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Tuesday links

  • Oh yeah, let’s “fix” I-594 by making exceptions for only ones. ‘Cause you know, only us peasants (e.g. we who don’t work for the state or its cronies) ever commit crimes.
  • The day long feared has arrived. Samsung warns customers to be careful what they say in the vicinity of their “smart” TVs. And we’re just supposed to lie back and enjoy it now that the loss of privacy is “inevitable.”
  • “Impaired Self Defense.” Good observations by MamaLiberty.
  • The SunSaluter. Interestingly simple concept from one of Peter Thiel’s young Fellows. A solar tracker/water filter. Looks like it would be most effective only in the tropics where the sun always arcs high in the sky. Any comment from you physics guys?
  • Speaking of physics guys … you may recall my impressively failed experiments with flower pot candle heaters. Engineers predicted the failures ’cause (to put it in kindergarden terms) you can’t get more energy out of a candle than is in the candle in the first place. What you can get out of it, though, is a bunch of money. Provided you give your version of it an “eco” name. (Via S., who notes, “Unless paraffin tea candles have energy density approaching that of highly enriched uranium, it is flat-out impossible to do any meaningful heating with an ounce or three of wax.”)
  • I suspect that the first thing that’ll happen when you register with to declare your home a no-go for drones … is that various governments will wonder what you have to hide and will target you for drone flights bearing various cams and eventually weapons.


  1. Joel
    Joel February 10, 2015 6:56 am

    My optimistic side says we won’t have truly reached the age of the televiewer until the new tellie lacks an on/off switch.

    My pessimistic side wants to know why I assume it can really be turned off.

  2. Joel
    Joel February 10, 2015 7:06 am

    “telescreen,” I mean. Check, then type.

  3. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty February 10, 2015 7:17 am

    Oh yeah, I can see just how wonderful the “no fly” lists will be. What I’d love is for someone to invent an electronic shield, an invisible “faraday cage” for our homes and everything else we’d just as soon keep private.

    But I’m actually looking forward to seeing the drones used for all sorts of neat stuff… 🙂 The key is having a choice.

    Someone was trying to “explain” to me just how important it was for all kinds of surveillance, to keep us safe from “terrorists” and so forth. There’s no reasoning with such people, unfortunately.

  4. MJR
    MJR February 10, 2015 7:20 am

    Re Samsung TV …

    Your On-Star can be turned on remotely so someone can listen as you talk business while you are in your car. Vehicles with BlueTooth and WiFi are so easily hacked it’s nothing short of ludicrous because there are no safeguards against it. Your home phone, even while hung up, can be used by somebody to listen to you as you chat around the house. Your computer screen acts as an RF transmitter so someone can, with the right equipment, read everything you type including passwords from a distance of a few hundred meters. The camera in your computer/tablet/cell phone can be accessed remotely so you can be watched. Your cell phone can be turned on remotely so somebody can listen to the conversations around you and it can be used to track you.

    Don’t worry, be happy.

  5. MJR
    MJR February 10, 2015 7:24 am

    Joel, nothing is ever really turned off until you pull the plug from external power and remove the battery.

  6. Fred
    Fred February 10, 2015 9:42 am

    Lots of devices have little button batteries inside of them……FWIW

  7. Laird
    Laird February 10, 2015 9:43 am

    MJR, you’re just a bright ray of sunshine today, aren’t you? Well, at least I don’t have On-Star!

    I think it would be a good idea if everyone registered with NoFlyZone. Overwhelm the government with snooping opportunities. (That’s my own version of the Cloward-Piven strategy.)

    Incidentally, DroneShield ( makes drone detection systems, including small ones for home use. It was originally an IndieGogo crowd-funded project ( It won’t stop drones, but it will at least let you know when they’re around. Worth considering.

  8. LarryA
    LarryA February 10, 2015 9:59 am

    A no-fly list that will keep people I’m not worried about from droning my property. Whoopee.

    Note that the government already has satellites effectively over your place, and that unless you have a large place drones don’t have to fly directly overhead to get line-of-sight.

    But I’m actually looking forward to seeing the drones used for all sorts of neat stuff

    Yeah, like wilderness search and rescue, and firefighting.

  9. jed
    jed February 10, 2015 11:12 am

    Update on the Samsung TV story.

    Also, Samsung pulled that language, as reported by

    I’m sure I’ll be happy with my cheap used HDTV I got from my neighbor. It has no network connectivity at all, nor a microphone or camera.

  10. Ellendra
    Ellendra February 10, 2015 11:35 am

    Until Samsung can make a TV that doesn’t give me migraines, I’ll still to my old, dumb, non-flat-sceened tube TV. And only for DVDs because I don’t have cable. Try listening through THAT thing, suckers!!!

  11. MJR
    MJR February 10, 2015 3:27 pm

    Hey Laird, you may want to watch this…

  12. Bear
    Bear February 10, 2015 5:20 pm

    RE: Sunsaluter- Their simplified imagery shows it set up to pivot on a horizontal axis, which would only be useful darned close to the equator. But there’s no reason you couldn’t tilt the pivot axis to — almost — any degree you want (the closer you get to vertical, the harder it would be to tip unless you added some more parts).

    Essentially, it’s a simplified water clock.

    RE:Smart TVs- Don’t plug in the ethernet cable (all the models I checked use wired Internet connections; no WiFi).

    I’m wondering… If you turn on your Smart TV and watch a show about someone using a Smart TV, will the soundtrack activate your TV’s voice commands?

    If the audio always streams to that third party voice recognition company, is some poor slob stuck listening to 24/7 soap operas, sorting commands from melodrama?

    Will a movie about terrorists get you raided by the FBI?

  13. S
    S February 10, 2015 5:39 pm

    The SunSaluter as drawn and explained cannot work.

    What is shown and described is a balance beam, aka teeter-toter. There is 4 kg of water hung on one side of the solar panel, and a fixed counterweight of unspecified weight on the other. There is a hinge in the center. Both the drawings in the “How it works” section and the picture at
    show the solar panel mounted on a simple hinge or bearing.

    The 4 kg of water is supposed to slowly drain into an external reservoir over the course of a day.

    The claim is that as the water drips away, the solar panel will slowly pivot on its hings and always stay pointed at the sun.

    Poppycock, as anyone who has ever played on a teeter-toter knows.

    When the beam is balanced, it won’t move. When the beam is unbalanced, the heavier end will fall until something stops it from further motion.

    Assuming that the solar panel is mounted with its center on the hinge, when the water in the bottles is heavier than the counterweight, the solar panel will stay tipped to the water side.

    As soon as enough water drains away so that the counterweight is heavier, the solar panel will tip to the counterweight side.

    There is no reason the tipping should take 8, 10, or 12 hours. As soon as one side is heavier, that side falls to the lowest position.

    Pivoting expensive solar panels on a hinge or bearing (bearings are not exactly cheap or easily available in remote locations) renders the panel subject to being blown by the wind. There is no mention of how the SunSaluter holds the panel against wind and other unwanted forces, or how it manages to track the sun across the sky.

    This one is even worse than the flowerpot candles. All you have to do is look at it to know it can’t work as claimed. Anyone who builds a SunSaluter as shown and described is most likely going to end up with a broken solar panel.

  14. Claire
    Claire February 11, 2015 5:22 am

    “The SunSaluter as drawn and explained cannot work.”

    As drawn and explained, I agree it’s just a teeter-totter and anybody who ever got their spine rattled when the kid on the other end jumped off knows you’re right. OTOH, the description and drawing seem highly simplified probably aren’t telling the entire story (about, for example, the type of hinge and any governor that might be included in the design).

    Agreed about the wind, for sure. The solar trackers neighbors had in the desert had to be enormously sturdy.

  15. S
    S February 11, 2015 6:32 am

    Your explanation, that the SunSaluter mechanism is more complex than shown on the website, may be correct. But that presents other problems.

    There is the issue of a senior in engineering from an Ivy League school presenting an explanation that any high school physics student would know could not work.

    Worse, to the extent the description and drawing are highly simplified and aren’t telling the entire story, they are deceptive. As your original post noted, the appeal of this idea is its simplicity. The core of the pitch is that this device is much simpler than any existing design. Designs that actually worked.

    Presenting this idea with images of simple plastic bottles and a hinge, while concealing a governor, manufactured bearings, and who knows what other mechanisms, then claiming it is a “low cost tracker that can be made and repaired with basic skills and local materials” is deception. A cynical engineer might call it deliberate fraud.

    There are many more questionable aspects of this effort. You and several commenters have already noted that the design as presented would only be useful in equatorial regions. The claim of 40% more power won’t survive scrutiny. Wiki gives a range of 24-32% improvement. While I don’t treat wiki as authoritative, they have a lot more credibility than these folks. At least they aren’t trying to sell something that can’t work as advertised.

  16. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau February 11, 2015 8:52 am

    I had to laugh at the boobs among the commenters of that first article who said this bill was chipping away at I-594.

    On the privacy thing, I think there is little that can be done. Too many goodies are being dangled in front of us, and most people are going for the goodies and not worrying about the privacy consequences. Individuals may be able to control some of it (that’s what firewalls are for, guys) but not all of it. Maybe one answer is to program your devices to turn on at the command, “Fuck the government”? I wrote about the privacy problem here:

    My browser warned about that sunsaluter site, so I declined to go there. I don’t think there is such a thing as a “failed experiment”. You learn something from every experiment, don’t you?

    As to drones, I prefer shooting them down. More sporty.

  17. brian
    brian February 11, 2015 10:40 am

    Off-topic a bit, but speaking of electronic device snoopery, what is the latest update on The Linux Chronicles? What new distro are you trying? Any new security issues? Any recommendations for Linux-based phones?

  18. Scott
    Scott February 11, 2015 2:43 pm

    I would think a little electrical tape over the camera lens and microphone would solve that problem-or maybe place something near the microphone that makes an irritating noise (clock that ticks loud, radio tuned to NPR, looped recording of cartoon sound effects-something like that). Spy Camera Theatre! A miniature stage/diorama, some action figures…stage something for ’em..

  19. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau February 11, 2015 4:45 pm

    I don’t know if tape will help with the mic (other than attenuating the sound a bit), but I wonder if some interesting sounds might be piped into the microphone jack to cover the internal mic? Something like the sounds the fed played at Waco to drive the Davidians nuts – dying rabbit sounds, etc? Or maybe they’d like to hear some classical music.

    Perhaps a jack, with nothing on it, plugged into the mic jack will physically disconnect the internal mic, just as plugging a headset into the speaker jack disconnects the internal speakers.

    I’ll bet Michael Dean knows the answers to these questions.

  20. Claire
    Claire February 11, 2015 6:01 pm

    Brian — “The Linux Chronicles”? Goodness, I hope that never replaces “Downton Abbey.” Sounds nowhere near as interesting.

    Me, I’m still on Mint 15.1, though I’m contemplating updating to 17.1. Works very well for me and I haven’t found any Linux more friendly to newbies and more ready to play media. (I also notice that according to DistroWatch ( members of the Debian family hold the three top spots for most page hits.)

    When my beloved old Mandriva started dying, I tried Mageia, but never got far with it. It didn’t like something about my system, so Mint it is for me and that’s what I’d recommend for non-techies, still. I do hear of security issues now with Linux, but I personally haven’t encountered them. Anybody else who knows more want to speak up about that?

    Phones, though? I’m the last person who has any expertise on phone-related OSes; I don’t think there’s a smartphone on the market (including the much vaunted Blackphone) that’s to be trusted with privacy. I was watching the Blackphone with interest, but so far … well, they have some obvious improvements to do.

    They do seem dedicated to fixing security flaws, though:

  21. Bear
    Bear February 12, 2015 6:42 am

    Claire, I installed Mint 17.1 on an old desktop and I’m pretty happy with it. It runs faster than the old WinXP SP2 I found on the hard drive (abandoned computer with a bootleg OS that Microsoft wouldn’t upgrade to SP3). The native apps mostly suit my needs quite well, and the two Windows programs I still need are running fine under Wine. I’ve even got Pale Moon for Linux running so I don’t have to deal with that crappy Australis UI that Firefox went to; it installs easier than Firefox on a Win system.

    I even built a live thumb drive for a less computer-savvy friend to make the installation just “stick it in, start, click the icon, and you’re done.” (Actually, there’s a few prompts to respond to but even a noob can figure them out.)

    I’ve tried a lot of Linux distros over the past couple decades, and this is the first one I left installed and actually use.

    Scott, periodic interference like a ticking clock is easily filtered out, as is any known source like a radio broadcast. Real pseudorandom noise is…better, but…

    Paul, a dummy plug in the mike jack physically disconnects internal mikes on every computer I’ve checked. And is a lot easier to arrange than Scott’s noise feed.

  22. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau February 12, 2015 9:08 am

    I’m using Lubuntu because I tend to lean toward the leaner installations. 🙂 I’m investigating the use of Tails for my regular OS, now that their “persistence” feature is pretty mature. I lived for years on Puppy Linux, a while back, so something like Tails might be tolerable for me. Don’t know how bad it is to play youtubes and such though.

    As to phones, Michael Dean is pushing Feenphone these days. He’s the go-to guy for internet audio, I think.

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