12 December 2017

Bad guys are tracking you. Here is how to stop them.

Most of the world is aware that there are various mechanisms in standard web browsing that allow a company to track you on the web. These mechanisms allow companies to know your location, your operating system, your web browser, what sites you have recently been to, your computer address and all sorts of other exciting details -- all without you being any wiser. Unfortunately, that power is also being used by criminals.

As a refresher, here are some popular corporate examples of tracking:
  • Google compiles tracking datas anonymously for ad sales and for delivering focused ads individually.
    • Google rightfully got into hot water recently when it was determined they could know location data through tracking mechanisms, even when users had turned location notification off. Naughty!
  • Facebook uses this to track just about every possible thing they can about every Facebook user, including having it monitor every website you visit.
    • In particular, I must spotlight how nasty their phone/tablet messenger, Facebook and Instragram apps have become at trying to track everything you do on your phone. A conversation for another day. Very naughty!
  • Amazon also tracks everywhere you go and everything you do so they can make certain they are getting Amazon ads and emails to you.
    • Their requirement of installation of the Amazon store app that tracked countless phone elements of phone usage to get access to Prime Videos is an egregious example. Top of the naughty list!
When you purchase or download a product from a company, they will do whatever they can to track everything you do so they can make your information their new product. They all do this: Microsoft, Apple, Google and even your neighborhood Big Pie Pizzeria.

Web or phone application tracking happens because you personally decided to visit that website or install that software. Email tracking can occur without you making any conscious choice at all. They simply put a transparent image or tiny script in an HTML (web style) email so that, when you open that email, it sends countless details about you back to their database. By the time you delete the email, they already have what they wanted.

On the company side, I recommend picking one (Google or Apple or Microsoft) for all of your primary information and then lock down everything else. I genuinely trust Google, Microsoft and Apple to mostly do the right thing with only occasional lapses in judgment.

While we might have concerns about Facebook or Comcast holding our information, they are "just" evil by corporate standards. Unfortunately, the big problem is that criminals are starting to collect all of this same data so they can deliver you personalized theft.

Criminal Email Tracking
A bad guy might send you a piece of junk mail occasionally that you delete. Unfortunately for you, your email program is displaying HTML emails so it is collecting all of that information for them. In a matter of a couple of weeks, they can know everywhere you go, what you are using, what you are doing and numerous other details. Since they know your name, email address and device usage locations, they can pin down where you live through countless online databases, or by purchasing that information from another source (Comcast, Verizon, etc.) to know where you live. They can know when the boss is in the office or out with a client. They know when you are far away on holiday. They could know your computer type and what phone you are carrying.

What can they do with that? Well. Whatever they like:
  • You are on holiday, so why not rob your home?
  • The tech guy is out, so I am going to call the office and get login information.
  • They are using Windows, so maybe I will call because I know they have a virus.
  • I see you use Bank of America, so I am going to send you a phishing email.
  • Heck, I know so much about you, I can call a company and break into your account.
  • ... Or I might just rob your identity.
And, frankly, my imagination for criminal activity is limited to what I have heard might be happening. The best criminals are going to think of ways to use this that no one even considered. All from occasionally sending you a piece of junk mail.

Now, perhaps you think this all sounds like the menu at a tinfoil hat restaurant. Reasonable conclusion. You might also run Microsoft Windows without antivirus and not worry about clicking links in emails, too. Maybe you will be okay.

For those of us that like to play it safe, here are some suggestions to reduce your potential harm from these tracking techniques:
  • Turn off all images and HTML scripting in emails.
    • You may need to turn it off in multiple locations:
      • Website access (if applicable) - Example: Gmail
      • Software application - Example: Outlook
      • Phone - Example: Gmail App, Built-In Mail Application
  • Never click a link in an email to view it since that will activate the tracking mechanism.
    • If you do click a link in an email and it wants you to enter information - close that website immediately. Manually browse to the company site and ask for support directly.
  • Need to see email images? Install an application to block tracking:
  • Always ask to receive "Plain Text" emails from vendors - not HTML.
    • Turn off email notifications from any company that only has HTML emails.
    • Amazon Examples
      • Advertising Preferences
        • Select "Do Not Personalize Ads from Amazon for this Internet Browser"
        • Do this for each device you use.
          • This is an example of antagonistic approach toward customers.
      • Your Browsing History
        • Clear your browsing history.
        • Switch "Turn Browsing History On/Off" switch to OFF.
        • Do this for each device you use.
    • Facebook Examples
      • Turn off all email notifications from Facebook.
      • Avoid installing Facebook Messenger, Instagram and Facebook on your phone.
      • Better yet - if you can do it, just don't use Facebook.
  • Use an internet service provider (ISP) you trust.
    • Your gateway to the internet (Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, etc.) has the ability to track enormous amounts of data and some have stated (Comcast, Verizon) that they may begin using this information for financial gain.
    • If you do not trust your ISP, try to use only HTTPS sites.
    • Even better - use a VPN service to hide your traffic.
  • Do not trust/use any company that supports eliminating Net Neutrality.
This are just a few of the ways you can start protecting yourself from online tracking mechanisms. Even if you do nothing, at least you are aware that this is a potential problem. Good luck!

05 June 2017

America's environmental clean-up bill is overdue.

From the year 1900 through the latest data available from 2011, America is responsible for over 28% of all industrialized carbon emissions in the world. (SPREADSHEET made possible thanks to CAIT climate data.) Based on carbon pollution information, if we were to assume the United States did not exist, the world would have 31 additional years to resolve the climate crisis.

This information is not intended to be anti-American since I assume most of the world is happy to not be speaking German or Russian as their primary language. On the whole, the United States has been a force for good on our planet that has raised the quality of life for most of humanity through technology and prevention of another world war. It should also be noted that, without American satellite technology, the world may not have known about our perilous situation until 31 more years had passed, thereby erasing any benefit from the absence of our carbon pollution.

However, this information is critical when evaluating our responsibility to repair, or at least mitigate, the damage caused by our emissions. When a political leader speaks about how a climate deal punishes the United States, we must acknowledge the "punishment" every other country faces due to the total history of our pollution. The richest country in the world is responsible for over a quarter of the pollution so the bare minimum should involve us covering our 28% of the bill for a solution. Considering the financial benefit gained by our emissions in the past century, we probably could afford to cover the 20% gratuity, too.

22 April 2017

All income should be taxed at the same rate.

President Trump is preparing to embark on new tax policy for America and I will naively pretend that it is something more than a tax cut for the rich. If he truly wants to fix the tax system then the only truly fair process would be a flat tax based on net worth. (Expect that to happen when our sun turns into a white dwarf.) However, the best change we can make today is to tax all income, including capital gains, inheritance, prize winnings and whatever else - at the same rate. The super rich get all of their income from capital gains. I know this is depressing to hear but the 1% do not “labor” and get all of their income from investments, having already inherited or collected their core income for their investments. Their work choosing investments is their "labor". Some investments happen without being initially taxed. Yes, there are regulations in place that allow individuals to invest (with various rules/limits attached, of course) without paying any taxes. So if you have enough money to invest then you actually can “earn” money and only pay taxes when divesting. (Or maybe not even then, depending ... A tax lesson for another day.) There is no rule that a dollar is only taxed once. Everyone, no matter how you earn income, is taxed multiple times on every greenback. Just take a look at the fine print on your cell phone bill and start counting the number of taxes. The more you spend on goods or services, the more taxes you pay. Those with less income pay a higher percentage of taxes. Round one is social security and federal income tax. Round two is state taxes on income and/or sales. Round three is local taxes and/or individual departments of government. Then, depending on what you purchase (used automobile, for example) you can be taxed on it multiple times by the state. Half or more of these tax sources hit when you purchase something, which those with less money need to do with a higher percentage of their income. If you have enough money to invest then you can avoid most of these taxes. Our tax system should be equitable to all Americans. The only way to make a fair tax system is for all income to be taxed at the same rate. If you inherit it, if you get it from capital gains, if you labored for it, if you won it on the Price Is Right —- it simply does not matter. It should be taxed at whatever rate you pay. Exceptions to tax rules only benefit the rich because they are the only ones that can afford CPA’s working full time so they pay as little (or nothing) as possible. Those on "main street" have no choice but to just pay and the poorest are always hit the hardest.

04 March 2017

The future of humanity.

The future of humanity.

2014: Hottest year ever measured.
2015: Hottest year ever measured.
2016: Hottest year ever measured.
The White House is gutting the EPA. Congress is trying to cut funding for the satellites that track this information under the mistaken belief that if we do not know about then the problem goes away.

Remember that lying Al Gore movie about the climate? Great news! The climate models made 30 years ago that Gore used are accurately predicting the warming of our planet! And things start to get a lot worse in the years and decades ahead.

Politicians have become this a political game with one side trying to make America stupid and the other without the balls to underscore how critical this is. The ice is disappearing almost overnight and it is now absolutely clear that, short of a couple mile wide asteroid hitting us, that humans are on course to create the worst mass extinction event in the fossil record.

Is America great again if the choices we make today will assure our country no longer exists two generations from now? That is what the (scientifically accurate) climate models predict if we do not stop using fossil fuels.

We can fix the future with the tech we have today. With solar, wind and nuclear energy (ideally Thorium-based) we could safely be emission free for electricity generation within 20 years. Oh, and it would also create thousands of jobs. Please, White House - champion this and train the coal workers and anyone else out of a job to be part of our planet-saving new economy.

We must invest in the technology of the future if we want America to still be here for future generations.

23 January 2017

A plea to save the American economy.

Dear President Trump,

You are in danger of permanently placing China in the driver's seat of the world economy and our dollar in the toilet.

I appreciate the fact that many of your supporters want you to bring back buggy-whip factories, but they are not coming back. No matter what you do, we are not going to be building new coal-powered electric stations. Apple is not going to be transferring iPhone manufacturing to Indiana. Nike's shoes are not going to be sewed together in a Portland suburb. And that's good news!

We have the high paying jobs everyone wants right here in our borders. That Boeing company that you said charges too much money, they build the greatest aircraft in the universe. Tesla has the greatest batteries and electric cars ever dreamed of. Apple may build their devices elsewhere but all of their high paying jobs and profits comes back to the United States of America. And, more importantly, America is the financial center of the world.

We are the largest market as a result of leading the world in free trade. Whenever a standard currency is needed the world picks the American dollar. Want to buy a barrel of oil from any country in the world? The cost is calculated in our dollar. When a country wants a safe place to store their money for the long term, they invest in the United States dollar. Nearly all financial transactions come through America.

Now you want to start a protectionist environment so we can force companies to bring back their low-paying manufacturing jobs to America. It might work, but think about this for a moment:

  • China is now the largest economy in the world.
  • China trades with every country in the world.
  • China wants to lead the world in free trade and have already stated they will take our spot.
  • China no longer wants to use the American dollar as the currency standard.
    • Neither does the middle east.
    • Neither does Russia.
    • Neither does Europe.
    • Heck .. Nobody wants to use the dollar anymore.
    • ... and what held them back is not having an alternative.
    • ... and here comes China with an alternative.
If the world stops using our dollar then our financial institutions (half of our economy) and government will take an enormous hit. Bringing back low paying jobs seems nice until it means that all imported goods cost twice as much because our dollar crumbles. What will happen to our federal budget with no one investing in American treasury bonds?

This doomsday scenario will not happen immediately. It may take the world a few years to switch away from the dollar. But they will. And when they do, it will be the rest of the world that controls the American economy.

All so you could try to bring back some low paying manufacturing jobs.

22 November 2016

"Please Mr. president, It's too much winning! We can't take it anymore!"

When you elect a fascist as President of the United States of America, you can expect a wee bit of chaos along the way to making America great again. So, as a service to the man in the White House, we are tracking all of that "winning" for you:
  1. Calling civil rights leader lazy on MLK Jr. holiday
  2. Hiring son in his administration
  3. Report of him hiring girls for water sports
  4. Trump's business conflicts of interest
  5. Hiring of unqualified Ben Carson to head HUD
  6. Hiring of individual who is against the EPA to lead it
  7. Hiring of Exxon chief as Secretary of State
  8. Trump refusing to acknowledge that Russia interfered with election
  9. Trump agreed to drop Ukraine opposition for Russia releasing Democrat emails.
  10. Upsetting China by skipping diplomatic channels and directly working with Taiwan.
  11. Secretary of Health and Human Services invests in companies based on legislation he influences.
  12. Lying about the attendance size of his inauguration.
  13. Claiming that millions voted illegally with no proof.
    1. Then forces an investigation to try to support the lie.
  14. Destroying relationship with Mexico and, no, they won't pay for the wall.
  15. Entire State Department Senior Management team abruptly resigns.
  16. Asks for the CIA to start using black sites for torturing detainees.
  17. America degraded to "Flawed Democracy" by Economist Intelligence Unit.
  18. Doomsday Clock moves 30 seconds closer to midnight - "End of Humanity".
  19. Forcing pipeline to be constructed over scared native land while pipelines are leaking.
  20. Trump creates a shadow National Security Council.
  21. Bans immigration from 7 countries responsible for 0 American fatalities on U.S. soil.
  22. White House fires acting Attorney General because she found a Trump executive order, that was not run by the Justice Department as has been standard procedure with previous Presidents in both parties, to be indefensible and likely illegal.
  23. FUBAR military raid resulted in American deaths, including 8 year old American girl.
  24. Anything negative about Trump is fake news.
  25. Trump does not know the difference between refugees and illegal immigrants.
  26. National Security Adviser resigns after discovery that he broke the law and lied about it.
  27. FBI has evidence that Trump campaign was coordinating with Russia during elections.
  28. After 25 days in office the White House has three resignations due to collusion with Russia.
  29. White House ramps up a (unfortunately, successful) Nazi tactic of "lying press".
  30. Donald Trump breaks the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
  31. Supreme Court pick believes laws must be held to the perspective of white dudes when people who chose to be "darkies" or have a vagina were property with zero say in our government.
  32. Mike Pence was using a private email server for government business, including confidential info.
  33. House starts creating bills to remove funding from public schools and switch to vouchers, plus removing equal opportunity to students for education.
  34. Attorney General lied under oath: He was speaking with the Russians after all.
  35. Education secretary claims racism causing racial segregation is a positive example of school choice.
  36. So much for those American jobs. Keystone pipeline won't need to use American steel.
  37. Feeling the heat from his administration breaking the law, he makes up more shit about Obama.
  38. Evidence continues to build and GOP start to turn over Trump being a puppet of Putin.
  39. White House issues another ban on new Muslims coming to America.
  40. Americans want an independent investigation of Russian ties, but GOP refuses.
  41. GOP releases ObamaCare Lite still requires everyone enroll and has bigger penalties if they don't.
  42. Trump claims Obama released 122 reengaged Gitmo prisoners. It was actually George W. Bush.
  43. The reviews on GOP ObamaCare are in and they are ugly.
  44. Russian oligarch to profit from the non-American steel used in pipelines.

Of course, Trump was "winning" as a private citizen, too:

  1. Sexual Assault Allegations (1970-2005)
  2. Beauty Pageant Scandals  (1992-Present)
  3. Racial Housing Discrimination (1973-1975)
  4. Mafia Ties (1970-Present)
  5. Trump University (2005-2010)
  6. Tenant Intimidation (1982-1986)
  7. Four Bankruptcies (1991, 1992, 2004, 2009)
  8. Undocumented Polish Workers (1980)
  9. Alleged Marital Rape (1989)
  10. Breaking Casino Rules (Various)
  11. Antitrust Violations (1986)
  12. Condo Hotel Shenanigans (2008)
  13. Corey Lewandowski (2016)
  14. Suing Journalist Tim O’Brien for Libel (2006-2009)
  15. Refusing to Pay Workers and Contractors (1980-Present)
  16. Trump Institute (2005-Present)
  17. Buying Up His Own Books (2016)
  18. Undocumented Models (1999-?)
  19. The Trump Foundation (1988-Present)
  20. The Cuban Embargo (1998-Present)
  21. Growing Conflict of Interest List (Present)
And now a statement by our Commander and Chief:
“I did try and fuck her. She was married. ... I moved on her like a bitch. But I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look. ... Whoa! Whoa! Yeah, that’s her. With the gold. I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.” - Donald Trump, 2005

18 November 2016

Post Election Detox For Liberals and Conservatives

Post 2016 Election Note for Liberals:
Just as David Duke is allowed to do the white-suited Macarena in the streets, you are absolutely entitled to work through your emotions about the election. However, there are a few ground rules:

  • No protesting permitted without an "I Voted" sticker. You are welcome to have thoughts and feelings, but we don't want to see them on TV or blocking our evening commute.
  • Stop burning American flags. There's always one idiot in a mob that cannot help taking the group on the short bus parade, so please keep the matches away from that person.
Everyone needs to hope that Donald Trump will be a successful POTUS since the alternative would be devastating to the world. You might see all evidence pointing to our imminent disaster, but it is up to all of us to try to make the best of this. What would be a disaster is if the Democrats took the reigns of the "Party of No" which would leave Trump to executive order his way to what he wants without any dialogue about the implications. We need to work with the GOP (heaven forbid, Congress working together) to come up with constructive solutions. Yes, the ACA (Obamacare) is going to be changed, but do you want 20 million people to suddenly not have health insurance or do we want to make adjustments for a long-term solution? Yes, Trump might start us building some walls, bridges and roads, but (ignoring the immigration issues) that could truly be a good thing to spark more jobs in our country. Keep in mind that Obama wanted Republicans to help craft the ACA and tried to pass an infrastructure bill but was blocked by the GOP on both counts.

We need to demonstrate to the country how a minority party can work with the other side to get things done. We are going to have to give ground on a number of issues, but our lines in the sand should be reserved for those items that tear at the fabric of our society. Remember that our issue is not whether the ACA is renamed Trumpcare and we have a platinum Trumpwall on our border, but it is to demand respect for all individuals living in our borders and fight for the world we leave to future generations. We need to continue to remind those in power that the choices we make impact every living thing on this planet.

Yes, our needs for the Supreme Court should be heard since the GOP broke the rules by not considering an appointment by Obama. We should do whatever we can to live up to the task of being stewards of the environment. There needs to be affordable healthcare available for all Americans. And, yes, we should fight to exclude any possible KKK wing of the oval office. To accomplish this we must compromise, continue to make our voices heard through protest, and always be willing to call Trump's bluff.

And keep your chin up. Trump will be up for re-election in four years.

Post 2016 Election Note for Conservatives:
You are right to complain about Americans burning flags in the street. You are right to be dismissive of protesters that did not even vote. You are right to be upset with those that hope Trump will fail. We need Trump and, ultimately, America to succeed. However, there are some ground rules in your indignation:

  • Be sensitive to the fact that over one million more people voted for the woman who lost the election. It is healthy for people to openly question how that has occurred twice to their candidates.
  • Everyone is entitled to have their feelings and work through emotions however they need to, provided it does not break the law and does not do harm to others.
We all need to be aware that protests with racist signs and dolls showing Obama being hanged were on display in America in 2008 and 2012. There are poor losers on every side. Speaking of which ... Whatever Democrats do, it is following the GOP's eight years of openly saying they would never assist Obama on anything he wanted to pass. I sincerely hope the minority party does not continue that terrible behavior, but it was (unfortunately) successfully modeled by the GOP.

Now we should chat about these rumors that Trump is a racist, xenophobic womanizer. Everyone is welcome to their own opinion on that subject based on the evidence (Trump's own words), but there is little point arguing since he was already elected. What is very much open to debate is keeping like-minded views out of our United States Government. If you are happy to have "White Power" sweep our government than congrats. But if you do not believe Trump is trying to create a racist America than you need to prove it by being openly against his hires that have demonstrated those beliefs. Case and point:

Jeff Sessions as Attorney General:
Called a black attorney a "boy", prosecuted black civil rights attorneys, claims the only problem with the KKK is they smoke weed, ignores violence against abortion clinics and mocks civil rights groups as un-American. He was dismissed by a bi-partisan Senate Judiciary Committee.

Michael Flynn as Security Advisor:
Sacked by the Pentagon for aggressive behavior, anti-Muslim rhetoric and a habit of tweeting anti-Semitic material. He has strong connections with Russia including Vladimir Putin. Mr. Flynn is in favor of our military using torture (against the law, by the way) for extracting information.

Steve Bannon as Chief Strategist:
Steve created the online news organization, Breitbart News, which is a favorite of the alt-right which includes our favorite upside-down vanilla ice cream cone people. Their news stories reflect their viewership and they unapologetically alter or outright lie to fit whatever narrative their readers want to hear at that moment. Beyond the typical anti-liberal verbiage, the articles are regularly racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic which Steve openly says he does not have the least concern about.

Trump has not taken office yet and it is reasonable to see a disturbing picture being painted. We want Trump to succeed and we want him to leave a better America than he inherited, but the tide of prosperity needs to move up for all Americans, not just the rich ones with pale skin and a penis. Help us make certain that happens.