It’s all about image

I spotted this National Party campaign ad yesterday thanks to @jamileeross who tweeted it into my timeline. Hmm, I thought, monochrome, concrete block bunker, working the phones. Looks like they’re going for a 1960s Kennedy campaign vibe.

John Key on phone National ad-600w

I wonder who’s on the other end?


What is your phone and your internet connection blabbing about you?

Early in the second part of PBS’s (highly recommended) ‘United States of Secrets‘ documentaries, The Guardian‘s reporter Ewan Macaskill recalled Edward Snowden’s reaction in his Hong Kong hotel to a simple question: Do you mind if I record our interview on my iPhone?:

Ewan Macaskill — excerpt from PBS ‘United States of Secrets’ part 2 MP3 file

I’ve referred before to my uneasiness about what a sufficiently-motivated (I hope) security agency or other entity is able to learn about, say, me (or you!) though our smartphone or internet connection — the bulk surveillance nightmare that Edward Snowden revealed a year ago.

An enterprising National Public Radio reporter called Steve Henn decided to find out … Project Eavesdrop: An Experiment At Monitoring My Home Office

When my iPhone connected to the network, suddenly a torrent of data began flowing over the line. Porcello was monitoring my traffic in his office across the country in Vermont.

“Oh, jeez,” he said. “You are not opening apps or anything?”

The iPhone was just sitting on my desk — I wasn’t touching it. We watched as my iPhone pinged servers all over the world.

“It’s just thousands and thousands of pages of stuff,” Porcello said.

My iPhone sent Yahoo my location data as unencrypted text. The phone connected to NPR for email. It pinged Apple, then Google. There was a cascade of bits.

Oh dear. Yes, I use the built-in weather app … with its little YAHOO! symbol at the bottom … and yes, I gave that app permission to use Location Services (along with only a few other apps).

But it didn’t occur to me that it would be routinely telling Yahoo where I am located — and transmitting that data unencrypted — even when I’m not actually checking the weather. Data like that is sooo hackable, as Yahoo mail demonstrated recently. Ger-rump!

Oh, you blabbermouth Yahoo!

Oh, you blabbermouth Yahoo!

Before Edward Snowden’s revelations about bulk surveillance and storage, I was quite relaxed about location services, as you can see in 2011′s Despite that, your honour, I wasn’t ACTUALLY there where I (naively?) reproduced this …

Oh dear. Now everyone can see how much time I spend at Simon Lusk’s place.

Oh dear. Now everyone can see how much time I spend at Simon Lusk’s place.

But I am … considerably less comfortable now.

- P

RIP Rik Mayall


A sad farewell to a comedic genius. Rik Mayall has died unexpectedly at 56.

His fans will celebrate the groundbreaking The Young Ones and remember with relish his scene-stealing and virile Lord Flashheart (woof!) in Blackadder — as I do — and these were great.

But for me, I will always remember his Alan B’Stard, beautifully described in the first episode of The New Statesman (below) as ‘a Thatcherite toy-boy’. To glimpse such deep cynicism in a politician was, yes, funny, but also oh-so-pointed.


- P


Daniel Ellsberg on why Snowden couldn’t get a fair trial


Worth reading.

Daniel Ellsberg: Snowden would not get a fair trial – and Kerry is wrong

As I know from my own case, even Snowden’s own testimony on the stand would be gagged by government objections and the (arguably unconstitutional) nature of his charges. That was my own experience in court, as the first American to be prosecuted under the Espionage Act – or any other statute – for giving information to the American people.

I had looked forward to offering a fuller account in my trial than I had given previously to any journalist – any Glenn Greenwald or Brian Williams of my time – as to the considerations that led me to copy and distribute thousands of pages of top-secret documents. I had saved many details until I could present them on the stand, under oath, just as a young John Kerry had delivered his strongest lines in sworn testimony.

But when I finally heard my lawyer ask the prearranged question in direct examination – Why did you copy the Pentagon Papers? – I was silenced before I could begin to answer. The government prosecutor objected – irrelevant – and the judge sustained. My lawyer, exasperated, said he “had never heard of a case where a defendant was not permitted to tell the jury why he did what he did.” The judge responded: well, you’re hearing one now.

And so it has been with every subsequent whistleblower under indictment, and so it would be if Edward Snowden was on trial in an American courtroom now.

The movie ‘Maleficent’ — well worth your time

I saw this with my family last night. It’s very good. The script contains some great twists on a story you think you already know. A striking, powerful performance by Angelina Jolie. I recommend it.

- P

Update: Here’s The Guardian’s (very positive) review.

Snowden on intelligence agencies ‘owning’ your smartphone

Here’s a clip from the Brian Williams/NBC interview with Edward Snowden on the vulnerability of smartphones to intelligence agencies … (as we discussed in Oh. The NSA ‘owns’ iPhones (but only if it can get its hands on them, for now). It’s worse than I thought.

excerpt: Edward Snowden talks to NBC’s Brian Williams re security agency intrusion into smartphones MP3 file

Watch the whole interview below
(removed youtube embed after it was removed from youtube following an NBC copyright request)

Here’s the NBC news webpage with additional material (and, free bonus! US government/establishment spin) on the Snowden interview: INSIDE THE MIND OF EDWARD SNOWDEN

The escape of exnzpat, Part 21

Expectations, Providence, and Enquiry

Our route to the bridge was a circuitous one.  Lilith led the way, but not before resting for a few hours until her metamorphosis was complete.  Her ungainly, awkward shape, she said, would get in the way and hinder our passage.  So, we sat quietly together in a small, green glade bounded by wildflowers, overlooking a quiet mossy gully nestled between towering pillars of rock.

It was nice.  And despite everything that had gone on before, I felt Lilith and I were becoming friends.

“I find your mind still on Lincoln,” I said.  “But your anguish is not there as it was before.”

“Yes.  It is true, but it will come again to me, so you must be prepared,” she replied.  “It was in that shape the Magus trapped me.  It was in this shape that I broke her spell and discovered Lincoln dead.”

We sat for a long time, saying nothing.  I was thinking of Lincoln:  as a puppy, and of bringing him home, and the kids going crazy over him, and he, phenomenally excited at all the attention and peeing on the living room rug.  I smiled at the memory, but at the time remember being furious about it.  And after all that had happened, I wondered why.  That other me, before the rental, seemed to be as lost and as distant as my dreams of being player in the real-estate industry.

“Shapes trap things, exnzpat,” Lilith said suddenly.  “The bulk of my grief for Lincoln remains inside that other me.  I am compromised, to be sure, so be careful when that other me returns.”

It sounded like a warning and I took heed, knowing how her mind had compromised mine on our walk down the mountainside.

I sighed and said, “It will take time, Lilith.  Grief is not easy, believe me, this last year has been the blackest of blackest nightmares.  I would have gladly killed myself to rid myself of it.”

She looked at me.  Her perfect human face shining in the light, and I saw why.  Her face was wet with tears.

“Oh, exnzpat, you are a dear fool.  Death changes nothing.”

I reached up to her and kissed her face.

*  *  * Continue reading →

About that Blackshades RAT computer malware thing in the news …

Here’s a line that recent news reports about this worldwide malware infestation might usefully have mentioned more prominently …

Blackshades malware affects Microsoft Windows-based operating systems.

But I guess they got hung up on the Shock! Horror! ‘Miss Teen USA nude photos’ angle, huh?

FBI Blackshades
Click to read the FBI bulletin here.

- P

Andrea Vance on protecting your communications

Andrea Vance on TV3's The Nation panel discussion - click to view video

Andrea Vance on TV3′s The Nation political panel – click to view video at TV3

Reporter of the Year Andrea Vance talked to Radio New Zealand’s Colin Peacock on Mediawatch about government surveillance of news media in an illuminating interview broadcast last Sunday. [Coincidentally, Vance was part of TV3's The Nation political panel the day before.]

Listening to the Mediawatch interview, one can’t help but be struck by the loss of commonly-held innocence (‘Little old New Zealand’), and observe how the experience of being the target of improper/illegal surveillance has informed Andrea Vance’s view of the capacity and likelihood of government spying on New Zealanders … including journalists, their sources, whistle-blowers … with, it seems to me, ‘dissident’ elements (however you define those) being in the cross-hairs as well.

For the sake of reducing any ambiguity, let me repeat my own position on these matters …

It nauseates me to discover that far from protecting the fourth estate’s role and right to do its job at the seat of our democracy, Parliamentary Service, under pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office and his “enforcer” Wayne Eagleson, rolled over and surrendered surveillance data on a press gallery journalist to the David Henry witch-hunt set up on Mr Key’s orders.
It’s emerged that Parliamentary Service provided swipe-card records, which tracked Ms Vance’s movements — date, time, location — around the precincts of Parliament; and three months of her phone records(!)

It’s also worth hearing Andrea Vance’s thoughts about defensive measures journalists and others can/should/must take … without getting lost down the ‘super-paranoid’ rabbit hole. (But remember the saying: ‘You’re not paranoid if they really are out to get you.’)

Excerpt: Andrea Vance talks to Colin Peacock, Radio NZ Mediawatch 18 May 2014 MP3 file

Andrea Vance makes a very good point about government and spy agency use of semantics to dodge questions. That double-speak is as old as politics itself.

I recommend you inform yourself about the communication security options available to you. Encryption technology is getting easier to implement in the wake of the extra demand created by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s revelations about the extent of state mass surveillance, and, inadvertently, New Zealand’s role in it.

The full Mediawatch programme 18/5/14 is available as a podcast (which is how I almost invariably listen to it) here at the Radio NZ website. It’s definitely worth subscribing.

- P

PS For the record, you can find my own PGP public key at the bottom of the About page. I’m happy to correspond that way, or reply to a test message if you’re setting up encrypted email yourself.

The GCSB's Waihopai spy station. Is it hoovering up similar meta data on New Zealanders? Who do I ask?

Waihopai spy station, Marlborough. Part of the GCSB which despite legislation prohibiting it from spying on New Zealand citizens or permanent residents has been doing exactly that on behalf of the Police and the Security Intelligence Service.

Learning from the NY Times soul-searching on digital media

Pretty hard to argue with Nieman Journalism Lab’s headline:

Click to read Nieman's summary.

Click to read Nieman’s summary.

The whole leaked report is worth a read, if you’re interested. [I downloaded it, and ran it through Adobe Acrobat Pro to de-skew and OCR the text. If you want a copy of that file (~20 MB) drop me a line — address at the 'About' page — and I'll send you a Dropbox link.]

One theme that emerged is how aggregators like The Huffington Post, parasitically plunder the NY Times‘ expensively-produced original journalism, then use more savvy and aggressive social media tools to gather web traffic to themselves … with the ‘digital pick-pockets’ even evincing some queasiness for their victim.

Now The Huffington Post regularly outperforms us in these areas – sometimes even with our own content. An executive there described watching the aggregation outperform our original content after Nelson Mandela’s death. “You guys got crushed, he said. “I was queasy watching the numbers. I’m not proud of this. But this is your competition. You should defend the digital pick-pockets from stealing your stuff with better headlines, better social.”

The main thing I got from the report — whether I’m right or not — is that the NY Times sees itself as an institution, with a legacy to protect, and its competitors are more nimble, entrepreneurial and less wedded to the values of modesty and ‘straightness’, reliability etc of the traditional newspaper approach.

For the large part, with exceptions, the internet and its various echo chambers have brought about a dumbing down of news, in my opinion. Lowest common denominator. There’s also excellence. Like a wolf pack, the hungrier, more aggressive wolves will dominate.

The Huffington Post may have the traffic (it’s a long time since I’ve been there, and I used to go a lot when it was a political website — before it got hooked into ‘lifestyle’ and celebrity news) but not the reputation.

That’s not a howl of anguish. What is, is.

There’s a lot more to it. As I said: worth a read.

- P

A useful video about iPhone photography apps

Courtesy of The Guardian via John Gruber (again!)

Update: Here’s a list of the apps in the video and extras, plus, in comments, some Android alternatives.

Talk about image and editing power in your pocket!

Watch this short video ad for Bentley Motors, and watch the ‘making of’ feature at the end (starts 3’15″). Wow.

Yeah, sure they use a bunch of accessories, but look at the quality of the images.

- P

via John Gruber @daringfireball

Do opinion polls about whether climate change ‘exists’ matter a jot?

Maybe the question: What should we do about it? is the one worth asking. And answering.

- P

Sarah Harrison of Wikileaks

This is an eye-opening discussion re security/surveillance and the problematic tensions and self-censoring of media organizations over redactions.

Sarah Harrison (in conversation with Alexa O’Brien) on Wikileaks’ evolving ‘archive’ and ‘history’ mission versus carefully filtered redacted documents — “media organizations working with governments is corrupting”.

See what she says about US State Department trying to set up a basis for ‘intent’ to ‘create harm’. She says Wikileaks has learned that “dealing with governments opens yourself up to be leaned on”.

See what she says about the Pentagon spin machine and their pre-packed PR defence campaign re Wikileaks/cablegate versus the Snowden NSA disclosures which caught the=m by surprise. (Stung by the propaganda attacks, Wikileaks had tried to liaise with the US authorities over the Canblegate release … this consultation giving the US a stick to beat them with).

Strategies. Worth watching.

Update: Here’s a link to an MP3 file of the audio [41 MB] so you can do what I did this morning and listen to it again while out for a walk. There’s a lot in this discussion, a lot that’s important, in my opinion.

- P

Rotating through the (political, really) excuses for climate change scepticism (denial, really)

Quite a nice post at the Skeptical Science website about The Quantum Theory of Climate Denial

quantum theory of climate denial

Similar nonsensical behaviour [to framing Schrödinger's cat as 'simultaneously' alive and dead] happens with people who deny the scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming. There are various states of climate denial, with some states contradicting others. For example, some believe global warming is not happening. Others believe global warming is happening but is not caused by humans. Others believe humans are causing global warming but that the impacts won’t be bad.

Now, it’s perfectly understandable for a community of people to hold mutually inconsistent beliefs. But can one person hold three inconsistent beliefs at the same time? Can a person argue that global warming is not happening, then smoothly transition to arguing that global warming is happening but is caused by something else?

They can, and they do. We see it in the blogosphere all the time. One day a blogger claims that global warming stopped years ago. Next they blame the (previously nonexistent) global warming on the sun. Before long they’re back to denying there’s a problem at all.

There’s a psychological reason for this hovering between states of denial. People who believe in one state of denial are more likely to believe in other states of denial. If you deny one aspect of climate science, odds are you deny other parts (or all of it). In for a penny, in for a pound.

How do we explain this weird, counterintuitive phenomenon? It can be explained by the “quantum theory of climate denial.” This theory holds that climate deniers exist in a fuzzy quantum state of denial, simultaneously rejecting many or all aspects of climate science.

Apply a stimulus (for example, show them some scientific evidence) and they collapse into one of the three states of denial. This enables a denier to exist in one state of denial, then transition to a contradictory state, then jump back into the first state of denial again. (emphasis added)

And there’s quite a good analysis of this ‘theory’ being applied editorially by Rupert Murdoch newspaper, The Australian in this article from The Guardian:


… worth reading, and it links to another good one: Let’s be honest – the global warming debate isn’t about science whose subtitle (and argument): ‘The scientific evidence on human-caused global warming is clear. Opposition stems from politics, not science’ resonates with me.

We need conservatives to be constructive, not obstructive

Ultimately this climate ‘debate’ is not about science. The scientific evidence is crystal clear that humans are causing rapid global warming. The longer we wait to do something about it, the more climate change we commit ourselves to, and higher the chances are for a climate catastrophe. From a risk management perspective, failing to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is just plain stupid. Opposition to climate action isn’t about the science, it’s about the politics and policies.

So let’s debate those policies. The more input we have from different political and ideological perspectives, the better crafted the solutions will be. After all, Republicans came up with the concept of cap and trade as an alternative to government regulation of pollutants, and it was a good, successful idea.

Denying the science and obstructing the solutions will only make the problem worse.

- P