Hacking The Electric Grid Is Damned Hard

Hacking The Electric Grid Is Damned Hard:

Difficult isn’t the same as impossible, Suh-Lee told me. Depending on where an attack happened and how people responded, you could get the stuff of our nightmares. Lawrence repeatedly invoked the phrase “knock on wood” as he talked about the possibility of infiltrations of electric infrastructure turning into real-world blackouts. That’s why there’s a lot of effort going into research, monitoring and preparation for cyberattacks. Lawrence’s team, for instance, is gearing up for an event that’s held every other year and is sort of like war games for the electric grid. And the Department of Energy is planning a similar event, focused on figuring out what it takes to reboot after a hacker-caused blackout.

But that preparation doesn’t mean we’ll eventually solve this problem, either, Suh-Lee said. If the chances of a cinematic disaster are low, the chances of a theatrical hero on a white horse riding in to save the day are even lower. Making the grid stronger and more resilient also means making it more digital — the work that’s being done to improve the infrastructure has also created new opportunities for hackers to break in. And the risk of attack is here to stay. Security improvements are “never going to completely eliminate the risk,” she said. “The risk is out there and people will find a new way to attack.” We’ll be living with cyber threats to the grid for the rest of our lives.

(Via Features – FiveThirtyEight)

Press around the North America electrical grid and security is often hyperbolic. Maggie Koerth-Baker typically writes in a measured way so I appreciate this article adding a little bit of reason into the diaspora.

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We’re treating friendships like transactions, and it’s ruining relationships

We’re treating friendships like transactions, and it’s ruining relationships:

How are your friendship metrics—got lots of pals? Would you rate them five stars or less? Are they helping you live your best life?

We can quantify everything now—from our steps on Fitbit to our literary consumption on Goodreads. As a result, we feel we must make everything and everyone count for something. That’s a phenomenon which is both distressing and depressing as it applies to friendship.

Scan the internet and you’ll see no end of posts advising you to toss toxic friends and surround yourself with people who make you feel good instead. The current cultural discourse suggests that friends are people who we use to improve ourselves, and get rid of when the going gets tough or if we’re not having enough fun. One BuzzFeed article goes so far as to suggest forgetting a birthday is a dump-worthy offense, while a Cosmopolitan article recommends tossing friends who binge-drink on a Saturday night.

The way we talk about friendship paints an ugly picture of the new notion of relating—one that seeks maximum return on minimal investment, and outlines an exit strategy anytime a friend doesn’t fulfill our fantasies. These posts reveal more about the toxicity of our society than the negative people they’re describing. It’s friendship as a capitalistic exchange, instead of relationships involving people who care about each other, hanging out, and helping each other through life’s ups and downs.

It’s enough to make you want to cry into a beer with a confidante—you know, a close friend of the kind that’s going out of style.

(Via Quartz » Technology)

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EU Screws Up Copyright Ruling on Student’s Presentation

EU Screws Up Copyright Ruling on Student’s Presentation:

It would seem obvious to me that educational use should be a valid exception from copyright law. After all, copyright exists for the benefit of society, and educating the next generation is to our collective benefit.

The concept of fair use is clearly established in US copyright law, and in fact Germany has a similar law. Furthermore, the EU copyright directive states that EU members can pass laws granting a copyright exception for education purposes.

But this court went against both common sense and existing policies to rule that because the student’s presentation was posted online, the copyright was infringed.

That is a terrible ruling, with a frankly nonsensical justification. It is based on the assumption that putting the photo online was a unique and special thing, when in fact everything is put online these days. It is 2018, and I am surprised the school hadn’t required the kid to put the presentation on Slideshare, Google Docs or some other online service because they wanted to the student to learn how to use the online tools.

The fact the court can’t see that is evidence of just how out of date they are and how little they know about modern times.

(Via The Digital Reader)

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New Polling Agency

New Polling Agency:

There is a new polling agency on the block, called DeltaPoll.

I had never heard of them until last week, when they had a strange poll published in the Daily Mail (which, obviously, I’m not going to link to).

I think we need new pollsters like we need a hole in the head. These companies are forever misrepresenting the accuracy of their surveys and they confuse more than they inform. I was intrigued, however, so I looked up their Twitter profile and found this:

They don’t have a big Twitter following, but the names behind it have previously been associated with other polling agencies, so perhaps it’s not as dodgy as I assumed.

On the other hand, what on Earth does ’emotional and mathematical measurement methods’ mean?

(Via In the Dark)

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Surprise Functionality from a Moribund Product

When I moved to Japan I bought in the US two Sonos Play:1 speakers primarily to play music (Jazz & a martini when I got home) & Audible audiobooks in my living and bed rooms.

And then Sonos lost the ability to play Audible.

Plan B was to get a Play:5 and an Apple AirPort Express, both also from the US, and connect them together via audio cable. This allowed me to fire the speakers via AirPlay from my Apple devices. It worked, but imprecisely and with problems. I unhooked the Play:1 speakers (the problems) and they sat on a shelf for the better part of a year. The Audible audiobooks and podcasts from Overcast mostly worked streamed from my Apple devices. BTW, I had kept up with the developments from Sonos but did not think any of my devices were in scope, so I considered them moribund.

Here’s the thing: I spent a big chunk of my home furnishing budget on those damn “smart” speakers and then doubled down to get them to work. I ended up making many other ill-advised purchasing decisions to cover the sunk costs. Economists will tell you I made at least four incorrect decisions. I will tell you that four seems conservative.

Today I cleaned my apartment. I moved, hid, trashed, and organized many things while waiting for the rain storm that did not come. Part of my big tidying was the relocation of my older technology for repurposing. To do so, unplugging all the things was required including the Sonos Play:5, the one bit of my audio setup (with the AirPort)  still in occasional service.

In fiddling to fix audio problems I checked the Sonos iOS app. An update was pending, which I executed. Surprise, surprise! Suddenly the speaker gained AirPlay 2 functionality! And Audible!

It worked slightly better than the AirPort, so I unhooked its audio cable. Still good. On a whim I pulled the Play:1 speakers out of storage and powered them on. They worked, after upgrades and in the short window in which I tested them, better than they ever had.

I am fortunate to get some new value out of my purchases. These are still early days in the Sonos rehabilitation but I am guardedly optimistic. If they don’t end up panning out I am sure the person who buys them from me will enjoy them to no end with lower expectations.

P.S. – I will think long and hard before I buy another Sonos product. I’ve been advising friends and family to avoid their kit. If this pans out, maybe I will alter my tack.

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The Crack Squad of Librarians Who Track Down Half-Forgotten Books – Atlas Obscura

The Crack Squad of Librarians Who Track Down Half-Forgotten Books – Atlas Obscura:

Before we each had a little, flickering encyclopedia in our hands, we had librarians, and they’re still experts at finding the answers to tricky questions. Through the Ask NYPL portal, a decades-old phone and text service, the staff has triaged everything from queries about the Pope’s sex life to what it means if you dream about being chased by elephants. The library staff are ace researchers with a massive trove at their fingertips. A sense of mystery in their work comes when people approach them with vague questions and patchy details—particularly when they’re looking for books, but they don’t remember the authors or titles.

(Via Atlas Obscura)

My friend used to be employed as a librarian. I think they never stop being a librarian.

My favorite librarian moments: talking Twin Peaks when it was on its initial run; getting called out for not having read the Iliad & the Odyssey when I bragged about doing so (since corrected); the same librarian geeking out with me over the album Nursery Crime by Genesis; doing a fun podcast with one.

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Amazon Echo Data Leaks, Shows Poor Engagement

Amazon Echo Data Leaks, Shows Poor Engagement:

First, Alexa and the Echo speakers came to market for a single reason only: To provide Amazon’s customers with yet another way to easily make purchases from its online store.

Second, while Amazon does currently lead in the market for smart speakers, Google is very quickly catching up. And I still expect Google to surpass Amazon, perhaps as soon as by the end of 2018.

Not being able to monetize Echo and Alexa is a problem. And it’s going to be a problem for Google, too. In that case, the online search giant will attempt to leverage its own Google Home/Google Assistant user base with, yep, you guessed it, advertising. Something that Google has publicly stated is coming to the platform.

(Via Thurrott.com)

I’ve seen this first hand at my sister’s — she & her husband add items to the shopping list only to shop at an actual brick-and-mortar store (the horror!). Even when they buy from Amazon they fire up a web browser on their laptop and don’t use their Echo at all. Mostly, they use it for music and for the occasional trivia question.

This cannot be what Amazon hoped for when they released this beast.

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Meet Grace Hopper, the Pioneering Computer Scientist Who Helped Invent COBOL and Build the Historic Mark I Computer (1906-1992)

Meet Grace Hopper, the Pioneering Computer Scientist Who Helped Invent COBOL and Build the Historic Mark I Computer (1906-1992):

On a page for its School of Technology, Rasmussen College lists six “Assumptions to Avoid” for women who want to enter the field of computer science. I couldn’t comment on whether these “assumptions” (alleged misconceptions like “the work environment is hostile to women”) are actually disproved by the commentary. But I might suggest a seventh “assumption to avoid”—that women haven’t always been computer scientists, integral to the development of the computer, programming languages, and every other aspect of computing, even 100 years before computers existed.

In fact, one of the most notable women in computer science, Grace Hopper, served as a member of the Harvard team that built the first computer, the room-sized Mark I designed in 1944 by physics professor Howard Aiken. Hopper also helped develop COBOL, the first universal programming language for business, still widely in use today, a system based on written English rather than on symbols or numbers. And she is credited with coining the term “computer bug” (and by extension “debug”), when she and her associates found a moth stuck inside the Mark II in 1947. (“From then on,” she told Time magazine in 1984, “when anything went wrong with a computer, we said it had bugs in it.”)

(Via Open Culture)

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The Bullshit Web

◉ The Bullshit Web:

An actual solution recognizes that this bullshit is inexcusable. It is making the web a cumulatively awful place to be. Behind closed doors, those in the advertising and marketing industry can be pretty lucid about how much they also hate surveillance scripts and how awful they find these methods, while simultaneously encouraging their use. Meanwhile, users are increasingly taking matters into their own hands — the use of ad blockers is rising across the board, many of which also block tracking scripts and other disrespectful behaviours. Users are making that choice.

They shouldn’t have to. Better choices should be made by web developers to not ship this bullshit in the first place. We wouldn’t tolerate such intrusive behaviour more generally; why are we expected to find it acceptable on the web?

An honest web is one in which the overwhelming majority of the code and assets downloaded to a user’s computer are used in a page’s visual presentation, with nearly all the remainder used to define the semantic structure and associated metadata on the page. Bullshit — in the form of CPU-sucking surveillance, unnecessarily-interruptive elements, and behaviours that nobody responsible for a website would themselves find appealing as a visitor — is unwelcome and intolerable.

Death to the bullshit web.

(Via Pixel Envy)

Great write-up. I encourage all to read this. I’m interested in reading a counter point.

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Facebook Lenses ←

Facebook Lenses:

Back when Stratechery started I wrote in the very first post that one of the topics I looked forward to exploring was “Why Wall Street is not completely insane”; I was thinking at the time about Apple, a company that, especially at that time, was regularly posting eye-popping revenue and profit numbers that did not necessarily lead to corresponding increases in the stock price, much to the consternation of Apple shareholders. The underlying point should be an obvious one: a stock price is about future earnings, not already realized ones; that the iPhone maker had just had a great quarter was an important signal about the future, but not a determinant factor, and that those pointing to the past to complain about a price predicated on the future were missing the point.

Of course that is exactly what I did in that tweet.

(Via Stratechery by Ben Thompson)

Ben has a long write-up on the Facebook financial news and how one can look at the data:

To be clear, I agreed with the Apple-investor sentiment all along: several of my early articles — Apple the Black Swan, Two Bears, and especially What Clayton Christensen Got Wrong — were about making the case that Apple’s business was far more sustainable with much deeper moats than most people realized, and it was that sustainability and defensibility that mattered more than any one quarter’s results.

The question is if a similar case can be made for Facebook: certainly my tweet taken literally was naive for the exact reasons those Apple investor complaints missed the point five years ago; what about the sentiment, though? Just how good of a business is Facebook?

As with many such things, it all depends on what lens you use to examine the question.

He looks at Facebook using several different “lenses”:  finances, products, ad infrastructure, multiplying moats, and reason for being (Facebook’s Raison D’être). While I follow his various lines of thinking, I think Ben spends a little too much effort on linking back to things he already said and not enough on expanding upon those thoughts. This is most apparent in his moats lens which needs fleshing out (it feels half-baked).

As it stands it’s a useful exercise in understanding a company’s financial and business drivers. Obviously, any discussion of Facebook will include security and privacy (and GDPR and …). Too often professionals in our industry fail to consider these things fully which leads us to the cyber security startup VC and blockchain bubbles we’re in.

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