Unleashing the Power of your Electronics
Monday, April 27, 2020
Today’s article is about control. Our site is tailored to inform and educate. As a reader, millennial, entrepreneur or any other permutation of the above you want to be aware of the world around you. In every industry, there are those that know about a subject so thoroughly that they are subject matter experts. These are the people that have dealt with a particular area of knowledge so long that they become the go-to people. There is always a struggle of knowledge between those that have and those that don’t. And the people that are considered elites, gurus, with almost shaman-like knowledge are often known as “the powers that be”. They are the ones that possess just a little bit more information than the next guy to eek out a win or an Darwinian advantage. This is truly the era where we are in an Info War …
In order to win this game of life, you have to know more than the next guy and often there’s censorship or information protectionism. This way people can “sell and market” their products. The people that run the show and often have other people working for them are worried about patents, copyrights and reverse engineering so that people don’t get to find out their secret sauce. But just like everything is an arms race, so too is the race to get the better product. In capitalism it is survival of the fittest. And just as the motto goes, “all is fair in love and war” and so too people have attempted to figure out the inner workings of things from cars, airplanes, toasters to rockets and TNT and book writings and other mysteries of the universe. The Wright Brothers had competitors that wanted to beat them to the airplane. Apple’s Steve Jobs wanted to safeguard its iPhone so badly from Samsung and other industry players. Ford Model T cars were all the rage until other people learned and studies secrets about what made it so successful. It’s only a matter of time before you have copies, generics etc. Even in medicines there are name brand originals that eventually have patents expire and allow generics. And in music there are royalties. But without studying and understanding what makes a product work the folklore that have a million typing monkeys taking a billion years would not be able to replicate a work of Shakespeare is not likely to happen.
So what gives and gets my goat? Here is my gripe, Google (The Big G) restricts programs on your phone which is bad in some cases. Sure it is a company and in many cases it is good in that it can safeguard you from damaging your phone with third party programs. But it also inhibits legitimate programs that help you better understand what is happening on your phone. In a lot of circles, mainly those that are programmers or security experts, they expect more from their devices because they have studied and become the gurus of technology. And they are the only too well aware of things they should be able to run or execute on their devices. After all, they create most of the programs or software and hardware that we take for granted every day and so of course they have high standards for their own devices! These gurus and experts are sometimes given the name of “hackers” which in the golden age simply meant “someone that is a skilled computer expert able to use their knowledge to overcome problems”. As the years progressed the word “hacker” began to take on a negative connotation. (See linguistic definitions for the word ‘connotation vs denotation’). So if you could hack something you could break things and open them up and fix them. People like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and Wozniak and Tim the Toolman from the TV show “Home Improvement” would be considered hackers.
In the good old days we would not throw out old phones and toasters. We would take them to a Fix-It shop and open them up and fix them and put them together or splice wires back together or put black electric tape on it, stitch things back up and pat it on its back and send it back to be used again. The Boomer generation was notorious or reknown for its ability to hoard and salvage items from the junkyard and keep things handy for repair. Used tires and extra “doo-dads and widgets” would be saved to replace a messed up lawnmower. Thrift stores like Goodwill and other places were places where you could recycle or reuse and “freecycle” old items back in. And clothing was patched or quilted again. Nothing went to waste or the landfill. Food was used 100% or composted or donated. The older generation had this practical knowledge and common sense. And we may or may not be moving in that direction. We did an article a few months ago about “planned obsolence” and replaceable battery removal, microSD elimination and audio port conversions. As technology upgrades some of this is completely understandable. Even newer computers will never quite match some of the unique efficiency that early programmers had to deal with and restrictions they had such as small hard drive space and memory. They had to code in assembly language with made for very fast small programs. Alas these people and elite coders are a dying breed.
But back to my original premise and that is as a technology savvy enthusiast, our modern generation has gone through a maturing of at least 20 years of technology since the evolution of the Internet and smart phones. We want to be able to use our technology to the fullest. And companies have both a financial and ethical balance to make regarding competing needs such as being open with their technology but also not give out too much of their secret sauce to safeguard their ability to stay ahead of the curve. They are seers and predictors of future technology and leaders that shape how the modern world works. Like the steampunk and steam engines, this modern digitization means that pioneers like Amazon and Apple and Google etc stay ahead of the curve. Of course that means they try to allow maximum usage while also maintaining security and minimizing liability. However even these companies know that the secret sauce will not remain secret forever and so have to diversify their product lines to keep people using their products. For example Amazon started in books and soon moved to selling music and later also electronic book readers and also clothing and then phones and voice recognition devices. The rest is history. Apple understands that its one trick pony is basically its internal ecosystem and usability of the OS. It knows what makes it so successful is the user experience which can’t be replicated. It has to be easy, user friendly and top notch customer support and shipping & supply chain logistics. Otherwise it almost put itself out of the running of technology when it had to get a boost from other competing products during a time when it was losing market share. Google also has branched from search engines to other products and split off / spun off into a separate smaller companies and renamed itself Alphabet. It knows that it has to balance its own needs with making itself usable so that people want to continue to use its products.
So for example Google has developed an operating system around an open framework, API’s and highly usable products that for a long time had no real competitor. Microsoft was late to the game even. And it was open enough that it let people program all kinds of apps into its store. But at some point in time the product begins to “mature” or change to growth to preventing “non-genuine” products. In this case it brings in what’s dubbed as Play Protection. This prevents apps that aren’t in the official recognized Store from being installed. And Microsoft for a long time allowed programmers to download DOS and other products and spread it far and wide but then in later versions started putting restrictions and ways to determine if the products were genuine and activated. This is also shown in recent versions of its software.
Now one of the best things to ever happen from the Internet was the dissemination of free and open public uncensorable information. For one of the first time in human history you could connect globally on a grand scale and have your own platform and own voice. TV and newspapers and books were great. But where else but social media and from the comfort of your own phone and smart device could all this become capable. The cat is out of the bag. Many great movements including the Free Open Source Software movement as well as Peer to Peer technology and distributed ledgers and blockchain and encryption privacy keys as well as the increase in speeds of transmission and allowing for massive sharing of text and video and audio allowed everyone to be their own public broadcaster, file hoster and news writer and store.
With that, there are ways to jailbreak, root, or get third party software in many ways. In some ways some may void warranties, some may be considered illegitimate, but also others that are open and free are done without mal-intent. We will not debate the ethics or morality of any of these was to get software on your phone. After all, software is basically text or programs and 1’s and 0’s which you load on your phone or device or computer or tablet. What we want to do however as millennials and as a tech savvy generation is to have full maximum usage of our devices we purchase for and understand how to get the most of our devices and make our lives more useful, easier, and to entertain us.
This week I had found for instance free repositories for software that allows you to monitor network connections like a firewall for your phone. It was free third party software that was open source. However it was blocked accidentally and misidentified by the Play Protection. If you’ve ever encountered that with either a virus software false positive or heuristics it can be frustration. You can disable it using your virus software just as you could really just simply go into Android and do a Force Stop or Disable on the store software. But it was just the principle that software will sometimes force you into a box when there’s no danger. And as technology gets smarter or artificial intelligence is improved this likely will happen less. It reminded me of a book I read about GUI’s versus command lines. In the book it espoused that GUI’s are restrictive. They force you to use what it in its predefined layout, while text and terminals are much more open. I can somewhat appreciate that but even terminals are predefined in a sense. However the book was about Linux or GNU/Linux and the philosophy about streams and piping and using data flows to maximum effect and efficiency and streamlining repetitive tasks with scripts. The whole philosophy of this open free software is to allow you to have unrestricted access to your device. Even those that have Libreboot or coreboot embrace this open source philosophy to be able to own completely your own device and tweak it.
This tinkerer philosophy is what I hope this generation continues to manifest. We must always strive to embody the curious, intrepid, experimental mindset. We have to be curious and not afraid to mess up our devices, open them up, see how they work, install things and put them back together again. Our minds are made for testing and refining and piecing things together like puzzles. Our boomer parents and grandparents tinkered with muscle car engines and Altair machines while others put together quilts through sewing and crocheting or amazing knitted projects. Or families figured out how to gather wood to make barbecues. Our campers survivalists put up tents and set up camp or climbed mountains and managed to figure out how to put together carabiners and grab ledges. We figured out how to make our grass and lawns look better and cleaner outdoors. And then we played with Legos and Lincoln logs or Jenga. We all did this to improve our minds and keep ourselves busy. We are not a species that waits to die. Even other species or insects or mammals have a survival instinct and that’s what this dissembly, learning and fixing mentality is. It’s a survival mechanism. And we are at war.
With technology is a new front in the war. You may be at home or quarantined because of the recent Covid-19 stay at home orders. But that doesn’t mean that our survivalism has diminished. If anything with more time on the internet it should mean even more time to devote to the war for knowledge and quest for self improvement.
Some important tenets though:
- Always back up your data. This can’t be said enough. If you’re going to be fighting against control, censorship, and outdated thinking then you need to be able to use your tools the way you need to in order to keep learning and improving and gaining knowlege. And if you’re going to be installing third party repositories or rooting or jailbreaking and voiding warranties on your devices then you best be ready to save your data if things go south and you end up reseting your device or “bricking” your device. It’s best to have a second or even third device that you can experiment on or a virtual environment before you commit your changes. An example is that there are times let’s say you want to experiment with your phone or install new bootable software for third party free software enthusiasts. But you’re not sure it’s stable. So rather than mess up your stable working phone, it may be nice to have a cheaper phone or similar that you can experiment and practice on. Or let’s say you’re using Windows or Mac and you want to dual boot with Linux or BSD’s. If it’s your first time doing so then you might not want to run it on your main machine until you get experience. Although when I was first learning to run multiple OS’es concurrently I had no such luxury as multiple machines and through trial and error learning to do it all on my main machine albeit with many nights sweating thinking I had messed everything completely up and getting an earful from one of the parents. Nowadays these distributions have matured and gone through many years of programming improvement so you are less likely to have incorrect graphical settings that mess up your screen, or hardware not being supported (as more companies are supporting this open philosophy but not all) and also now you have software that can run off flash drives or through virtual machines or on remote server via VNC or SSH etc. Our millennial generation I would say is slightly spoiled as well as the next generation as they have more documentation now then ever only than we ever had with our slow baud modems and early slower 8086’s. Hopefully this generation knows enough to continue to archive things for next generation and not lose all this knowledge should an EMP or asteroid strike the earth. We are after all starting to have only digital records.
- As a smart and tech savvy generation do also note that sometimes you have people that give advice or jokes that aim to be helpful but has an undertone or undercurrent of sexism or racial disparity unfortunately. It’s important that you don’t let this poison your business or your learning process. Sometimes our older generation mean well also and give jokes or advice that don’t quite jive with your line of thinking. Maybe they can’t understand why you’re constantly on Facebook or buying stuff online rather than going into the stores or ask why you’re not married yet with kids. It’s a different generation and all I can say to help you through that is that you have to know that sometimes you have to pick and choose the advice and what you want for your life. Financial crisis and viral disasters have made for a different new world order for this generation.
- Make sure to learn some computer stuff. You need to monitor your own network traffic.
It seems FB, Google, Yahoo is totally entrenched in many apps and these apps are phoning home or reporting back to home base and it’s not good or pretty. When I was tinkering with my firewall on my device to protect my device from unwanted traffic (which is good cause you can monitor traffic and also optimize your device and see what’s slowing it down) I found there were many advertisements and server connections to remote servers for ads. Many of the above companies are entrenched in smart phone apps and you don’t even realize this. They display ads at the bottom or subtlely in the app as additional content. And if you aren’t actively aware you are basically being tracked. And example is that in a modern smartphone you might not know that there’s at least three different FB apps. This includes the FB messenger itself, Instagram which is also an app by the parent company of FB and also WhatsApp which is owned by the same company. And then other apps 1) use various API’s to communicate or 2) login to their programs and 3) they share data which might 4) show even more ads.
We rely too heavily on our phones. If one device breaks down then we freak out. As stated above, don’t try to install software on a good working device without thoroughly testing it out elsewhere or reading up on it ahead of time. It is okay to have multiples devices to play with. And if you do try custom roms as I’ve tested out a few times make sure you are patient and let it update and download and load properly. A few times it looks like the inital boot is doing nothing but in effect it’s still loading and many times I’ve worried I’ve destroyed my phone or hard bricked or caused an infinite boot loop only to come back 15 minutes later without touching it and it was okay and finally booted. And also don’t be afraid of a few occasional crashes or different behavior when trying new software programs and a different way of thinking. Adapt.
- As stated above big companies are “entrenched” in our day to day apps. Learn how to filter ip names and resolve hosts and DNS on your devices if you can and use firewalls and monitoring if you can. Many people don’t have time to do this unfortunately and live day to day lives taking care of and raising kids or watching TV or other miscellaneous tasks. And that’s fine. But if you want to be more in control of your device and how to maintain privacy you will need to learn those skills. Not everyone wants to be a security guru or programmer and some just want to check stocks and play games or text and that’s okay too.
I’ve scoured the net in my time and found some of the best links I could find and I’m sure there are many more but here are good starting points.
Degoogling and opting out of surveillance
https://email@example.com/some-useful-appsec-learning-resources-de8a0b3c896f (same as above)
8 ways to stop your phone from tracking you
Possible Private Search engines
StartPage – Googlelike results without shopping. I use this if I need to look for images. Sometimes gives gibberish results though. Interface is a bit plain and bare in my opinion. It was originally Ixquick and Startpage was a variant and then merged according to Wikipedia.
Lilo – searches help environmental and financial projects, seems to have Bing and Google results.
Ecosia – Better Googlelike search engine that plants trees per search use, privacy, social justice and environmentalist enthusiast friendly.
SwissCows – Family oriented, does a pretty good job not saving any data.
Other search engines that get honorable mention
SearX.info – seemed to not work a while ago. May be serveral “instances” of this meta search engine. Open source options. However beware of public instances.
Peekier – Never really used, let’s you preview results before accessing, each page sort of has a preview image of it.
MetaGer – German based open source meta search engine which forces traffic through Tor, odd fonts, it does have image search (maybe uses Bing?)
Gibiru – Uncensored results with fewer trackers
Mojeek – crawler based in UK
YaCy – decentralized, open source search engine. This is a very exciting project. It’s a decentralized p2p search engine that you can run on your own computer. You can also run a demo online. It accesses all decentralized content and indexes them. That way your search results are not censored.
There are many more search engines out there. But these are not privacy guaranteed nor are they tested by me. I’m just listing them so you can do your own research and found them from some of the links above: Infinity Search, Lukol (not privacy oriented), Discrete Search?, Yippy, Gigablast, dropicon, izsearch, privatelee, blekko? presearch.org?, serulo, bitclave, oscobo. Yandex is not privacy oriented, cc search, ecoru?, qrobeit, givewater.
Here are some reasons to not use AI-powered mainstream search engines:
1) Prevents Filter Bubbles: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filter_bubble
2) So you don’t become a sheep.
3) It gives you choices and freedom to choose the best service and find what you need!
Also beware browser plugins and extensions as they could track you. Periodically vet your software!
Another thing is to make sure you’re using best practices with the software. Even the software settings should be checked as the default options may not be best for you! When I load up Windows or any other operating I don’t use the default setting. And when I’m installing software I rarely use “Typical” as the option and instead almost always choose custom so I can remove shortcuts on my desktop or change the default install path etc. So too should you go through all the software and options as much as you and and as often as possible and tweak it when you can. Think of your car for instance, you don’t just get in your car, but add a wheel cover and carpet mats or fuzzy dice or cup holders or change out the stereo or find a place to put your sunglasses or phone to clip on and put little decorations. The same thing applies to almost everything else. When you move into a home you customize it with your own furniture and carpet, sometimes even tearing out walls and cutting down trees or installing hardwood floor are marble and tile and renovating bathrooms. Your phone is an extension of your work and your self. You own the space and have a right to make your home comfortable and private and secure. Make sure you feel like it’s yours and not another “rental”. Many people have gotten into these 2 year contracts and thus probably don’t really keep their phones. But for those that outright buy their phone they completely understand and appreciate this. The mentality between those that buy, lease, rent is very different and is another case study for another time.
And lastly try to support those that are trying to enable a free decentralized open platform. It helps content creators when there are numerous options to choose from.
However remember that constraint forces creativity. Remember that “Necessity is the mother of invention”.