The Peoples Opinion – Why It Does Not Matter

I will start off by saying that I like Vice as a news outlet. I am a regular viewer of their half hour HBO program (produced by Bill Maher) which takes you to all sorts of places and covers a vast array of topics that are otherwise untouched by the rest of the media. They at times are guilty of some of the same things that others of the progressive/alternative  media are guilty of, but those instances are few and far between. Their work in other areas far outweighs any issues that I have ever had with the organization.

Now for some criticism.

One thing that is becoming more and more popular for all forms of news media these days, is including the voices of “the people” in stories seemingly whenever possible, usually by referencing social media. I can understand the want (0r need) to include the people in the stories in the game of staying relevant. Every news organization and journalist today are now in competition with facebook and twitter for news distribution. And on top of this, social media has conditioned most to expect more out of their news sources then just a one sided dialog. People have grown comfortable with having a platform,  and as such, just sitting back and absorbing information is not always enough anymore.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I like the platforms available in this day and age. I utilize them in my day to day existence, which entails using social media for the purposes of education and keeping people in the know. The same principals  are applied within this blog, with a dash of whatever opinion I hold on a given subject (in detail).

While I am not absolutely against utilizing the voices of the masses to enrich a given piece or segment, one should always remember the quality of the dialog or the information presented. There are many experts, academics or otherwise people that are educated and trained enough in a given area to be useful as sources for almost any story. But there are also many more people that have mere opinions  on these said stories, which they may or may not acknowledge as mere opinions (most political ideologues think that they are on the correct side of the big picture, for example).

And to be perfectly blatant, most people do not put a whole lot of thought into their stances beyond what the popular talking points and narratives are. This is particularly true in the realm of social media, which actively encourages  sheep like behavior on a massive scale. I can not explain a great many of the things that go “viral” without acknowledging that its just because people are following the lead of everyone else.

It seems that vice acknowledges this in the video above. It is a nice mix of people from both sides of the debate, from ideological hack to well educated. But I don’t get why what “the people” have to say really matters in the situation (GMO foods).

Were not discussing politics, or our democracy. Were talking about a subject that is firmly in the realm of science. This piece involves GMO foods, but other similar discussions could be both Climate Change and the Anti-Vaccination movement. All 3 of these areas have been well studied by the scientific community and have conclusive information available which points one way.  But there are still many that for differing reasons, insist that the issue is to be viewed from the other direction. They often times have nothing to back this stance. But they want to be accepted on the same level as those with the facts.

This is why, when it comes to matters involving proven science, I do not really give a shit about what “the people” say. There is no real “debate” over climate change, vaccine safety or genetically modified organisms. There is only the scientists with the facts, and a bunch of idiots without critical thinking abilities parroting popular voices of the internet and pseudoscience.

While utilizing the voice of the people may be beneficial or fulfilling in some contexts, there is no need to in areas of certainty. In fact, the more of a platform we give these morons, the more momentum that their screwed up and false beliefs garner. Thereby making the “equal platform” situation actually harmful, instead of just idiotic.

The “Pirate” Cell Tower In Kiev – How Technology Helps (And Harms) Protest Movements

As you may have known, there was recently civil unrest in the Ukraine. President  Viktor Yanukovich’s decision to  align with Russia instead of with the European Union (many suspect President Putin had his fingers in this), got the ball rolling. Then when the public backlash started, the Ukrainian government responded by banning public protest.

If there was a great way to piss off the masses, that was the way to do it. What started as relativly peaceful, turned into a cival war, with civilians even managing to take over some government properties. Which brings me to the story.

Last Tuesday, all cell phone users in the vicinity of the Kiev protests received a text message that read “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass riot”. Three Ukrainian carriers (Kyivstar, MTS and Life) have denied any involvement, be it giving out subscriber information or location information. A claim that I am sure will be tested as time goes on.

As of yesterday I believe, the government has repelled the anti-protest laws, but I have no knowledge of the current state of affairs at the moment.

When it comes to the technologies of today, there is no doubt that it is a big help to movements such as this. Accessibility to SMS and  the Internet unites like minded people, and makes planning easier.

But the downside to all of this convenience, is privacy. We hear it all the time now a days after the Snowden revelations. But those concerns seem to be primarily surrounding ones Internet footprint (the typed traffic and mouse clicks you generate), as opposed to location data,  which is now more then ever, shared  (and leaked) by modern  technologies.

Just in utilizing a cellular network alone, we are making our location known. The technology itself is based on location (the network has to know where to route your traffic). Keep in mind, that this methodology of tracking was/is not really efficient, since it requires “triangulation”.

Triangle-Cell_Location

cell2

The bottom image is a better example of triangulation results, since the location can rarely be pinpointed right to the spot (not the 100% location accuracy of a land line for  911 purposes, but still close enough to be worrisome). However, most (if not all) phones now come equipped with GPS or AGPS (assisted GPS) traceability, often on by default. And to top that, many apps available on smartphones that we use in our daily life, require this  functionality.
Not even taking into the consideration the amount of “check in” apps that are tied into various social media  portals (making our locations not only visible to friends and family <<and the NSA/other “big brother entities”>>, but also the whole open internet, depending on your privacy settings).

My attitude toward these various “invasive” technologies, is what some would call, complacent. My attitude toward privacy in general in this day and age, could fall in the same category (as illustrated in this and this previous entry).
I have been telling the medium that is the internet (by default) many of my problems for my whole life. Ever since I started using it as a communication tool for keeping in touch (LONG before “privacy” was ever an issue on my mind). The internet was the scene where I was  cyber-bullied in high school (both on an open forum by random people, and by a girl in an “extortion” relationship. Its a long story lol, see this ) , and it was the place that I (and everyone else) have ranted, bitched and shared all kinds of dirty laundry.

Even if I wanted to, all that has already been said. Since its been about a decade since the exchanges, then one would think (hope) that its all been erased long ago from the various logging and  backup servers of my ISP, yahoo, microsoft and the other email providers and platforms that  I have made use of along the way. And one would hope that its safe to assume that the said logs are NOT being maintained by another source (a “big brother” entity). And of course, one would hope that the records of my more easily accessible current online footprint are not being “followed” or otherwise utilized by some “big brother” entity.

But even if so, it does not really worry me. I do not use social media “check in” apps very often  (once while out of town, and with someone at home), nor do I announce most of  my movements on social media for obvious reasons (great way for intruders to know when one is, and isn’t, home). But I do utilize location-based apps for various tasks (such as finding a business, or directions). And I do use the internet and other “grid” technologies for communications of all kinds.

In my mind, it all comes down to being smart about technology usage. Though social media encourages you to update it with your every movement, don’t be stupid. Lock down your devices with passwords and lock codes, should they ever wind up in the wrong hands. Run a closed and hidden wireless network in your home (most routers have a check box or other switch that asks if you want it to “broadcast” or not. To connect, you just need to write down a little bit of  extra information). Keep up with your various software patches and updates, and keep your anti virus and spy-ware definitions current.

And in the case of the thing that most are worried about, online spying, just don’t be stupid.

Something tells me that someones daily life and/or coffee schedule is not going to be of interest to the government. Even intimate, and other personal conversations, should be of no interest to anyone else.

There are those of the opinion that people like me should be more outraged, because of the possible abuses that could happen with all of this information on each of us (blackmail or extortion?). And I suppose anything is possible, especially when it comes to people occupying prominent positions in society.
But the only solution to that, would be a total unplug from the information grid. No email/phone/SMS (texting)/IM/Social media or any of that. Keep it face to face, or by mail (there are tough laws regarding the tampering of ones mail).

Or if you just want an added layer of encryption protection, try out a service such as hushmail ( http://www.hushmail.com ). For browsing with some sense of security, try out a tor bundle ( https://www.torproject.org/download/download-easy.html.en ). This will not render you completely anonymous  to such entities as the NSA, but if you had not already figured it out, being totally anonymous online is almost (if not totally) impossible.

Almost anything is possible, when it comes to the future of technologies. Will our past words and actions as posted and broadcast online eventually come back to haunt us? I do not know. Like a comet on a crash course for earth being discovered a week in advance at at any point down the road, we have no way to tell. So unless you want to entirely  unplug, all you can do is use the technology in a smarter fashion.
Past words and actions online can not be undone, but you can help by not adding to the pile. If your a politician or otherwise in a position of authority, and your actions might put you in a risky position, then isn’t it time to rethink those actions?

Granted, if someone is corrupt, then I am pretty sure that the concept of right Vs wrong has left them long ago, and that argument won’t hold any weight. Not to mention that the whole argument is based on the assumption that these big entities are eventually going to become manipulative bullying forces, which is (at this point anyway), a big leap of conspiracy and imagination.

But even with that said, it is still good to consider how the technologies in our life may be making us vulnerable.

This incident in the Ukraine is a great example. Another is in Egypt a couple years back (the cellular, and other communication grids, were switched off on account to the civil unrest).

While the tech of today has its place as an invaluable tool for civil rebellion, one has to be careful how its used. Being reliant on it is risky, when the people your protesting against, have power to manipulate it.

In Egypt, they attempted to stifle the resistance by limiting their communications with one another, and more importantly, with the outside world. And in the Ukraine, they used the core functionality of the technology, against its users (the protesters).

At first, I found myself questioning the claims of the 3 Ukrainian carriers who were claiming to have no hand in the text message incident. But now that I think of it, it is very possible, with the way cellular technology works. A mobile phone always connects to the base station (tower)  with the strongest signal.

tower 400px-Frequency_reuse.svg

You have probably seen some form of the above around where you live, especially if your in an urban area. Your cellphone phone utilizes these in its functionality. Many (most?) mobile networks are set up  like the one shown above.  As you move around within the grid,  the carrier monitors your signal strength, and hands you off the the strongest tower for your current location. Ignore the numbers (they just show how frequencies are reused between different cells, within the network).

There are some cases however, where there may be a problem with traffic flow that is specific to one cell (called a Macrocell ) in the network. Any event  that brings a lot of people together in one location, or any event that makes many utilize there devices all at once (particularly in one cell of the network),  can cause congestion. It is particularly bad today, because most people have smart phones (data use has a very large footprint on mobile networks). If your stuck in such a situation, text if possible (it uses a fraction of the resources, or bandwidth, that a phone call  or data transfer does).

Some carriers, seeing these congestion issues coming, set up mobile (or temporary) base stations in the vicinity of the event, in order to capture a large part of the traffic in the area, keeping the cell itself relatively clear.

There are a few different variations of this technology (Microcell , Picocell  and Femtocell ).

Unfortunately, this technology can be misused, as the Ukrainian protesters seem to have discovered.

All the regime would have had to do (and it seems, DID do), was set up one (or more, depending on the area that has to be  covered) of these low powered base stations for each cellular band used in the region (each carrier typically  uses one or more), then wait. Being cellphones always gravitate to the strongest base stations, the phones will eventually “hand off” from the area towers, to the micro cell.

What happens after this, is questionable.

It might be possible that the traffic flowing though the microcell (calls, SMS texts etc), could be vulnerable to eavesdropping. It might be possible that the regime just wants to intimidate people (as it seems was the goal of the infamous Ukrainian text message). Or maybe the goal is just numbers and names, by keeping track of all the mobile phones (and therefore, their owners) that connect with the microcell. Or any combination of the above.

I love technology. All this technology makes our lives easier in many ways, and certainly is a great asset to situations of civil unrest and discourse (as has been seen in so many situations of late). But one of the hidden prices we pay for this modern technology, is both vulnerability and privacy.

But though there is no way to entirely vanquish these concerns (short of a total disconnect), there are ways you can protect yourself. Here are my rules of thumb:

#1

Your main worry should NOT be the NSA, Can/AM Governments or any other “big brother” agencies. Your main worry should be cyber criminals, hackers and others that use the vulnerabilities of the internet (and the ignorance of many of its users) to enrich themselves.

#2

You (theoretically) should only be of interest to the NSA and other authorities, if you engage in activities that would MAKE you come onto their radar (terrorism, child pornography, other cyber crime etc). And if your still worried, just use the rule of thumb that someone is always watching or listening. Treat every conversation by digital proxy, as if your in a quiet room full of people.

#3

Though the technology of today may make resistance and activism more easy then ever to accomplish, think carefully before utilizing these tools. And also, make sure that you do not become completely tied up to the technology, should access to it for whatever reason, cease.

Facebook/twitter/ other social media outlets can be great for recruitment, but being fully public means EVERYONE can see what is being said/planned etc. Emails, Private/SMS and other forms of messaging and phone calls can be eavesdropped on. And lastly,  cellular devices can be homing devices, tied directly to our identities.

That is not to say that its not IMPOSSIBLE to use modern technology to be an activist. Just remember that any digital accounts that you are using, and any digital technology that you own, is inherently tied to you.

The incident in the Ukraine is interesting, because it serves as almost a trial run for such future scenarios. What interests me, and what we will find out as time goes on, is how the cell carriers in the area, behave towards the government’s inevitable request for the protester’s subscriber information.

Even though the government likely only has the hardware identity and the phone numbers associated with each user (unless they eavesdropped and learned from that information), they probably won’t have any names, which the carriers have. Which means that it all depends on if the carriers are willing to give up the information.

Would your carrier or ISP be likely to sell you out?

Update:

This story just came out today on the CBC, detailing how the Canadian spy agency CSEC (Communications Security Establishment Canada) tracked travelers who utilized an  unnamed Canadian airports free wifi.

It was quite noteworthy because the airport tracked the devices (smart phones, laptops, tablets) for months afterward VIA connections to wifi terminals in coffee shops, bus terminals and other public spaces.  Like a cell phone, each wifi device has an electronic identifier of its own, of which CSEC got a hold to enable the tracking.

Looking at this at a glance, it seems that this was just a trial run, to see how well this system would work (being it was only though 1 airport as far as we know). And it looks like the only information gathered by CSEC was the devices location metadata (where it is), and not the contents (nor the activities) on the devices.

But it adds a bit of a twist to the above piece. It is a lot easier to set up a rouge wifi station (or take over an existing one. For example, in an airport), then it is to set up a mobile cell tower. Being that most mobile devices have built in wifi capability, also adds to the equation.
Another thing that adds to it, is that wifi is a very short range frequency, which means that it could  be used to track a device (and its owner) right to a building, or other location.

What is unclear to me at this point, is if the devices have to “join” a wifi network for it to pick up (and transmit to CSEC) the devices location. For example, if you walk though an airport with wifi, or if your in a coffee shop but not utilizing the wifi (some places have it, but with terrible speed, so I opt for 3G).

Either way, another thing to keep in mind.

The Facebook “Like” Button – Is It Innapropriate To “Like” Bad News?

Anyone who has been on facebook, has likely used the facebook “Like” button at some point or another. Whether to show that you agree with the information presented, are amused by it, or just to make your presence shown, this little button has developed many uses, depending on the information that it is attached to. And the same goes for the “favorite” button on twitter, and any other similar option that may be available on other popular social media platforms (I am only familiar with facebook and twitter).

But one has to wonder, is it ever not appropriate to use such a button on a post?

I ask the question, after coming across a co-workers status update, where he described his ordeal of having recently lost a beloved pet of many years. Under the status update, many of his friends were leaving nice messages and condolences, nothing wrong with that. But a great many also “liked” the status update itself.

I suppose, it might be another form of giving ones condolences to the person (yet another usage of that little button, brought on by the information its attached to).  But to me, liking such a status seems, at the  very least, a lazy way of showing support (is typing a short message really that strenuous?). And at worst, it could be interpreted as flat out inappropriate.

I understand that one may not have the right words to say, or for that matter, words just may not come to them (it happens. We all find ourselves in situations where you want to help, but are not sure how to go about it). But for me personally, if this happens to me, I would rather leave condolences unsaid, then to use a “like” or “favorite” button, to show it.

Of course, this is just my opinion on the subject, my view of the topic. But I will hand the pen to you now.

Do you agree, or disagree, with the usage of in-bedded positive feedback buttons to show your sympathy to a person who is going though hard times? Leave your thoughts in the comment section.

Breaking News – Sometimes Waiting Is Best

Ever since being in high school, I have been very focused on the world around me. When most people look at the news around the world in kind of a secondary sort of way (their lives and therefore local news (if they seek any news at all) comes first, and the rest of the world news comes 2ed), I am reversed. I like to stay informed on news and information from around the world (mainly US news, for obvious reasons. They are the superpower), on top of local, provincial and even national news.
In fact, this has more then once caused me to be bitten in  the ass by such local, provincial and national  events as elections, as I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to them. To me, they seem unimpotant (with the exception of national elections), in comparison to whats going on in other areas of the planet.

Don’t get me wrong, I vote, and have voted in every single election that was held since I reached voting age at 18. And I make as informed a decision as I can. But local and regional issues, just aren’t as important. Healthcare has its problems here, but its still better then even Obamacare. Oh, I know that Obamacare IS a  step in the right direction, but its still not all inclusive , and still enriches the broken system around it.
Our state of healthcare (and any number of other local and regional systems) is still better then many of our friends south of the boarder, even if people here think otherwise. I would rather have a heart attack or break a leg here in Brandon MB, and anywhere else in Canada, then anywhere in the US.

But I have gone a bit off topic to my original subject. If you have a problem with my Obamacare stance, take it up in the comment section.

In any case, twitter has become an important tool in my quest for news. I still use  TV, newsletters and facebook (amongst other web sources), but twitter is great because its a steady stream of information (in fact sometimes the stream is a torrent, depending on if its a fast news day). I just follow as many news organizations as I can find  (from all over the world), and let the information come.  Info from sources of all colors, stripes, and backgrounds, I like to sort though it all, and to even comment on some VIA a reply if I have an opinion. I love it.

And one of the great things about twitter, is when breaking news occurs, it can be transmitted in almost real time. And unlike conventional journalism, anyone with a smart phone and a  social media account on, or near the scene can add to the flow of information. Which on one hand, is great.

BUT this also comes with its limitations, because not all information coming out of a situation that is in its infancy, is CORRECT information. People in the situation are paniced, fearful, and otherwise disturbed. They may not even realize that their information is wrong, or flawed, which is why its up to the media to sort out the trash, from the good stuff.  A task that takes time.

Unfortunately, today with everyone scanning social media and wanting steady information, no news organization wants to be the last to report something. So as such, many will grab on anything that they can get their digital hands on and facebook, tweet and otherwise spread it far and wide. And the people repost, retweet and otherwise spread it even further and wider. Which is a great way to inform the public, without much cost or effort. So long as the information is GOOD information.

The problem is, there have been more then a few cases in which a big, seemingly “credible” news organization, has run with a tidbit, only to have to retract it later. But meanwhile, the info is already out their, and with attention spans the way they are today, the false info might not reach everyone.

This is why, when it comes to breaking news situations, I will no longer retweet or otherwise spread “up to the minute” information. Though having access to information from an event early in the game is great, its still better to wait a bit for a clearer image to appear, later on.

Lots of information is great. But not if its inaccurate.

Also see Memes and Misinformation

Memes And Misinformation – When Did Sharing Become More Important Then Integrity?

Social media  is a great tool for spreading all kinds of information far and wide, free of charge. Everything you could possibly imagine or want to find and share with others, can be done so with the click of a mouse, the tap of a screen, or the press of a button.

However, these social networking platforms have increasingly become a tool for spreading MISinformation of all kinds. From small, locally targeted stuff that affects a single organization, community, region. To national and internationally targeted ones, which quickly get attention all over the world in a very short period of time.

One example of this, came out of the recent flooding in Calgary.

It was being spread on social media, that price gouging by business’s was occurring during the flooding. Some examples, were some small convenience store and  Home Depot  “overcharging” for a case of 24 water bottles (around $49.00), and the Calgary Co-op overcharging ($59.99) for a fruit tray.

I don’t know about the C-Store incident, but it turns out the Home Depot incident was true, though a mistake (mistakes happen with technology. The only reason this was so overblown WAS the flooding in the city). As for the Calgary co-op incident:

Calgary Coop

When it comes to a meme (well, in this case, a video) that garnered both international attention AND backlash, the most recent one I can think of, is the video out of  Hawthorne California, of a police officer “murdering” a dog.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDBZr4ie2AE&has_verified=1&oref=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DWDBZr4ie2AE%26oref%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.youtube.com%252Fwatch%253Fv%253DWDBZr4ie2AE%26has_verified%3D1&has_verified=1

WARNING: Content in the video is NOT for all audiences

When this video hit the net, it went viral quickly, and picked up views from all over the US and the world. And it got people everywhere angry at the seeming “injustice” of shooting an innocent dog. Most people just vented back and fourth on social media, but others went as far as contacting the Hawthrone PD directly, at times even going as far as leaving death threats (oh the brilliance of it!).

Cyber-warrior group Anonymous even picked up on it, releasing contact numbers for one of the officers involved, and warning the HPD that they were now in there sights.

Then, around a week or so later, the Hawthorne PD released ANOTHER cell phone video of the incident.  This video shows in more detail, the interactions leading up to, and the shooting, itself.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/08/second-video-dog-shooting_n_3536658.html

I will admit, before writing this piece, I had watched neither video, and had no inkling to watch either.

One of the things I have learned over the years as a citizen of the world wide web, is that the most popular, is usually the most stupid. And most of the time, when I ignore this and view some “great” viral video recommended by someone, I usually end up remembering WHY I came up with that personal rule.

In any case, having viewed both video’s, I have once again confirmed this (imagine that LOL). Though I did not even need the 2ed video to confirm what I had already deduced WITHOUT watching even the first. But both video’s showed me a couple things:

1.) The guy was being an asshole to the cops and asking for exactly what he got.

2.) The officer was right to pull the trigger. It does not matter if the dog was protecting its owner, IT WAS A THREAT.

3.) Why was the back window of the car opened so wide? It would seem that would be an obvious problem.

My conclusion before watching either video, was that it was a public over-reaction based on a tiny piece of single-angled  information, which is only a part of a bigger picture. And imagine that, I was right.

These types of incidences don’t always gain the national and international attention that the above described ones do, but small localized ones are getting more and more common. And peoples reputations and career’s are often being tarnished and lost because of it.

Though blame does go to the people that perpetrate such smear campaigns, I also point a big finger at those who PERPETUATE them.  Why is sharing the information more important then actually checking if its correct?