A Week of Articles! Economist, The Ringer, and More

Several articles that were percolating over various periods of time all ran in the last week, which is all in the life of a busy freelancer:

  • In the Economist, you can read "The Internet of Stings" about how the billions of Internet of Things (IoT) devices can be hijacked, and how they were used to launch one of the biggest Internet attacks ever against a lone journalist, Brian Krebs. (This appears in the print issue as well as online; I'm rarely in print publications these days.)
  • In my first appearance in The Ringer, Bill Simmons' new journalism venture, I dive into gender-based technology rejection, driven against sites and products that men think are only for women.
  • At Fast Company, I dig into what appears to be a normal copyright dispute over photographs by the renowned Carol Highsmith, which could result in a court decision that gives scammers carte blanche to demand licensing fees for public-domain work.
  • For TidBITS, I explain and test several person-to-person (and person-to-business) payment systems that have iMessage apps: Circle, Square Cash, and Venmo.
  • Additionally, I had my usual flood of pieces in Macworld, where I write multiple Mac 911 question-and-answer columns a week, and wrote recently about the remarkable properties of the new two-camera iPhone 7 Plus.

iOS 10 Update to My Networking, Privacy, and Security Book Is Out!

My latest book is out: A Practical Guide to Networking, Privacy, & Security in iOS 10. I’ve revised this book across many releases of iOS, and this latest update is the third I’ve self-published. It's thoroughly overhauled for iOS 10.

It covers a huge range of common setup and routine usage issues, with illustrated step-by-step instructions for carrying out these tasks.

The book offers insight into what information you may unintentionally expose about yourself, and how to prevent Apple and third parties from gaining access to your details. It also walks you through security scenarios from securing your data in transit to connecting to a secure Wi-Fi network to recovering or erasing a lost phone.

You can buy yourself a copy—a bundle of PDF, EPUB, and MOBI—by clicking below!

Get Rid of the Google Earth Updater Dialog in Mac OS X

Did you mysteriously start getting what look like a malware popup in Mac OS X for Google Earth—software you might have forgotten you ever installed? 

Updated: I‘ve written a more detailed article about this that’s now up at Macworld. The tl;dr—if you‘re comfortable with the Terminal—copy and paste the following line, and enter your password when prompted to get rid of the Google software update without affecting any installed Google: software. (Note that's two hyphens before “nuke.”)

./Library/Google/GoogleSoftwareUpdate/GoogleSoftwareUpdate.bundle/Contents/Resources/ksinstall --nuke

Patronize Me (and Get Exclusive Writing)

I love my work as a writer, but the current freelance climate makes it different to make a consistent living. It's a constant cycle of research and pitching, and every week has a different outcome. I have some recurring gigs, and I'm trying something new to add one more.

If you like my writing, you could consider becoming a direct patron of my quirky work at Patreon. Starting at $1 a month, you can get exclusive access to a newsletter full of the interesting stuff I constantly find and don't have an outlet to share with, and if I reach certain goals, articles that I write and deliver to patrons first. (Some may appear elsewhere later, like in ebook collections.)

Having this additional way to share stories is a win-win, giving you access to a never-ending stream of the oddball and obscure items I find, and helping me continue to work as a journalist.

You can become a patron here. Thank you for your consideration.

The Muskovian Candidate

My love of the remarkable film, The Manchurian Candidate, just intersected with the supposition about Donald Trump's strange love for and connection with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and the use of his daughter, Ivanka, to whitewash his personality at the RNC. May I introduce The Muskovian Candidate.

This movie is not suitable for children under 13, children 13 or over, or any audience. Rated R for he's really not Republican.

My New Books about Slack!

Months in the making, my two books about Slack are now available for sale from the fine people at Take Control Books!

I wrote these books in part because Slack has spread so quickly that there's not as much institutional knowledge and as many sources to go for tips and help—even in Google! People want to get up to speed and working fast. It's an amazing communications tool for groups, especially those spread out by distance or across departments. The two books are for different audiences.

(What's Slack? It's a group communication tool that lets members chat in channels organized by topics, message privately, and share files. It comes in free and paid versions, and the free version is surprisingly full featured.)

Looking for a community to ask questions about Slack? Join us at SlackBITS, a free team you can join via a Web site to try Slack out and talk to us about the books and about Slack.

Take Control of Slack Basics will take you from Slack neophyte to master in a matter of a few chapters. Broken out by different aspects of Slack—like working with channels, posting messages, managing notifications, and searching effectively—I've thrown in hundreds of tips, and dozens upon dozens of step-by-step illustrated instructions. And I make some jokes, because Slack is fun.

Did you know you could press the Up arrow in a desktop app and edit the previous message you'd posted? That you can use a three-finger swipe left to switch among multiple teams in the iOS app? That you can enable a beta feature to enable person-to-person audio calls within Slack in a free team—or multi-person calls (up to 15 people) in a paid team? That you can use emoji (including custom ones you add to a team) to tag a message with reactions, but also use those reactions as a form of bookmark for searching?

Example page from Take Control of Slack Basics.

Slacks has released native apps for iOS, Mac OS X, Windows, and Android, and the book covers all those platforms, as well as the highly functional Web app version.

You can read more about the book at the Take Control site and order a copy for immediate download in DRM-free PDF, EPUB, and MOBI (Kindle-compatible) formats. It's 185 pages of creamy Slack goodness for $15.

Take Control of Slack Admin aims to help someone who wants to set up a free or paid Slack team for a group of any kind, but who lacks an information technology (IT) department or consultant to help. Administering Slack isn't that hard, but there's a lot of implicit knowledge and details about choices I help make clearer to anyone who has to start for scratch and doesn't have anyone to call on for help.

As with the Basics book, the Admin title covers all the platforms Slack is available on, and is available in DRM-free PDF, EPUB, and MOBI. It's $15 as well, but you can put both books in your shopping cart and get an automatic 20% off both ($24).

We're also offering bulk purchase discounts starting at 50% off five or more copies of single titles, like the Basics book. So if you want to get the Admin and Basics books for yourself, and then also get several copies of Basics for members of your group, we've trying to make that affordable. 

Immortal Rats Making Phone Calls

You've probably heard about the new study that provides a shocking link between exposure to mobile-phone signals and radiation!!!!! RIGHT?!?!?

It's not shocking. It's a pre-publication, not-yet-passed-peer-review release of incomplete data. The more correct headline on the coverage would have been, "Exposure to radiation leads to longer lives among male rats." You can read the study yourself; particularly focus on the first few pages and the reviewers' comments attached at the end. This hasn't been replicated, and many people are already challenging the statistical validity of cherrypicked data that the researchers chose to focus on in the study and in interviews.

The control group of 180 rats in the study died much younger than the six groups of 180 rats exposed to varying degrees of signal strength (at far higher levels, for longer periods, than almost anyone experiences using a phone). Female rats in the study (50% of all the rats) exposed to radiation had vastly lower levels of cancer than the male rats, for reasons the researchers can't explain…and are probably due to statistical variation. Due to the early mortality of so many in the control group who were isolated from signals, those rats didn't have time to develop cancers at the rate expected.

I've had cancer, I don't trust large companies to act in the best interests of any humans at this point (cf., latest news about Oxycontin), and scientific research can be all over the map because researchers are pressured to provide positive results (showing a thing expected) rather than negative ones (we didn't find a result). There's a growing movement to require all federally funded research to publish all results. You also see things like researchers not counting people who drop out of studies before a certain point, even if that produces a healthier control group, etc.; there, the issue is control group rats dying early, which biases the experiment. 

However, I've been reading studies about electromagnetic exposure and human health for over a decade and talking to researchers across that time. At the outset, I was highly concerned we'd find that cellular phone makers and carriers had suppressed data and it could wind up a huge health disaster—it's the usual pattern of things, unfortunately, whether it's cigarettes, a miracle drug (Vioxx), medical implants, magic pesticides, whatever. But then study after study (the peer-reviewed ones) showed a lack of association.

There are dozens of studies in which people who believe their (legitimate, real) symptoms of distress are caused by exposure to cellular radiation are put through tests. Some are double-blind experiments in which researcher and subject in a signal-isolated room are exposed to signals or not, and the subject indicates how they feel. The symptoms are real, measurable, and sometimes profound, but occurred at the same frequency whether or not a signal was present. (These real symptoms thus have another cause and tin-foil salespeople have misdirected people, rather than helping them find the cause.)

Likewise, researchers have done various longitudinal work in which they examine 100,000s of people's calling records and find the people and get health histories. And epidemiologists have been examining cancer rates related to those that would be expected to occur if there were an effect related to holding a phone near your head, and those rates haven't changed.

As I say, I don't trust industry to do right, and some studies were funded by affected groups. However, many have now been performed under government auspices around the world. It's a hard thing to suggest that reproducible studies are being coordinated in dozens of countries, each of which have different regulatory and safety regimes.

The New York Times promoted its story with a slightly over the top message, but the article itself is detailed and good. The Washington Post did a nice rundown of how to contextualize the study. And a roundup and explanation over at New York magazine.

(I should note for the sake of completeness that I’ve never been employed by any company related to the cellular world, I’ve written critically, sometimes very negatively, about consumer-facing and technology issues caused by and related to cellular handset makers and carriers for decades, and I think carriers currently charge an excessive amount in the U.S. for the services they provide.)

Web Annotation Addenda

Genius' Response in Recode

After Rep. Katherine Clark wrote a letter to Genius asking for clarification about its abuse-reporting and other policies, this article appeared at Recode with its reply. The article includes the full response letter from co-founder Tom Lehman. It notes:

We built the Genius Web Annotator to allow anyone to contribute to a layer of context, commentary, and criticism on top of any web page. Like every platform that enables commentary, it has the potential to be misused. However, we want to be clear that Genius does not enable abuse. This is a false narrative that has taken hold on Twitter and other outlets.

Twitter isn't a news outlet, but a collection of features, but, ok! And every platform always asserts that it doesn't enable abuse until such point as they change features to help fight abuse. 

nd we discover that Genius has moderators who read every annotation. They are…volunteers. And that isn't scalable. But also, ok! From the article:

Zechory said that there is a group of volunteer community moderators (like on Reddit) who examine all this content and can take action if they see abuse. He says that there is also a full-time staffer, originally a Genius community member, whose job is to monitor all comments made on the Web annotation tool as a safeguard, should the moderators miss something.

March 28 articles

Three articles appeared Monday about Genius and Ella's concerns and interactions. Slate wrote "Misguided Genius: A new tool wants to annotate everything on the Internet. But at what cost?" And at the Observer, "Genius Web Annotator vs. One Young Woman With a Blog: Can annotating text online straighten out our collective reasoning, or will it just be a new vector for trolls?"

That latter article included these even more chilling paragraphs:

During a recent interview with Ralph Swick, Chief Operating Officer of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the web’s standards body, he expressed optimism that a web standard for annotation is coming, which would almost certainly mean that the feature would be built into every major browser.
When and if it does, users might see some sort of flag at the top of their screen showing if any given web page has been annotated. Clicking on that flag might reveal a multitude of layers of communities that have chimed in, perhaps everyone from political parties to 8Chan users.

An article at Recode, "The Company Formerly Known as Rap Genius Is Once Again Enmeshed in Controversy," had this gem from the editor at News Genius (who, for context, is a woman):

But no one is exempt from a closer look under the microscope of Genius — or whatever! — because of their gender.

I don't know if that person understands that they are using the cadence of assault there, but — whatever! It's also not responding to the primary criticism, which isn't about criticism itself, but context and the use of the complete Web page as it appears on someone else's site. That's distinct from nearly every other form of enduring commentary on the Net.

Other Web Annotation Systems

The Internet's long-term memory bank, the aforementioned Mr. Marks, reminded me of two other systems that had elements in common with Third Voice, Spinspotter, and Genius Web Annotator: SideWiki and QuickTopic's original incarnation.

And I found two more, of a different kind. Microsoft Edge includes annotation, but it's essentially local or personal; it's not globally publishable. Dave Peck also noted via a tweet his own 2000-era project, E-Quill (he was employee #1), which allowed annotations you could email to other people. Again, not globally publishable. He notes, "Abuse was... an issue then, too."

Aram Zucker-Scharff commends Diigo to me, "…you left off my fav 'everyone got excited and then forgot about it' web highlighter Diigo, which is still doing its thing."

And another: Annotea, an abandoned W3C local annotation standard (via ttepasse).