Facebook 2024

I have a confession to make. Folks in North Idaho communicate with each other through Facebook. Yep, a few have their own websites, but my wife has proved to me that to keep up on activities here, you need a Facebook account.

I didn’t want to, but my local State Senator forced me into reconsidering. You see Mark Meckler, from the days of the Tea Party in California, has surfaced here in Idaho advocating for the Con-Con.

Mark Meckler

The Con-Con is a call for a Constitutional Convention. Yep, just what we need right now is to amend the U.S. Constitution. Meckler is naive enough to think that he can limit such a convention to call for a balanced budget requirement.

FYI Under the Articles of Confederation, they called for a Constitutional Convention and ended up restructuring the entire government. You see, there are zero limits on what delegates to such a gathering can do. Meckler thinks he can control the agenda. This is dumb. When have Republicans and/or Conservatives ever come out ahead when entering into a bi-partisan negotiation. Our guys typically get nothing; instead, they unilaterally surrender and then declare victory after giving away the candy store to the other side.

Meckler has much support in Idaho. The idea was voted out of committee this past week and is scheduled for a floor vote on Monday. Please understand that certain folks are trying to pull a fast one on this issue. I mean this literally. The bill was introduced in the legislature about ten days ago. Our local State Senator was soliciting constituent opinions on this issue but only via Facebook. In order to reply to the Senator, I had to do so via Facebook. As a result, I created an account.

In the aftermath of the Insurrection of January 6, 2021, when tens of thousands of unarmed people showed up in Washington to support President Trump and frightened Democrats because they feared that we will act like Black Lives Matter, I cancelled my Facebook account.

Going back many years later is a very different experience. Yes, some stuff has been moved around in their phone app, but much has also been wholly removed. Gone are political party names in profiles. Also, missing are any questions about religion. Also, gone is the bombardment of articles from liberal news outlets. Yep, stupid videos are still there but, on the surface, it is a seemingly less hostile and toxic environment than a few years ago. Oh, gone also are most of the younger generations. They seem to have moved on to Discord or TikTok.

The Facebook experience has many shortcomings. I told them that I had a wife and it showed that I had just been married the day I entered the information. They even prompted me for the wedding date, but my timeline shows that I got married a few days ago. It’s stupid. Clearly, Mr. Zuckerburg is milking this cow for money and not making the app better. It makes me wonder if they hired former management employees of Microsoft. Facebook as abandoned ware, who knew? (If you’re dumb enough to own their stock, sell now.)

Anyway, I’m back on Facebook. I think I’m up to five friends. I’m looking for quality over quantity. Concerning our blog staff, Troll please don’t send me a friend request, but the rest of the staff is welcome to look me up.

Oh, my State Senator is opposed to the Mark Meckler proposal.

EV Utopia an Illusion

Of all the things to blog about in the days leading to Christmas, I am choosing to vent about electric charging stations. No, I’m not crazy enough to buy an electric car but we did end-up with a hybrid Jeep. It gets great mileage but works differently than my wife’s old Ford. This vehicle has the ability to plug in and charge the battery.

I think the difference between the Ford and Jeep hybrids is this; the Ford’s propulsion is electric and is augmented with essentially a gas generator while the Jeep is run by the gas engine which is helped by the electric battery.

Anyway, since we don’t have a garage, we have no place in Idaho to charge the Jeep. Plugging it into 120 VAC takes over 15 hours. The token charging station in our area does not have a compatible plug. This I am learning is a common problem.

Anyway, since we are visiting relatives at Christmas time, I thought we could try charging the battery at least once during the trip. At a stop in Oregon, we encountered three charging stations. Each station had two different plug ends. Yep, six different plug options. The second station was out of order. As a result, we couldn’t charge our Jeep. Station two, the one out of order, had the only correct plug. Strike One.

After we entered the once Golden State, we made our way to see an old high school friend. Said friend had previously owned two electric Chevy’s. His plug was on a 25-foot cord and fit the Jeep. During our visit, we got the battery up to 81 percent charged.

Once we arrived in the East Bay Area, we thought surely, we could find a charger here. We literally looked at about two dozen stations. The only ones we could find that fit our Jeep were out of order. Most of the others were attached to Teslas. Strikes two and three.

So, we have yet to get a full charge on the battery and as things stand now, we won’t on this trip. I only want to charge it once in a while to keep the battery in working order.

This points out the stupidity of forcing everyone into electric cars. Vehicle plugs are not standardized, the charging stations are often broken, and there’s just not enough to make the technology viable. My car doesn’t need to be charged in order to run but if the technology is available why can’t I use it?

Cord Cutting in North Idaho

Back when we lived in “the state that shall not be named”, one option for people cutting the cord was over the air television; however, here in North Idaho that option may not be available. I say “may” because I don’t really know and have yet to get an authoritative answer. Nobody that I have met here talks about television and virtually nobody has an antenna on their house (except the old abandoned one down the road from us).

I checked a few antenna apps on my phone, and they rendered very different results. One by RCA says that we might get one channel while another says we might get as many as 29. A few websites claiming to know give yet other results between these two numbers.

At least part of the confusion seems to be the issue of “line of sight.” Here, “line of sight” to any media market broadcast signal is zero. Mountains prevent line-of-sight and digital signals don’t get to bounce off the atmosphere the way their analog predecessors did. Instead, any signal here will be available as the result of a repeater.

My wife misses her Gordon Ramsey shows so I still have incentive to figure this out. I’d rather not subscribe to Hulu again now that it is owned by Disney. Disney took over 100 percent of Hulu’s ownership by buying out Comcast at the end of last month. I considered a Fox subscription but again, this is likely a Disney property by another name. Figuring out what is really Fox and what is Disney is a murky proposition.

I decided to try an experiment just to see if broadcast television was available here. I bought an antenna at Wally World and attached it to a long board and stuck it up in the air. I ran a coax cable to our TV. Surprise, I got stations, but my signal strength was about 60 percent. I tried routing the television signal through our over the air TiVo that we had previously used and got bubkes. TiVo needs a signal strength over 90 percent, or it will not function; thus, it was just an out-of-date brick. Siad brick was sent to the landfill.

So, is Broadcast TV Available in North Idaho? The short answer is yes.

Here is how to receive live broadcast TV and record it using your computer as a DVR (digital video recorder).

First download the Antenna Point app on your phone. It will show you where to point your directional antenna—most of them that you will purchase are this type. In my case it was south and slightly west. The app cost was free because they are hoping to sell you one of their antennas.

As mentioned above, I bought my antenna at Wally World in Sandpoint. It had a range of about 70 miles. The enclosed amplifier didn’t make any difference in my signal strength testing, so I didn’t use it in the final install. The antenna cost was about $70.

I made a 15-foot antenna mast and attached it to our utility shed. On Amazon search for 5′ Ft Galvanized Steel Antenna. I bought three of the 5-foot pipes. I didn’t want a traditional antenna because they wanted guy wires and a concrete base or attachment to your roof and guy wires.

To attach my antenna mast I also bought Skywalker 6” Heavy-Duty Wall Mount brackets.

The mast pipes were $18 each and brackets were $25.

I hooked-up a 100’ outdoor coax cable to the antenna, ran it under my house, and up to my Internet router. Search for 100′ Feet, White RG6 Coaxial Cable. The  cost was $25.

Then on Amazon I purchased a tv tuner gizmo that connects to your internet router. Search for SiliconDust HDHomeRun Flex 4K ATSC 3.0 NextGen TV: 2/4 Tuners HDFX-4K. This tuner can get up to four stations simultaneously. It is the best you can buy and works with Plex Server software. More on that in a minute. The tuner price was $200.

After researching, I decided to go with a Plex Server since it can be purchased for a flat fee and is playable on just about any device that you might own including PC, tablet, smart phone, smart tv, etc. Plex Server is software that can be run on Mac, Windows, or Linux systems. Generally, it works on Intel and AMD CPU’s but not ARM processors. Plex will auto-sense the TV gizmo that I recommended above. It is connected in the Plex app under Live TV setup. Enter your zip code and you’re mostly done. Once the TV guide is updated, just click show you want to record. Plex will also play any movies saved on your device whether ripped commercial movies or ones stored on your device that were made by a camera or smart phone. Lifetime Plex subscription is $120. This includes all tv listings and many other features. Search the internet for how-to instructions or help with any questions. Setting up any music, photo, or video libraries should be done prior to connecting them to the Plex Sever.

Total project cost was $500. Now my wife can DVR Gordon Ramsey shows and not subscribe to Fox’ streaming service.

Oh, we get the following 29 channels; 25 of which are unique:

StationHD Channel Number
CBS2.1
True Crime Network2.2
Court TV2.3
Twist2.4
Get2.6
Comet2.8
ABC4.1
Me TV4.2
H & I4.3
Start TV4.4
Dabl4.5
NBC6.1
KHQDT26.2
KHQDT36.3
PBS7.1
World7.2
Create7.3
PBS Kids7.4
CW22.1
Laff22.2
Quest22.3
This22.4
The Grio22.5
PBS26.1
PBS26.2
Create26.3
World26.4
Fox28.1
Antenna TV28.2

The PBS related stations appear to be in different cities but much of the programming is the same, except broadcast times vary. Also, KHQDT3 seems to be nonexistent.

So, Yes Virgina, there is broadcast television in North Idaho. Whether it is worth your time is a decision only you can make.

Oh, lastly, if you do go the Plex route, please tweak your recording options before you try recording something important. I had to dial back the quality just a tad to get the live TV to record and sync audio and video correctly. Snow is in the forecast for next week, so I have yet to learn how much ice and snow affect the TV signal.

Two Reactions to the Same Type Disaster

The purpose of this blog is to show the affect television and internet have on people’s lives in regard to natural disasters.  These are the reactions of one man I work with.

First, we start with the Oroville Dam spillway several years ago in 2017.  The CA Dept of Water Resources, when there was first reported to be trouble, downplayed it, or put out very odd press releases to re-assure the public there were no issues.  DWR had to shut down the spillways due to damage, but continued to put out press releases that all was well.  I do not know about you guys, but I have never heard of any government organization putting out a press release essentially saying “all is ok” when something bad isn’t brewing.  When it comes to a dam, common sense says, if the spillways are closed, water is building up behind it.  Put into English, the water will need to go somewhere, and the object standing in its way is causing it to build higher.

Oroville Dam emergency spillway on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017, the day officials warned that the spillway was in danger of failing. More than 180,000 people downstream were told to evacuate. (Gonzalo “PeeWee” Curiel/For the Chico Enterprise-Record)

I casually mentioned this to a colleague, he shouted me down saying he saw on the news all was well.  I Googled and found the clip on YouTube that he referenced.  It was a man who claimed to be in charge of emergency services, not DWR, also the interview was taking place in Sacramento, not Oroville where the dam is located.  But hey, “Honey we are fine, the man on TV says so.”  “He is from the government, and he is here to help!”

Over the next 7 days, stories would appear on my Yahoo.com feed.  The biggest was one saying “DWR was evacuating the fish from the hatchery located at the dam’s base.  But again, nothing for us to worry about, this is normal…I guess?  On February 10th crews began removing trees from around the emergency spillway.  Seems really fishy because in CA I believe cutting down a tree may make you eligible for the death penalty.  Also, the environmentalists were dead silent on this tree removal operation, telling me something was really not good.    Not to worry, Alfred E Newman at my office said he hasn’t seen anything bad reported yet.

Two days later, evacuation orders were made for the counties surrounding the area near the dam.  This happened on a workday around 10 am.  The colleague of mine took a call from his spouse, in the breakroom, said “oh my God, we need to head for safety.”  He walked out, and declared everything was ok, and he was going to work from home.  On his way out, I said “hope you survive this Armageddon predicted by me earlier.”

Keep in mind readers, Oroville is 1.4 hours away from our headquarters by car.  Moreover, the land between here and Oroville is literally flat, spread-out farmland.  I dated a girl in college who was from that area, and when I visited it was yeah, flat farmland, it could easily flood and barely anyone would notice.  Another pro tip, her father like many others in the area grew rice, a crop that quite literally can sit in flooded fields for months.  My point being by the time the water reached Sacramento, let alone my office or house, the stream would be moving at a glacial trickle pace.

He freaked out, got into a car and decided to drive.  Yup, Mr. I ain’t never scared, booked it out of town.  Nothing ever came of this situation by the way.

The second scenario involves the “atmospheric rivers” our area has experienced since New Year’s Eve.  There have been 3 in total.  Prior to the first storm, my colleague made it clear he was very scared of the storms.  As I tried to explain, the storm they are describing is mostly wind, the rain happens in large amounts very quickly, but it’s nothing our systems cannot handle.  Of course, I’m not on TV so my words were not taken at all.  Instead, he relied on meteorologists and articles written online, aka news.  The news is supposed to do 1 thing, mostly like a shock jock of yesteryear, its job is to stir people up and create panic/ratings.  If it bleeds it leads is still true today.

On all three occasions he freaked out, spouting cable news BS of the levees could fail etc. etc. etc.  Keep in mind he is about 32 years older than me, yet he reacts like a toddler who dropped his ice cream cone.  He packed his belongings, and headed to Patterson, yes as in an area that usually floods each time there is heavy rain and runoff.  But its ok, the news people on TV told him to flee.

On all three occasions, we did get rain, but not too much.  Yes, the normal areas flooded, Wilton, Discovery Park, and some other creeks in the area.  The bypass area flooded, but all these scenarios happen each time we experience significant rains.  The areas ordered to evacuate are very very rural and surprise, they have to evacuate every time this happens.  Wind damage occurred, and yes trees were toppled, fences were downed, but no massive loss of life or damage.

My point here is the same one I have made quite a few times.  Ditch cable.  Look at the two scenarios again, in the first, TV said all was well, it was not.  The second?  Made it seem like we were in Biblical times and an ark was needed to survive this.  Nothing happened.  The freak out that occurred was unfounded and unnecessary.

Keep watching TV and the next thing to freak out about will get you scared.  Anyone remember the “murder hornets” during the pandemic?  I’m still waiting for them to show up.

Johnny Does

Upgrading Dell Alienware m17 R5 Laptop Hard Drive

I bought a nice laptop that will end up going to college with my son.

Here are a few of the features of the Alienware m17 R5 AMD:

  • CPU: AMD Ryzen (TM) 9 6900HX (8-Core /16 Thread, 20MB Cache, up to 4.9 GHz max boost)
  • RAM: 32 GB (2) 16 GB DIMM, DDR5
  • Video: AMD Radeon (TM) RX 6850M XT 12 GB GDDR6
  • Hard Drive: 1TB M.2 PCIe NVMe Solid State Drive

The specifications are good except for the Hard Drive which is puny by today’s standards. I decided to upgrade it. The laptop motherboard supports the 4th generation NVMe type hard drives. These little guys are smaller than a stick of Wrigley’s chewing gum, measuring about three inches long by one inch wide and about as thick as a nickel.

NVME Hard Drive

They are 48 times as fast as a standard mechanical hard drive. What’s the old saying about dynamite and small packages?

Anyway, what I discovered is that the laptop will support two hard drives; however, the documentation says that drive one can be up to 4 TB while the second drive can only be 2 TB. As a result, I opted to get a 4 TB drive by Western Digital. I bought it on Amazon before I got too mad at them for not refunding the money I had spent on my electric razor—which by the way has still not been refunded yet.

WD_BLACK 4TB SN850X NVMe Internal Gaming SSD Solid State Drive – Gen4 PCIe, M.2 2280, Up to 7,300 MB/s – WDS400T2X0E

M.2 is the slot size on the motherboard and 2280 is the size of the hard drive circuit board.

These drives cost over $1,200 from Dell but are $399.99 from Amazon and Newegg and similar places.

What I am slowly learning is buy lower specifications from Dell and then upgrade them to your heart’s delight. At least with their Alienware computers, upgrading them yourself does not void the manufacturer warrant.

One purpose of this blog is to document a few things missing in many of the instructions-written or on video—that are necessary to do this upgrade.

One reason to get the Western Digital drive is for the software. Which I will start to explain now.

Before upgrading the drive, it needs to be cloned otherwise you will need to do a full install of Windows and all other software. Alienware software is a royal pain to install.

Western Digital provides a free copy of Acronis software, the caveat of course is that it can detect at least one Western Digital drive in the computer. As a result, you need an enclosure to house your M.2 drive so it can be cloned. The one I bought connects via USB-C. There just so happens to be a USB-C port on the back of the Alienware PC. Once attached, you must partition or initialize the drive and/or format it.

Then install the Acronis software and clone the drive. In my case, this took about 8 minutes to clone the 1 TB drive. (Please note that my drive was not full so your mileage may vary.) Then shut off the computer.

One of the unique things about this laptop is that it never truly shuts off. Furthermore, the battery is not removable.

In the old days, you typically just opened a small cover on the bottom of a laptop to upgrade RAM or hard drives. These designs often had a quick release to remove the battery. Neither is the case with the Alienware laptop. No, you have to remove the entire bottom of the laptop.

Please note when doing this that many of the screws remain attached to the bottom cover and are not fully removed from the cover.

Second, the cover will not willingly come off once screws are removed.

When working on the laptop, I had the vented area at the bottom and the area near the touch pad at the top. There are eight screws that must be loosened. Four across the top, two in the middle, and two on the bottom. Circled in red in my photos.

Screws 1, 4, 5, and 6 will loosen but not be removed from the cover while screws 2, 3, 7, and 8 will come completely out.

At this point the cover will still not come loose. This next step is not shown on videos or in written instructions. You need a small flat head or standard jeweler sized screw driver. You must gently separate the cover from the rest of the laptop.

Be gentle or you will scratch the plastic cover. Start on the sides near the openings for USB or HDMI cables. Once these begin to separate work in both directions until cover is loose. Again, be gentle. You only need the halves to separate slightly. Once you have worked all the way around the outside edges of the cover, pull and it should come apart.

Once cover is off, gentle disconnect the battery from the motherboard. This connector (labelled MB) is circled in green. It slides toward battery to remove. Failure to do this step may result in destroying the hard drive or other components in the computer.

Oh, another undocumented thing is that both M.2 slots come with their own heatsink. So don’t fret about buying one either with the drive (only available for 2 TB model) or from a third party vendor.

The drive slot on the right is the C Drive. Again, the new drive can be up to 4 TB.

Remove the cloned drive from the enclosure and replace the factory drive with your new one.

Due to the heatsink, you must remove two screws instead of the customary one on the NVMe M.2 drive. Seat the drive and replace the screws.

Reconnect the battery and then close the cover.

When booting the new drive, I was taken to the BIOS program and asked to set the time before it would boot. After that it should behave normally.

Lastly, Western Digital also has another program (Western Digital Dashboard) that you can install to help with the drive once it is running. I recommend installing that.

Is Nothing Private Any More

The good news is that we finally got insurance for our future retirement house. They offered us a discount to add our car on the policy, so we agreed.

That was last week. Today I was greeted with the following package in my mailbox.

In it was the “Drive Safe & Save” gizmo. It is a Bluetooth device that they want you to pair with your phone and keep in your vehicle. Yep, they want you to voluntarily let them track your every movement in exchange for an auto insurance discount.

Sorry fellas but I’m not playing. It’s bad enough that Big Tech is tracking me, and I didn’t volunteer or agree to that, but they make me do it to get a cell phone. Oh, as a bonus, China gets to track me too and gets copies of my text messages and address book on a regular basis, oh, notice that Tim Cook, et al., don’t block the Communists from having the same data on me that they have. Our government is next in line and getting us to agree to this Bluetooth device is just an incremental step in imposing a mileage tax on us because who wants their odometer read?

Oh, on the subject of privacy, why is it that it takes a daily newspaper in Texas to inform us that UC Davis is monitoring all their student’s social media activity?

DAVIS — An investigation by The Dallas Morning News revealed UC Davis is among several schools across the country using social media-monitoring software to keep track of students’ online posts.

UC Davis police using software to track students’ social media posts

The Dallas Morning News reports that “Detect” can also allow campus police to surveil student protests. The surveillance strikes a chord with UC Davis students as they remember the impact of an incident over a decade ago. In 2011, student protesters with the Occupy movement were pepper-sprayed by campus police.

The software can track student email, movement, friends and associates, posts, and more. The software vendor claims to have thousands of schools in 36 different states as customers.

The article appears in many places such as these:

Tracked: How colleges use AI to monitor student protests

Tracked: How Colleges Use AI To Monitor Student Protests

An older but similar story

Texas schools are surveilling students online, often without their knowledge or consent

I promise this information will be abused but anyone with a brain will not admit how they use it. Perhaps we are seeing a glimpse into what gets you into the college when they don’t use SAT or other academic criteria.

Oh, even without all the above, here’s what I call “an admission against interest” from a hiring manager that was reposted on GAB a few days ago.

Evil Hiring Manager

Escaping California Plans Progressing

My family’s plans to escape California took several big steps forward this past week.

First, we are getting proper access to our property installed from the main road by a contractor that we hired. The driveway should be completed in a few weeks. The house plans are slated to be ready soon as well.

We also took steps to get utilities installed on the property. The final price is unknown but the local government overseeing everything has had their preliminary fees paid to do the necessary engineering. We also met with the person installing electrical service to the property. Unlike California, where we are moving, hydroelectric is considered a reliable renewable energy source.

As part of our plan, I have accepted a promotion with a new agency, the dreaded Employment Development Department (EDD). Per conversations with some folks working there, it’s supposed to be an improvement from where I was before. The only concerning part is that the interview process was very minimal which makes me think they are just throwing as many people as they can at their problems. It is a “limited term” assignment which means I could be there 12 to 24 months, unless they convert me to permanent. I’d settle for the 24-month option. It will be more pay which of course will allow me to get more when I retire in two years …such a bargain.

I find it funny that after all these months of working from home, two weeks before I leave my current agency, I finally was issued the official department laptop. This laptop from Dell is perfectly fine, or it was before the IT department got ahold of it. Folks, I’m a better IT guy than almost anyone they have on their payroll. After years of trying to get hired by them, I finally gave up. Anyway, the laptop that I was issued was missing the accounting program and the VPN (Virtual Private Network) software. I had to get our building’s IT guy to install the programs. When I got it home and tried to use it, I found even more problems. The IT department stripped out the default Windows Power Plans and set it to use one of their own design. The max CPU usage I can get out of the thing is about 15 percent. My Excel program tops out at 2 percent CPU usage when under load and running macros in Excel. My Windows XP box from ten years ago was faster. Due to all the Group Policies, poor patching, and other nonsense, this thing is 85 percent brick and 15 percent computer. Oh, i7 processor and 16 GB of RAM should be faster. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think it was a 32-bit OS. The IT guy tried to remote in and fix it, but he doesn’t even know that Windows has Power Plans or how to configure them. Oh, this thing is so slow that web pages won’t resolve because they time-out’ thus looking for help on the Internet is impossible with this machine.

Also, there is no antivirus program on the laptop. I should have McAfee End Point Enterprise AV but that too is missing.

When transferring to the laptop, I abandoned about 90 percent of the files on my desktop machine and only transferred a few working files, and my photos and podcasts that I had accumulated over the last ten years. It’s a good thing I didn’t try to transfer everything. I have about 250 GB of data on my desktop and the laptop SSD is about 250 GB so it wouldn’t all fit anyway.

In light of my impending move to EDD, my question was how to get my personal stuff off of the laptop. Over the years the IT guys have gradually blocked thumb drives, DVD burners, and cell phones. I tried file transfer via network and Bluetooth but that didn’t work. Since I can’t get webpages to resolve, I couldn’t even use email to move anything. I know BIT Locker has been hacked but I had decided not to brute force any solution.  I had about 50 podcasts and about 25 GB in photos that I wanted to move plus a few other odds and ends. (In most cases, the photos were copies that I probably had elsewhere but I wanted to compare them to my master copy on my home computer before deleting them.) I did many web searches on my desktop computer before I found a solution that worked. Thankfully, the IT guys don’t run Windows 10 in the real world so what I did was use something already baked into the OS.

Here is the solution that I found:

On both your home computer and the laptop, go to Setting > Shared Experiences and turn on both sharing buttons.

Then in Windows Explorer you can select files and broadcast them from one machine to another. I found that this usually worked but I was limited to about 14 files at a time. To move 25 GBs of photos at this rate would take forever. As a workaround for this file limit, I found that I could zip a whole directory of photos and transfer them as one file. I was able to move 8.5 GB of photos in a single zip file. I then deleted the stuff on the laptop. I recommend that you add Shared Experiences to your toolbox of things to consider as a method for moving files. The speed is limited only by your Wi-Fi.

See Solution 3 at this link

I’m trying to tie up a few other loose ends before leaving my current agency but its time for a change. I just hope this is the right move.

Microsoft Involved in Second Major Security Breach This Year

Yep, if you thought the “Velvet Sweatshop,” as their employees call Microsoft, was in the clear after plugging holes in the mega security breach of SolarWinds, you would be wrong. Yesterday, I saw this article reporting another huge securing breach, this time by China. (FYI that I know of, no one has taken credit for SolarWinds.)

The quiet release of an out of band patch for a flaw in Microsoft’s Exchange server is rapidly turning into a major story, with credible reports of at least 30,000 organizations in the USA, and possibly hundreds of thousands around the world, being hacked by a Chinese hacker group, who now has full control of the servers and the data on them.

Microsoft Exchange flaw may have led to 30,000+ US organizations being hacked

For those that don’t know, Microsoft Exchange is their flagship email server software.

Krebs on Security reports that a significant number of small businesses, towns, cities and local governments have been infected, with the hackers leaving behind a web shell for further command and control.

Microsoft said the original attacks were targetted at a range of industry sectors, including infectious disease researchers, law firms, higher education institutions, defense contractors, policy think tanks, and NGOs, but Krebs notes that there has been a dramatic and aggressive escalation of the rate of infection, as the hackers try and stay ahead of the patch Microsoft released.

“We’ve worked on dozens of cases so far where web shells were put on the victim system back on Feb. 28 [before Microsoft announced its patches], all the way up to today,” said Volexity President Steven Adair, who discovered the attack . “Even if you patched the same day Microsoft published its patches, there’s still a high chance there is a web shell on your server. The truth is, if you’re running Exchange and you haven’t patched this yet, there’s a very high chance that your organization is already compromised.”

“It’s police departments, hospitals, tons of city and state governments and credit unions,” said one source who’s working closely with federal officials on the matter. “Just about everyone who’s running self-hosted Outlook Web Access and wasn’t patched as of a few days ago got hit with a zero-day attack.”

Folks, this is a really big deal but unless you read tech blogs, I doubt you’ve heard about this. Again, this breach includes schools, police departments, hospitals, financial institutions, and businesses. I encourage you to read the article which I linked above. I suspect we will hear more about this breach before long. Oh, and if you don’t that doesn’t mean everything is better.

Don’t forget that whatever the outcome of this most recent breach, your smart phones are sending all your text messages, address books, location, and other data to both China and Big Tech on a regular basis. Your privacy is an illusion in a digitally dependent world. How people use the information they are collecting is probably above my paygrade. If knowledge is power, then we’re likely in trouble…

February Thoughts on forming the Ministry of Truth

Folks, if you want to see what’s likely on tap for your digital future, then one country to watch is Australia. Australia is doing many things differently than we are, but many of the tech companies in the United States are wanting to see their policies adopted here.

First, in Australia, Microsoft and Google are in a fight about a proposed policy that directly affects online news articles.

February 11, 2021

Australia is currently in the process of passing regulation which would force Google and Facebook to pay publishers for linking to their news articles, a controversial proposal which appears to go against the whole ethos of the web, which is in the end all about linking to pages for free. Importantly Australia would not allow Google to avoid paying the newspapers by simple delisting them from their index.

Microsoft says the controversial Australian link tax should come to USA, explains why

In the blog post, Smith explains the 4th Estate is a very important element in democracy, and that the weakness of news organizations and the strength of social media is what resulted in Donald Trump being able to convince tens of millions of Americans that he won the election he actually lost.

“It was far from unusual for a losing candidate to request a recount or take a dispute to court – both parts of the democratic process,” Smith noted, “But, this year, even after losing more than 50 lawsuits in a row, President Trump waged a sustained campaign that successfully persuaded tens of millions of his supporters that the election was rigged. Without this sustained disinformation barrage, it’s hard to imagine that January 6 would have become such a tragic day.”

Smith notes that while Google and Facebook has generated billions in revenue from aggregating news,  since 2000, newsroom revenue in the United States has fallen by 70% and employment has been cut in half. More than 2,000 newspapers have closed entirely. In many places, local news has been decimated.  The majority now got their news (and disinformation) from social media, often only reading the headlines and not even clicking through to the news website.

Microsoft notes that news publications have been powerless to fight back, due to the monopoly position of Google and Facebook, but that Microsoft has always supported paying publishers for news and that they are well prepared to do this on a large scale if they gain market share.

February 15, 2021

Microsoft has turned into one of the most ardent advocates for the proposed Australian media code, which would see Google and Facebook pay news publications a share of their profits.

The proposal has been called a link tax which would break the internet, but Microsoft insists funding newspapers is important for the health of democracy and fighting fake news.

Microsoft offers myth-busting FAQ on anti-Google Australian news tax

Conceptually it is easier to think of the proposal as a tax on Google and Facebook, similar to the TV License in UK, where TV owners have to pay a £157.50 tax per year to support public access TV and news. In this case, the tax is being directed to trillion-dollar companies rather than the citizens of the country, and the benefit would be spread wider than simply the state publisher.

The FAQ does not address concerns that the proposal would fund newspapers which are equally involved in spreading fake news as Moldovian content farms and that it would place the power to decide which news outlet succeeds or fails in the hand of the government rather than the market.

February 17, 2021

In response to Australia’s proposed new Media Bargaining law, Facebook today announced that it will block publishers and users in Australia from sharing or viewing news content. This is applicable for both Australian and international news content. The proposed law will force platform providers like Google and Facebook to pay news publishers for using their content. To continue operating Google search in Australia, Google today signed an agreement with News Corporation for sharing the revenue obtained through news content. However, Facebook refused to sign any such deal citing the below reasons.

Facebook will restrict publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing news content
FAANG is Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google

Second, Australia is putting together a coalition of corporations to fight fake news.

February 22, 2021

Microsoft today announced that it is partnering with Adobe, Arm, BBC, Intel and Truepic to form the Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity (C2PA). C2PA is a Joint Development Foundation project formed to address the prevalence of disinformation, misinformation and online content fraud through developing technical standards for certifying the source and history or provenance of media content.

Microsoft partners with Adobe, BBC and others to battle against disinformation

“There’s a critical need to address widespread deception in online content — now supercharged by advances in AI and graphics and diffused rapidly via the internet. Our imperative as researchers and technologists is to create and refine technical and sociotechnical approaches to this grand challenge of our time. We’re excited about methods for certifying the origin and provenance of online content. It’s an honor to work alongside Adobe, BBC and other C2PA members to take this critical work to the next step,” said Eric Horvitz, Chief Scientific Officer and Project Origin executive sponsor, Microsoft.

The major technology companies and social networks in Austalia have signed up for the Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation, a voluntary code of practice by the Digital Industry Group Inc (DiGi), a non-profit industry association advocating for the digital industry in Australia.

Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Twitter sign up for Australian misinformation code

The code has 7 key principles:

  • Protection of freedom of expression:
  • Protection of user privacy:
  • Policies and processes concerning advertising placements:
  • Empowering users:
  • Integrity and security of services and products:
  • Supporting independent researchers:
  • Without prejudice commitments:

The policy was developed at the request of the Australian government and will be reviewed in 12 months.  Companies involved are required to have a working complaints procedure in place within 6 months. The code excludes private messaging services, email services, and enterprise services. Notably, it also excludes content authorised by an Australian state or federal government; political advertising or content authorised by a political party registered under Australian law.

Folks, please read the links of these stories if you want more information.

What you are beginning to see is that Big Tech is setting themselves up as the arbitrators of all truth. While some of the things mentioned above, sound good and perhaps even noble, the bottom line is that tech companies are deciding what information that you can or cannot access. Microsoft has kept a lower profile than other companies, but they are right there with the FAANG companies and Twitter.

Fake News

Before I go further, it will be helpful to note that the concept of fake news is not monolithic. There are several different types of fake news. Here are a few examples:

Microsoft often talks about the potential for fake news using digital manipulation. Think the movie Looker (1981) or Carrie Fisher being digitally added to Star Wars after her death. What if a video of a politician was faked for the purposes of fomenting rebellion or aiding the point of view of a media outlet hating said politician? Wouldn’t that be bad? In theory yes, unless its Donald Trump.

Click on link for video

But Microsoft is envisioning a video technology or capability that is even more manipulated than that of Trump or Carrie Fisher. What if we entered an era when no one would trust what they see? We are a very visual society, if people don’t see something, it is not real to them but what if someone took advantage of that?

Another type of fake news is the good ‘ole Dan Rather using Microsoft Word kind. For those too young to remember, Dan Rather faked a memo about then President George W. Bush in an effort to influence the 2004 Presidential election.

Dan Rather CBS news

“Rathergate” is the derisive term applied to a set of four documents allegedly written by the former commanding officer of President George W. Bush in the early 1970s, and broadcast on the CBS program 60 Minutes Wednesday, September 8, 2004. The resultant exposure of these documents as forgeries, coupled with a lack of proper news investigating techniques, led to the ouster of four senior producers at CBS several months later, as well as the departure of long-time anchorman Dan Rather, for whom the scandal was named. Because of this, the event was also infamous for coining the phrase “fake but accurate”, referring to Fake news.

Rathergate

See also:

The Truth About Dan Rather’s Deceptive Reporting on George W. Bush

Dan Rather Should Shut Up about Memos

Sometimes fake news is just a refusal/denial to acknowledge something is true because it might be perceived as either hurting the side you support or benefitting someone that you disagree with. Instead of “We report, you decide” becomes “We decide, then report”. Or as Steve Taylor sang in Meat the Press (1983):

When the godless chair the judgment seat

We can thank the godless media elite

They can silence those who fall from their grace

With a note that says “we haven’t the space”

So fake news is sometimes the sin of commission or conversely the sin of omission; both are equally fatal for the person trying to make an informed decision. As I’ve stated before, without agreeing to the same set of information (or facts) we can’t have a dialogue, debate, or discussion about anything.

I’m not against polarization when it comes to certain issues. Some things just have no middle ground. As Gary North is fond of pointing out, a posture of neutrality is an illusion where one side tries to gain the upper hand on the other.  The important things in life ultimately come down to the broad way or the narrow way. Lesser things can be negotiated or reduced to personal preference.

What bothers me about the fake news debate is that the purveyors of fake news have appointed themselves as the arbitrators of what is fake news; thus, when the fox places itself in charge of the henhouse, there can be only one outcome.

Let’s look at the previous election

To the is day, not a single liberal will admit to any voter fraud in any state during the 2020 presidential election. This is an unreasonable and unrealistic claim. There is always voter fraud. The question is whether it is widespread, systemic, organized, and enough to sway the outcome.

When liberals claim there is no voter fraud, it just doesn’t compute. Look at it this way, “The results after Michigan’s 83 counties finished canvassing showed Mr. Biden beating Mr. Trump by over 154,000 votes.” and then a few months after the election, comes a court victory with this headline: Michigan Removes 177,000 Voters From Voter Rolls After Legal Challenge Why am I the bad guy when I see such things and say it doesn’t pass the smell test?

If Michigan and other states would voluntarily clean their voter rolls on a regular basis then we conservatives would have more faith in the system; however, the reality is that it takes years of lawsuits to force Secretary’s of State in Democrat controlled states to do their job. Oh, and even prevailing in court is no guarantee that the voter rolls are ever cleaned up.

Folks, I know that California does not care about election integrity or keeping clean voter rolls. As long as Democrats continue to win elections, there will be no meaningful election reform in the once golden state.

Prior to the election, was this report from Judicial Watch:

New Judicial Watch Study Finds 353 U.S. Counties in 29 States with Voter Registration Rates Exceeding 100%

Media Matters and other groups on the left, throw hammers at Judicial Watch but where it counts, Judicial Watch wins.

The lawsuit confirmed that Los Angeles County has on its rolls more than 1.5 million potentially ineligible voters. This means that more than one out of every five LA County registrations likely belongs to a voter who has moved or is deceased. Judicial Watch notes that “Los Angeles County has the highest number of inactive registrations of any single county in the country.”

The Judicial Watch lawsuit also uncovered that neither the State of California nor Los Angeles County had been removing inactive voters from the voter registration rolls for the past 20 years.

California and Los Angeles County to Remove 1.5 Million Inactive Voters from Voter Rolls – Settle Judicial Watch Federal Lawsuit

Please note the last line in the quote above, California voter rolls have not been cleaned up in over 20 years which I’m willing to bet was the last time a Republican was Secretary of State.

Meanwhile, after a brief internet search…

Yep, it was Bill Jones, the last Republican to win the office of California Secretary of State. Jones served from 1995 – 2003.

Bill Jones 1995

This allows me to circle back to a claim made by Brad Smith, “… even after losing more than 50 lawsuits in a row, President Trump waged a sustained campaign that successfully persuaded tens of millions of his supporters that the election was rigged.”

Folks, Trump lost zero trials on the voter fraud issue because none was ever heard in court. Even the Supreme Court has taken a pass on this issue. The courts refused because they view this as a political issue and since the election is over, it’s a moot point. Thus, no determination is or will be made on election fraud or if it was significant enough to change the election outcome. I think the federal courts are taking a pass on this not due to the substance of the issue, but because they know that if the case is heard, it will be used politically as a way to even further politicize the court system and make it even less independent than it is now. Packing the court is a likely outcome of any judicial relief granted to Trump. Also, I don’t think the courts are comfortable being the arbiters of last resort in Presidential elections.

If during the first two years of the Trump administration, a national system or standard was set for vote I.D. in federal elections, I think the outcome would have been different last November. But when the leadership on both sides of the political aisle are all in very safe seats then little incentive exists to fix a very broken system. Oh, and yes, I would prefer a state solution over a federal one but see my comments above on California. No chance it ever happens here.

Conclusion

Much of the time, fake news is in the eye of the beholder. We see what we want and ignore much of the rest. This trend will continue into the future. Soon we will go from memes with fake quotes and funny captions to fake videos with words never uttered. Discerning truth will become more difficult. Look for some to just give up on trying and resort to feelings to guide them—half our population is predisposed to do this already. “Trust your feelings Luke.” Those of us that believe there is only one Truth will become fewer.

I know that digital information will be even more scattered and fragmented in the future. As our culture becomes more splintered and fragmented, we become even more isolated, even living amongst other people. Sin divides us from God, His creation, our fellow man, and ourselves.

More and more you will hear some variation of the mantra, “you have your truth and I have mine.” Or the sugarcoated Disney version of “follow your heart.” This is a lie. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9

 There is only One Truth. Denial of its reality does not change Reality. Believing faerie tales like there are more than two genders, or evolution explains creation, or abortion is not murder, or “gay marriage” only proves your denial, self-delusion, and spiritual blindness.

The controversy over fake news is a microcosm or a much larger battle; a spiritual one.

Here’s what our future looks like unless we change our ways. Take a look at Deuteronomy 28 starting at verse 15.

Below are a few selections from this passage:

The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You will come at them from one direction but flee from them in seven, and you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth.

The LORD will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him.

The LORD will afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind.

You will become a thing of horror, a byword and an object of ridicule among all the peoples where the LORD will drive you.

The foreigners who reside among you will rise above you higher and higher, but you will sink lower and lower. They will lend to you, but you will not lend to them. They will be the head, but you will be the tail.

Just as it pleased the LORD to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods—gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your ancestors have known. Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot.

There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life.

The good news is the God has promised believers that His Spirit will lead you into all Truth. Only God can cut through all the “white noise” in our culture and give you the wisdom to discern which spirits of our age should be shunned or followed.

Trusting in Big Tech to decide what’s best for us is just another name for tyranny. That Big Tech wants to work hand-in-hand with big government instead of hold government accountable, is no surprise. In a way, this marriage of convenience; looks to be the ideal power couple… for now.

Quick Note on Disney’s Star Wars Library

The family voted to get one month of Disney Plus to watch the Mandalorian and see what else that they have to offer. We did a quick binge on the Marvel movies less anything Spider-Man (Sony stills owns the rights so not much Peter Parker on the Mouse channel) and then moved on to Star Wars.

Folks, the Star Wars franchise is one that editors tweak on a regular basis. Even before Disney bought the franchise from George Lucas, the original trilogy had been released in at least three different edits. As a rule, each of the edits added more special effects and content to the films. When Disney bought the franchise, they promptly killed-off almost every spin-off, series, or story idea marketed during the thirty or so years that Lucas owned the rights. In effect, Disney purged the “Star Wars cannon” so they could make the new Star Wars universe in their image—oh and market the crap out of the galaxy far, far away…

The latest trilogy—episodes seven thru nine—haven’t been out that long. Tonight, we watched #8 The Last Jedi (2017) and while the movie is much as I remember it, there was a noticeable edit at the end that didn’t escape my attention. I’m not that immersed in the Star Wars lore, but I do remember the end of episode 8 because it completely undid everything in all the previous films except maybe Jar Jar Binks. After Luke Skywalker dies, goes to his reward, or whatever— (“Die” just seems like the wrong word because just like a comic book, when is someone really dead enough not to come back to life? Even the grave didn’t keep Carrie Fisher out of the ninth movie.) — anyway, the last scene of the movie had shots of random children exercising “The Force” with the idea that it was now freely available to everyone. The Force was unleashed. When I saw it the first time, I was really angry that the whole idea of wrong versus right was gone and replaced by shades of gray and moral relativity. At the time I even blogged on my feelings. However, watching it this time, the stuff that offended me was absent. Magically, some uncredited person at Disney removed the offending material and set the story on a path more in tune with the concept used by Lucas of good versus evil. Star Wars was again a morality play in a galaxy far, far away…

As much as I disliked the theatrical release of The Last Jedi, I have a problem/gripe/concern with what I witnessed (or in this case didn’t witness). Most people will never own a physical copy of this or any other film that they can stream from the internet but folks, doesn’t the idea that some mega corporation can change content on a whim bother you just a little? If something can be added or removed without letting you know then isn’t that just a step or two nearer the dystopia of Orwell? Truth is reduced to what government or mega-corp. says it is. Isn’t that why many of us have left Facebook and Twitter? Yet when it comes to digital media, we usually don’t notice when they edit your eBook or flat out delete it from your Kindle reader. Real books are portable and immutable, but the internet and other forms of digital communication are malleable, ethereal, and transient.

So, while in this particular case, I think the edit strengthens the story, it bothers me that it was done without notice or disclaimer. How many other things have I streamed into my living room that have received edits which change the plotline of the story and I never knew the difference?

Folks, please keep my experience in mind when you interact with anything digital. It can be manipulated or removed from your device without any notice to you. If it’s important enough then buy a copy of the physical media whether that be a book, DVD, or whatever. If the content lives on some else’s computer then you don’t really own it no matter how much you paid for the illusion of ownership.