The Roundup for January 1-31, 2020 Edition

(Smiles by Christopher Parsons)

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.

I’m the (very) proud new owner of a Fuji X100F. The X100 series is what really drew me back to photography five or six years ago. I had the original X100 and, as someone who was coming from a camera phone, it was incredibly frustrating! The knobs and dials were cool but I had no idea how to use the camera. As I wrote, personally, at the time:

… the Fuji is awesome looking. But I can’t take a decent shot whatsoever with it at the moment. It’s going to take me a while to just understand the relationship(s) between the various settings in order to get some decent shots from it.

That camera ended up getting sold to pay rent and food, sadly, but my want for a replacement never left. In its stead I’ve used (and loved) a Sony RX100ii and an Olympus EM-10ii, and it’s on those cameras that I’ve learned an awful lot about photography. I’d be lying if I said I’d used more than 20% of their capabilities. However, over the past several years I’ve shot tens of thousand of photos with them and so have a better appreciation for framing, composition, and generally the kinds of settings that I’ll need for different shooting situations.

I was still a bit trepidatious about the new X100. The 35mm focal length hasn’t, typically, been my absolute preferred focal length (that honour belongs to the 50mm focal length), but I’m starting to think that part of my concerns around 35mm have been linked to what a micro four-thirds sensor showcases as 35mm. Specifically, with the X100F I can see just enough more that I don’t feel as compressed as I do shooting with the equivalent focal length on my Olympus. And, of course, I am absolutely adoring the colour that I’m getting out of the Fuji!

Inspiring Quotation

You can learn the technique, but passion is cultivated through dedication, love, pride as respect in your work.

  • Piero Bambi

Great Photography Shots

I am forever in love with the colours that people pull out of street scenes in Japan; it’s part of why I’d like to visit Japan or, perhaps more likely, Hong Kong once/if things settle there. Portela’s work in Kobe, Japan, is just stunning.

Music I’m Digging

For my first monthly playlist of 2020, I’ve actively gone through older albums that I know I enjoy and selected what I love. As such, there’s some diversity in when tracks were published, though in terms of the actual genres it’s ahead as normal: R&B, alternative, and some singer/songwriter dominate the tracks.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • Oppo-A Huawei Executive Defends Their Record // This is, without a doubt, one of the most aggressive Canadian interviews I’ve heard about Huawei. Fundamentally, it seems like a core issue with these kinds of interviews, generally, are that journalists are ill-prepared to develop and run a series of parallel lines of argumentation, and then conclude at the end with assessments of what the responses to all those parallel lines ultimately constitute. Even with some of the weaknesses in the interview I think that it is, hands down, the best interview with a Huawei executive on the appropriateness of Canada relying on the Huawei’s equipment in next-generation mobile networks.

Good Reads

  • How 17 Outsize Portraits Rattled a Small Southern Town // Burch’s article does a good job in both outlining how much work goes into public art projects—the process that goes into them is as, if not more, important that the output—as well as how public art can initiate important and needed social dialogues.
  • Is Duty-Free Dead? On the Trail of Travel-Exclusive Unicorns // As someone who now searches through duty free shops hunting for novel whiskies, Goldfarb’s article on the relative dearth of interesting drams rings depressingly true. While I did find a truly unique bottle of Danish pleated whiskey in Copenhagen last year I’m hard pressed to think of anything interesting I’ve otherwise come across in the past year or two of flying. In contrast, just four or five years ago I could routinely find drinks that were entirely unavailable in the regions I lived in. Sad times…
  • The Shadow Commander // The assassination of Qassem Suleimani sent reverberations throughout the world, as governments held their breath while wondering what consequences would follow from the American action. But what was evident in the media following the killing was that few people truly appreciated who he was, what he had done, or why the Americans would want to kill him. This older article in The New Yorker does a good job in explaining his life, how he became a powerful power broker in the region surrounding Iran, and how he exercised this power to kill or undermine American and Western interests for decades. While it stops well short of justifying the American assassination—it was written seven years before the action—it does help non-experts better appreciate some of the thinking that presumably went into the military decision to want to kill Suleimani.

Cool Things

  • D&D Sapphire Anniversary Dice Set // Way too rich for my blood, but wow do these look nice!
  • Toy Story 3 IRL Movie // For 8 years, the creators of this film have been painstakingly remaking Toy Story 3 with stop animation. The completed product is just absolutely amazing.


One of the things I enjoy most about academia is the emphasis on intellectual freedom even when expressing such freedom might be seen as problematic for the University’s commercial interests. Case in point: I was quoted in an article raising concerns that some universities’ contractual agreements to automatically transfer certain 5G telecommunications patents to foreign companies (based on research funded by the same companies) could be disadvantageous to domestic national security. One of the universities that is caught up in the issue is the one employing me. Despite my statements potentially being disadvantageous to my own university’s interests there are no rebukes but, instead, praise for being involved with national issues. If only all employers could be so similarly open-minded!


Vulnerabilities in Huawei Routers Discovered

While not exactly news that home and small enterprise routers tend to be insecure, the magnitude of the problems with Huawei’s devices was revealed at DefCon this year. Given the failure of the company’s engineers to recognize and navigate around longstanding security issues it seems particularly prudent for a public accounting of Huawei’s enterprise and ISP-focused routing products.


Huawei Blocked on National Security Grounds

We recently learned that the Australian government had blocked Huawei from tendering contracts for Australia’s National Broadband Network. The government defended their position, stating that:

As such, and as a strategic and significant government investment, we have a responsibility to do our utmost to protect its integrity and that of the information carried on it.

Of note, internally Huawei had been a preferred choice but the company was ostensibly blocked for political/security, rather than economic, reasons. This decision isn’t terribly surprising given that American, Australian, and United Kingdom national intelligence and security agencies have all come out against using Huawei equipment in key government-used networks. The rationale is that, even were a forensic code audit possible (and likely wouldn’t be, on grounds that we’re talking millions of lines of code) it wouldn’t be possible to perform such an audit on each and every update. In effect, knowing that a product is secure now isn’t a guarantee that the product will remain secure tomorrow after receiving a routine service update. The concern is that Huawei could, as a Chinese company, be compelled by the Chinese government to include such a vulnerability in an update. Many in the security community suspect that such vulnerabilities have already been seeded.

Does this mean that security is necessarily the real reason for the ‘national security card’ being played in Australia? No, of course not. It’s equally possible that calling national security:

  • let’s the government work with a company that it already has ties with and wants to support;
  • is the result of the government being enticed – either domestically or from foreign sources – to prefer a non-Huawei alternative;
  • permits purchases of a non-Huawei equipment from vendors that are preferred for political reasons; perhaps buying Chinese goods just wouldn’t be seen as a popular move for the government of the day.

Moreover, simply because Australia isn’t tendering contracts from Huawei doesn’t suggest that whatever equipment is purchased will be any more secure. In theory, were Cisco equipment used to power the National Broadband Network then the American government could similarly compel Cisco to add vulnerabilities into routers.

In part, what this comes down to is who do you trust to spy on you? If you see the Americans as more friendly and/or less likely to involve themselves closely in your matters of state, then perhaps American companies are preferred over your economic and geographical next-door neighbours.

I should note, just in closing, that Huawei has contracts with most (though not quite all) of Canada’s largest mobile and wireline Internet companies. Having spoken with high-level governmental officials about security concerns surrounding Huawei’s equipment there seems to be a total lack of concern: just because GCHQ, NSA, and ASIO have publicly raised concerns about the company’s equipment doesn’t seem to raise any alarm bells or worries with our highest government officials.