against Roy Moore, I said:

I don't know whether the allegations against Roy Moore are true or false. Nevertheless, the way in which his accusers have chosen this, of all times, to come forward, stinks to high heaven of political opportunism, particularly given the fact that they could have done so at any time in the past four decades. The fact that some choose to believe their allegations, despite no evidence whatsoever to corroborate them, is a sign of the current moral and ethical sickness of our society.

I'm forced to conclude that political operators are capitalizing on what's been called the "Weinstein Effect", and are using it as a tool to damage Roy Moore (and presumably, in the near future, other political opponents). Unless and until hard evidence, usable in court, is presented against Roy Moore, I shall continue to believe that, rather than the allegations against him.

There's more at the link.

Well, guess what?

Beverly Young Nelson has finally admitted that she forged a portion of the infamous high school yearbook that she and attorney Gloria Allred used as proof of her accusations against U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore.

And in yet another blow to the credibility of ABC News, the disgraced, left-wing network downplayed the bombshell by presenting this admission of forgery as adding “notes” to the inscription. Worse still, the reporter actually coaches Nelson, puts words in her mouth, downplay[s] the enormous significance of her deceit.

Again, more at the link.

Like I said . . .


When the going gets tough

I often receive comments, e-mails, complaints, etc. from fans of my books, asking when the next in a series is coming out, or why I take so long between books, or whatever.  I do my best to answer them, but it's hard because they simply don't understand my circumstances, which aren't the greatest in the world as far as creativity is concerned.  A number of other writers have their own problems, too.  I've noticed more and more complaints about lack of time, lack of progress, lack of anything and everything that they need to succeed.

I therefore decided it was time to address the issue head-on.  I've done so over at Mad Genius Club this morning, in an extended article looking at my current situation, the challenges I'm facing, and what I'm doing about them.  If you've wondered why I'm not producing books fast enough to meet your expectations, you'll find much of the answer over there.  Please click over there and read it for yourself.

I'm not holding myself up as any sort of shining example, or looking for sympathy.  Life happens.  I'm doing my best to cope with it (and to stop it happening even harder, in some circumstances!).  We all are.  I'm very grateful for all my blessings, and I'll continue to try to meet your expectations.  Please be patient with me when I don't.  There are good reasons for it.