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Edward Morbius
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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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Followup: Google are apparently disabling Google Now on Chrome and elsewhere.

NB: one of the annoyances of my Samsung Tab A + Logitech keyboard, the <fn>-<alt> keypress toggles Google Now search, but is something I'm used to hitting for keyboard-based text selection. I enter this quite often without meaning to, and it's annoying. Every. Damned. Time.

Edward Morbius

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The Limits of Lenses (and mirrors)

Today's xkcd What If addresses a few topics in a typically enlightening (within limits) way.

Short answer: no, you cannot start fires with moonlight.

Longer answer: while mirrors and lenses appear to be a "free" counterexample of the laws of thermodynamics, and particularly, of going from more diffuse, lower grades of energy to more concentrated, higher grades, there are in fact both costs and limits.

The cost is that energy gathered from one location is taken from others. Placing a pool-sized parabolic dish (or Fresnel lens) over your swimming pool to heat the water in it won't work, because you haven't changed the net energy flux (you've actually slighly decreased it due to reflection / transmission losses). Solar pool heating systems work by expanding the effective area of a pool.

The limit, and the essay describes this well, is that mirrors and lenses don't focus to points but to areas, which correspond to their sources. The limit of heat concentration for a solar concentrator is that of the Sun's surface (about 5,000 C). Warm enough for many terrestrial functions. Most solar concentrators work at a small fraction of this, perhaps a few hundred degrees, with very hot ones reaching 1,000 C.

For a lunar concentrator, you're looking at a maximum of the daylight temperature of the lunar surface, about 100C.

Which, incidentally, is why that stupidly fucking insipid concept of a concentrating sphere of glass (least efficient shape for a lense evar) which was claimed, multiple times in various online repostings I saw of it, to "provide power from moonlight" was straight-up fraud.

Edward Morbius

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Coase's Theorem: trade in externalities

+paul wallich​ and I discussed this in an earlier post[1]. If I'm misremembering correctly, Coase argues that a polluter might either buy rights to pollute, or be paid by those affected not to pollute. It's twisted.


1. G+ app makes referencing that difficult whilst trying to hold open other posts for discussion, argh. Can Has Curation, Plz?)

Edward Morbius

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Cost, Value, Prices: Assessing Natural Capital

Putting a price on nature may seem like an impossible task, but economists believe that finding a way to calculate the value of natural resources is crucial when it comes to deciding whether our use of a resource is sustainable. Natural resources are capital assets, economists have argued, in the same way that land, buildings and stocks are considered assets — and spending money to protect these resources should be viewed as an investment in the future rather than just another cost.

Eli Fenichel's paper (open-access PDF at PNAS link below) develops a model based on prices, which I'm starting to feel is actually an incorrect model. But this represents the heterodox neoclassical model that I'm proposing an alternative to. A quick check shows Fenichel mentions neither Odum nor emergy among his bases.

His methods are derived from those of Dale Jorgenson (1963):

Basically, Fenichel's approach appears to be on the basis of use value -- he assesses the value of acquifer water in Kansas by looking at the economic cost of withdrawing it from availability at the margin.
A group of scholars may have finally come up with a way to estimate the monetary value of natural resources.
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+paul wallich That's another name I had in mind, thanks.

Edward Morbius

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with 92 percent of precincts reporting in New Hampshire: Sanders 60 percent to HRC 38 percent.

Edward Morbius

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And something about desecration.

Via an HN thread.

Though what we were really looking for was the Long Bell, WA, timber-drying yard. Filled with trees such as those pictured.
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That's a saw.

Edward Morbius

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Efficient Markets Theory takes another hit

Markets arbitrage informational asymmetries.
"One of the big unanswered questions in the finance world is: Do returns reflect risk or mispricing? Defenders of the efficient markets hypothesis say you can’t get higher returns without taking more risk, while behavioral finance says there are often unexploited anomalies that will let wise, patient or deep-pocketed investors beat the market without taking on more risk. [...]

"What if these stocks earned better-than-average returns in the past not because they are riskier, but because investors just overlooked them, or were biased against them? If this is the case, we should expect that publicizing these factors will lead them to shrink in importance. As more people become aware of a mispricing, they trade on it, and the mispricing goes away. So one way to solve the puzzle of factor models is to look at how factors perform after you make them public.

"A new research paper by R. David McLean and Jeffrey Pontiff, forthcoming in the Journal of Finance, focuses on exactly this. McLean and Pontiff look at 97 different factors that finance researchers have written papers about. They find that after the papers are published, the excess returns associated with these factors go down by about 58 percent! [...]

"This is a dramatic and very important finding. It means, in a nutshell, markets aren’t nearly as efficient as many would like to believe. If factor models reflect a risk-return trade-off, they shouldn’t be affected by the activities of academics. Deep-rooted economic risks shouldn’t vanish just because economists discover them. Mispricings, however, do vanish when discovered. In other words, this paper is a dramatic confirmation of the predictions of behavioral finance." (Bloomberg):
Judging risk and reward just got a whole lot harder.
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+Andreas Geisler Mill's not among the most militant.

More interesting, IMO, would be David Ricardo, and what happened with his personal papers after his death (at a relatively early age). They were acquired by a British banker and publicised by him, as I recall (probably from Arnold Toynbee, Lectures on the Industrial Revolution).

Many publications, including The Economist (see its prospectus) were established expressly to promote free-trade policies.

Edward Morbius

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Those unfairly benefiting from rigged system find it fair, film at 11

The economic differences within parties are striking. Republicans and Republican leaners with family incomes of $100,000 or more are more likely than any other income group in either party to say the system is fair to most Americans: 60% of Republicans with incomes of at least $100,000 express this view, compared with no more than about four-in-ten Republicans in lower income categories.

I'm shocked, shocked...

(Though, as with many such studies, verifying a widely suspected fact has value.)
Most Americans say U.S. economic system is unfair, but high-income Republicans disagree
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Sure, the guy at the top of the pile always has the best view.

Edward Morbius

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Cost, Value, Price: W. F. Lloyd, 1883

Reflecting further on these, I've been looking up what earlier economists have had to say on cost (what's expended to obtain a good or service), value (use value or utility), and price (value in exchange). It's quite clear that there's been a long awareness of the distinctness and inconsistencies among these. Adam Smith speaks of the diamond-water paradox -- the immense utility of the latter, but the vastly higher exchange value of the former (and this prior to the DeBeers cartel). Quoting Lloyd at length, emphasis added. Lloyd is developing the ideas more fully expanded by Menger, Walras, Veblen, and Marshall, as marginal utility.


Perhaps the following may be a good rule for distinguishing between utility and value; and, if it is borne in mind, there will, I think, be little danger of confounding the two ideas. To obtain the idea of the utility of an object, imagine what would happen, what inconvenience would arise, from the loss, not of that object alone, but of the whole species to which that object belong. Thus, to obtain the idea of the utility of water, imagine the predicament we should be in, were we deprived, not of a pailful which may chance to be before our eyes, and may stand destined to some particular use, but of the whole element of water. But value, as I have already mentioned, attaches to an object in possession, which, consequently, cannot be unlimited in quantity. To obtain, therefore, the idea of value, imagine yourselves deprived, not, as before, of the whole of the species, but only of the fission of a certain definite quantity. Take again, for example, the instance of the pail of water, and suppose it to be overturned. Its value would then be estimable, either by the inconvenience which would be felt, supposing the particular want which it was intended to supply to remain unsatisfied, or by the trouble of going to the well again, whichever might be least. I may here remark that, though in the course of this lecture I have spoken of water as valueless, and it is the example commonly adduced of a very useful article quite destitute of value, yet this is only to be understood of exchangeable value. Water in possession has almost always some value. But the value, under ordinary circumstances, is small, and not equal to the trouble of an exchange. And on this account water rarely becomes the subject of exchange.

I have here been incidentally led to the mention of exchanges. But it is to be observed that, throughout the explanation, upon which I have hitherto been engaged, of the nature of value, there has been no need for one word about exchanges. As I have explained the idea, it consists in the real importance of an object to the person who possesses it -- a definition, which may be collected from a passage of Adam Smith, as I mentioned in my last lecture. And objects may be of real importance to the person who possesses them, as much in the case of an isolated individual, such as Robinson Crusoe, as in the case of a society, such as exists in England, and in all other countries with which we are acquainted. The commercial intercourse, however, to which we are accustomed, and in which the idea of value is commonly more or less blended with that of an exchange, has been so long established, that it requires some effort of the imagination to form a distinct idea of value by itself, disengaged, on the one hand; from value in exchange, and, on the other, from the mere notion of utility. It would be difficult to collect the necessary illustrations from the facts and occurrences with which we are familiar; and cases purely hypothetical are less interesting and less instructive. I have been looking into Robinson Crusoe for examples of value, but have not found any thing so much to the point as I could have wished. Still the complete separation of the idea appears to me to be so necessary a preliminary, in order to a clear conception of the nature of value in exchange, and of the causes which determine it, that I think it not ames to read to you the following passages, which are the best that I have been able to find.


Lloyd continues with some examples of a Robinson Crusoe economy.
The Notion of Value by W.F. Lloyd 1833 A Lecture on the Notion of Value as Distinguished Not Only From Utility, but also from Value in Exchange Delivered before the University of Oxford, In Michaelmas Term, 1833, by the Rev. W.F. Lloyd, M.A., F.R.S. Student of Christ Church, Professor of ...

Edward Morbius

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Impacts of the Bicycle in 1874: contemporary account

This archival NY Times report, "The Bicycle: Growing Popularity of the New Vehicle", gives a contemporary view of the bicycle, as it was appearing. Some details aren't immediately clear -- the 50# and 30# bikes described here, with 50+ inch wheels are "penny-farthing" style big-wheelers. No chain, pedals and cranks attached immediately to the front wheel, whose diameter sets the effective gear ratio. That a cyclist could cover 100 miles at a 12 MPH average pace is quite remarkable.

There's more information and images of the types of bikes being produced during this period in a subsequent history -- better exposition, but it lacks the immediacy of the Times piece:

h/t HN:
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Edward Morbius

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An alternative content classification system
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my wife lit up when she heard me ask the boys why spacex calls their barge "just read the instructions." i now have my own live audiobook bedtime series! :)

Edward Morbius

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This will eventually be relevant.

Useful, I'm not so sure.

Wikihow: solving complex problems, with pictures since 2005.

h/t @dang @ HN, Paris Review.
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My favourite quote:
"Your final days probably shouldn't be spent pouring over Nietzsche and contemplating the void, unless you're the sort of person who finds pleasure in these things."
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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