Collusion tracks the trackers

There’s a cool experimental Mozilla plugin called Collusion which lets you see what other sites are being told about your web browsing habits as you surf around.  Even with ad-blocking and do-not-track and a host of other privacy enhancing features turned on, the list of notified trackers grows pretty darned quickly!

The Corporate Surveillance State

A completely creeptastic article from the NY Times on how Target can figure out that your 16 year old daughter is pregnant before she’s willing to talk to you about it, based on what she’s buying and when.  Big Brother isn’t a mustachioed Stalinist, he’s a mild-mannered statistician attending corporate board meetings and sending out personalized coupon books that purposefully camouflage just how much his computers know about you and your so-called “private life”.

Open Climate Science Course

The University of Chicago has created an Open Courseware style Climate Science 101, with videos of the lectures and self-assessment materials online.  It’s aimed at non-science undergraduates.  If you, or someone you know, want to get a little  more in depth knowledge about climate science on their own time, it’s a great resource.

Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air

Sustainable Energy, without the Hot Air by David MacKay, is a book (available in its entirety online) looking at the sources of energy available, and the ways in which we use it today.  There are lots of options, but any real discussion has to, at the very least, use numbers that add up.

Corporate Spy Agencies and NGO Spies

A vast signals intelligence industry exists, and will sell its wares (including satellite data interception and undersea fiber-optic cable tapping) to any and all comers.  Ironically, they were infiltrated by agents from Privacy International, a London-based NGO.  Apparently the industry isn’t yet using its own technology to defend against critics.  One has to wonder how long that situation will last.

Why Is This Cargo Container Emitting So Much Radiation?

In Genoa, Italy a radioactive cargo container appeared.  Nobody knew where it had come from, or where it was going, or what was in it.  It took a year to get rid of it.  It’s as if a pixel got stuck on, in the real world, not the digital world.  I have to imagine given how automated the container transshipping is in some ports, that you could almost treat the insertion of something like this as a software problem.  You just have to get a truck to pick it up without knowing who you are, or what you’ve loaded, and from there the 20 ton packet of reality moves, guided by a disembodied digital hand.

All your (drone) base are belong to us!

The virtual cockpits from which the US drone fleet are operated have been infected by a virus, anonymous Air Force sources tell Wired.  Not only that, but officials at Creech AFB in Nevada where the deathly video games are played, apparently didn’t notify the Air Force’s network security organization of the breech.  When you put this together with the extrajudicially authorized overseas executions of US citizens, well, it’s just a little bit too SkyNet for me to feel good about.

Chaos Computer Club analyzes government malware

A scathing review of an official German government trojan by the Chaos Computer Club.  They decompiled the binaries and reverse-engineered the software, and found that not only did it fail to comply with the German constitutional court’s mandate to limit its capabilities, but was so poorly designed and secured as to enable “even attackers of mediocre skill” to completely compromise any machine on which it had been installed.  Clearly not the best of German engineering!

Legalizing Crowdfunded Startups

Crowdfunding, Why the SEC Bans It, Obama Wants It, and Banks Fear It.  Kickstarter would be illegal if you were making investments in a business, instead of donations to a cause.  Even so, people have raised on occasion hundreds of thousands of dollars via the site for honor-system bound innovation.  Hopefully this will be legitimized soon.

The Making of Bicycle Things

Over the last two years or so, I’ve fallen in love with dirt road riding.  In the Sierra Madre and Barrancas del Cobre of Chihuahua, the fire roads of the San Gabriels in SoCal, and now criss-crossing the continental divide here in Colorado and Wyoming.  I’ve pushed my trusty Long Haul Trucker further into the dirt than it really wanted to go.  I love the quiet, the near total lack of motorized traffic.  The long, rhythmic heavy breathing of going up up and away, focused on staying in motion, focused on staying upright.  And so I’m building a new bike, more dedicated to vanishing into the hills, and crawling along the vast majority of the world’s ways and roads, which are unpaved.  I’m calling it a Trohlloff (a Surly Troll frame fitted with a Rohloff hub) inspired by Cass Gilbert’s most recent steed (Bryan and I just happened to ride part of his route through Mexico last spring, and I’ve been following him, mesmerized, ever since).

I’m fascinated by supply chains and the globalization of nearly everything, and I have all but sworn off non-German bike parts, as they seem to be of consistently excellent functional design and build quality (vastly better than their US competitors), and I think Germany does a much better job than most countries with their labor and environmental practices (again, including the US).  So it’s interesting to me to learn more about where some of these bits that I buy on the interwebs actually come from.  Two examples, in the YouTube format.

The Rohloff Speedhub is an archetypal Made in Germany product: fabulously expensive (it costs considerably more than an entire brand new Long Haul Trucker!) and even more fabulously well made.  To celebrate the manufacture of the 100,000th Speedhub, the company recently threw a party and invited anybody who had ridden their hub more than 60,000 km.  A number of participants had ridden theirs more than 100,000 km.  Even some of their first batch of 20 prototype hubs had clocked up this many kms, and were still running strong!  To date, they have never had a hub fail in the field.  This is a testament to the power of good design.  Heirloom design.  Barring loss or theft, I won’t be surprised if the hub outlasts my legs, and this makes the up-front investment worthwhile.  It only makes sense to use highly paid manual labor when the value of the labor embodied in the product isn’t swamped by the value of the energy and materials that make it up.  When relatively low-skilled factory workers have good healthcare and lots of vacation time products have to be extremely well designed, and/or made from intrinsically expensive materials.

Schwalbe is another German company, and is the only tire manufacturer in the developed world that only makes bicycle tires.  Their tires are very well designed, durable, and unsurprisingly, expensive (a set of two will cost you $100 or so).  Interestingly, only the design of the tires takes place in Germany.  They’re actually manufactured in long time rubber producer Indonesia… by a Korean company!

I wonder what Rohloff’s thinking is behind keeping their entire operation in Germany.  Do they believe it’s impossible to train a foreign workforce to be as exacting as their German one, even with strict quality control measures?  Or is it more of a craftsman style operation, kept at home for aesthetic reasons?  I suspect the latter.