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Edward Morbius



Edward Morbius

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Google secretly installs mic-enabling spyware / surveillance on all systems with Chrome or Chromium browsers

What the actual fuck?

Chromium, the open-source version of Google Chrome, had abused its position as trusted upstream to insert lines of source code that bypassed this audit-then-build process, and which downloaded and installed a black box of unverifiable executable code directly onto computers, essentially rendering them compromised. We don’t know and can’t know what this black box does. But we see reports that the microphone has been activated, and that Chromium considers audio capture permitted.

I've confirmed this is present and installed on my own Debian system and that my system mic (typically disabled / zeroed via software) was enabled. I may need to physically cut the circuit.

I also see a need to start firewalling off Google IP and network space.


I've been meaning to nuke Chrome for a while (fucking Stylebot's the monkey on my back). If I can eliminate all Google software from my Debian repos that's not too much.

Correcting one error in the article: Debian don't audit every line of code. There's too much, and the security team's too small. But Debian do have a policy and constitution, and key among the elements of that is that user rights come first.

Also: anyone with tips on physically disabling Thinkpad T520 mics, I'd appreciate the info.

+Yonatan Zunger +Andreas Schou +Lea Kissner +Larry Page +Sergey Brin +Eric Schmidt +Bradley Horowitz +Peter Kasting 

+Steve Faktor +Stephen Shankland +Dan Gillmor +Danny O'Brien +Danny Sullivan +Tess Vigeland 
Google Chrome listening in to your room shows the importance of privacy defense-in-depth. New column on Privacy News.

Yesterday, news broke that Google has been stealth downloading audio listeners onto every computer that runs Chrome, and transmits audio data back to Google. Effectively, this means that Google had taken itself the right to listen to every conversation in every room that runs Chrome somewhere, without any kind of consent from the people eavesdropped on. In official statements, Google shrugged off the practice with what amounts to “we can do that”.

It looked like just another bug report. "When I start Chromium, it downloads something." Followed by strange status information that notably included the lines "Microphone: Yes" and "Audio Capture Allowed: Yes".

Without consent, Google’s code had downloaded a black box of code that – according to itself – had turned on the microphone and was actively listening to your room.

This episode highlights the need for hard, not soft, switches to all devices – webcams, microphones – that can be used for surveillance. A software on/off switch for a webcam is no longer enough, a hard shield in front of the lens is required. A software on/off switch for a microphone is no longer enough, a physical switch that breaks its electrical connection is required. That’s how you defend against this in depth.

Early last decade, privacy activists practically yelled and screamed that the NSA’s taps of various points of the Internet and telecom networks had the technical potential for enormous abuse against privacy. Everybody dismissed those points as basically tinfoilhattery – until the Snowden files came out, and it was revealed that precisely everybody involved had abused their technical capability for invasion of privacy as far as was possible.

Perhaps it would be wise to not repeat that exact mistake. Nobody, and I really mean nobody, is to be trusted with a technical capability to listen to every room in the world, with listening profiles customizable at the identified-individual level, on the mere basis of “trust us”.
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+Edward Morbius Regarding (1), your reasoning seems faulty to me.  You argue that applications can't be trusted with the microphone and we need OS- or hardware-level controls.  Ignoring that you have OS-level controls in all OSes I'm aware of (Chrome can't record from a microphone you've muted), and that OS-level controls are just software and presumably no more trustworthy than controls in Chrome (where does the mistrust stop?), this means it doesn't matter whether Google ostensibly builds capabilities into Chrome that use the mic or they don't: they could, and because they can't be trusted, all applications should be equally suspect.

That means the comments about us "choosing to play in this space" miss your own point.  You're intentionally not relying on whether vendors claim to be choosing to play in the space or not.  You're saying you don't want to trust what people claim to do, and in that sense, Chrome is equally untrustworthy as everything else, regardless of this incident or of any feature we do or don't claim to build, no matter the opt-in state.

And as I noted, this is far from the only feature in Chrome capable of using the microphone, yet even among privacy advocates I don't see people having been up in arms for years about the other mic capabilities of the software (e.g. allowing websites to access your mic with your permission).  To me this suggests that very few people take the sort of full-paranoia stance that the software can't be trusted at all; if we build something and make it opt-in, that seems to be good enough in general.

So the swearing about us being "fucking adults", which implies not only that we're not acting like adults but that you're fed up with it, seems itself childishly petulant to me.

Regarding (2), we're not playing in the free software space.  We don't release Chrome as free software, and we don't release Chromium as a product at all.  Debian are playing in the free software space, and if they want to ship and support a product, they need to ship and support it -- and in this case, have done so, by managing the bug request in their system, communicating to us upstream what they need, etc.  So we're not trying to make free software advocates happy.  And it's not valid to claim this is a red herring.  The vast majority of angry feedback ON THIS SPECIFIC TOPIC has been about the closed nature of the source code, NOT about microphone access to begin with.  This may be a red herring to you personally, but your position is not representative even of everyone who is upset, so it's not valid for you to dismiss this concern as irrelevant.

Regarding (3), I think there's a false sense that, because we didn't happen to put the bits for this feature in the same .zip as our installer, there is some sort of reasonable expectation of user control.  If we ship 10 megs in the initial installer, 10 megs in software the installer downloads, and 10 megs in software that the software the installer downloads itself downloads, why is it suddenly the case that with one of those 10 meg chunks we need to ask and notify users?  This is a low-level, technical implementation detail of when the bits get downloaded.  It is not an optional, configurable part of the program, from the perspective of users.  And our fix for Debian didn't make it one: we made it possible to throw compile-time switches to pull out the feature, just as there are compile-time switches for h.264 decoding support.  Those switches don't mean we have a moral obligation to users to ask if they want h.264 support; that's up to the people packaging the product to decide.

For (4), none of your stated principles demand that the opt-in must come before downloading a piece of code, rather than before executing it.  You've simply decided that that's the standard.  And, again, the analogous functionality in the same product -- mic access for webpages in Chrome -- isn't causing mass hysteria even among privacy advocates.  So while you're welcome to any position you want, it isn't mandated under your own justifications and it isn't one that seems widely adhered to or compelling for me.  So, pardon me if I don't particularly mind that we don't live up to your standard and won't in the future, and neither does ANY OTHER MAJOR BROWSER currently.  (Life is hard when you're going to make demands that no one else makes.)  As for the specific four rules you propose, I don't see why you're putting text in bold and (again) swearing at me about items Chrome isn't even accused of doing, e.g. not remembering user choice.  I happen to agree with you that we should remember such user choices.  And, in fact, we do, so why the rant?

For (5), the distinction absolutely matters, in the same way that you don't get to bitch at OpenSSL maintainers if Microsoft includes SSL code in Windows that doesn't do something Microsoft's customers want.  That's Microsoft's issue.  OpenSSL isn't shipping or supporting Windows, and it's not their responsibility to do so.  Neither is it our responsibility to uphold Debian's principles in a product that Debian constructs and ships to their users.  We are happy to support their requests as upstream vendors of a piece of their software, and have done so in this case.  Claiming this distinction is immaterial is foolish and blatantly contradictory to reality, and it smacks of "I'll blame whoever I darn well wish to blame".

For (6-9), I don't see why you're concluding we haven't had precisely those discussions, and are extremely comfortable with the results.

So I stand by my initial statement.  We've considered this, we're taking what I think is a reasonable position, and while I can understand and respect your disagreement, I don't think that we are obligated to cater to your individual concerns, merely to listen to them and take them into account.  If after doing so we don't wind up where you'd like, well, you will need to decide how to respond to that.  If you decide you don't wish to use Chrome, by all means, please use an alternative that makes you more comfortable, based on whatever criteria you choose.  We released Chrome's source precisely to drive additional competition and improvement in the browser space, it would be poor of us to bemoan when other products succeed.

As I think we've covered the major points and anything further is likely to mostly be a retread, I am unlikely to respond further in this thread.  Hope it was helpful, even if you don't agree with where we stand.

Edward Morbius

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Asimov, Hubbert, and Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, USN, on energy and the future

+David Brin posted a few days back on Isaac Asimov's short story "The Final Question", first published in 1956.

As I noted on Brin's post, Asimov's story appeared the same year that M. King Hubbert first published his now-famous "Hubbert's Curve", showing the inevitable decline of fossil fuel resources, "[Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels](", and the year before Rear Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, USN (father of the nuclear navy), gave his address "[Energy resources and our future](".

From Rickover's address:

For it is an unpleasant fact that according to our best estimates, total fossil fuel reserves recoverable at not over twice today's unit cost, are likely to run out at some time between the years 2000 and 2050, if present standards of living and population growth rates are taken into account. Oil and natural gas will disappear first, coal last. There will be coal left in the earth, of course. But it will be so difficult to mine that energy costs would rise to economically intolerable heights, so that it would then become necessary either to discover new energy sources or to lower standards of living drastically.

There's little in current discussions of growth, sustainability, or alternative energy discussion that's not discussed in Rickover's address, 57 years ago:

"The earth is finite. Fossil fuels are not renewable. In this respect our energy base differs from that of all earlier civilizations. They could have maintained their energy supply by careful cultivation. We cannot. Fuel that has been burned is gone forever."
"Fossil fuels resemble capital in the bank. A prudent and responsible parent will use his capital sparingly in order to pass on to his children as much as possible of his inheritance. A selfish and irresponsible parent will squander it in riotous living and care not one whit how his offspring will fare."
⚫ That the present period is dominated by nonrenewable energy: "the Fossil Fuel Age."
⚫ That while they'd been known of for millennia, it's only recently that they've been heavily used.
⚫ That high energy consumption and standard of living go hand-in-hand, and that low energy surplus leads to cultural collapse and grinding poverty.
⚫ That fossil fuels provide the equivalent of hundreds to hundreds of thousands of human energy equivalents: a car: 2,000 men, a jet aircraft, 700,000.
⚫ The difficulties of underdeveloped countries to transition to advanced lifestyles due to lack of energy, high population, and little surplus land.
⚫ Three notable changes since the time of Rickover's comments: we've done better on supplying food, far worse in constraining population, and better at provisioning electricity from solar and wind than he anticipated.
⚫ "Current estimates of fossil fuel reserves vary to an astonishing degree....  But the most significant distinction between optimistic and pessimistic fuel reserve statistics is that the optimists generally speak of the immediate future - the next twenty-five years or so - while the pessimists think in terms of a century from now. A century or even two is a short span in the history of a great people. It seems sensible to me to take a long view, even if this involves facing unpleasant facts...." 
⚫ "[T]otal fossil fuel reserves recoverable at not over twice today's unit cost, are likely to run out at some time between the years 2000 and 2050."
⚫ "[W]e cannot feel overly confident that present high standards of living will of a certainty continue through the next century."
⚫ Of renewable energy: "The five most important of these renewable sources are wood fuel, farm wastes, wind, water power, and solar heat."  Here again we've made progress: technology has made solar-generated electricity far more viable.
⚫ Limited biomass/biofuel upside, and the fuel vs. food conundrum: "Wood fuel and farm wastes are dubious as substitutes because of growing food requirements to be anticipated. Land is more likely to be used for food production than for tree crops; farm wastes may be more urgently needed to fertilize the soil than to fuel machines."
⚫ The promise of nuclear power, though with caveats: "These are not, properly speaking, renewable energy sources ... but their capacity to "breed" and the very high energy output from small quantities of fissionable material, as well as the relative.. abundan[ce],...put nuclear fuels into a separate category from exhaustible fossil fuels." 
⚫ The unsuitability of nuclear to transport or small-scale uses: "[N]uclear fuel cannot be used directly in small machines, such as cars, trucks, or tractors. It is doubtful that it could in the foreseeable future furnish economical fuel for civilian airplanes or ships, except very large ones. Rather than nuclear locomotives, it might prove advantageous to move trains by electricity produced in nuclear central stations."
⚫ Likelihood of electrification of transport (though his emphasis is on wired modes rather than battery storage).
⚫ The problem of the car: "Today the automobile is the most uneconomical user of energy."
⚫ The role of population growth: "In the 8,000 years from the beginning of history to the year 2000 A.D. world population will have grown from 10 million to 4 billion, with 90% of that growth taking place during the last 5% of that period."
⚫ Social, governmental, and tax impacts of crowding: "Life in crowded communities cannot be the same as life on the frontier.... We are no longer as independent of men and of government as were Americans two or three generations ago. An ever larger share of what we earn must go to solve problems caused by crowded living - bigger governments; bigger city, state, and federal budgets to pay for more public services.... More laws and law enforcement agencies are needed to regulate human relations in urban industrial communities and on crowded highways than in the America of Thomas Jefferson. Certainly no one likes taxes, but we must become reconciled to larger taxes in the larger America of tomorrow." 

It's quite the eye-opener.

There's one notable area in which Rickover failed to anticipate (though again, he's insightful in noting political and tax implications). But on the general issue of sinks exhaustion, and most particularly of CO₂ emissions, for which Dr. Charles David Keelings' initial research at Mauna Loa  was just getting started at the time. Similarly, it's the systems effects and impacts -- social, economic, political, ecological -- which seem most profound in general, and most likely to be where we start to experience real trouble.

See also:

+Zaid El-Hoiydi has also commented on the piece highlighting a few other points, also worth reading:
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I'm figuring the "mirth and diversion" tag on this is tongue very firmly in cheek, or a display of overpowering cynicism. Very interesting article here Dred...

Edward Morbius

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Pseudonymous individuals: Willy Brandt

4th chancellor of West Germany, serving 21 October 1969 – 7 May 1974.

He adopted the pseudonym "Willy Brandt" during WWII while in Norway to escape Nazi agents. He also assumed the identity "Gunnar Gaasland" for a time.

He formally adopted the pseudonym as his legal name on returning to Germany after the war.
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My reaction has nothing to do with your project. I'm saying that I lived and breathed in the same cities as this man for a few years. As a German citizen. What this should tell you is that many people have had a different experience of the world than you have. Jarringly obvious though it may be to us, not everything is about patterns. Some things are just about George Dickel and company.

Edward Morbius

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In comments +Violet Blue notes: "I need to add that in this article, I interviewed people who have submitted legal ID to Facebook to unlock their accounts after being "flagged" for allegedly using a fake name -- and the company used their ID to change their account names without their consent, and locked the account function so they cannot change the name back."
If you, or anyone you know, has been asked to submit ID to Facebook, please read this. It's also the first report to show that Facebook is the number one hot spot online for stalking, harassment and abuse -- despite its "real names" policy.

For those of us who watched Google evolve during the #Nymwars  it's both terrifying and validating.

The report is from NNEDV, and those at extreme risk (at least 23 million Facebook users) are victims of domestic violence, victims of sexual assault, women, and LGBTQ people.
Despite Facebook's insistence that its "real names" policy keeps its users safe, a new report reveals that Facebook is the least safe place for women onl
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This seems relevant:

If Hess has made you wonder, hmm, maybe unrestricted anonymity is bad because it gives trolls too much power, then the system has successfully used her for its true purpose: brand it as bad, to you. She is unwittingly teaching the demo of this article, e.g. women in their 20s with no actual power looking to establish themselves, who are the very people who should embrace anonymity, not to want this: only rapists and too-weak-to-try rapists want to be anonymous. Smart women write clickable articles about their sexuality for nothing, because what good are you if you can't make someone else money?

Edward Morbius

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"Sir Tim Hunt's claims that remarks on girls in science were 'not sexist' are backed by leaked EU report"

A leaked European Commission report has supported Sir Tim Smith’s claims that apparently sexist comments about the “trouble with girls in science” were meant as a joke....

The missing context: Hunt's remarks immediately following the widely-quoted lines, praising the role and accomplishments of female scientists in Korea, with self-deprecating humour:

He allegedly continued: “Now seriously, I’m impressed by the economic development of Korea.

“And women scientists played, without doubt an important role in it. Science needs women and you should do science despite all the obstacles, and despite monsters like me.”
A leaked European Commission report has supported Sir Tim Smith’s claims that apparently sexist comments about the “trouble with girls in science” were meant as a joke.
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+Edward Morbius I've given it a bit more thought, and am able to articulate it a bit better.

This man was addressing a group of women.  He told a bad joke, meaning to be funny.  He ended up offending a bunch of people.

Now he didn't mean to offend them, but he did.  I get this picture of this very privileged white male walking around in this bubble  saying things to women, to people of color and having no conception of the sort of effect he's having on people, particularly people different than himself.

So no, I don't like him.  That doesn't mean he  should have been fired, or that he deserves to be made the poster boy for sexism

Edward Morbius

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Donald Hoffman: Do we see reality as it is?

Perception, media, and reality are issues I wrestle with frequently. Hoffman's presentation here is a fascinating one, with its key point that accuracy isn't the primary role of perceptual systems, fitness is.

I'd extend this beyond primary senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, etc.), and include perceptual models -- the systems by which we understand the universe.
Donald Hoffman: Do we see reality as it is? Perception, media, and reality are issues I wrestle with a lot. Hoffman's presentation here is a fascinating one, with its key point that accuracy isn't the pirmary role of perceptual systems, fitness is. I'd extend this beyind primary senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, etc.), and includ perceptual models -- the systems by which we understand the universe.
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Edward Morbius

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SCOTUS decisions
are now drafted in haiku
cherry tree blossoms.

Edward Morbius

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If you've been trying to wrap your head around the Greek and Eurozone debt crisis of the past .... two decades, this is the best overall primer I've seen.
Scratching your head over the Greek financial crisis?  Here's a pretty good summary of the history of it.  Detailed enough to be informative without being daunting for the layman.
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+Edward Morbius
No argument there.

Edward Morbius

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Dated, but this is a thing: #OnionPulitzer


Also: why the fuck hasn't this happened?
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+Maxx Daymon I know, I know. How many ;-) do I need to indicate that? ;-) ;-) 

Edward Morbius

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Deprecating Secure Sockets Layer Version 3.0: Do Not Use SSL Version 3.0

SSLv3 MUST NOT be used.  Negotiation of SSLv3 from any version of TLS MUST NOT be permitted.

Any version of TLS is more secure than SSLv3, though the highest version available is preferable.

One for the techies.

SLv3 Is Comprehensively Broken

Record Layer

The non-deterministic padding used in the Cipher Block Chaining (CBC) construction of SSLv3 trivially permits the recovery of plaintext [POODLE].  More generally, the CBC modes of SSLv3 use a flawed MAC- then-encrypt construction that has subsequently been replaced in TLS versions [RFC7366]....

Key Exchange

The SSLv3 key exchange is vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks when renegotiation [RFC5746] or session resumption [TRIPLE-HS] are used.  Each flaw has been fixed in TLS by means of extensions.  Again, SSLv3 cannot be updated to correct these flaws.

Custom Cryptographic Primitives

SSLv3 defines custom constructions for Pseudorandom Function (PRF), Hashed Message Authentication Code (HMAC), and digital signature primitives.  Such constructions lack the deep cryptographic scrutiny that standard constructions used by TLS have received.  Furthermore, all SSLv3 primitives rely on SHA-1 [RFC3174] and MD5 [RFC1321]: these hash algorithms are considered weak...

Limited Capabilities

SSLv3 is unable to take advantage of the many features that have been added to recent TLS versions.

Via HN:
Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) R. Barnes Request for Comments: 7568 M. Thomson Updates: 5246 Mozilla Category: Standards Track A. Pironti ISSN: 2070-1721 INRIA A. Langley Google June 2015 Deprecating Secure Sockets Layer Version 3.0 Abstract The Secure Sockets Layer version 3.0 (SSLv3), ...
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+Jeremy Nixon I'm just a hobbyist now, not responsible for much of anything so I can't recall right now. 

Edward Morbius

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A Love Supreme Seems to fit...
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Always appropriate. 

Edward Morbius

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"Globalisation's retreat?"

World trade, which used to grow faster than GDP, seems to have turned sluggish. In each of the last three years, growth has been less than 3% in real terms. The World Trade Organisation is hoping for 3.3% this year but it regularly has to cut its forecasts; there have been reports of export declines in recent weeks from Taiwan, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, and China, to name but a few....

Angus Maddison's data suggests trade was growing at more than 3% a year in the first great era of globalisation from 1870 to 1913, slowed to less than 1% a year from 1913 to 1950 thanks to two world wars and the Great Depression, and then took off in the "wonder years" from 1950-1973 at more than 7% a year. Figures from the WTO suggest the peak decade was the 1960s. Trade growth slowed after that, until the 1990s when China burst on to the scene. But the current century has seen another slowdown, which worsened once the financial crisis hit.

7% annual growth means doubling in a decade. I recall that energy consumption was doubling about every ten years during that period as well.
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+Steve S Or a leveled entropic gradient.

Which might be taken as a synonym for a corpse, after a fashion.
Edward's Collections
Technological Archaeologist
I'm strongly reconsidering participation in G+ following the YouTube Anschluss, November 2013.  Content subject to deletion at any time.

Comments privileges on my posts are limited.  Email me if you cannot comment and would like to be added.

Google have time and again violated several key principles:

Respect.  Of my time, my attention, my expressly stated desires, and most of all, my intelligence by repeating these and other insults time and again.

Trust. I will share very limited slices of me online.  Time and again Google reached for more, and time and again I had to push back.  This last violation (which, had I not already gone fully pseudonymous would have fully outed me as it did others) was one step too far.  I extend trust once, not twice.

Privacy.  This is the immediate concern here, and I've tried to create a walled space within which I can act.  I no longer feel safe to act there.

This incident again has made painfully clear that Google don't understand the fundamental nature of privacy, of social norms, and of spaces.  Of the desire for individuals to keep different aspects of their life and online activity, even within a single pseudonymous identity, separate.  Yes, there are some smart people at the Plex, but socially, you're collectively beyond retarded.  And I no longer care.

I'm actively looking for alternative platforms to use.  
For the time being I'm retaining the Gmail account associated with this ID ( though I'll be migrating that as well (and am accepting recommendations).  Correspondents are strongly encouraged to use my GPG key:  C210 9883 FFB4 3AC1 DEBF  9A2C AC6F 1E84 420A B7BD

I may be found:

As "dredmoribus" on Reddit:  

Primary content and engagement on "the dreddit", a/k/a Dr. Edward Morbius's lair of the Id.

On the subreddit   My primary publishing point for now.

Blogging on DreamWidth: (presently inactive)

All of which is subject to change, of course (though Reddit's likely to be a good contact).

RSS/Atom feeds for the above are:
Feel free to drop those in your newsreader of choice.  It's a bit clunky, but notably less so than G+ itself is.

I do plan on leaving a tombstone account on G+ with forwarding information and last details, though I'll be removing most or all of my content eventually.

G+ was to an extent an experiment to see if I could participate on terms I was comfortable with in a large commercial social networking space.  The answer to that question has been found, and it is "no".

░░░░░███████ ]▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄              Bob is building an army
   ▂▄▅█████████▅▄▃▂             ☻/  against Google Plus
Il███████████████████].      /▌    Copy and Paste this all over 
  ◥⊙▲⊙▲⊙▲⊙▲⊙▲⊙▲⊙◤..     / \    Youtube if you are with us!


I don't do IM / Google Chat / Hangouts.
They're horribly intrusive and annoying.

I've blocked them in the G+ UI.  I don't check them. 
I've disabled all access / invite privileges.  
I'm not ignoring you, I simply don't see you.

If you want to reach me directly, either send a private G+ post, or email me (
I may respond to one or the other of those.

I thought I had a comments moderation policy here.  Apparently I don't.  Apologies for the oversight.

 See my /r/dredmorbius subreddit policy for the general parameters.

In particular, if you're requested to provide references, or context for naked links (particularly multimedia Audio / Video), do so.

I don't mind opposing viewpoints.  Viewpoints must be substantiated on request.  Failure to substantiate, or engaging in disruptive tactics, is grounds for deletion and/or banning.

The arbitration policy for moderation disputes is:  Moderation battles are short and boring: the moderator wins.


"If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged."  
 - Cardinal Richelieu (a/k/a  Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal-Duc de Richelieu et de Fronsac)

E pluribus unum


You can #Quack that:

Nature abhors a maximum.
 - William Ophuls

"Pseudonyms and anonymity are also an established part of many cultures -- for  good reason."
  - Alma Whitten, former Director of Privacy, Product and Engineering, Google

I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use.

Somewhere, there are two kids in a garage building a company whose motto will be "Don't be Google".
Bragging rights
I don't exist. I'm not here.
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