The Naked Truth about the Internet: Don’t have your Head in the iClouds

When faced with an Internet question, the important thing is to blame each other diverting our attention from the real issue.

When faced with an Internet question, the important thing is to blame each other thereby diverting our attention from the real issue.

[when the Apple takes a byte out of you]
You know what gets headlines?


You know what gets even more headlines?

Naked celebrities.

So it’s hardly surprising that everyone has an opinion about the elebentyhundred or so actresses (actresses because most hackers are still male) who have found their naked bits and bytes digitally distributed all over these United Interwebs in nonpixelated form.

And, because this is the Internet, the caviling cognoscenti, the same people who worry about a water shortage just because others are giving to a charity, are all over this issue.

Or actually not.

Because somehow the topic du electronique became whether naked selfies are bad (they’re not), or if privacy was criminally violated (it was).  There are also posts admonishing you, personally, for even looking at these photos because then you, personally, are contributing to this problem.  (These chiding posts are written on electronic devices usually made by what amounts to slave labor in China which I suppose makes the feminist posters guilty contributing, personally, to slavery but… hey… ummm… because… y’know… #firstworldhypocrisy.)  My favorite “you shouldn’t be looking at those photos” post came from Playboy.  After all, feminists claim Playboy and sexism are two words that can still spoon together comfortably.  So, would feminists agree, I wonder, with such a nuanced distinction between guilty exploitation and guilt-free exploitation?  Or, was Playboy just worried that hacked, free pictures would prevent the magazine from being able to capitalize on these same celebrities in the future should they decide to pose naked for public consumption?

Charlize Theronlindsay lohan playboy


So: what framing should people use to debate this story?  Simple.  Assigning blame. This is America after all.  So: who is to blame?

Simple.  Apple.

(And you thought this column couldn’t get any more offensive.)

When will people learn that Apple, the company that literally tracked your iPhone’s every move, is hostile to them, personally?  (It’s not like I haven’t written about this before.)

Here’s how Internet 2.0 works:  every tech giant wants a complete dossier on you.  Period.  Google wants to learn about you from your Internet searches.  Or the “free” email service they provide.  Or the “free” browser they provide so they can see more than just your Internet searches.  Or the “free” operating system they provide to control your smart phone.

You might also ask yourself how easy it will be for Google to monitor your data over Google fiber – even if you don’t use any of their other products – but… hey… ummm… because… y’know… #itsfree.

And Facebook?  Facebook wants to lock you into their universe by providing you a one-stop portal.  Like the AOL of twenty years ago (but without the discs).  Facebook also wants to discover whom you know – build a social network graph on you – which is highly valuable in predicting things about you even if you never post on Facebook.  And isn’t it odd that Facebook requires you to provide an email address to open an account but then, by default, blocks that same email on your info page and instead substitutes a Facebook email address?  That’s because Facebook wants to see your emails on its servers just as badly as Google does on its servers.  (And Google, symmetrically, tries to force you to use Google+, their social network, since Facebook won’t share its network data about you with Google.)  It’s the same thing with Facebook Messenger:  Facebook would prefer you to use Messenger (where they can see what you’re up to) and not texting (where only the telephone company can see what you’re up to).

And where does Apple fit into this?

They could have called it the "social web."  But then it would have been obvious it was something you were caught in.

It could have been called the “social web.” But then it would have been obvious you were caught in it.

Since Apple is not an Internet company per se, it has to figure how to grab your data some other way.  Enter a program like Siri.  When you talk to Siri, it makes a request to an Apple computer “out there” to answer your question.  So Siri is a bit like Google search.  And a bit like a spy.

But it gets better.

Apple tries to get everything you do to pass through their “iCloud.”   iCloud? That’s just a fuzzy, friendly word for a server.  The idea is that your devices automatically stay in “sync” with each other by having all of them pass your data to Apple’s iCloud.  For example, those party pictures you took on your iPhone?  They automatically are accessible on your Macbook ready for Photoshopping.  Of course, if you could access your iPhone’s file structure directly – without iTunes, iTransfer, or any other middleman entity like iCloud – you could just connect a cable between your iPhone and your laptop and be done with it.  Like you can do with an Android phone.

Instead of this secure file transfer procedure with a simple cable, Apple requires you to use some special piece of Apple software or, preferably, the iCloud.  And your iPhone does this automatically.  Yes, your trusty, beloved iPhone automatically goes behind your back and puts your photos on an Apple server.  You probably didn’t know that.  I’m betting neither did the elebentyhundred or so actresses.

Don’t believe me?  Read from Apple’s own website:

When you turn on My Photo Stream on your devices, all new photos you take or import to those devices will automatically push to your photo stream… The photos you upload to My Photo Stream are stored in iCloud for 30 days to give your devices plenty of time to connect and download them.

You can easily imagine someone forgetting to turn off this “convenient feature” and then all their photos end up filtering through an Apple server for 30 days.

The idea is to train you to trust Apple’s iCloud and move more and more of your personal stuff to it.  And when your personal data is on the iCloud, it’s hackable.  Sure, at the moment Apple claims that the iCloud hasn’t been breached and is secure (forgetting to remind you that in the recent past it wasn’t so secure).  But, then again, Apple has also denied that their poorly designed iPhone 4 antenna wasn’t a problem.  Until they finally admitted it was.

So the issue isn’t whether Apple’s iCloud software can be breached (it can – like all software) or whether cloud storage makes sense (it does – for things like music and movies).  The issue is that Apple tries various ways to get you comfortable with the idea that your personal information should be sitting on one of their servers.

And when that happens, your personal information is out of your control.  Fun fact:  Apple is all set to announce that their new iPhone will collect health-related data on you but… hey… ummm… because… y’know… #alienprobe.

So, we can see that Apple (and the other tech giants) are creating products that, by design, intrude on our privacy and feed the data elsewhere.


So, I blame Apple for this mess.  Not for their imperfect software – because no software is perfect.  But for their campaign to convince the public that private storage of data is inconvenient.  Why are we so apoplectic when individuals violate our privacy but not when corporations encourage us – and herd us! – to put our data in danger in the first place?

In truth, however, there is plenty of blame to go around.  The individual(s) who hacked the accounts are certainly guilty of wrongdoing.

But you know who is also to blame?  Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Kirsten Dunst, et al.  I’m not blaming them as victims.  I’m blaming them as passive individuals who lazily trust corporations.

And so the blame falls on you and me as well.

We have all been passive.  We all are willingly being trained to accept the idea that corporations should possess our personal bits.  Like the ones in our nude selfies.  Like the ones in our bare documents (what do you think the “free” Google Docs is all about?).  Like the ones in our naked finances (care for a Mint?).

If the government told you to put on a bracelet that could track your motion, would you?  Then why would you let a wearable-device company like Jawbone?  After all, Jawbone makes no pretense at playing around with the tracked data it collects from its paying subjects customers.  (Fun fact:  stay tuned for the iWatch.)

PRISM logoFor years people lived with their personal photos, documents, and tax returns all on their own computers, their own flashdrives, their own external hard drives.  The world survived.  Now corporations want to have all that data on their computers.  These are the same corporations who are creating the magic land of digital rainbows by passing your data through a Prism for the US Government to check out.  (And lest we forget, this is not just an American issue.  Even the proper British have a problem controlling their national voyeurism.)

Most people are worried about the government having access to their data.  But these same people willing shovel all their data out of their homes and onto corporate servers but… hey… ummm… because… y’know… #sheep.

It’s getting to not even be a choice.  Many smart phone address books and calendars are casually swept up into the cloud.  By design.  And if you think automatically updating your photos to the cloud is bad, wait until someone hacks into those automatically updated calendars in the cloud.

Instead of passing around a picture in the virtual world, a hacker can now know when and where to pass you in the physical world.

That should scare you.  A lot.

In the old days, people would use Polaroid (self-developing) cameras for the really fun photos.  It provided a certain peace of mind that some technician at the local Fotomat couldn’t check out your erotic silver colloidal suspensions in a red-light room.  Maybe it’s time to update this idea digitally and use an actual, boring camera to take the fun stuff.  You know, a gadget that doesn’t have a radio connected to it.

And maybe it’s time for all of us to demand from Apple and Google and Facebook and a whole host of other companies with servers that we want full and transparent control of  our phones and laptops and electronic gadgets.

And that we want these companies to stop creating apps and hardware to spy on us.  Spy on us by design.

Or maybe we just sit back lazily, relax, and look forward to the next tectonic shift of technology.  Like the “Internet of Things.”  A world where your entire physical existence is tied into the Web.  Watch the video below.  See how friendly it all looks?  Now remind yourself there’s no off switch for it but… hey… ummm… because… y’know… #zoo.   I mean, what could possibly go wrong?  (If you need help with an answer, I can hook you up with any one of 4.6M SnapChat users who had their phone numbers leaked onto the Internet.)


The ALS Challenge, Water, and the Hipster Slacktivists

Stephen Hawking

The man most closely associated with ALS: Lou Gehrig.

[nobody knows how dry I am]
This year’s major viral craze is a challenge that involves donating to the ALS Association (a non-profit organization that aims to find a cure for ALS aka amyotrophic lateral sclerosis aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  Basically you dump a bucket of ice water on your head, give to the ALS Association, and challenge others to do the same.  It’s a lot like the viral Harlem Shake video from 2013 but without the water, the ice, and the cash.

Predictably, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has spurred a backlash.  This is the Internet, after all, and hipster contrarians must have their say.  You’ve seen these daffy folks: they’re the ones screaming “wabbit season!” if you say “duck season!” or “duck season!” if you say “wabbit season!”

For the hipster contrarians, the important thing is to be swimming upstream because that means you must be smarter than the herd if only that wasn’t such a mixed metaphor.

It’s hard to find fault with the challenge, particularly since donations to the ALS Association have been wildly up as a result of it, but that doesn’t stop these elitist sourpusses. Their first line of attack was the usual one of narcissism.  The contrarians claim that people were only donating because they get to brag about it.  Well, donations are legal tender either way, bragging or not.   A buck is a buck no matter how you got it.  (Just ask an exotic dancer.  Or Rupert Murdoch.)   And, what’s with bullying of the little people?  Why not attack the Stanfords or the Carnegie-Mellons for putting their names on universities?  Why not attack the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation?  The Rockefeller Foundation?  The David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research?  (Yes, he’s that Koch.)  The contrarians, however, decide to guilt trip only the little people, the common folk who deign to comment on their own giving.


With money rolling into the ALS Association at an unprecedented rate, however, this  argument has become rather weak.  So the hipster contrarians decided to focus on the water itself.  Dang!  Spilling water!  There’s climate change!  There’s drought in California!   There’s thirsty people in Africa! (That last one was from a Ricky Gervais tweet that’s since been deleted, though he forgot to also delete his follow-up response.)

Look, I appreciate those that think about the water they will use in the challenge and either dump it into a pool or on some thirsty plant life.  It’s always good to be conscientious about all acts involving Earth’s finite resources.   And both of my faithful readers know that I’m as green as the next guy with foot fungus.  I’ve written about the environment before and before that.  But the numbers – about which the contrarians apparently know nothing – don’t support their holy-water-than-thou remarks.

This woman refused my ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.  Must be because she's green.

This woman refused my ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Must be because she’s green.

A putz recently wowed hipsters who struggled through Algebra I with an article that estimated 6 million gallons of water had been “wasted” as a result of the challenge.  Now 6 million sounds like a big number.  And it was.  In 1973.  When it took that number of dollars to turn an astronaut into a bionic man.  Today, however, that amount of scratch wouldn’t even get you onto an old Russian rocket to achieve Earth orbit.

So how big a deal is 6 million gallons of water, really?

Not as much as you might think.

The average toilet flush is 3 gallons (about half that if you’ve installed a newer, low-flow model).   Meaning that if just 2 million people save one flush in one day (stop tossing those spiders down the toilet!), we’ve wiped out the total ALS water use debt.

Or how about this?  The average shower head sprays between  4 (old models) or 2 (new models) gallons per minute.  Let’s just split the difference and say shower heads use 3 gallons per minute.  Than means if 2 million people shave just one minute off their shower once, we’ve wiped out the total ALS water use debt.

In other words, it’s almost certain that the average person (and certainly the average hipster contrarian) wastes more water in a single day (day after day!) than is used in the average bucket challenge.

The irony, of course, is that these contrarians, who like to talk about the slacktivism of others, are slacktivists themselves.  Pontificating loudly about water usage, pretending that means they actually care about water.  Because, you know, if we just cut out all these narcissistic ALS water dumping exercises, we can go back to ignoring the real water crises:

Those worried about a tenuous link between dumping ice water and donating to ALS research should recognize there’s an equally tenuous link between dumping ice water and drought.

So dump away, donators!  Dump without guilt!

And chill out, slacktivist hipster contrarians, chill out.  Sit on a block of ice if need be.  Yes, the planet can afford it.  (It can even afford the precious energy used to freeze the water into ice.)  You aren’t more aware than the rest of us.  You don’t care more than the rest of us.  Let your outrage be directed at more meaningful – and far more essential – water projects.  Besides, isn’t it getting to be about that time for your annual rants on Burning Man?

Update (August 25, 2014):  This viral “fad” has now raised $80M for the ALS Association.  To put that into perspective in all of 2013, the ALS Association had a budget of $24M and in all of 2012, it had a budget of $19.7M.

Baby, It’s Cold Inside

[snow job]
Have you seen this video of Lady Gaga and Joseph Gordon-Levitt?  It purports to involve a seduction.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a duet written in 1944 and has all the sexual baggage you might assume from that era.  Especially when interpreted in ours.  The “mouse” (as written in the score) or “prey” (as some might interpret the situation today) wants to go home but the “wolf” (then) or “predator” (now) tries to get the mouse to stay.  And it’s pretty obvious why the wolf is a concern troll about the weather outside.

You can have a lot of fun at your next holiday party by asking whether this song is about a coy mouse that really wants to play or a predator that is about to commit date rape.

But that’s not what is at issue here.  Let’s assume that any singer who performs the song is not trying to enable or justify bad behavior.  After all, we humans don’t always say exactly what’s on our minds (did he really just write that?) since we are really social animals constantly trying to balance our own desires with what we think the herd expects from us (oh my God, he did just write that!).  So when you can corral feminists like Miss Piggy to sing this tune (albeit as the wolf), it’s safe to claim that for many, even the highly sensitive, the song’s charms are about examining us humans as odd creatures whose words – despite being literal – cannot always be taken literally.

Which brings us to the hammy performance above (Lady Gaga, not Miss Piggy).  It’s cute to reverse the traditional gender roles and place Lady Gaga in the role of the wolf.  This gives the song a bit of an update.  If we went further and made Lady Gaga’s duet partner the très féminin Miss Piggy (remember, this is a “Muppet Holiday Spectacular”), you’d update things even more.  And convince the righteous religious that Hollywood really is pushing the idea of inter-species matrimony.  (Another light topic for your next holiday party.)

Playing it safe, however, the producers hired Joseph Gordon-Levitt for the role of the mouse.  To be fair, he isn’t known as a singer, but I’ll give Gordon-Levitt (and the producers) a pass here.  To make the song work, it’s more important for us to believe that Lady Gaga wants to make beautiful music with him rather than actually have Lady Gaga make beautiful music with him.  I can even make allowances for Gordon-Levitt singing the line “my father will be pacing the floor” – which should have been rewritten to have any hope of dramatic credibility.  (Mothers will worry regardless.)

So what is the problem with the video?  It’s that our divine Miss Gaga is racing through the song.  Trying to swing, rather than sway, Gordon-Levitt.  In short (she’s only 5 feet 1 inch), Lady Gaga isn’t seducing like a man.  More like a teenaged boy.

Some things, like ketchup and the DMV, simply can’t be rushed.

Yes, I know this is a broadcast television holiday special tied to the Muppets.  Sure, the viewers represent a wide demographic but isn’t it possible to talk to two audiences at the same time?  Gentle subtlety is, after all, the point of the song.  Besides, since the children are already hearing the lyric “say, what’s in this drink?” we might as well hint that no one is trying to poison anyone to death.

Which is a more appropriate topic for the Brothers Grimm anyway.

So let’s recouple the andante back with the pantie.  Uptempo is not the rhythm of seduction.  Here’s an example of one slow wolf, who could easily swing with the groove of Ray Charles, demonstrating this exact point.  Enjoy the cochlear cleansing:

One State, Two States, Red States, Blue States

federal employees by state

Red States contain the most Federal employees per capita (click on graph to enlarge)

[gone fishin’]
The people most concerned about the size of the federal government apparently live in the states that are most employed by it.  Which means the people who are cheering the federal government shutdown the loudest are likely the ones with the most to lose.  If a picture is worth 1000 words, then this graph is worth 800,000 furloughed jobs (and counting).