Newsletter: You need the Internet

Stop whatever you are doing. Stop reading this newsletter. Go watch the trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I’ll wait here.

Ok, now that you are back, I want you to think about what just happened. I mean, yeah, the trailer was cool and you are pumped for the next Star Wars movie. But how did that whole process occur? You got a link to my newsletter, or an email if you are a loyal subscriber. You clicked on a link in the newsletter to take you to YouTube. You watched the video. You came back. What else do you do on the Internet besides read about science and sci-fi? How much of your knowledge comes from the Internet? How much of your current job depends on the Internet? How much of your job hunting? How much could you get done without using the Internet on a regular basis? Alright, with that thought in mind, click on this link and read about the Congressman who recently said that, “Nobody has to use the Internet.” This was in response to a town hall about those ISP privacy rules that were recently killed. I will reiterate this every time: This does not have to be a partisan issue. But, it is an issue, and no matter what side of the aisle you align with, you should care. And, you should mock this guy for being an out-of-touch clown.

Let’s chat a little more about policy before we move on to our regularly schedule space news. I like gadgets. I like having computers in all of my products. Sometimes I get nervous that they will rise up and kill me. But, on the whole, I believe that technology is a good thing. It is more legally tricky than some people realize, though. One of the big ongoing fights is the “right to repair” our gadgets. If John Deere has its way, farmers won’t be allowed to get their tractors repaired by third-party repair shops (or to do it themselves). Why? Because SAFETY! HACKERS! THE CYBER!!! But really it is about the extra money they can make by being the exclusive repair person for your gear. The same goes for Apple (and many other gadget makers). They want you to only be able to repair your products by using their people. Fortunately, a number of states are beginning to consider legislation that actually recognizes a right to repair. “But John Deere and Apple do it best,” you say. Perhaps, but that still doesn’t mean that this should be their only option.

Blah, blah, blah. On to the space already.

Last week, I said that a group of astronomers were planning on taking a picture of a black hole. Last week, the earth-sized shutter was finally snapped. Don’t expect to see a picture anytime soon, though–each of the 8 participating observatories have about 500 terabytes of data to work through. Hopefully, in 2018, when the film is finally developed, we won’t be looking at images of an interdimensional hellscape looking back at us. While you wait, though, take a look at all of these images that aren’t of black holes.

Closer to home, NASA thinks that one of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus, could host alien life. That doesn’t mean that there is alien life on the moon, just that the conditions are right. While Mars is interesting because it speaks to our desire to colonize and live the sci-fi dream, I am much more interested in sending better and better probes to Enceladus, Titan, and one of Jupiter’s moons Europa. Mars colonies are sexy. Alien bacteria on crazy moons are sexier.

In case you haven’t thought about Jupiter in a while, it is still gorgeous. And, we found another spot recently. I’ve already made a 2010 joke in this newsletter. Insert your own this time.

Extra Bits

Disney filed a patent for robots that can hug you. Presumably, they will file the patent for the ability to hug you to death later.

Someone hacked Dallas’s emergency sirens. This is a little funny, but also a scary remind of the fragility of our infrastructure.

Burger King trolled Google Home (and Google Assistant) users.

Did you get the Nintendo Classic Mini yet? No? Well, you never will.

Your shoelace is untied…by science!

Apathy and IM Security

A new study says that you care about neither security nor privacy when choosing a mobile instant messaging app.

The study consisted of an online survey of 1,510 participants, followed by interviews with 31 expert and non-expert participants. It found that peer influence is the primary factor that drives people to choose, and stick with their IM app, with WhatsApp, Hangouts, and Facebook Messenger ranked as the most used apps. Privacy and security only play a “minor role” in people’s decisions to adopt an IM. This goes for both experts and non-experts–“[I]nsecure behaviour exhibited by the participants…was roughly identical across both groups.”

My favorite part of the study, though, was the description of how experts view non-experts:

When asked what a non-expert knows about the sending process, 3 experts stated that they would know little to nothing and if they would think about it, they would most likely assume a direct connection between the two smartphones (8 mentions). Six of them even assumed that normal users would consider it “magic”. Furthermore, only one expert thought that normal users would think about whether the communication was encrypted or not. Interestingly, the experts highly underestimated the non-experts’ knowledge.

On the one hand, the experts think that we are a bunch of buffoons who use tiny magic pocket boxes to connect with our friends. On the other hand, they are just as awful about security and privacy choices as the rest of us.

My recommendations based on this study:

  1. Move to WhatsApp. A lot of your friends are already on it and WhatsApp recently activated end-to-end encryption by default. With that you will have a (relatively) secure setup, you can do what your friends do, and you don’t have to think about any of it.
  2. If you meet a security “expert”, punch him in the face shake your head in disappointment because he probably has already judged you as a Neanderthal.

Read the full study.

Or, just read Motherboard’s summary.