Careful to Whom You Hand the Keys for Encryption

The Kingswood! You’re not taking the Kingswood, I’ve just shampooed the dipstick! Ted Bullpit, Kingwood Country (TV series 1980-4)

man-65049_640Most Australians are very cautious about whom they hand their car keys to. In that regard, they’re still a bit like Ted Bullpit (played by the late Ross Higgins) from the iconic Aussie 80s sitcom Kingswood Country (see the quotation above).

So how did encryption key laws pass both houses in the last hours of the last sitting week of parliament (6 December) in the lead up to the summer parliamentary break?

Given the apparently innocuous-sounding name of the “Assistance and Access Bill 2018” [1] it happened so quickly, at a time when most Australians were distracted with their preparations for the holidays. I’m not sure that many people will have much idea that the Australian Government now have presented our law enforcement and surveillance agencies with the right to circumvent internet encryption keys for matters pertaining to criminal and terrorist investigations.

Government Case

The Government’s case has been led by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has consistently stated that laws enforcement agencies need powers to intercept encrypted messages to keep Australians safe from criminal and terrorist threats. He’s argued that the news laws modernise the way that authorities can access information but doesn’t expand on current surveillance powers. A key feature of the Government’s approach has been to stonewall objections to the Bill by the tech industry.

There’s a reason for the amendments to be referred to as  the “Assistance and Access Bill” It’s as if the Government were condescendingly saying: “you tech guys are really smart, we need these surveillance and protection laws, just do your jobs and give us the technical assistance and access required.” Oh, and if you don’t do so voluntarily, we’ll make you do it by imposing heavy fines or imprisonment, on you as an individual, not just your company. Continue reading “Careful to Whom You Hand the Keys for Encryption”

Science Advisor to President Trump

Kelvin DrogemeierThe Man

I’ve been interested in who would fill the position of Science Advisor to Donald Trump since I posted this article (on LinkedIn) a year ago. Kelvin K. Droegemeier (pictured [1]) was confirmed by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee to be the Head of the OSTP. However, he still has one final hurdle of approval by the full Senate to overcome later in the year. I’ve been reading about him, his scientific background, his career, and religious convictions. He reminds me a lot of my late father-in-law, both in the resemblance of his photograph and in aspects of his character. I’m hopeful that he just might be the voice of reason in that America needs in the White House right now. I’ll tell you why later in this article. Continue reading “Science Advisor to President Trump”

An Epiphany, or Two, of Sorts

The conversion of St Paul, artwork by Luca Giordiano.
The Conversion of Saint Paul by Luca Giordano (1690), Museum of Fine Arts of Nancy.

Has anyone else noticed that nobody really has ideas anymore? It somehow seems too pedestrian to have a mere “idea” when you can have an “epiphany” instead. I heard this on Breakfast TV this last week: “you know I’ve had an epiphany, of sorts.”  Was that you Karl Stefanovic? But epiphany on its own seems too grandiose, so as if to compensate, you add the comma and “of sorts” as an afterthought. Curious! But I caught myself saying the same thing this morning.

You see I’ve had an “epiphany, of sorts” as well. My “new” Chromebook reminded me of an “epiphany, of sorts” that I had way back, in around 2006, about Personal Learning Environments (PLEs). I’ve just connected this epiphany with a new “epiphany, of sorts” that I had this morning, about how great Chromebooks would be for personalized education. OK, this is getting ridiculous, I’ll just go back to having ideas from this point. Certainly, there was no heavenly trumpet or the presence of angels associated with having the idea. But I did have that ah-ha! experience of connecting ideas over 12-years apart.

Continue reading “An Epiphany, or Two, of Sorts”

So now I have a Chromebook

Chromebook

So now I have a Chromebook clone from my revived Kogan Atlas X14FHD, what can I do with it? One reason for using CloudReady Chrome OS was that I was finding that my Ubuntu 18.04 notebook was not connecting at all to the wifi in a hotel I stayed at. Although based upon Gentoo Linux itself, my “new” Chromebook seems to be much more reliable with captive portal wifi connections than does native Linux: on about par with my ASUS Windows 10 notebook.

My main motivation in using a Chromebook was to find a less distracting, more mobile and productive environment, for writing and blogging. This proposition is, at least for me, confirmed: my 14-inch notebook Kogan is far easier to lug around with me than my 15.6-inch ASUS notebook, for writing and notetaking. there’s no loss of system responsivity.

As an extra bonus, I’m finding better battery life since switching to CloudReady Chrome OS Although the replacement of the HDD with an SSD would have helped a little too, my battery life with Chrome OS was about 2-3 hrs. With Windows 10 on the same system, the battery life was more like 1½ hours.

Chromebooks and Microsoft

Although Microsoft has improved things somewhat, Windows 10 systems are notorious for taking hogging your bandwidth to download 4 GB of updates and then taking over your entire system for hours on end while those files are installed. By way of contrast,  Chrome OS updates itself in minutes, the bandwidth footprint is tiny, the updates are installed as they are downloaded into a special account area. The next time you reboot, your updates are ready to go. This is as it should be: updates from Microsoft are no reason for you to lose productivity.

filemanager_box.jpg
The Chromium file manager showing how cloud-based files on Box can be managed similarly to that for Google Drive using the Box add-on (see discussion).

Continue reading “So now I have a Chromebook”

Back from the Dead (part 2)

This continues from my previous article about reviving my thought-to-be-dead Kogan laptop so I could take advantage of its FHD (1920×1080 px) display, have a less-distracting environment for getting writing done, and be able to try out a Chromebook-like notebook with CloudReady Chromium OS by Neverware.  One issue with a cheap Kogan notebook is the paper-thin stack of documentation supplied by the manufacturer, either in the box or online. Not surprisingly, I couldn’t locate anything remotely like a service manual: the logic, apparently, is: “why would you want to repair this?” Just junk it and buy another. As market logic: yes, it makes sense, I spent less than $400 AUD on it. As planet logic: a big fail for sustainability.

Continue reading “Back from the Dead (part 2)”

Back from the Dead (part 1)

I chose the title ‘Back from the Dead‘ because I wanted to write about getting my notebook computer working perfectly again after it was unresponsive and assumed a ‘goner’ 25-months ago. But it also seemed appropriate for my first blog article after almost 6-years since I shut down my, now defunct, chempraxis.wordpress.com chemistry-teaching blog.

Notebook PC
My revived notebook with Chromium OS

Continue reading “Back from the Dead (part 1)”