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Limiting the All Writs Act

By Tim Butler | Posted at 23:31

A very encouraging ruling today in New York concerning the All Writs Act and the government's desire to force Apple to sabotage its security model:

“Apple is not doing anything to keep law enforcement agents from conducting their investigation. Apple has not conspired with [the defendant] to make the data on his device inaccessible,’’ the judge wrote. “The government’s complaint is precisely that Apple is doing nothing at all.”

The judge also offered an opinion, which I believe is correct, on why the government would try to accomplish this through the courts rather than through new legislation:

“It is also clear that the government has made the considered decision that it is better off securing such crypto-legislative authority from the courts…rather than taking the chance that open legislative debate might produce a result less to its liking,” he wrote.

I fear legislation could easily pass in our current political climate that values security more than liberty, but it would at least be more challenging than trying to move this through the courts further away from the spotlight.

Why Anyone Who Loves Freedom Needs to Support Apple

By Tim Butler | Posted at 12:52

I tweeted this article about the severe implications of the government's request for a backdoor in Apple's products and included the comment “Imagine the 1st missionary killed in a hostile land, found via an FBI mandated backdoor. This is why Apple is right.” A friend of mine asked me on Facebook why it is so crucial Apple not be forced to create a system that would allow the unlocking of the San Bernardino terror suspect's phone. I want to answer my friend's question by exploring two different parts of the problem.

To understand where this all starts, it starts with Apple creating an encryption system that they did not have the key to unlock. After the revelations about the NSA that Edward Snowden released, Apple created such a system for a very simple reason: it became clear that the government intended to vastly exceed its constitutional surveillance powers and the only way a company like Apple could avoid becoming a collaborator was to remove itself from the key equation so that it genuinely could not access customer data. If a company has the key, the government can demand the key not only to see what a terrorist has on his or her phone, but also for other, less desirable searches like the warrantless, broad data collection the NSA has been doing over the last decade. Worse, when the government utilizes these unconstitutional powers, it imposes gag orders on the companies it interacts with so they cannot even say anything about what is happening.

It bears repeating: while there is broad support for breaking into a terrorist's phone, the only way Apple can legally avoid being made a tool for the government against all of us, not just terrorists, is to create a product that does not have a backdoor. So, Apple did the logical thing: it created a product without any backdoors. Apple is now being asked not just to “unlock” its phone, but to create a new version of its software that has an intentionally broken security system. If it exists, even if it were installed on only this one phone, we will be only a few secret FISA orders away from it being installed on thousands or millions of phones. If an iOS variant that creates a vulnerability exists, the NSA can just contact Apple six months from now and order that same backdoor be included in every iOS device the next time a software update goes out. And, it could gag Apple so that the company could not warn anyone.

Mixing Up Kindles

By Tim Butler | Posted at 1:36

The Daily Mail has a problematic article on the disruption light emitting devices can cause to sleep patterns. In part, it states:

And they [those using electronic devices] took nearly ten minutes longer to fall asleep after reading an e-reader compared to reading a printed book. They also had a lower amount of rapid eye movement sleep – a stage thought to be crucial because it is when memories are consolidated.

This seems to reflect research I have read for years. Unfortunately, the article seems to misuse the term “e-reader,” applying it to the Kindle Fire tablet — tablets were the subject being researched — and not the actual Kindle e-readers that most people would expect they are referring to. This confusion of terms led the Drudge Report to link to the piece with the title “Reading a Kindle in Bed Ruins Your Sleep.” Reading closely, however, this piece would seem to say quite the contrary: instead of showing how a Kindle ruins sleep, it would seem to argue for why e-ink e-readers like the Kindle are justifiable along side much more robust tablets. Yes, you can do more with a tablet, but e-ink displays really are much more enjoyable (and, perhaps, healthy) to read off of.

Apple Seems to Get Encryption Right

By Tim Butler | Posted at 19:52

Gruber makes a good point — the handringing that law enforcement figures are doing with regards to iOS's new encryption suggests that Apple may have successfully interfered with the government's attempts to constantly collect everyone's data. I'm encouraged.

The Texas Bible

By Tim Butler | Posted at 11:00

John Dyer writes:

Fast forward 20 years, and just about any time I teach from the Scriptures I have to point out a place where the English Bible says “you,” but the original Hebrew or Greek indicates you plural rather than you singular. This means the original author was addressing to a group of people, but a modern English reader can’t detect this because in common English we use “you” for both singular (“you are awesome”) and plural (“you are a team”). This often leads modern readers to think “you” refers to him or her as an individual, when in fact it refers to the community of faith.

Relating the Greek second person plural pronoun to “y'all” seems to be a required part of a beginning Greek class, at least if anyone in the class is from the south. Rather creative of Dyer to make a plugin to actually “fix” Bible translations so that they use it.

Did the NYT Falsify Tesla Review?

By Tim Butler | Posted at 19:36

From Tesla's Response to the New York Times report of the Tesla Model S falling short in milage:

The logs show again that our Model S never had a chance with John Broder. In the case with Top Gear, their legal defense was that they never actually said it broke down, they just implied that it could and then filmed themselves pushing what viewers did not realize was a perfectly functional car. In Mr. Broder’s case, he simply did not accurately capture what happened and worked very hard to force our car to stop running.

Surely the NYT would never allow something like this to occur on its pages.

Update: Broder provides an interesting defense against Musk's charges. I'm curious to see if anyone ever manages to determine what really happened.

The Microsoft Surface Scandal

By Tim Butler | Posted at 20:14

A brewing controversy over Microsoft's Surface and Surface Pro have gotten all the more interesting today. The Surface has been critiqued for any number of flaws, but perhaps most troubling was the fact that a 64 GB Surface only had a usable storage space about half that size (making it nearly equivalent to a 32 GB iPad in practice). The Surface Pro makes the situation even worse — the entry level 64 GB Surface Pro has only one third of its space available to the end user — a ridiculously small amount of space on a tablet allegedly intended to be used more like a notebook PC. A reasonable person might expect some small amount of space to be used by the operating system and other essentials, but creating a system where two thirds of the storage is consumed before the user even copies a single document onto the device has entered the realm of the absurd.

Thom Holwerda sums it up nicely: “When I buy a box of 100 staples, I expect it to contain ~100 staples - not 50 because the other 50 are holding the box together.”

Need a Little File Server?

By Tim Butler | Posted at 17:38

Instead of paying hundreds of dollars more for a dedicated NAS (or paying about the same for a basic, slower NAS), consider the nifty HP ProLiant N40L MicroServer, which is on sale at Newegg for $250. It is a fantastic little system and all you need to do is add FreeNAS to get something more robust for file serving and the like than what you receive in, say, a Netgear ReadyNAS. (A comparable ReadyNAS or Synology DiskStation would probably run you $450 or more.) The system can handle at least 8TB of hard disks (4×2TB), if not more, and can be upgraded to 8GB of RAM. With FreeNAS's support for ZFS and Z-RAID, you can get a very reliable, very speedy file server for very little and it is based on open standards to boot.

Cable Trounces DSL According to Netflix

By Tim Butler | Posted at 12:33

Those who have heard my recommendations for Internet service often look at me incredulously. People so universally aim hatred at cable companies, they cannot believe I would insist Charter's service is superior to that of AT&T U-Verse. While I've worked with enough installations of the two services to say that Charter's Internet service is almost universally faster and frequently cheaper, many people hate the cable company so much, they insist otherwise. That's why a new ranking chart from Netflix is so interesting.

Netflix does a lot more to stress network connections than almost anybody else as they send “over 1 billion hours” of programming to members per month. The incredible amount of data they send out also gives them a great deal of data about how well different ISPs work around the country. In those rankings, only the two major consumer fiber services (Verizon FiOS and Google Fiber) beat out Comcast and Charter in the performance race, while AT&T U-Verse ranks at a dismal 11th place and AT&T's regular DSL is even lower at the 15th spot.

This isn't surprising from a technological standpoint. Unlike fellow Bell alum Verizon, AT&T opted to save money on its next generation offering by not running fiber to individual homes, instead using traditional copper phone wiring. The same copper wiring that has been around since Alexander Graham Bell. Traditional telephone wiring is definitely showing its age and while AT&T finds itself trying to squeeze every last ounce of capacity out of those aging lines, fiber and cable providers actually have a glut of capacity that should be able to maintain speed increases for years to come.

An example might suffice: Charter's “PowerBoost” allows customers to periodically “burst” at faster speeds than what one is paying for — it isn't unusual for me to see a Charter connection hit 10Mbps faster than its advertised rate, for example. AT&T on the other hand almost never actually achieves its advertised speeds and, even if it did, its fastest package (24Mbps) is 20% slower than Charter's more affordable, standard 30Mbps package.

Food for thought next time you shop for a new Internet package.

Microsoft Surface with Windows 8

By Tim Butler | Posted at 20:01

So, Microsoft introduces a “full PC” and “tablet” combo that, in many ways, seems to be what the first Surface should have been and officially suggests it will get only about 60% of the battery life of a MacBook Air that has a larger display, includes a real keyboard and offers comparable processors, RAM and ports. Interesting.

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