The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Inside the Anom phone

Via Bruce Schneier, Motherboard got ahold of a pair of Anom phones, which the FBI and Australian Federal Police used to take down a bunch of criminal networks earlier this year:

Motherboard has obtained and analyzed an Anom phone from a source who unknowingly bought one on a classified ads site. On that site, the phone was advertised as just a cheap Android device. But when the person received it, they realized it wasn't an ordinary phone, and after being contacted by Motherboard, found that it contained the secret Anom app.

After the FBI announced the Anom operation, some Anom users have scrambled to get rid of their device, including selling it to unsuspecting people online. The person Motherboard obtained the phone from was in Australia, where authorities initially spread the Anom devices as a pilot before expanding into other countries. They said they contacted the Australian Federal Police (AFP) in case the phone or the person who sold it was of interest to them; when the AFP didn't follow up, the person agreed to sell the phone to Motherboard for the same price they paid. They said they originally bought it from a site similar to Craigslist.

Anom started when an FBI confidential human source (CHS), who had previously sold devices from Phantom Secure and another firm called Sky Global, was developing their own product. The CHS then "offered this next generation device, named 'Anom,' to the FBI to use in ongoing and new investigations," court documents read.

In June the FBI and its law enforcement partners in Australia and Europe announced over 800 arrests after they had surreptitiously been listening in on Anom users' messages for years. In all, authorities obtained over 27 million messages from over 11,800 devices running the Anom software in more than 100 countries by silently adding an extra encryption key which allowed agencies to read a copy of the messages. People allegedly smuggling cocaine hidden inside cans of tuna, hollowed out pineapples, and even diplomatic pouches all used Anom to coordinate their large-scale trafficking operations, according to court documents.

 

That's some cool and scary shit. I'm glad they got all those criminals, but what happens when the people targeted are political dissidents? As Schneier has discussed at length, there is no such thing as a zero-trust environment.

Yeah, so, 10k steps isn't all that

The New York Times throws cold water on a health fad:

According to Dr. I-Min Lee, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and an expert on step counts and health, the 10,000-steps target became popular in Japan in the 1960s. A clock maker, hoping to capitalize on interest in fitness after the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, mass-produced a pedometer with a name that, when written in Japanese characters, resembled a walking man. It also translated as “10,000-steps meter,” creating a walking aim that, through the decades, somehow became embedded in our global consciousness — and fitness trackers.

But today’s best science suggests we do not need to take 10,000 steps a day, which is about five miles, for the sake of our health or longevity.

A 2019 study by Dr. Lee and her colleagues found that women in their 70s who managed as few as 4,400 steps a day reduced their risk of premature death by about 40 percent, compared to women completing 2,700 or fewer steps a day. The risks for early death continued to drop among the women walking more than 5,000 steps a day, but benefits plateaued at about 7,500 daily steps. In other words, older women who completed fewer than half of the mythic 10,000 daily steps tended to live substantially longer than those who covered even less ground.

Another, more expansive study last year of almost 5,000 middle-aged men and women of various ethnicities likewise found that 10,000 steps a day are not a requirement for longevity. In that study, people who walked for about 8,000 steps a day were half as likely to die prematurely from heart disease or any other cause as those who accumulated 4,000 steps a day. The statistical benefits of additional steps were slight, meaning it did not hurt people to amass more daily steps, up to and beyond the 10,000-steps mark. But the extra steps did not provide much additional protection against dying young, either.

I've hit 10,000 steps 139 days in a row, but I have to keep that up through December 31st to tie my record of 312 days. In fact, in the last year, I've hit the goal 345 times, and since getting a Fitbit in October 2014, I've hit the goal 91.4% of the time. Will it kill me to stop after 9,000 steps? No. But it's an easy goal to understand and to work towards.

Getting closer to London

I last visited my second-favorite city in the world in November 2019. At my day job, I report just two levels up to the head of the London office, so had things gone to plan, I'd have visited at least three times since then. But time and chance happens to us all, as everyone now knows.

This week the UK's Departments for Transport and of Health & Social Care announced a loosening of travel rules that, I hope, signals the possibility of going back this fall. As of July 19th, UK residents returning from most countries (including the US) who have NHS jabs can skip testing and quarantine in most cases. The next step for the UK will be to allow people who've gotten vaccinated abroad to do the same.

When that happens, I will follow NPR's Frank Langfitt's latest report, and visit three historical pubs in various parts of the capital:

I started at The Mayflower, which sits along the south bank of the Thames about a mile and a half downstream from Tower Bridge. I first got to know The Mayflower several years ago when I attended a Thanksgiving celebration there with fellow Americans. It was an appropriate venue. In 1620, the Mayflower, the ship, was moored just off shore and began its long voyage to what would become America. In honor of that trans-Atlantic connection, the pub flies a U.S. and British flag from either end of its deck.

Along the walls of the dimly lit pub today, you can see replicas of the notes some of the passengers left, bequeathing wages and jewelry to their loved ones if they failed to survive the journey. Behind the bar, manager Leigh Gillson keeps a guest book, signed by some of the passengers' descendants who've visited.

He also stopped at The Eagle in Farringdon, not too far from my company's office in the City, and at The Carlton Tavern in Maida Vale, about a 10-minute walk from Abbey Road Studios. The latter got destroyed illegally by a property developer, who then had to rebuild it brick by brick under court order.

I really miss the Big Smoke. It looks more likely by the day that I'll get to visit her sometime in 2021.

The preservationist leanings of Scooby-Doo

CityLab's Feargus O'Sullivan riffs on an Instagram account that celebrates Scooby-Doo's Victorian backdrops:

It should come as no surprise that creaking mansard roofs, vaulted dungeons and abandoned one-horse towns occur so often as settings. Americans have been identifying the Victorian with the macabre for more than 100 years. It still seems not completely coincidental that these particular backdrops were so often used for a show in its heyday in the late 1960s and the 1970s.

This, after all, is a period when America’s Victorian architecture lay on a major fault line. Long decaying as wealthier residents moved to the suburbs, America’s many Victorian neighborhoods fell prey to demolition during this period as urban renewal projects smashed through buildings that were often seen as musty, decrepit hangovers from a poorer, miserably car-less past.

San Francisco’s Fillmore District, for example, was substantially redeveloped, scattering its mainly African American residents to the East Bay, while the now celebrated Victorian district of Old Louisville saw over 600 buildings demolished between 1965 and 1971 alone.

Indeed, the show sometimes tackles these issues directly. The classic Scooby-Doo villain is a developer or greedy landowner, scaring people away from their property by dressing as a ghost or monster, only to be unmasked and confess everything to the band of “pesky kids” just before each episode’s final curtain. Occasionally, even urban renewal itself crops up. In one episode a developer constructing new buildings in Seattle is also secretly plundering treasures from the subterranean street network built in the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1889.

Down the street from me, a 6-bedroom house built in 1897 just sold for $412,500—less than half its estimated value, and probably closer to a third of what it might fetch once its restoration finishes next year. It went for $28,500 in 1979, which works out to about $110,000 today, during the worst period of urban decay in Uptown. Other gorgeous houses and apartments from the 1890s through 1920s in Chicago barely survived the 1970s, sometimes only because no one wanted to invest in the neighborhoods.

I've written about this phenomenon before, of course.

Even Chicago will have climate-related troubles

Dan Egan, author of The Death and Life of the Great Lakes (which I read last November while staring out at one of them), explains in yesterday's New York Times how climate change will cause problems here in Chicago:

[T]he same waters that gave life to the city threaten it today, because Chicago is built on a shaky prospect — the idea that the swamp that was drained will stay tamed and that Lake Michigan’s shoreline will remain in essentially the same place it’s been for the past 300 years.

Lake Michigan’s water level has historically risen or fallen by just a matter of inches over the course of a year, swelling in summer following the spring snowmelt and falling off in winter. Bigger oscillations, a few feet up or down from the average, also took place in slow, almost rhythmic cycles unfolding over the course of decades.

No more.

In 2013, Lake Michigan plunged to a low not seen since record-keeping began in the mid-1800s, wreaking havoc across the Midwest. Marina docks became useless catwalks. Freighter captains couldn’t fully load their ships. And fears grew that the lake would drop so low it would no longer be able to feed the Chicago River, the defining waterway that snakes through the heart of the city.

That fear was short-lived. Just a year later, in 2014, the lake started climbing at a stunning rate, ultimately setting a record summertime high in 2020 before drought took hold and water levels started plunging again.

Egan explains in detail what that means for us, culminating in the harrowing near-disaster of 17 May 2020, when record rains combined with a record-high lake to make draining downtown Chicago almost impossible.

I should note that, after falling for 11 consecutive months, the lake has started to rise again (blue line), and we haven't even gotten down to our long-term average (green line):

I've said for decades that Chicago will fare better than most places, but that doesn't mean we'll have it easy. Nowhere will.

UIC's Dis/Placements project maps Uptown

Via Bloomberg CityLab and Block Club Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago started a project in 2017 to chart the "displacements of people and struggles over land, housing, and community in the city of Chicago:"

The issue of displacement and the efforts to stop it, in fact, has been present in Uptown for nearly 200 years. That history — in the words of the people who were displaced — is now being recounted through a new University of Illinois Chicago research project.

“In general, it’s poor communities and communities of color that have faced the brunt of the efforts to develop neighborhoods,” said UIC Professor Gayatri Reddy. “Uptown captures some of these remaining issues.”

The project also recounts the efforts to stop displacement and points to how modern activist movements have picked up the mantle from previous generations in the still very-much-alive fight in Uptown, the professors said.

Displacement and development that adversely impact the poor and communities of color have been happening in Uptown, and America, since its founding. But at least in Uptown, the scale of displacement has accelerated in modern times, Reddy said.

“It seems to us that there has been a steady rise in the breadth and scale of such efforts in the last 20 [plus] years,” she said. “With gentrification and other displacement mechanisms impacting an even wider swath of the population.”

The project site has interactive and VR visualizations of Uptown's history, with scads of GIS data and spotlights on specific instances of uncomfortable history.

We're dumb, but we're not that dumb

Two sad-funny examples of how, nah, we're exactly that dumb. The first, from TDWTF, points out the fundamental problem with training a machine-learning system how to write software:

Any ML system is only as good as its training data, and this leads to some seriously negative outcomes. We usually call this algorithmic bias, and we all know the examples. It's why voice assistants have a hard time with certain names or accents. It's why sentencing tools for law enforcement mis-classify defendants. It's why facial recognition systems have a hard time with darker skin tones.

In the case of an ML tool that was trained on publicly available code, there's a blatantly obvious flaw in the training data: MOST CODE IS BAD.

If you feed a big pile of Open Source code into OpenAI, the only thing you're doing is automating the generation of bad code, because most of the code you fed the system is bad. It's ironic that the biggest obstacle to automating programmers out of a job is that we are terrible at our jobs.

I regret to inform the non-programmer portion of the world that this is true.

But still, most of the world's bad code isn't nearly as bad as the deposition Paula Deen gave in her harassment suit in May 2013. This came up in a conversation over the weekend, and the person I discussed this with insisted that, no, she really said incredibly dumb things that one has to imagine made her attorney weep. She reminds us that the Venn diagram of casual bigotry and stupidity has a large overlapping area labeled "Murica."

Just wait for the bit where the plaintiff's attorney asks Deen to give an example of a nice way to use the N-word.

I will now continue writing code I hope never winds up in either a deposition or on TDWTF.

Down the Memory Hole

Yale history professor Timothy Snyder warns that "memory laws" recently passed in several Republican-held states bear a strong resemblance to similar laws supported by horrifying regimes:

After the Soviet Union came to an end in 1991, citizens of a newly independent Ukraine began commemorating the dead of the 1932-33 famine, which they call the Holodomor. In 2006, the Ukrainian Parliament recognized the events in question as a genocide. In 2008, the Russian Duma responded with a resolution that provided a very different account of the famine. Even as Russian legislators seemed to acknowledge the catastrophe, they turned it against the main victims. The resolution stated that “there is no historical proof that the famine was organized along ethnic lines,” and pointedly mentioned six regions in Russia before mentioning Ukraine.

This ordering became habitual in the Russian state press: Mentions of the famine included an awkwardly long list of regions, downplaying the specificity of the Ukrainian tragedy. The famine was presented as a result of administrative mistakes by a neutral state apparatus. Everyone was a victim, and so no one was.

This spring, memory laws arrived in America. Republican state legislators proposed dozens of bills designed to guide and control American understanding of the past.

[T]he most common feature among the laws, and the one most familiar to a student of repressive memory laws elsewhere in the world, is their attention to feelings. Four of five of them, in almost identical language, proscribe any curricular activities that would give rise to “discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex.”

In most cases, the new American memory laws have been passed by state legislatures that, in the same session, have passed laws designed to make voting more difficult. The memory management enables the voter suppression. The history of denying Black people the vote is shameful. This means that it is less likely to be taught where teachers are mandated to protect young people from feeling shame. The history of denying Black people the vote involves law and society. This means that it is less likely to be taught where teachers are mandated to tell students that racism is only personal prejudice.

The Republican Party continues to follow established patterns to further its goal of minority rule. Memory laws fit them like a comfortable pair of jackboots.

Busy 4th

Cassie and I had a long day yesterday, which included several rides in the car and lots of play time. It also involved tons of fireworks. And a raw, marrow-filled bison bone:

Adding more data to the "failed hunting dog" hypothesis of Cassie's origin, we walked through a neighborhood southwest of the city with fireworks exploding left and right, and Cassie didn't care. We did normal leash work, in fact, because the fireworks didn't even distract her. Happy dog:

Cosplaying soldiers arrested in Massachusetts

I mean...

Police in Massachusetts arrested 11 people Saturday after an hours-long standoff with a group of heavily armed men near Interstate 95, sparking stay-at-home orders for nearby residents and a highway shutdown during the holiday weekend.

According to the Wakefield Police Department, several men carrying rifles and handguns took off into the woods after refusing to comply with orders during a motor vehicle stop around 1:30 a.m. The men claimed to belong to a group that “does not recognize our laws,” police said.

“No threats were made, but these men should be considered armed and dangerous,” the department said in a statement at the time.

The incident concluded around nine hours later with authorities saying all those involved had been apprehended. The men are expected to appear in district court on a variety of firearms charges Tuesday morning. In the meantime, investigators are still trying to determine what, if any, motives the group might have had.

Apparently these guys belong to a group called "Rise of the Moors," which one must assume has nothing to do with Yorkshire:

The group’s website describes its organization as a collective of “Moorish Americans,” and its members believe they are the “original sovereigns of this land — America.”

During his phone conversation, the apparent leader said his men grabbed weapons Saturday morning on I-95 when they were approached by law enforcement because they felt threatened. The apparent leader asked to be served a summons, saying law enforcement officials could deliver the summons to a table that he offered to set up in the middle of the highway.

He expressed concern about being arrested and fingerprinted, which he described as a form of self-incrimination. He said he and his men wanted to go home.

“I want my men to be safe, alive, keep and bear their arms,” he said.

I mean...I'm less interested in where people come up with these ideas, which seem like legal mondegreens. But why do they persist in believing this stuff?