Cloud Password Security Pragmatism versus Paranoia

Cloud Password Security

I just read an interesting article about Cloud Password Security in regards to the popular LastPass software. The comment section, as it often does, inspired me to write a blog about what’s going on and why I like to consider myself a pragmatic person.

The problem is simple enough. Creating a secure password is a bit of a pain and keeping track of all your passwords is even more difficult. Thus, cloud password security programs began to sprout up. They store your passwords online in an encrypted format and allow you to access your online sites without actually risking hacking.

What Happens when the Cloud Password Security Software is Hacked?

This is the focus of the article and what generated so much debate in the comments section. It’s fairly self-evident a storage silo for secure passwords is going to attract the attention of hackers. Why spend all that time getting my password when a hacking group can access millions all at once?

Lots of people chimed in with immediate and visceral responses. No way was he or she going to trust some cloud-based password system. In many cases the commenter listed local password security as a better solution. Generate your own secure passwords, store them locally in an encrypted way. That way you don’t put your passwords in a big old pile with a million others.

Pragmatisms versus Paranoia

The thing to understand about the various commenters lashing out against cloud password security is they have a point. The suggestion of storing all your passwords locally and encrypted is marginally more secure than using an online vendor.

The problem is, of course, the vast majority of people don’t want to or are technically incapable of doing so. With online cloud password security your passwords are automatically generated and put into sites you visit, bypassing the need for you to type them in manually. For many people, this alone is reason enough to use such services.

The real problem against using locally stored and encrypted passwords is much more pragmatic. A large majority of people simply do not create secure passwords and tend to reuse the same password over and over, perhaps with a number added to the end. Many people write down a list somewhere which means even a casual visitor or repair technician can get them easily enough. One of your kids’ friends. More people are in your house than you realize.

This means for the most internet users, their information is serious danger of being hacked. Your bank information. Your photos of loved ones. Everything.

My Personal Experience

It’s frankly impossible to remember all your passwords so you’re going to have to store them somehow. Over the years, several websites to which I belonged years ago informed me that they’d been hacked. That my password information for that site was now in the hands of the hackers. No problem for me, I never reuse passwords, but a huge problem for the majority of people.


I actually use a locally stored and encrypted system so you’d think I’d recommend that solution for everyone. I don’t. It’s just not realistic. I’m a pragmatist. I know the system I use for myself just isn’t going to work for many other people. What’s good for me isn’t good for everyone. That’s an important little life lesson all by itself but I won’t elaborate.

Please, for your own financial security, purchase a monthly subscription to a cloud password security service. You’ll hear horror stories about it being unsafe but don’t listen. It’s safer for the vast majority of people and that means you.

Tom Liberman

The Quantum Computer Future

Quantum Computer

I just read an interesting article about the threat a Quantum Computer presents to crypto-currencies. The idea behind a quantum computer is simply that it calculates really fast. When I say really fast, what I mean to say is really, really, fast. Much faster than current computers.

This means a quantum computer can easily bypass even the most sophisticated computer cryptography quite quickly. The article discusses the ability to do this in regards to crypto-currencies which rely on such security to ensure funds remain secure. If a quantum computer can crack any security in seconds, then crypto-currency no longer works.

What I’d like to discuss is much broader. What is the nature of a society in which there is no way to protect your private information?

The Lack of Privacy

A while back I wrote how technology erodes privacy and a quantum computer accelerate this process. However, this is a speculative article not one focusing on technology. What will a society largely without privacy be like? This question appeals to the writer in me. Imagine the Star Trek or Star Wars universe in which privacy does not exist. I imagine writing novels based on a universe of that nature.

Would Captain Kirk be less promiscuous? More? Would Luke and Leia get it on or would their kiss disqualify them from public service?

The big question I ask myself is: will people become less enthusiastic about engaging in behavior society deems inappropriate or more?

A Chaste Society

The first answer is, because everyone doesn’t want their behaviors to be known to their neighbors, people will engage in a chaste life. I won’t get drunk at a party and make a fool of myself because that might later hurt my career. Rather than hide my sexual fetishes, I will simply not engage in them because other people will know about them.

It’s not just sex, drugs, and rock and roll. It’s anything that a peer group might find inappropriate for whatever reason. As a young man would I play Dungeons and Dragons if the cool kids shunned this as nerdy behavior?

How much of myself, yourself, are you willing to deny simply for larger acceptance in the world? I think this is a very real possibility. The fear of being judged will make us more monastic, less willing to indulge in the pleasures of life.

This is, in my opinion, a pretty bleak outcome. A society in which no one engages in behavior deemed inappropriate is dull, stagnant.

The Hedonistic Society

The other potential is people will simply stop caring so much about how others conduct their life, become less willing to cast the first stone. Or any stone at all for that matter. Yeah, I’m a freak, so what, bitch? So are you and I love you anyway, but please don’t bring it into my house! Keep it in your bedroom with eager and consenting partners. See you at the game on Saturday.

How willing is a person to shame another person when their own private behavior is largely public knowledge?


I honestly think most people are unable to deny their nature and a quantum computer world with little privacy will make such behavior more acceptable.

I’ve always found it fascinating often times the figure most loudly decrying a particular behavior actually conducts it themselves on the sly. As an example, I’ve noted those most eager to condemn homosexuality are often denying their own feelings in that regard.

It’s likely some people will go into their little caves and hide their desires from not only the world but themselves.

However, I think it much more likely many people will just do as they please and if anyone tells them it’s wrong, simply ignore that person. It’s likely that people all over the world will become freer to engage in their weirdness because they will find so many peers.

The internet allows people who enjoy the same things to gather and that’s a good thing. Even if I find some of the behavior unappealing at best.

Get your freak on because, if you can’t hide it, the best strategy is to embrace it. What others think, it doesn’t matter.

If Quantum Computers remove privacy what sort of society will emerge?

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Tom Liberman

What to do about China cornering Cobalt Market

Cobalt Market

The Cobalt Market is in the news these days and this fact brings an opportunity for me to make a comparison between political philosophies of China and the United States. China is in the process of gathering an enormous share of the Cobalt Market and this presents a problem in that the element is a key component in the production of lithium-ion batteries. These batteries will drive the future of energy storage.

The fact that China now has control of a large share of the cobalt market is largely because that nation implemented a strategic, long-range plan called Belt and Road which I wrote about a few years back. Belt and Road encouraged economic ties between China and so-called third-world countries for the development of raw material. Almost fifty percent of all cobalt in the world is mined by the Democratic Republic of the Congo and this is because China invested money to build both mines and economic ties with Congo.

Belatedly, the United States realized this is a problem. Companies around the world need cobalt to produce lithium batteries and China, for the foreseeable future, has most of the mineral rights. Now comes the pertinent part of this blog. What can the United States do? There are two competing philosophies on the subject; essentially America First and Globalism.

The America First philosophy is largely promoted by the Trump Administration and its nationalistic backers. They want to encourage cobalt mining in the United States to ensure a supply of the vital element. By encourage, I mean give government money, taxpayer money, to companies to build mines and refining facilities. To ease environment restrictions and pass tax breaks along to companies who do so.

The globalist policy is pushed by a variety of backers and largely suggests investing in soft power, good foreign relations with countries like Australia with proven reserves of cobalt. This policy relies on strong economic ties with allies throughout the world. This is largely the policy that China pursued with Belt and Road and which has secured them enormous mineral rights with allied nations across the globe.

It’s important to understand one of these philosophies is largely socialistic. It relies on government rewarding businesses that behave in a way it desires. It is not direct socialism but crony capitalism which in the end is probably worse than socialism. The government wants cobalt. It bribes companies to mine the element.

The other method relies on capitalism and strong ties with foreign countries. This is a policy that has driven in the United States almost since its founding. We cannot, and should not, try to be self-reliant for all things, for the simple reason that such a policy is doomed to failure.

If we have strong alliances with countries that have natural resources, we will always have a supply chain. If we rely on our government to use our tax dollars to setup a financially unsustainable source here, we are doomed to both supply problems and a forever drain on our economy.

China’s Belt and Road is the proper strategy and its one the United States pursued for over two-hundred years, with great success. Our freedom was exported throughout the world and our alliances were strong.

We can certainly attempt an America First policy and this will, eventually, produce a home built cobalt market but it will never be enough. It is an endeavor doomed to failure and socialistic to boot. I know the America First people don’t like to hear it, but you are socialist, far more dangerous, in many ways, than those who actively promote socialism.

Tom Liberman

AMC Theaters versus Universal Films

AMC Theaters

AMC Theaters just announced they will no longer showcase Universal Film movies. Why are they doing it? Because Universal released Trolls World Tour directly to home viewers rather than offering it to theater chains first. Universal did this largely in response to the fact most theaters are closed because of the Covid-19 situation.

The stated problem for AMC Theaters and their CEO and President Adam Aron is simply the release of the movie in a way that bypasses the theaters. There is some truth in this but I suspect the bigger reason for the decision is that this particular release generated over $100 million in revenue. A number that is similar to the projected take for a widescreen release. This is a frightening confirmation of something the movie theater owners and operators have long feared, the end of their revenue stream.

More and more people watch their media at home and on their devices. This is undeniable. Hollywood revenue has remained relatively stable for the last eleven years after having nearly doubled in the same period prior to 2009.

Universal released Trolls World Tour directly to viewers and this is not particular strange. Plenty of content providers are doing the same but not for what are considered Blockbuster Movies. For companies like AMC Theaters the blockbuster has become the heart of their revenue stream. Independent movies continue to thrive but generate far less revenue than blockbusters. Meanwhile, streaming services like Netflix, HBO, and Amazon are taking a bigger and bigger bite out of their potential content.

AMC Theaters wants to stay in business. Universal Films wants to make as much money as possible and those two desires are now in conflict. Thus, the strongly worded letter from AMC Theaters. That letter, quite amusing if you read the whole thing, has this little gem within: Incidentally, this policy is not aimed solely at Universal out of pique or to be punitive in any way…. I chuckle. It is absolutely done out of pique and is punitive in nature. That boldfaced fib alone is enough to make me take Universal Film’s side in this issue.

AMC Theaters has legitimate concerns and they are desperately attempting to slow the movement of media consumption away from theaters and onto devices. Perhaps they will succeed. Maybe Universal, and other content providers, will ignore the fact they made as much from a non-theatrical release as they would have from putting the blockbuster in theaters.

Of course, if AMC Theaters goes through with this plan, they are also eliminating a major studio from their theaters and thus a large stream of revenue.

Personally, I think the steady decline of people viewing movies at the theater will continue and AMC Theaters will eventually go the way of Blockbuster Movie Rentals. Perhaps I’m wrong. Time will tell. What do you think?

Is AMC going to succeed in their threat to pull all Univeral Films?

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Tom Liberman

The Real Value of Technology to Users

Real Value of Technology

I just followed what I imagined was a clickbait link and ended up on a fascinating article describing a difficult economic question about what is the real value of technology to its users. The problem is that nations around the world base their economic policy on things like Gross Domestic Product and Productivity Gains. Yet, we have no way to add things like using Social Media to the numbers.

The article describes recent techniques championed by MIT economist Erik Brynjolfsson. Brynjolfsson is trying to quantify how much using search engines, social media, e-mail, GPS, and other technologies add in real value to not only your life but the economic health of the nation and world. These techniques are being used by the Federal Reserve and its chairman, Jerome Powell, in an effort to more accurately determine the health of the economy and make better decision about its immediate and long-term future.

It’s my opinion these efforts are long overdue and need to be applied to any number of traditional economic indicators which are becoming less useful in the modern era. I wrote an article about the end of money and another about unemployment not long ago that consider this same idea. Things like inflation and unemployment have long been used to determine the health of the economy but I think the numbers generated by metrics today are slipping further and further from reality.

As our numbers begin to fail there rises the likelihood those determining economic decisions on a worldwide basis will be making bad choices based on poor data.

If you think there is no real value of technology then I quote the last lines of the article: How should we value the luxury of never needing to ask for directions or the peace and tranquility afforded by speedy resolution of those contentious arguments over the trivia of the moment?

I have no great insights today. I’m glad to see the people in charge are looking into such things and I’m hopeful they’ll make important gains in understanding the real value of technology.

Tom Liberman

Big Government Liberal Josh Hawley at it Again

Big Government

Once again big government liberals, Republicans that is, are proposing intrusive laws into an industry they barely understand. Senator Josh Hawley from my beloved home state of Missouri wants the federal government to tell Facebook how to arrange their page and limit you to thirty minutes of time on Facebook a day. Yay, saved by big government liberals again.

Hawley thinks endless scrolling and auto-playing advertisements play upon human addiction patterns and must be controlled by the government. His new bill in Congress goes so far as to force Facebook to inform you every thirty minutes that you’ve been on their site with a conspicuous pop-up, yes, I know, the bill rails against pop-ups but wants to enforce itself with pop-ups. Even if you specifically allow Facebook not to ban you after you’ve been on for more than thirty minutes, you’ll still get reminded about it if this law is passed.

Here is the reality about big government liberals. They are rampant in both the Republican and Democratic party and their goal is largely to legislate their perceived enemy out of business. Would you stand by if there was a law proposed about how many cigarettes you could smoke? How much alcohol you could drink in the privacy of your home? Why aren’t Hawley and his big government cohorts on board with sugary drink bans that play upon human addictions? Because the sugary drink companies aren’t in his crosshairs.

This is the problem with big government. It uses its power to attack perceived enemies rather than governing. This is why Libertarians rail against such, regardless of the good intentions espoused by the legislative branch. The more power we give government to control our personal lives, the more they will use it to hurt their foes, it matters not that they are Republicans or Democrats. There is only one party that largely wants to leave you to your own devices.

Libertarians trust you to spend as much time on Facebook as you want. They trust you to smoke as many cigarettes as you want, to drink as much alcohol and soda as you want, to purchase as many loot boxes in video games as you want; even if doing so is unhealthy or unwise. It’s your money, it’s your life, it’s your time; not mine. I absolutely do not know better how you should you lead your life than you do yourself. That’s the mantra we should all embrace. That’s the kind of women and men we should elect to avoid big government liberals of all political stripes taking away our freedom.

Cling to your big government party all you want, that’s your business, but don’t come crying to me when it’s your freedom they decide to take.

Tom Liberman

Computer is now Best Go Player in World

goThe march of Artificial Intelligence continues on as was demonstrated when a computer defeated champion Ke Jei in two matches of the game Go. Go has a staggeringly large amount of moves and it was long thought it would take decades for computers to become as dominant in Go as they have become in chess. It didn’t take that long and this is good news, despite what you may be reading about the dangers of AI.

The reason it is fantastic can be inferred by what has happened to chess since computers became unassailable at the game. There was fear about the rise of computers and the game of chess. It was generally assumed once computers could defeat people, chess would largely be solved. That all anyone would have to do is memorize the few correct plays and that would be that. The game would die.

The reality turned out to be exactly the opposite. Before computers there were a limited number playable chess lines at the highest levels. By lines I’m talking about opening sequences and general ideas. For less skilled players it was more than possible to use many different lines but at the top level the game had become somewhat stagnant. Chess great Bobby Fisher lamented this and predicted the end of the game.

Computers do not get discouraged because a particular line doesn’t seem to be working. They continue to calculate the possibilities. These chess computers discovered many of the lines considered inferior were actually quite playable. They came up with innovate new ideas that expanded the repertoire available to top players. The Super Grandmasters took note of these moves and began to expand upon them. Then computers in turn extended each of these new ideas.

Chess is experiencing a golden age thanks to computer intervention. There are many new lines and competition at the highest levels is filled with exciting games rather than boring draws played down familiar openings.

I would expect exactly the same thing to happen with Go. But that is only the beginning. As AI is tasked with solving all sorts of problems it will only expand the possibilities. It will think through lines that a human would discard out of hand. It will find innovative solutions to problems we thought impossible. This will take place in industry after industry. Computers with AI will expand our knowledge, increase the possibilities, and deeply enrich all our lives.

I know there are those out there with fears and I respect their opinion but politely disagree. Humanity is quickly approaching a new age. Artificial Intelligences will lead the way with breakthroughs in medicine, energy, transportation, crop management, and virtually every other endeavor.

Within fifty years our lives will be changed dramatically and, in my opinion, almost universally for the good of all. I only hope I live long enough to reap the benefits.

Tom Liberman

WannaCry Illustrates a Strange Path to Combat Software Piracy

wannacryIt may seem like a strange connection but the WannaCry virus that spread wildly in Russia and China illustrates the best way forward in combating software piracy. Up until now, the heavy-handed use of criminal charges has been used by government to protect software development companies.

The government of the United States spent the last few decades passing law after law against those who illegally download files, largely at the behest of the Motion Picture, Music Recording, and software industries. These laws generally caught up a few minor criminals who downloaded a small number of songs or movies while leaving the vast majority of activity unchecked. Our nation then used strong-arm tactics on other countries trying to get them to extradite and otherwise punish pirates.

Meanwhile, in response to the growing virus threat, the software industry has long pushed security updates as a way to ensure the safety of their customers’ computers. This basically means those who have a legitimate copy get these updates.

The idea is simple enough. In China and Russia there is a plethora of pirated software and thus those two nations were far more vulnerable to the WannaCry Ransomware attack. The people of those nations suffered the most when hospitals and other important services were curtailed. An oversight in the coding of the Ransomware allowed the attack to be muted to some degree, but it doesn’t change the overall lesson.

If you want your computer to be safe, you really need to have legally licensed and fully updated software on it. No matter how many laws the government passes and no matter how rigorously they enforce these regulations, software piracy will continue. It is only when the ever-increasing threat of Ransomware and other risks becomes dangerous enough that people realize the need to have licensed software.

It is the criminals who are forcing people to obey the law.

Ironic, ain’t it?

Tom Liberman

What Asteroid Mining Means for Precious Metals

asteroid-miningWhat does asteroid mining and flooding the world’s supply of precious metals mean economically? What would that mean for the world and for you?

For many people the idea of mining asteroids is the stuff of science fiction. Most people roll their eyes at me when I talk about our ability to make this fantasy a reality.

I’m here to tell you, asteroid mining is not far away. There are a number of ideas on how to accomplish it, but one of the easiest is simply changing the velocity of small asteroids so they enter into Earth’s orbit. From there break them down aboard a space platform and drop the material to the surface.

Getting the mining platform built would be a task but once it was done there would be an endless series of asteroids floating gently in to be processed. Asteroids as small as ten meters across generally contain more than one-hundred pounds of gold and seven-hundred tons of other useful metals. Larger and more metal rich asteroids have far more. To put this in perspective; the total amount of gold mined from our planet is about 152,000 tons.

When asteroid mining becomes a reality, there are economic issues to consider. We often consider things precious, or valuable, simply because they are scarce; not because of their value in industry. Platinum is scarce and used in industry primarily for emission control on vehicles. It’s very possible that we will not need catalytic converters on modern cars. At that point, the value of platinum is reduced dramatically. Couple this with the fact an asteroid as small as one kilometer in size might be mined for more platinum than currently exists on Earth. Suddenly platinum is all but valueless.

Gold certainly has value in industry but also largely for artistic endeavors. The things we consider valuable today will be super-abundant tomorrow, and thus have little value. This has happened before. There was time when aluminum was more valuable than gold. Aluminum has incredible value in the industrial world. Luckily it is readily available on Earth so scarcity is not an issue, although I’m guessing it will be a target of asteroid mining as well.

Basically gold, platinum, silver, and other metals we associate with monetary policies will become super-abundant. This means every person who invested in such metals will lose their money. This also infers that any country basing their economic system on precious metals will instantly become bankrupt. Their savings will be worthless as the price of gold plummets.

The economics of the world are changing and it’s wise to be prepared for such events. Gold, platinum, silver, nickel, cobalt, rhodium, and other rare and useful metals aren’t going to be readily available immediately, but there is no doubt in my mind they will eventually become so.

Someday there will be mining bases embedded in the asteroid belt that will ship billions of tons of useful elements to Earth for processing. Scarcity is no longer an issue.

I’m not saying sell all your gold and platinum today. I am saying, if you’re a gold bug or hung up on precious metals, you need to consider what’s happening in the world and off it, and plan your future accordingly.

Tom Liberman

Whoppers, Wikipedia, and Google oh My!

whoppersThere are a lot of people angry about a clever advertising campaign created by Burger King for Whoppers that uses our connected technology in an innovative way. I’m not as upset as everyone else, I think it’s pretty cool. Heavy-handed certainly, but it demonstrates possibilities.

What the executives at 3G Capital, owners of Burger King, authorized was a combined arms attack. The technologically savvy among us know that many people have devices that respond to voice commands. The executives authorized an advertising campaign that starts with the phrase, “Ok Google.” This command triggers anyone’s android device to assume it is the target of the communication. The advertisement then asks, “What is the Whopper Burger?”. This further prompts the device to search Wikipedia for Whopper Burger.

Staff writers at 3G Capital had prepared for the advertisement by editing the Wikipedia page to include an ingredient list for the Whopper.
Most of the world – Horror.

Me – Coolio!

The basic idea is strong. Advertisers are trying to reach their intended target. The person who owns the electronic device suddenly sees a picture of a mouth-watering Whopper on the screen. Some of them investigate the ingredient list, a few are hungry, and some small percentage head on over to Burger King to get some food.

There are problems here. The usurpation of someone else’s device and the editing of your own content on Wikipedia. If the advertisers had simply shown a little more deftness, all would have been fine.

The advertisement should have instructed the user to ask their device about the new and wonderful Whopper. 3G Capital should have released information about their product publicly and waited for the Wikipedia page to be updated organically. Basically, have a person monitoring the Wikipedia page until the desired change appears, then release the advertisement.

This strategy allows advertisers to reach their target audience and, this is the important thing, those who want to eat the new Whopper are made aware of its existence before they normally might have been. I can certainly think of a few improvements to this strategy right off the top of my head. Direct users to the website where a coupon resides, show the Wikipedia page on your device to servers at Burger King for the next hour and get a free Whopper with your purchase, I’m certain creative people can come up with more such ideas.

There is a lot of anti-advertisement sentiment in the world but there is nothing wrong with making people aware of a product they wish to purchase. No one buys anything under some sort of hypnotic spell engendered by the advertisement. We have laws against false advertising and that’s a good thing.

I love that targeted advertisement is aware of my search habits and offers me up choices that match said queries. I’ve been alerted to any number of price discounts through this sort of direct marketing. I see nothing wrong with a business informing their consumers of various products that might be of interest.

When I browse Facebook, I don’t see advertisements for women’s products. Why? I’m not a woman. I’m not interested in such things. It benefits us all when advertisements are targeted, both company and individual.

Sure, this foray was a bit brutish, but it’s a sign of things to come. I say that in a good way.

Tom Liberman

The Benefits of Autonomous Cars

autonomous-carI’ve long been a proponent of Autonomous Cars, or as they are often called, Self-Driving Cars. When I try to argue for them I generally get a lot of resistance. Some people don’t want to give control of the car to a machine, which they feel less able to safely navigate the roads. Others feel the cars are likely to have their computer systems hacked.

Both of those things are fairly unlikely but I really want to discuss the many and varied benefits of autonomous cars for all of us. The arguments I present here really aren’t going to promote the march toward such vehicles. The cars are coming and there is nothing to be done about it.

One of the major benefits is simply an enormous savings in money of law-enforcement expenses and the transfer of such assets to criminal, rather than traffic, duties. That is to say we’ll save huge amounts of taxpayer money. Autonomous cars won’t make illegal turns or exceed the speed limit. They will follow the restrictions of the software, which will be to obey the law.

Another huge savings in tax dollars will be on emergency services. Autonomous cars will get into accident far less frequently than human driven cars. This means hospital services will decrease dramatically. Doctors will have much more time to deal with sick patients, not accidents victims.

More tax dollars will be saved on construction and maintenance of road signs and signals which will be unnecessary.

Your insurance payment will be reduced by the amount of liability you are paying. You will not be responsible for any accidents.

People unable to drive will be able to move about their communities as desired.

Handicapped passengers will be dropped at the front door of their destination and picked up at the same spot at a time of their convenience.

There will be no more intoxicated drivers on the road

Some fifty-thousand lives will be saved in the United States every year.

The land devoted to parking lots will be greatly reduced. Autonomous cars will deliver a passenger to the front door of a location and then motor off to park in huge lots built off the beaten path. This will create a network of shops and businesses in a much smaller area and allow the greening of your community with more parks and other amenities.

These cars will increase productivity as passengers will perform their work while commuting from their origin to their destination. In addition, the travel time from points will be reduced dramatically as the cars will be able to travel at far higher speeds than a human can manage and also in herds, thus avoiding the stop and go of normal traffic.

Security measures will prevent your car from being stolen by anyone other than an identified driver.

You will be far less stressed. Driving is, without question, the most stressful thing I do.

Travel will be increased as any destination within eight hours can easily be reached while the passengers sleep. This will lead to the closing of many small airports which are largely supported by tax dollars. Thus, yet another saving for taxpayers.

You may not like the idea of an autonomous car but your children will never learn to drive. And, in this man’s humble opinion, that’s a wonderful thing.

Tom Liberman

Government to Regulate e-Cigarettes but Why?

e-cigarette-regulationElectronic Cigarettes burst onto the market in 2004 and now the government plans to regulate them in the same way they do traditional tobacco products. This despite the fact that e-cigarettes don’t use tobacco.

Today I’d like to address an issue slightly deeper than just this particular piece of legislation which was announced in 2014 giving producers two years to submit an application for approval. This application costs money and the e-cigarette manufacturers are claiming an approval must be submitted for every flavor and nicotine level available for sale. They claim the costs for such submissions would drive out all the small market e-cigarette manufacturers leaving only the largest companies.

I don’t know if this is true or not but I do know that the justification for such regulations and applications is outdated. There was a time when the internet did not exist and getting accurate information about the efficacy and danger of particular products was nearly impossible. I can understand that government officials felt it their responsibility to prevent essentially toxic products from being put on the market without at least some sort of warning.

I’m not opposed to the government employing a laboratory to test the content and health effects of tobacco, alcohol, and other products. I’m not opposed to the government using my tax dollars to disseminate information about said products on government managed websites. I think those are good things. I’m not under the illusion that a business would never market a harmful product with deceptive advertising and cover up the dangers. That sort of thing happens all the time, greed and human nature being what they are. To pretend otherwise is simply foolish.

However, with the advent of the internet and the availability of information I don’t see why the manufacturer has to provide relatively useless warnings on their labels and apply for expensive approvals. It seems to me that such rules and regulations are not intended for the safety of the population but simply generate revenue for the government and empower Crony Capitalism in order to support the largest manufacturers who fund political campaigns.

This is not the job of government.

The Information Age is a fundamental change in the nature of the world. For a Libertarian like myself it is the opening of a door into a utopia of personal freedom. If I want to use a product I can do my research and find out its nature. If I plan to buy a chicken from the grocery store, I can learn about the factory or local farm that raised it and how that chicken lived its life. Then I can make an informed decision on which chicken to buy. This was not possible until recently.

I’ll repeat, I do think the government has a right and responsibility to inspect, collect information, run tests, and publish the results for all to see. After that it is up to us. Should we choose to smoke tobacco then we know the risks and suffer the consequences of our actions.

We must trust people to live their lives in the manner they choose. We may not like. It might not be healthy. But it is ultimately their life and their decision. If they have the information they need to make an informed choice, that is all we can do. If we try to make that decision for them, even for their benefit, we end up causing far more harm in the long run.

As I point out in The Girl in Glass I – Apparition, freedom is free, it’s just not safe.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn

Tila Tequila, Cinnamon Nicole, and GoFundMe Idiocy

gofundmeI happened across two interesting stories today discussing GoFundMe campaigns. One involved a woman named Tila Tequila who needed money for a new apartment while a woman named Cinnamon Nicole used the Crowd Funding source to get living expenses after spending her savings on Powerball tickets.

The comments on the two stories are pretty predictable in that few people showed any sympathy toward Tequila or Nicole. Both women found themselves in difficult situations largely because of their own bad decisions.

The Nicole GoFundMe campaign was removed and she now claims the entire thing was a joke while the Tequila campaign reached its goal.

There are numerous incidents of people using Crowd Funding sites to get money for reasons that are less than savory. I found my reaction to these cases to be extraordinarily interesting from both a Libertarian perspective and a psychological one.

I want to be clear that I’m not, in this blog, talking about campaigns that are deceitful in their aims. In both of the situations mentioned above the women laid out why they needed the money honestly. There have certainly been cases of people claiming catastrophic illness or other tragedy in order to gain sympathy and donations. Such examples are fraudulent, clearly illegal, should be removed, and the perpetrators prosecuted.

When I first read the Tequila story I moved to the comments section thinking to add my own condemnation but then I noted the thousands of comments and tens of thousands of likes associated with those comments. That’s when I started thinking. Why should I care what Tequila does? Why does it bother me that she has made so many horrible decisions? Why does her cynical campaign annoy me? Why does it anger so many people? Why is it our business at all?

Why couldn’t I shake my head at the disaster of the decisions that led to the GoFundMe campaigns and forget about it?

Why is it that I, and so many others, eagerly want to judge, to condemn, to lash out?

I think it is because doing so makes me feel better about myself. By pointing out the failures in others I somehow reassure myself that I’m a better person. I make good decisions and wouldn’t stoop to such depths. I’m a good man, by golly.

And I think such thoughts prove that I am not as good as I suppose. If I was truly confident in my wonderfulness I suspect I would not feel the urge to condemn Tequila. I would merely note the story and move along with my life. If someone asked me about her specifically I would certainly give my opinion but this urge to display to everyone else how much better a human being am I than Tequila is my failing.

It’s a failing of a fundamental nature that I think speaks directly to being a Libertarian, or at least my interpretation of being one. I should be focused on my actions. When someone else does something that has no effect on me, not only should I not care, but I shouldn’t even really much think about it.

My life is my own to lead and yours is yours.

I’m of the opinion that the world would be a much better place if we could all follow this philosophy a bit more. This attitude is hardly an easy one to pursue but it is a worthwhile thing to attempt.

I’ll be doing my best. Will you?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn

The ADE 651 Fraudulent Bomb Detector

ade-651-bomb-detectorThere’s a story that’s been around for years but if you live in the United States of America, like me, you’ve probably never heard it. It’s about a piece of equipment called the ADE 651 which Iraqi police and security forces spent about $80 million dollars purchasing. It’s design purpose is to detect bombs from a distance.

It doesn’t work. It’s never worked. It’s never worked for anyone who tested it.

The FBI called its predecessor a fraud in 1999 and the U.S. Army declared it useless in 2009. Yet your tax dollars were still spent on it. The story made big news in England where the manufacturer was sentenced to ten years in prison. The owner paid Iraqis, and other, government officials bribes in order to purchase millions of dollars worth of the useless bomb detectors.

Fraud is a crime to begin with but when you give security forces in a bomb strewn country a device to detect explosives that doesn’t work, it means security forces wave their useless bomb detectors instead of searching for bombs. The result is predictable and vile.

I don’t put all the blame on the manufacturer of this useless thing. Iraqi government officials were bribed and put their own people in danger. Devising tests for such a device is, obviously, ridiculously easy. The fact that the thing didn’t work was not difficult to figure out and yet here we are tens of millions of our tax dollars later. Here we are who knows how many lives lost or ruined later. Here we are.

While such devices aren’t sold in the United States the concept is used all the time. Phony cancer cures, psychic readings, and any other number of scams are aimed at vulnerable and frightened people.

Is there an unethical depth to which someone, somewhere will not sink? It seems not.

What bothers me the most about this story is that this is the first I’ve heard about it. I follow the news pretty closely looking for stories to write about. James Randi exposed it back in 2008, there were apparently a few stories about it in U.S. media but why wasn’t this big news? You tell me.

Tom Liberman

Uber Officials Arrested in France

uberI’m not sure how many people outside of the Libertarian community fully understand what is going on with the transportation company Uber. It’s a sad and sorry story.

Taxi drivers in many countries and in the United States are petitioning their various governments to shut down Uber. Governments are listening and taking action.

First a quick look at Uber’s business model. Regular people become drivers for Uber. They undergo a relatively light background check, criminal records and the like, and when approved are allowed to pick up passengers in much the same way a cab does. The difference being that the drivers are on their own time with their own vehicles.

Passengers simply announce they are looking for a ride and the call goes out to nearby drivers who then take them to their destination.

It seems like a simple and elegant solution to getting people from point A to point B with as little fuss as possible. The rides are almost universally cheaper than cab rides. This does not sit well with taxi drivers and the solutions largely being proposed involve Uber paying larger fees.

Why, you might ask?

Because taxi companies pay large fees to the city governments in order to be licensed to operate their business. If a better model comes along and displaces them that means the taxi companies go out of business. This means, and here is the important part, the taxi companies stop paying ludicrous fees to cities in order to operate. That’s a nasty loss in revenue for the government.

The entire fee system is based on a government revenue plan that exacts money from businesses in order to operate in a legally licensed way. Without licenses the business cannot operate. It’s not completely ridiculous because it’s reasonable to have some sort of system for accountability should a business blow into town, sell a fake service or dangerous product, and then leave without recourse for those hurt or bilked.

But the entire system has gone way beyond any attempt to help protect citizens. It’s all about how much the city can extort from the business owner in order to operate. Liquor license? Pay up. Taxi license? Pay up. Any license? Pay up.

Not to mention companies bail on debts and responsibility all the time anyway, it’s called bankruptcy.

I’m not an anarchist. I don’t think anyone should be able to set up shop anywhere, anytime. That is dangerous. There are bad people in this world. That being said, Uber is a big company with a lot of money. They have executives who are well known. They can’t simply pack up and leave. Their business model is good for citizens, people want it. They love it.

The solution isn’t to charge Uber huge fees. It’s to reduce the ridiculous fees taxi companies pay. Let the best business model win. That’s good for you and me and ultimately the government, although those in such positions are far too short-sighted to see it.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Black Sphere
Next Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition – Release date: late August 2015

Steve Wozniak thinks We’ll be Pets for Robots – I agree sort of

steve-wozniakA fellow named Steve Wozniak whom I admire greatly recently changed his opinion on the future of Artificial Intelligence to more closely match my own thoughts on the subject and that makes me feel quite good!

Steve has a tremendous mind and has done some really amazing things with his life to help humanity as a whole. Originally he, like many others, took a pessimistic and fearful view of AI. That such an intelligence would think humans were slowing it down and thus move to destroy us. Wozniak now seems to largely agree with my point of view in that an AI would view destruction as a stupid process. What would give an AI joy would be to help us achieve great things together.

I don’t agree with his comparison to pets but I don’t think he meant it literally. Robots with AI will have the ability to solve problems far in excess of what a human can achieve. But I don’t think they will think of their “inferior” humans as pets. They will consider us allies in the quest to happiness. That is what we all want in the end. Sure we want money, good relationships, good food and drink, some want spouses and children, others want vacations, and other things but all those are all merely methods of achieving joy in our lives. That’s all anyone really wants.

It’s my opinion that the way we find joy is largely through achievement. Doing things makes us happy. Small things like mowing the lawn perfectly to big things like creating and rearing fantastic children. That’s what a vastly intelligent machine will realize immediately.

Anyway, I won’t reiterate my entire blog post which is linked above. You can read that if you want.

I just want to welcome Mr. Wozniak to the group that is extremely optimistic about AI. It’s good to have such as he on my side.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Black Sphere
Next Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition

Are Local Police Listening to Your Cell Phone Conversations?

stingray-cell-phone-trackingI just read an article about something called a Stingray Phone Tracker. If you believe in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution you should read about them as well.

What is a Stingray Phone Tracker? It’s a new weapon in the arsenal of local police that forces your cell phone to connect to it instead of the local cell tower. Law enforcement can then target your phone and download all conversations, text and voice. All this is within the scope of the Fourth Amendment if said use of the Stingray was authorized by a Probable Cause Warrant. The problem is police are using it with what is called Pen Register authorization. This only requires that police state the number is useful in an ongoing investigation and requires far less justification than a Probable Cause Warrant. It’s probable police are using it without any permission whatsoever. Nor are there any rules about how long they can keep the information and with whom the information will be stored.

It is only recently that people are learning about the use of these Stingrays but there is no doubt in my mind that once police have such a weapon available to them, they will use it, and use it frequently. What little information exists suggest as much.

Some local municipalities are now requiring that the use of the Stingray be specified in the request to the judge. It seems clear that police have been obtaining the Pen Register authorization when the judge in question didn’t understand the technology and what could be gleaned from it.

For some time now we’ve been quite concerned about the federal government listening to our conversations but now it seems quite likely that everyone down to your local sheriff has the ability to the do the same and apparently without much supervision or public knowledge.

I suppose there are those out there who trust law enforcement agencies to use this technology properly and there are even those who say if you don’t do anything illegal why would you care if the police listen, record, and store you texts? Well, I care. They have no business doing so and the Constitution of the United States makes that clear.

I’m not opposed to police and investigation but I also strongly believe in the Fourth Amendment and if law enforcement officers want to listen to citizens conversations they must obtain a warrant. Otherwise they are breaking the law and should be prosecuted.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Black Sphere
Next Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition

Self-Driving Cars in Lots of Accidents – Misleading Headline

self-driving cars accidentsI’m a huge proponent of self-driving cars for many reasons and my trainer at the gym alerted me to the fact that 4 of the 50 self-driving cars in California have been in accidents. The assumption being that they caused the crashes; or at least that’s what the bevy of misleading headlines would have you believe.

The facts you ask. Sure.

All eleven accidents occurred at less than 10 mph and no one was injured badly.

The biggest accident involved a self-driving car being broadsided by another car.

All of the accidents, all of them, involved other cars hitting the self-driving cars, mostly being rear-ended while stopped.

Self-driving cars are required to report all accidents including minor ones where no damage occurs (the majority of the cases here) thus the apparently high number of crashes. Most people never report the sort of accident in which these cars were involved.

Conclusion? Self-driving cars, even in their infancy are doing just fine.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Black Sphere
Next Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition

U.S. Seizes Kim Dotcom Assets

Kim DotcomI’ve been following the saga of Kim Dotcom since January of 2012 when New Zealand police raided his home and charged him with copyright piracy. Things took another disturbing (at least for Libertarians) turn this weekend when a U.S. court decided that because he was a “fugitive” that the government was entitled to seize all of his personal assets despite the fact he hasn’t been convicted of a crime.

I’ve written about this entire misguided prosecution several times before and I don’t want to reiterate all my objections and will focus on this latest travesty today.

What happened is that the government of New Zealand, where Kim Dotcom resides, raided his house and took his property but the courts in that country decided that after nearly three years and no trial they needed to give him his stuff back. The United States then invoked a new legal proceeding claiming that Dotcom was a fugitive and as such they could seize his assets.

How Dotcom is a fugitive of the United States when he never lived in this country and never did business in this country boggles the mind. How the United States is entitled to steal … er seize … the assets of a person who was arrested, but untried, in another country is frightening. What can’t the courts decide? Who can’t they bankrupt?

The United States now owns $67 million worth of what used to be Dotcom’s property. His business is destroyed and he has yet to face trial three years after his initial arrest. The United States now owns his bank accounts, none of which resided in the United States! They own them! The accounts legally belong to the United States Government because a U.S. court decided the accounts of a man from another country was a fugitive.

There has been no trial and Dotcom wasn’t even legally allowed to defend himself in this latest phase. He now has no money to pay his lawyers to continue his case.

Who is safe from such rapacity?

Are you?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Black Sphere
Next Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition

North Korea and the Blame Game

North Korea Sony AttackNorth Korea is good for it. Or at least that’s what it appears to be in the Sony Hacking case.

I was watching this case from before it became major news and when word first started to leak about North Korea and the hack being related to the release of The Interview I was extremely skeptical. I thought it sounded like classic misdirection from whatever group actually perpetrated the hack.

Then the U.S. government got involved in the form of the FBI and they seemed pretty clear that North Korea was involved in the case. Oh well, I thought to myself, I was wrong. More good reason not to jump to conclusions and write blogs before all the information is available. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way in the past and I try to be cautious.

This morning a read a news story from one of the worst of the slanted journalism sites indicating that the blaming of the hack on North Korea was premature. Before you go thinking the Daily Beast has got their act together you might read this story from the same publication that demands the U.S. take action against North Korea for the hack. I’m not going to spend time today attacking or praising the Daily Beast for their regularly insane and irregularly sane articles. Today I want to talk about perception.

North Korea was good for it. There are not many people in the world who have a high opinion of North Korea and that is for excellent reasons. It is the worst totalitarian state in the world. Their record on human rights is abysmal. There is every reason to think they would do something terrible like this. They would certainly be on the list of suspects. What’s important is that all this is merely conjecture.

After reading the article in the Daily Beast I went searching for more articles and there seems to be a fairly general consensus that the FBI laid out the blame without the evidence necessary to do so. That there were other potential parties involved and the investigation seems to have stuck upon the few bits of evidence that supported their presupposed notion. I’ve written about this tendency in smaller and more domestic situation as recently as last week.

I find it predictable, but still disheartening, that law enforcement agencies as lofty as the FBI apparently fall prey to the same sort of investigative blindness. I’m not going to say that North Korea is blameless because I haven’t seen all the evidence. I certainly won’t say that North Korea is behind the attack. I think the question still remains up in the air.

I will toot my own horn. I was skeptical of the blame North Korea game the second I heard that the hackers didn’t want The Interview released. I still think so. It appeared obvious to me that this was a case of one group attempting to lead the authorities on a wild-goose chase by putting out misleading statements.

The real take that I get from the story is that you should always be cautious about assigning blame to the person our party that appears to be guilty at first glance. It’s something we have the tendency to do all too frequently.

Don’t play the blame game. Look at the facts with an open mind and particularly examine those that don’t fit in with your preconceived notions. You might find the world a more complex and interesting place than you imagined.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Black Sphere
Next Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition