The Roundup for March 6-April 17, 2019 Edition

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of interesting, informative, and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.

Inspiring Quotation

“How do you know the healing is working?

When you can breathe normally and think calmly during moments that used to make you feel tension. ”

  • Young Pueblo

Great Photography Shots

We’re (finally!) into spring, and so these shots of flowers warmed my heart as the sun was (finally!) starting to warm my skin.

(‘Nature’s perfection!‘ by @di.monheit19)
(‘Happy Birthday Val‘ by Elaine Taylor)
(‘The National Flower of Nicaragua‘ by @the.r.a.b.b.i.t)
(‘Pollinating‘ by @lasina)

Music I’m Digging

  • I listened to a bunch of music throughout March, though only a handful of tracks ended up as new favourite songs.
  • Karen O & Danger Mouse – Lux Prima // This album has been on constant replay for a month; Karen O’s vocals combined with Danger Mouse’s beats are absolutely captivating.
  • The Tea Party – The Edges of Twilight // It’s been years since I’ve listened to the entirely of this album, and when I did I was struck by how novel the sounds were for the mid-90s. Without a doubt this is the best album that The Tea Party released; if you’re into 90s alternative then this is a must-listen.
  • The Chemical Brothers – No Geography // The band pulled out the equipment that they used in the mid-90s to produce this album and does it ever show. The entire album feels like the classic kinds of beats that they produced between the mid-90s to the early-aughts, and that’s a very, very good thing.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • TVO- Debriefing Ontario’s 2019 Budget and TVO – Diving Deep into the 2019 Budget // In the aftermath of the Ontario government’s most recent budget, experts got together to discuss the things that are and are not in the new budget. Significantly, spending for social groups and assistance to disenfranchised persons are significantly down, and while the budget is technically the largest ever produced in Ontario it has grown at a rate below that of inflation. In other words: while there are more pure dollars in this budget the allocation of budget dollars has changed significantly, and the actual value of those dollars has declined. An era of real cuts has begun.
  • The Current – There’s a gender gap in medical data, and it’s costing women their lives, says this author // I was blown away by just how many problems arise because of the gendered ways in which data is(n’t) collected, and how important and lifesaving it is to better account for gender in data collection. Even the way that snow is plowed is gendered, and how it’s done can send disproportionate numbers of women to hospital! I cannot stress how eye opening this particular episode is!
  • Lawfare – James Comey at Verify 2019 // I fundamentally disagree with how Comey articulated certain things, such as what a judicial order to seek content from a secured environment obliges a person to do in enabling such a search. That aside, Comey’s assessment of the broader national security issues and challenges is worth the listen. He’s incredibly smart and articulate, and that’s something that’s sadly lacking in American political debates these days.
  • Lawfare – Michelle Melton on Climate Change as a National Security Threat // Melton’s interview is really, really interesting because it canvasses the arguments for why we should, and should not, want climate change issues to be understood as national security issues. The assessments for why (and why not) to do so are, in part, based on definitions but more significantly pertain to whether we should ‘water down’ national security, whether nationalism is the right way of reflecting on climate change, and more broadly that the core issue might just be the ‘climate realists’ won’t act until its too late regardless of whether we classify climate change as a national security threat.
  • The Sporkful – A Soda Jerk And A Mormon Walk Into A Podcast // Soda is one of those things that I am incredibly careful around; a decade and a half ago, I largely cut it out of my diet and the result was I dropped 10-15 lbs almost overnight. So I respect how delicious it is and, also, how much it can affect the composition of my body. This episode of The Sporkful has me reflecting on whether I should give at least some soda a chance: the flavours discussed in this episode sound magical, and I learned an awful lot about the contemporary carbonation process and why so many sodas are sweet, today, which might not have been in the past.
  • The Current – As Nova Scotia switched to opt-out option for organ donation, expert examines the ethics of government ‘nudging’ // I had, previously, been a pretty big fan of the idea that people are automatically opted-in to organ donation but this episode gave me pause. Specifically, when there is an informed decision the likelihood of a family intervening to prevent a transplant is much lower than when people are just ‘nudged’ to accept and authorize transplants.
  • The Sporkful – Is The Future Of Bourbon Female? // I have a deep and abiding love of bourbon; it’s one of my absolute favourite ‘brown’ spirits. This episode has lots of incredibly useful information and good ways of thinking about why some alcohol is so expensive compared to others, and that ‘old’ is often more expensive by not necessarily preferable to your palettete. The episode also, rather remarkably, gets bourbon distillers to admit that their marketing has historically ignored women and that the reason there is so much innovation in the bourbon space these days is due to the industry recognizing women — a full 50+% of the world’s population — might actually enjoy the drink as well.

Good Reads

  • The Race to Build the World’s Best Bourbon Barrel // Bryson does a terrific job in walking through how bourbon barrels are aged, as well as the things that change with the wood as the aging process unfolds. Certain woods, as an example, have higher tannin contents which befit loner airing periods, and other types of wood close off pores in the wood differently. These kinds of changes, along with how wood for barrels is cut to expose different amounts of wood or char to the alcohol, all affect the ultimate character of the bourbon being made. A great article if distilling and bourbon are things that pure persistently curious about.
  • The Secret History of Fiat Brazil’s Internal Espionage Network and Collaboration With the Military Dictatorship // I’d had no idea just how pervasive the Brazilian dictatorship’s surveillance regime had been, nor the extent to which private companies were complacent and supportive. Cesar’s article unpacks the history of Fiat’s own worker surveillance and, also, how it combined with that of the regime to massively monitor workers within as well as outside of the Fiat factories. In an era where employers seek more awareness of employees’ activities, combined with a diminishment of employee privacy rights, this article is a warning of how things used to be not that long ago and, also, the dangers of where workplace surveillance is various parts of the world is intensifying.
  • A brief history of Wi-Fi security protocols from “oh my, that’s bad” to WPA3 // Salter’s article for Ars Technica is an example of public service writing/journalism. You can clearly understand the trajectory of wifi protocols, why they were replaced at different iterations, and the likely situation that personal routing will be at (from a security standpoint) in the next few days. He’s done a real service to the public, and if you’ve ever wanted to know how and why home internet protocols are updated then this is definitely an article to check out.
  • Can Your Refrigerator Improve Your Dating Life? // This article can only be taken as borderline comedy, though a comedy with some degree of truth to it. I can see how knowing the kinds of habits a potential partner has concerning food would potentially provide useful insights: fresh fruits, nuts, and other raw ingredients? Good (in my eyes). Lots of pre-processed foods and sugary snacks? (Far less good, to me, because I know I need to avoid excesses of those things in my life). The socio-economic assessment that is suggested in the article — that you can figure out who someone is and their likely affluence by looking in their fridge — doesn’t hold weight to me because it presumes an attitude towards cooking and purchasing foods that may be contrasted with reality.
  • Food innovations changed our mouths, which in turn changed our languages // Researchers are exploring whether the way humans pronounce certain words — and changes in pronunciation over time — is linked to the foods that we ate, and how those foods affected the configuration of teeth in our mouths. While it’s still early and ongoing research I think it is so cool that language is adaptive to our cuisine, in addition to other elements such as always seeking the easiest/fastest ways of communicating using verbal means and cues.
  • A Mysterious Infection, Spanning the Globe in a Climate of Secrecy // I understand why artificial intelligence and other major new technological developments provoke interest and concern, especially around how new technologies might prospectively threaten human life. But it seems like far too little attention is being paid to an emerging existential threat: a situation where fungi and bacteria cannot be killed and are capable of spreading widely and easily and quickly. More and more often we find microorganisms that are resistant to everything we can throw at it, and without the benefits of contemporary medicine we won’t need to worry about what AI will do, but whether there are invisible killers lining our walls, clothing, or bathrooms.
  • Why the US still won’t require SS7 fixes that could secure your phone // The SS7 network underpins the global communications infrastructure and remains deeply unsecured, in part due to American trade organizations opposing any and all efforts to improve security standards and regulations. This is another case where profit is being permitted to trump safety and security, the (social) costs be damned.
  • Are You Afraid of Google? BlackBerry Cofounder Jim Balsillie Says You Should Be // While I tend to agree with Balsillie about some of his concerns around data surveillance and the costs it raises to democracy, this fawning profile fundamentally ignores some of his — vis-a-vis BlackBerry’s — failings. Blackberry facilitated mass surveillance in non-democratic regions of the world. It worked with repressive governments to the detriment of free speech and human rights advocates. It’s terrific that he expresses concerns, now, but it’s based on a failure to truthfully engage with the sins of his past. This failure suggests either he doesn’t want to seek atonement or doesn’t think atonement is needed. Either suggestion is deeply problematic.
  • The Pentagon’s Bottomless Money Pit // Taibbi’s article will take you a long time to get through, but’s it’s enormously funny throughout with his dry wit and the comments of auditors of the Pentagon’s books keeping you company through the serious assessment of just how badly managed the Agency’s books are kept. The ultimate assessment of what it will take to fix — namely campaign finance reform — means there’s little hope that the Pentagon will move towards a serious accountancy reform anytime soon, but at the bare minimum the source of the current blight is known…
  • The Global Diversity of French Fry Dips Is a Window Into the Way We Eat Today // I had absolutely no idea there was so much diversity in what could, and is, put on a french fry. I’ve had Belgian fries before and was impressed with the selection of dips available, but now I realize just how many more options there really are to enjoy!

Cool Things


BlackBerry’s new round of lawsuits targets BLU—and Android

BlackBerry’s new round of lawsuits targets BLU—and Android:

The new lawsuits also suggest that BlackBerry has patents it believes describe Android features, so don’t be surprised if more Android phones are in the crosshairs soon. One of the two cases filed last week accuses user-interface features that are more about Android than they are about BLU. A small manufacturer like BLU could make for a good “test case” against a maker of Android phones.

Great. We’re back to the patent-suit wars that more or less wrapped up between mobile phone companies a few years back.

It’s going to be pretty amazing to watch Blackberry sue firms which have adopted the Android OS…just like Blackberry itself. I wonder if some other trolls will come out from their bridge and fire reciprocal suits against Blackberry.


BlackBerry DTEK50 Review: Secure, reasonably priced but light on battery life

BlackBerry DTEK50 Review: Secure, reasonably priced but light on battery life:

But the software on the DTEK50 is the same as the Priv’s – hardened Android 6.0.1 (Marshmallow), FIPS 140-2 compliant full disk encryption, hardware root of trust, and BlackBerry Integrity Detection that monitors for compromises, with BlackBerry extras like the Hub (a unified inbox for all communications), calendar, contacts, password keeper, device search, launcher, and the DTEK security app for which the phone was named. Once you’ve used the BlackBerry software, most other offerings seem severely wanting. DTEK deserves special mention. It evaluates the device’s security posture, recommends changes, and allows you to see exactly what rights each app is using, and how often. You can also revoke individual privileges for an app if, for example, you see no reason why a flashlight app should have access to your contacts.

On what possible grounds can the reviewer – or the editor, who presumably assigned the title to this article – assert that the new Blackberry device is ‘secure’? We know that Blackberry’s consumer-grade options do not encrypt messaging data. We know that other implementations of Android, such as CopperheadOS, actually contribute code to the Android Open Source Project that is meant to reduce vulnerabilities.

We also know that Blackberry refuses to disclose how often they receive, and respond to, government requests for assistance. And we don’t know which countries Blackberry provides assistance to, under what specific terms, or the types of data that the company discloses. But all of this speaks to Blackberry being able to access consumers’ data…which is the definition of a service being insecure insofar as non-authorized actors can read or copy the data in question.

Before journalists or editors make assertions regarding security of mobile devices (or any other product for that matter) they should be obligated to contact experts in the field of mobile security. And preferably they’d actually contact people who actively test the security of mobile devices. Or, you know, at the very least they’d read the news and realize that the security afforded by Blackberry to its retail customers if more like propoganda than based in reality.


Pakistan Is Ordering Telecom Companies to Ban BlackBerry Encrypted Messaging

Pakistan Is Ordering Telecom Companies to Ban BlackBerry Encrypted Messaging:

The government of Pakistan is “requesting” that three telecom companies stop providing BlackBerry’s encrypted messaging services to customers, according to documents obtained by civil rights group Bytes for All Pakistan.

“This demonstrates, at a policy level, that a very large government is willing to ban communications if they can’t gain access to it,“ said Chris Parsons, a post-doctoral fellow at digital rights group Citizen Lab.”Maybe it’s just Pakistan, and nobody else will do it, but it’s certainly a strong change to, ‘If we can’t backdoor it, then we will ban it,’” he added.



Police investigations show even BlackBerry messages can be intercepted

Police investigations show even BlackBerry messages can be intercepted:

Touted as one of the most secure ways to communicate, BlackBerry smartphones have been put in the spotlight after several police investigations said they were able to track criminals who used the device’s encrypted technology.

“It’s a problem in the way that BlackBerry has marketed some of its services to the consumer market,” said Christopher Parsons, a fellow at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, which specializes on how privacy is affected by digital surveillance.

“It’s a very difficult security posture and probably one that most users … don’t fully understand.”

Parsons said many BlackBerry owners assume incorrectly that their smartphones meet the same standards as BlackBerrys used by major corporations and the U.S. government, even though they’re not operating on the same high-level security servers that have come to define the company’s advantage over its competitors.


Quebec’s organized-crime crackdown hinges on BlackBerry intercepts

Quebec’s organized-crime crackdown hinges on BlackBerry intercepts:

Over 1 million PIN to PIN messages intercepted. Hopefully consumers will begin to realize that Blackberry has largely been blowing smoke about the security of their consumer-grade backend infrastructure.


The strange connection between the NSA and an Ontario tech firm

I’m not in corporate PR, but when it turns out your company (i.e. BlackBerry) holds the patent on a known-NSA-backdoored encryption standard I’m not sure shutting up and avoiding the press is the best of ideas. Especially if your product (*cough* BlackBerry *cough*) is predicated on strong security against all attackers.

Source: The strange connection between the NSA and an Ontario tech firm

We Need Clarity on ‘National Security’ Rules for Telecommunications

The story of Blackberry has gripped many technology watchers, watchers who are bearing witness to the trials and tributations of the company as it struggles to compete in the increasingly populated smartphone market. To some, it seemed that one way ‘out’ for Blackberry was for the company to be purchased by another firm looking to aggressively enter this market. Based on recent reporting by the Globe and Mail, however, it looks like any hopes that Blackberry might be purchased could be scuttled for ‘national security’ reasons.

Specifically, Steven Chase and Boyd Erman write that,

Ottawa made it clear in high-level discussions with BlackBerry that it would not approve a Chinese company buying a company deeply tied into Canada’s telecom infrastructure, sources said. The government made its position known over the last one to two months. Because Ottawa made it clear such a transaction would not fly, it never formally received a proposal from BlackBerry that envisioned Lenovo acquiring a stake, sources said.

on Monday the Canadian official took pains to emphasize that concerns about BlackBerry are not part of a trend to shut out Chinese investment. “This is a company that has built its reputation and built its success on system security and its infrastructure. That’s one of the reasons businesses use BlackBerries. … The security is robust and we’d obviously have an interest in making sure we didn’t do anything or allow anything that would compromise Last fall, citing a rarely used national-security protocol, Ottawa has sent a signal to Chinese telecom equipment giant Huawei Technologies that it would block the firm from bidding to build the Canadian government’s latest telecommunications and e-mail network. Huawei, founded by a former People’s Liberation Army member, has on numerous occasions found itself having to reject claims its equipment could be used to enable spying.

In October. 2012, a senior spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper publicly hinted Huawei would be left out the cold. “I’ll leave it to you if you think that Huawei should be a part of [the] Canadian government security system,” Mr. MacDougall said.

I’m particularly mindful of the possible security issues that may be linked to letting foreign-located businesses playing significant roles in Canadian telecommunications networks. But, at the same time, the present Canadian government seems to be applying ‘national security considerations’ in a manner that prevents market analysts and watchers from clearly assessing when such considerations might be applied.

Without clear criteria, what are the conditions under which a non-Canadian company could purchase Blackberry? Could a well-financed American company buy it, based on what we’ve learned about NSA surveillance? Could a company that was known to comply with foreign governments’ lawful interception requirements buy Blackberry, given that such requirements could have a global reach? Could Blackberry be purchased by companies that operate in countries that, if their governments had access to Blackberry communications, could gain an edge in international diplomatic engagements with Canada or its closest international partners?

I don’t dispute that national security may sometimes demand terminating business deals that would violate the national interest. However, given that incredibly large investments are being killed by the federal government of Canada it is imperative that the government make clear what ‘national security’ interests are at play, and the security models that motivate terminating such deals. To date, neither the interests nor models are particularly clear. As a result, analysts are forced to read the outcome of federal decisions without the benefit of understanding the full rationale of what went into them in the first place. The result has been to make it incredibly uncertain whether foreign businesses will be legally permitted to engage in market operations with Canadian companies.

Canadians are all to aware that the current federal government has failed on its promise to provide a digital strategy for the Canadian marketplace. In the absence of such a strategy, perhaps the federal government could at least provide its rules for determining when a business proposal runs counter to national security?

BBM as a Microsoft Product?

Dan Froomer has an interesting 20/20 piece in which he asks what would have happened if Microsoft bought Blackberry in 2009. While he points to the potential of combining Z10 hardware with Windows Phone software, plus the 2009-value of Blackberry’s enterprise market, those claims aren’t his most ambitious. No, the pie-in-the-sky claim, emphasized below, is:

a Microsoft-BlackBerry tie-up in 2009 could have been good! Just as Microsoft was starting to put together a really solid software platform in Windows Phone 7, BlackBerry needed a grownup OS. Plus the obvious overlap in enterprise, RIM’s worldwide distribution, and even a budding mobile social network in BBM. There’s a possibility that it could have been a good combination.

Now, while BBM may have had up to 25 million subscribers in 2009 I simply cannot imagine Microsoft deciding to toss Windows Live Messenger with its 500 million+ users for BBM. My perspective is that things like BBM go to die in companies like Microsoft. Regardless of whether there were actual synergies between Blackberry and Microsoft in 2007 – and whether they could have been realized by Microsoft – BBM almost certainly wasn’t one of them.