Bailing Out

California has approved a change to state law which will do away with bail. Only if the law stands, of course. As might be expected, loud voices have been raised in opposition.

In brief, SB 10 will do away with bail, and require each county to set up its own system of risk assessment to determine which defendants could be released on their own recognizance, be required to submit to electronic monitoring, or held in “preventive detention”.

Naturally, bail bond businesses are objecting the loudest, but they’re hardly alone. The ACLU is opposed, as are a large number of law enforcement organizations.

The primary objection–outside of the bail bond industry, which would be largely destroyed if the law stands–is that it places too much control in the hands of judges. With local jurisdictions able to assign their own weights to whatever factors they consider relevant, and individual judges free to interpret the guidelines, critics of SB 10 fear that it may increase the number of people held in jail pending trial, rather than reduce it.

And certainly, there are any number of ways such a system could be gamed to disproportionately affect minorities and the poor.

The bill was initially proposed in 2016, and has been substantially modified since then. Many of the groups who disapprove of the version just signed by Governor Brown approved of earlier versions. Even the primary author, Senator Bob Hertzberg (Democrat, Van Nuys), seems less than enthralled with the final version. The Chron quotes him as saying that “Our path to a more just criminal justice system is not complete.”

Cynic that I am, I tend to read his comment as “Well, it was the best I could do. Maybe we can fix it later.” And pessimist that I am, I’m doubtful whether fixes will be a high priority.

“Release fast, fix later” may work for software. Maybe. The jury is still out on that. But it’s a bad approach to lawmaking.

Opponents are considering challenging the law in court, and have already started a petition drive to put the question in front of voters in 2020. (The law will take effect in October of 2019 unless blocked in the courts. Or, if the referendum qualifies for the ballot, the law would go on hold.)

One additional factor that I haven’t seen mentioned in the press: it seems likely that under SB 10, electronic monitoring would become more common for pre-trial defendants. However, the defendant is required to pay a fee for the equipment. Seven bucks a day (according to an article from 2016) doesn’t sound like much, but that adds up quickly. If a defendant can’t afford bail, how likely is he to be able to afford two hundred dollars a month?

I’m generally in favor of doing away with bail, but I have to side with the ACLU* on this law.

* While I have some sympathy for the bail bondsmen, I don’t have a lot of patience for the “This change will put me out of work” argument in general, and even less in this case, where the change is intended to save the jobs of many, many more people.

The potential for abuse is too great, the approach is flawed, and the “fix it later” attitude is offensive. Scrap SB 10 and start over.

More Paranoia

Well, despite Thursday’s post, I’m still here. Still pissed off, though, so I hope y’all will indulge me in another day of paranoia.

Possibly I’m only still here because I’m not a registered Democrat. As noted idiot Alex Jones of Info Wars informed the world yesterday, the Democrats are starting a civil war on Wednesday. So the Republicans may be a little too distracted to deal with a single independent shouting into the void.

I’m not sure what the problem is here. Wasn’t Jones one of the people calling for more civility from the left? Just can’t please some people, I suppose.

Yes, Jones really said/tweeted it. Called it “breaking news,” even.

Let’s get real, here. Nobody–and I mean nobody–can start a war on demand. Well, okay. Starting a war is no problem. A few cyberattacks, few grassy-knoll assassinations, and well-placed bombs, and Bob’s your uncle. But on a schedule precise to the day? Excuse me while I go laugh hysterically.

Yeah, the provocation can be scheduled, but until the other side strikes back, you don’t have a war. Remember, it takes two to tango, but only one to Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

Still, it was nice of Alex to give us a couple of days to get ready. I hear all the Democrat-owned supermarkets and big box stores are having special sales. If your local store isn’t offering two-for-one pricing on Kevlar and popcorn, you know the corporate higher-ups are Republicans.

Come to think of it, if he’s got credible evidence that “Democrats” are going to indulge in major provocation, shouldn’t he be reporting it to, say, an organization whose job is to stop terrorist plots? Oh, no wait, the official word from the right is that the FBI isn’t capable of finding the soles of their shoes, much less a threat to America.

Hmm. Speaking theoretically here–I’m a novelist, this is what I do–if I was trying to provoke a war, I’d make sure those crackers, bullets, and bombs were aimed at the institutions and people most capable of defending whoever or whatever I was rebelling against.

Do you suppose Alex is afraid Democrats don’t consider him important enough to attack and this announcement is his way of trying to raise his importance? “Oh, look, I blew the whistle on your plot. Better kill me before I blow the cover off your next operation!”

Got news for you, Alex. Very few Democrats consider you important enough to waste time or money on. If Info Wars or you personally suffer an attack Wednesday, it’s more likely to have been done by your own side as an excuse to take the next step in their plan. You’re not rich enough or highly placed enough to be making targeting decisions, so by definition, you’re expendable.

Seriously though, this kind of pronouncement is a can’t-lose for Alex and the alt-right lunatics he’s talking to. If anything happens on Independence Day, he can trumpet that he told us so. If nothing happens, his warning saved the day. And either way, it’s an excuse to crack down on somebody.

Maybe the media who laugh at Alex*. Or the ones who ignore him. Or the family of the girl who turned one of the decision-makers down when he asked her out in high school. Or anyone whose skin is darker than cornsilk, isn’t a particular brand of Christian, thinks health insurance is a good idea, or even (gasp) once voted Democrat.

* Yes, that means me, among others.

If the movers and shakers behind DT are ready to move into their endgame, all it would take is the sacrifice of one highly-visible pundit to give them an excuse for their own Kristallnacht. And all that sacrifice would take is a single well-prepared operative and a big pile of disinformation.

Why wait for Justice Kennedy to retire before kicking things off?

Okay, okay. Enough doomsaying and paranoid ramblings. I’ll have something cheerful for you in Thursday’s post–assuming, of course, that the civil war hasn’t started by then.

Ready, Aim…

Joel Stein’s LA Times piece on Nextdoor is worth reading.

Not that he’s saying anything new–Oakland residents have been fighting Nextdoor’s rather lax and inconsistent approach to policing content for years. But he does say it entertainingly.

Nextdoor, for those of you who haven’t heard of it or were smart enough not to join, is supposed to be the electronic town square. Think Facebook, but strictly limited by geographic neighborhoods. You can see posts in your own neighborhood* and in adjoining neighborhoods, but nothing else.

* There are a number of methods used to verify that you live where you say you do. Some are of rather questionable utility, but at least Nextdoor is making an effort.

In theory, it’s a combination local bulletin board, neighborhood watch, and community chatline. In practice, well, as Joel says

In the alternative reality that is Nextdoor, people are committing crimes I’ve never even thought of: casing, lurking, knocking on doors at 11:45 p.m., coating mailbox flaps with glue, “asking people for jumper cables but not actually having a car,” light bulb stealing, taking photos of homes, being an “unstable female” and “stashing a car in my private garage.”

And he’s right on the money.

Except that he missed a couple of items. Roughly half the posts on any given day are pet related. “My dog/cat/parrot is missing.” “Somebody’s using the public park to train attack dogs.” And, of course, “All of you better stop letting your dogs crap on my yard!”

And then there’s the inevitable response to any post, frequently from multiple people:

“Someone claiming to be from PG&E knocked on my door.” “That’s a scam. He was just trying to see if anyone was home. If he comes back, shoot him.”

“There’s a strange man walking along the sidewalk. He had a camera and was taking pictures.” “He’s casing houses to break into later. If he comes on your property, shoot him.”

“I’m sick and tired of cleaning dog droppings off my lawn.” “Next time you see a dog on your lawn, shoot it.”

Are you seeing a pattern here?

Yes, even the missing pet posts get responses like “Don’t expect to see Fluffy again, ’cause I’m gonna shoot her if she keeps messing with my chickens.”

Don’t even think about reading any thread related to gun control, unless you really enjoy repeated regurgitation of the NRA’s favorite talking points, wild exaggerations, and outright lies, all mixed with threats of violence against anyone who “comes to take my guns.”

I don’t know, maybe it’s just here. According to Nextdoor, there are 237 people signed up in my neighborhood, and I can see posts from 6,756 people in the adjoining areas. That’s a small enough group–given that more than 90% of people on any social network rarely post more than once or twice–that a few lunatics may be disproportionately represented. Anyone else, especially in larger neighborhoods, seeing the same thing?

Another Brilliant Notion

Before I get to today’s main topic, a little bit of housekeeping, loosely following Tuesday’s post.

I will be attending the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival again this year. There’s still time to make your own plans to attend. What better way is there to spend a weekend than listening to great music performed well? In addition to the music, there will be dancing; symposia on ragtime, it’s precursors, and successors; and tours of Sedalia.

And yes, there will be copies of TRTT for sale. I’m not currently planning on a formal signing–though I’m certainly open to the possibility–but I’ll be happy to sign your copy*. I recognize most of you have been resistant to the idea of distributing copies to friends and relatives, so how about an alternative plan? Get ’em for people you don’t know–the possibilities are endless:

  • Send one to Donald Trump. He won’t read it, but maybe dealing with thousands of copies will distract him from tweeting for a few minutes.
  • Slip one to the opposing pitcher before the next ballgame you go to. Who knows, it might distract him enough to give your team a chance.
  • Give them to Scott Pruitt. He needs something cheerful in his life right now. And if he gets enough copies, he can use them to build himself a privacy booth at least as good as the one he made with the sofa cushions when he was a kid.

I’ll be happy to sign any “Strangers and Enemies” copies too. And I’ll add a personal message of your choice!

* I’m still unsure how to sign ebooks. Suggestions welcome!

Admittedly, the weather in Missouri in June is a bit on the hot and muggy side, but for those of you east of the Rockies, it’ll be a nice change from the snow you’re still getting. And better June than September, right?

So I hope to see a few of you at the Liberty Center and around Sedalia between May 30 and June 2.

Commercial over, moving on.

By now many of you have probably heard that the amazingly ill-thought-out Amazon Key program is expanding. If you don’t want Amazon unlocking your house and putting your packages inside–and who would?–they’re now going to offer an alternative: they’ll unlock your car and put your package in the trunk.

Which is, at least by comparison with the original offering, not a bad idea.

Despite San Francisco’s well-publicized problem with smash-and-grab auto robberies, your chances of having your car broken into are probably no higher than of having your house robbed. Assuming, of course, that nobody is following Amazon delivery peons around their routes and texting car delivery locations to a confederate.

Anyway, the service will be offered in conjunction with GM and Volvo initially, and then expand to other makes later. Trunk delivery will also require a recent model with online connectivity, i.e. OnStar.

Which brings us to my major complaint about this iteration of Amazon Key: it’s a reminder that we don’t really own our cars anymore. Ownership should mean control, but a modern, connected car sacrifices control. The manufacturer–and potentially dealers, repair shops, police, and others–can unlock your car, disable features, and display advertisements at will.

Yes, I’m talking capability rather than practice, but policies can change. Once the hardware is in place to, for example, show ads on your navigation screen, you’re never more than one manufacturer-controlled software update from not being able to turn the ads off.

Or one bug–or hack–away from the car failing to recognize the remote relock signal.

That’s true whether you use Amazon Key or not, of course.

That Switch On Your Dashboard

Well, it’s been almost a month since I bitched about the impending End of Civilization As We Know It as brought about by drivers. That’s long enough that I hope you’ll indulge me in another rant along the same lines.

It’s not about the idiots who weave in and out at high speed. They’ve upped their game: it’s no longer enough of a thrill for them to zip across three lanes, missing four cars by no more than six inches, on rain-slick pavement. They’ve begun doing the same thing with the driver’s door open. Yes, really. Saw it myself a couple of days ago.

Nor is it about the lunatics who believe 35 is the minimum speed on residential streets, though Ghu knows there are plenty of those.

No, today’s complaint is about the people who’ve either forgotten or never learned the rules for using their high-beams. As best I can tell, based on this weekend’s random sampling, this group amounts to roughly 90% of the drivers on the road.

The rules aren’t difficult. There are only two.

  1. When approaching the top of a hill or coming around a blind curve, turn the high-beams off.
  2. When following another car–especially if you’re tailgating–turn the high-beams off.

That’s it.

They both boil down to the same bit of common sense: don’t blind a driver who might collide with you if they can’t see.

I don’t blame video games for violent behavior. But I’ve gotta admit it’s really tempting to blame them for stupid behavior.

People, there’s a reason why I haven’t hooked up my Atari 2600 in decades, and it’s not that I can’t find the cables. I sucked at “Night Driver“. Okay, yes, I made it through the other day’s unplanned real life version* unscathed. Doesn’t mean I enjoyed it, especially on the higher difficulty/no vision setting.

* Is Live Action Videogaming: Ancient (LAVA) a thing? If not, maybe it should be. If it gets a few of the idiots off the road and…uh…on the road, um…

Hang on, let me rethink this one.

Face It

Thousands–perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands–of people are deleting their Facebook accounts in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

And that’s great. I look forward with great anticipation to the day when the exodus reaches critical mass and I can delete my own account.

Keep in mind, I created my account when I started doing the writing thing. In today’s world of publishing, the best thing you can do for yourself as an author is to promote your books. And the best–the only–way to do that is to go where the people are.

It doesn’t do much good to do promotion on MySpace, LiveJournal, or any place else your potential readers aren’t. Today, that means Facebook. Yes, Twitter to a lesser extent. Much lesser.

At Facebook’s current rate of decline, I should be able to delete my account around the end of 2020. And that’s the best case scenario.

I’m assuming here that Facebook’s claimed two billion users statistic is grossly inflated. I’m also assuming that there are a million account deletions a day, which is, I suspect, also grossly inflated.

‘Cause, as Arwa Mahdawi said in The Guardian, “…there is not really a good replacement for Facebook.” She quotes Safiya Noble, a professor of information studies at USC: “For many people, Facebook is an important gateway to the internet. In fact, it is the only version of the internet that some know…”

And it’s true. Remember when millions of people thought AOL was the Internet? I think they’ve all moved to Facebook.

They’re not going to delete their accounts. Neither are the millions of people who say “You don’t have anything to be concerned about from surveillance if you haven’t done anything wrong.” Ditto for the people who still don’t regret voting for Trump and the ones who say “There are so many cameras watching you all the time anyway, what difference does it make if Facebook is watching too?”

Even if there’s a lot of overlap among those groups, that’s still hundreds of millions of accounts.

(Why isn’t the paranoid fringe–the people who literally wear aluminum foil hats to keep the government from controlling their minds–up in arms about Facebook? Is it only because they’re not “the government”? Or am I just not looking for their denunciations in the right places?)

Facebook isn’t going away any time soon. Not until the “new hot” comes along. If the new hot isn’t just Facebook under another name. Don’t forget that Instagram and WhatsApp are Facebook. They’re watching you the same way the parent company is, and if one of them captures the next generation of Internet users, it’ll be “The king is dead! Hail the new king, same as the old king!”

Unfortunately, stereotypes aside, those people who are staying on Facebook do read. And that means I need to keep my account open, touting my wares in their marketplace.

I’ve seen a number of people saying “If you can’t leave Facebook, at least cut down the amount of information you give them.” Which is good advice, but really tricky to do. Even if you follow all of the instructions for telling Facebook to forget what they already know, there are other things they track. You can tell them to forget what you’ve liked, but you can’t tell them to forget how long you looked at each article. (Yes, they do track that, according to credible reports. The assumption is that their algorithms give you more posts similar to ones you’ve spent a long time on.)

And then there are those apps. Those charming, wonderful apps.

I checked my settings to see how many apps I’d allowed to access my information. There were only eight, which puts me way down at the low end of the curve. It’s down to four now, two of which are necessary to have my blog posts show up on Facebook. And when I killed off two of the four, I got popups reminding me that removing their access to Facebook does not delete any data they’ve already gathered.

Should I be concerned that I didn’t get a warning about the other two?

But let’s assume a miracle. Say, half a billion accounts get closed. The FTC fines Facebook an obscene amount of money*. What happens next?

* They almost have to. How many of those 50,000,000 accounts compromised by CA belong to government officials. Officials who are now very worried about what CA–and thus whoever they’ve shared that data with, starting with the Trump family, the Russian government, and who knows who all else–has inferred about their non-governmental activities, health, sexual orientation, and so on. If the FTC doesn’t hammer Facebook, heads will roll, no matter who has control of Congress after the November elections.

Absolutely nothing. Facebook goes on. They make a show of contrition, talk up new controls they’ve put in place to keep anything of the sort from happening again*. And they keep marketing users’ personal information to anyone who might want to advertise.

* It will. We’ve seen every form of access-control ever invented hacked. The information exists, it’s valuable, therefor someone will steal it.

That’s their whole business model. They can’t change it. The only thing that might–and I emphasize “might”–kill Facebook would be for them to say, “You know, you’re right. It’s unethical for us to make money by selling your private information. We won’t do it any more. Oh, and effective immediately, Facebook will cost you $9.99 a month.”

How Lucky!

I’m starting to think Larry Niven was right.

One of the subplots in his Known Space stories involves, in short, breeding humans to be lucky. He postulates strict birth control laws combined with a lottery to distribute one-child exceptions to the laws. After several generations, there will be people whose ancestors are all lottery babies.

Whether that constitutes luck, I’ll let you decide.

But in the context of the stories, the eventual result is a group of people who are so lucky that nothing bad can ever happen to them. Even things that seem unfortunate will ultimately prove to have been the best thing that could have happened to the person.

With me so far? Okay, now consider this quote from “Flatlander,” one of Mr. Niven’s stories set before the rise of the lucky. The protagonist is watching a group of hobbyists who restore and drive old internal combustion engine cars on a stretch of freeway (which they also have to restore and maintain).

They were off. I was still wondering what kick they got driving an obsolete machine on flat concrete when they could be up here with us. They were off, weaving slightly, weaving more than slightly, foolishly moving at different speeds, coming perilously close to each other before sheering off — and I began to realize things.

Those automobiles had no radar.

They were being steered with a cabin wheel geared directly to four ground wheels. A mistake in steering and they’d crash into each other or into the concrete curbs. They were steered and stopped by muscle power, but whether they could turn or stop depended on how hard four rubber balloons could grip smooth concrete. If the tires loosed their grip, Newton’s First Law would take over; the fragile metal mass would continue moving in a straight line until stopped by a concrete curb or another groundcar.

“A man could get killed in one of those.”

“Not to worry,” said Elephant. “Nobody does, usually.”

“Usually?”

You know where I’m going with this, don’t you?

We don’t need no steenkin’ breeders’ lottery to breed ourselves for luck. We’re already doing it. Every time you get into a car, you’re taking your life in your hands.

The Interstate Highway System has encouraged drivers to drive faster and faster, generating impatience with anyone who doesn’t get with the program. Merriam-Webster claims the first known use of the word “gridlock” was in 1980. Certainly the phenomenon, along with “road rage” (1988), has been around longer than that.

But even if we go with 1980, that means roughly 130,000,000 Americans have been born only because their parents were lucky enough to survive on the roads long enough to breed. By now, we’re into at least the third generation.

And it shows. People keep finding new ways to ramp up the danger level.

Drivers are no longer content to honk if the car in front of them doesn’t move fast enough when the light changes. Now they honk and pull around the laggard, using the shoulder, adjoining lanes, and even the oncoming traffic lanes. In the rain, regardless of the presence of pedestrians, and despite the drivers in the adjoining lanes doing exactly the same thing.

Somehow, most of them survive. How lucky!

The next couple of decades are going to be interesting, but at this rate, by the time the kids born in 2050 are old enough to drive, they’ll be too lucky to ever have an accident. Think of all the money they’ll save on insurance, vehicle maintenance, and transit infrastructure!

Duck and Cover

Hopefully by now you’ve heard that Hawaii was not attacked with ballistic missiles Saturday. It was, however, attacked by poor software design or, quite possibly, poor QA.

Let’s recap here.

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency erroneously sent a cell phone warning message to damn near every phone in the state. The message warned of an incoming missile attack. Naturally, this caused a certain amount of chaos, confusion, fear, and panic.

Fortunately, it did not, as far as I can tell, cause any injuries or deaths, nor was there widespread looting.

The backlash has been immense. Any misuse of the cell phone emergency warning message system is going to trigger outrage–does anyone else remember the commotion back in 2013 when the California Highway Patrol used the same functionality to send an AMBER alert to phones across the entire state of California?

Many people turned off the alert function on their phones in the wake of that and similar events elsewhere–although, let’s not forget that one level of warnings can not legally be turned off. I don’t know if HEMA used the “Presidential” alert level–certainly a nuclear attack would seem to qualify for that level of urgency–but it may be that only the White House can send those messages.

For the record, my current phone doesn’t allow me to disable Presidential or Test messages; the latter seems like an odd exclusion to me. In any case, I’ve turned off AMBER alerts, but have left the “Severe” and “Extreme” messages on. I suspect many who have gotten spurious or questionable alerts have turned those off.

Which puts those charged with public safety in an awkward position. The more often they use the capability, the more people are going to turn off alerts. I hope the people looking into a California wildfire alert system are keeping these lessons in mind.

But I digress. I had intended to talk about the Hawaii contretemps from a software perspective.

The cause of the problem, according to a HEMA spokesperson, was that “Someone clicked the wrong thing on the computer.” Later reports “clarify” that “someone doing a routine test hit the live alert button.” I put “clarify” in quotes, because the explanation actually raises more questions than it answers.

See, for a test to be meaningful, it has to replicate the real scenario as closely as possible. It’s would be unusual to have one button labeled “Click Here When Testing” and a second one that says “This Is the Real Button.” The more typical situation is for the system to be set to a test mode that disables the connection to the outside world or (better yet) routes it to a test connection that only sends its signal to a special device on the tester’s desk.

Or heck, maybe they do have a test mode switch, and the poor schlub who sent the alert didn’t notice the system wasn’t in test mode. If so, that points to poor system design. The difference between modes should be dramatic, so you can tell at a glance, before clicking that button, how the system is set.

If it’s not poor design, the reports suggest some seriously poor test planning. Though I should emphasize that it probably wasn’t a failure on QA’s fault. They probably wanted a test mode, but were overruled on cost or time-to-launch concerns.

Wait, it gets better: now we’re hearing the problem has been solved. According to the news stories, “the agency has changed protocols to require that two people send an alert.” In other words, the problem hasn’t been fixed at all. The possibility of a mistaken alert may have been reduced, but as long as people can click on a live “Send an alert” button while testing, they will.

Better still, by requiring two people to coordinate to send an alert, they’ve made it harder to send a real message. Let’s not forget that emergency messages are time critical. If the message is warning of, say, a nuclear attack or a volcanic eruption, seconds could be critical.

But have no fear: the Homeland Security Service assures us that we can “trust government systems. We test them every day.”

How nice. In the immortal words of Douglas Adams, “Please do not push this button again.”

The Spectre of Meltdown

I’m seeing so much “OMG, the Earth is doomed!” noise about Meltdown and Spectre, the recently-revealed Intel bugs, I just couldn’t resist adding my own.

I know some of you have managed to miss the fuss so far, so here’s a quick rundown of the problem: All Intel CPUs and some other manufacturers’ chips are vulnerable to one or both of a pair of issues that were just discovered recently. That includes the Apple-designed chips in iPhones and iPads; many of the CPUs in Android phones; some, if not all, AMD CPUs; and every Intel processor from the Pentium* on.

* I find it ironic that the bug dates back to the Pentium. Turns out that chip’s early inability to do division was the least of its problems.

Both bugs are related to something called “speculative execution”. The brief explanation is that in order to give faster results, CPUs are designed to guess what work they’ll have to do next and work on it when they would otherwise be idle. If they guess right–and a huge number of engineering hours have gone into establishing how to guess and how far ahead to work–the results are already there when they’re needed. If not, the wrong guesses are thrown away.

The details are way too deep for this blog, but the upshot is that because the bugs are in the hardware, there isn’t any perfect fix possible. Meltdown can be patched around, but Spectre is so closely tied into the design of the chips, that it can’t realistically be patched at all. It’s going to require complete hardware redesigns, and that’s not going to come soon. I’ve seen articles speculating that it could be five years before we see Intel CPUs completely immune to Spectre.

Personally, I suspect that’s insanely pessimistic. Yes, it’s a major architecture change, but Intel’s motivation is huge.

More worrisome is how many other hardware bugs are going to turn up, now that researchers are looking for them. Even if we get Spectre-free Intel chips this year–which is as optimistic as five years is pessimistic–the odds are overwhelmingly good we’ll see more such bugs discovered before the Spectre fix rolls out.

It’s also worth noting that the patches for Meltdown aren’t cost-free. According to Intel, depending on what kinds of things you do, you could see your computer running anywhere from five to thirty percent slower. Let’s be blunt here: if you mostly use your computer for email, looking at pictures, and web surfing, you’re not going to notice a five percent drop. You might not even notice thirty percent–but your workload isn’t going to be the kind that has a thirty percent slowdown*. The people who will get the bigger hits are the ones doing work that already stress their CPUs: video processing, crunching big databases, serving millions of web pages, and so on.

* Unless some website hijacks your computer to mine cryptocurrency. But if that happens, you’d notice your computer slow down anyway.

So the bottom line here: Eventually, replacing your computer will be a good idea, but we’re not there yet. (And yes, given the speed and power increases we’re going to see between now and then, even if it’s possible to just upgrade the CPU, it’ll probably make more sense to replace the whole computer.) And in the meantime, unless you’re running a big server, do what you’ve been doing all along: keep your OS up to date with all the vendor patches, don’t run programs from untrusted sources, and if your search engine tells you a web site is dangerous, don’t go there!

Equifax

I’d call this unbelievable, but in 2017, the year of untrammeled greed, it’s merely par for the course.

Remember Equifax? You know, the big credit report company whose security breach exposed the personal information of millions of Americans?

The company that collects financial, demographic, and employment information, but is apparently unable to install security patches in a timely fashion or reliably tell you if your information was stolen?

The one that can’t even keep track of its own websites and sent consumers to a fake site instead of their own (unreliable) “check your information” site?

The one that initially tried to force people to waive their right to sue if they tried to find out whether their information had been stolen?

Yeah, them.

The story behind that second link suggests there’s good reason to believe Equifax is using the massive security breach–which exposed personal information on nearly half of the American population–as a revenue-generating opportunity. In short, by directing worried consumers to Equifax’ own credit freezing service, they’re lining up millions of people who will, once the initial year is up, be paying around $30 every time they need to let someone check their credit–when buying a home, a car, a cell phone, or in many cases, even when applying for a job. Nor is that fee fixed: Equifax could raise it at any time.

Apparently they weren’t drawing in enough business, because now they’re getting other companies to shill for them.

Last week, I got a letter from AT&T. Oddly, even though the letter is dated October 23, I didn’t receive it until November 23. Clearly, some poor printer has been working day and night to get these letters out. But I digress.

It says, in part, “There was no breach of AT&T systems or the data we maintain, but we … understand there is a possibility that your personal information might have been exposed.” It then encourages me to go to that same unreliable Equifax site to check my information and “sign up for credit file monitoring and identity theft protection.”

I can’t help but wonder what’s in it for AT&T. I doubt they get a cut of revenue–but only because this is a paper letter, so there’s no way for Equifax to track which suckers came to their site thanks to the letter.

But one odd little possibility comes to mind. If the FCC carries out its threat to repeal the Network Neutrality regulations, will AT&T start charging its customers extra to access Equifax and other credit monitoring services?