Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Donald Sterling's Rights Were Violated - No, Not Those Ones

In the recent Donald Sterling controversy, nearly everyone in the world (well, nearly everyone in the world who cares about it) has focused on the man's racist comments, and applauded the NBA for the way they rushed to judgement and punished the man.

But ALMOST NOBODY has raised a red flag about the invasion of this man's privacy that led to the airing of his racist comments. Sure, there's a right to free speech in this country, but there's also a right to privacy. This man's PRIVATE comments in a PRIVATE phone conversation were sold, without his knowledge or permission, to TMZ, who proceeded to broadcast them publicly.

I don't care how objectionable, racist, or misanthropic Sterling's remarks were. THEY WERE STILL PRIVATE.

Here's how two prominent black men weighed in on it:

The great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was one of those men. The article in TheBlaze merely quotes from his guest editorial in Time magazine. The Time article is worth reading in full. In a nutshell, KAJ slaps YOU, the reading and reacting public, around for two very good reasons:

1. Sterling's racist actions have been going on for years, and they've been a lot more public, and a lot more damaging than this recorded-and-leaked private conversation. People were actually being hurt in 2006 and 2009. It was in all the papers. To quote the man: "What bothers me about this whole Donald Sterling affair isn’t just his racism. I’m bothered that everyone acts as if it’s a huge surprise. Now there’s all this dramatic and very public rending of clothing about whether they should keep their expensive Clippers season tickets. Really? All this other stuff I listed above has been going on for years and this ridiculous conversation with his girlfriend is what puts you over the edge? That’s the smoking gun?"

2. Recording and then publishing that conversation was, indeed, illegal. If we allow that act to go unpunished, then in the future none of us should expect anything we say to anybody to remain private and confidential. And didn't we just all get up in arms about the NSA snooping on our telephone and email conversations? Again, in his words: "I hope whoever made this illegal tape is sent to prison."

KAJ summarizes it beautifully when he says: "So, if we’re all going to be outraged, let’s be outraged that we weren’t more outraged when his racism was first evident. Let’s be outraged that private conversations between people in an intimate relationship are recorded and publicly played. "

Edit: And here's a lawyer's opinion on it. The lawyer also says that Sterling's rights were violated. Moreover, says the lawyer, the recording, sale and publicizing of Sterling's private conversation, without his knowledge and permission, was illegal. He does a good job of pointing out the danger to all the rest of us if leaks like this are allowed to go unpunished - in other words, he says, Sterling may have deserved his punishment, but Stiviano should have been pilloried as well.

Sidenote #1: Many people misinterpret this "right to free speech." The First Amendment says "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech ..." They think it means that you can say anything that you want, anywhere. That's not what it means. Objectionable speech still has consequences. Your employer can fire you; your coach can kick you off the team; your club can kick you out; your school can suspend or expel you. Get it? "CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAW," but everybody else can make rules.

Sidenote #2: The "right to privacy," according to Wikipedia, although not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution or the Bill of Rights, is recognized by most states and includes protection against "Intrusion ... into private affairs" and "Public disclosure of embarrassing private facts." This also gets into ambiguous areas, because again it seems to be talking more about governmental violations of the right, and not personal violations. However, recent court cases have upheld the privacy rights of individuals who have been wronged by individuals and corporate entities.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Windows XP discontinuance - AP's view

Here's what the Associated Press (specifically Bree Fowler, a particularly savvy reporter) has to say about "the end of Windows XP ." If the AP complains about my requoting their article in its entirety, I will edit this posting to simply provide excerpts. However, since AP articles don't last as long as this blog does, I'm going to claim "fair use" or "archival purposes" or something. And I'll provide a reference to the original article:

I particularly liked Ms. Fowler's description of Windows XP as "persistently popular," and the remark from one user, who summed up his alternatives this way: "I am worried about security threats, but I'd rather have my identity stolen than put up with Windows 8." That sounds an awfully lot like "I'd rather have my fingernals ripped out with a pair of pliers ..." :-)

AP article begins here

End of Windows XP Support Spells Trouble for some
by Bree Fowler

NEW YORK (AP) — Microsoft will end support for the persistently popular Windows XP on Tuesday, and the move could put everything from the operations of heavy industry to the identities of everyday people in danger.

"What once was considered low-hanging fruit by hackers now has a big neon bull's eye on it," says Patrick Thomas, a security consultant at the San Jose, Calif.-based firm Neohapsis.

Microsoft has released a handful of Windows operating systems since 2001, but XP's popularity and the durability of the computers it was installed on kept it around longer than expected. Analysts say that if a PC is more than five years old, chances are it's running XP.

While users can still run XP after Tuesday, Microsoft says it will no longer provide security updates, issue fixes to non-security related problems or offer online technical content updates. The company is discontinuing XP to focus on maintaining its newer operating systems, the core programs that run personal computers.

The Redmond, Wash.-based company says it will provide anti-malware-related updates through July 14, 2015, but warns that the tweaks could be of limited help on an outdated operating system.

Most industry experts say they recognize that the time for Microsoft to end support for such a dated system has come, but the move poses both security and operational risks for the remaining users. In addition to home computers, XP is used to run everything from water treatment facilities and power plants to small businesses like doctor's offices.

Thomas says XP appealed to a wide variety of people and businesses that saw it as a reliable workhorse and many chose to stick with it instead of upgrading to Windows Vista, Windows 7 or 8.

Thomas notes that companies generally resist change because they don't like risk. As a result, businesses most likely to still be using XP include banks and financial services companies, along with health care providers. He also pointed to schools from the university level down, saying that they often don't have enough money to fund equipment upgrades.

Marcin Kleczynski, CEO of Malwarebytes, says that without patches to fix bugs in the software XP PCs will be prone to freezing up and crashing, while the absence of updated security related protections make the computers susceptible to hackers.

He added that future security patches released for Microsoft's newer systems will serve as a way for hackers to reverse engineer ways to breach now-unprotected Windows XP computers.

"It's going to be interesting to say the least," he says. "There are plenty of black hats out there that are looking for the first vulnerability and will be looking at Windows 7 and 8 to find those vulnerabilities. And if you're able to find a vulnerability in XP, it's pretty much a silver key."

Those weaknesses can affect businesses both large and small.

Mark Bernardo, general manager of automation software at General Electric Co.'s Intelligent Platforms division, says moving to a new operating system can be extremely complicated and expensive for industrial companies. Bernardo, whose GE division offers advisory services for upgrading from XP, says many of the unit's customers fall into the fields of water and waste water, along with oil and gas.

"Even if their sole network is completely sealed off from attack, there are still operational issues to deal with," he says.

Meanwhile, many small businesses are put off by the hefty cost of upgrading or just aren't focused on their IT needs. Although a consumer can buy an entry-level PC for a few hundred dollars, a computer powerful enough for business use may run $1,000 or more after adding the necessary software.

Barry Maher, a salesperson trainer and motivational speaker based in Corona, Calif., says his IT consultant warned him about the end of XP support last year. But he was so busy with other things that he didn't start actively looking for a new computer until a few weeks ago.

"This probably hasn't been as high a priority as it should have been," he says.

He got his current PC just before Microsoft released Vista in 2007. He never bought another PC because, "As long as the machine is doing what I want it to do, and running the software I need to run, I would never change it."

Mark McCreary, a Philadelphia-based attorney with the firm Fox Rothschild LLP, says small businesses could be among the most effected by the end of support, because they don't have the same kinds of firewalls and in-house IT departments that larger companies possess. And if they don't upgrade and something bad happens, they could face lawsuits from customers.

But he says he doesn't expect the wide-spread malware attacks and disasters that others are predicting — at least for a while.

"It's not that you blow it off and wait another seven years, but it's not like everything is going to explode on April 8 either," he says.

McCreary points to Microsoft's plans to keep providing malware-related updates for well over a year, adding that he doubts hackers are actually saving up their malware attacks for the day support ends.

But Sam Glines, CEO of Norse, a threat-detection firm with major offices in St. Louis and Silicon Valley, disagrees. He believes hackers have been watching potential targets for some time now.

"There's a gearing up on the part of the dark side to take advantage of this end of support," Glines says.

He worries most about doctors like his father and others the health care industry, who may be very smart people, but just aren't focused on technology. He notes that health care-related information is 10 to 20 times more valuable on the black market than financial information, because it can be used to create fraudulent medical claims and illegally obtain prescription drugs, making doctor's offices tempting targets.

Meanwhile, without updates from Microsoft, regular people who currently use XP at home need to be extra careful.

Mike Eldridge, 39, of Spring Lake, Mich., says that since his computer is currently on its last legs, he's going to cross his fingers and hope for the best until it finally dies.

"I am worried about security threats, but I'd rather have my identity stolen than put up with Windows 8," he says.


AP Business Writer Joyce M. Rosenberg in New York contributed to this report.


Follow Bree Fowler on Twitter at

Windows is dead. Long live Windows.

Three weeks ago, I wrote about the impending death of Windows XP, arguably the best version of Windows we have seen yet. Well, today is the day that Microsoft pulls the plug on XP. Here is Microsoft's official announcement.

(I'm writing this on a Windows 7 computer. Windows 7 is a worthy successor to XP, and in many ways it improves on the XP, ahem, experience. But if Windows 7 is so good, then why does it have a "compatibiity mode" to enable it to run WinXP programs, and why did / does Microsoft have an official "downgrade path" for those who wished / wish to downgrade from Win7 to XP? Yeah. That's right.)

No matter how much you loved WinXP and want to keep it, it is now vital - critical - for you to switch to a modern operating system. With the end of official support, WinXP will become increasingly vulnerable to hacks and malicious programming. You need to protect yourself by switching to Windows 7, Windows 8, Mac OS X, or a recent flavor of Linux.

It's always tough to see an old workhorse retired, especially when there's so much work left in it. Windows XP wasn't perfect, and it was plagued with security holes its entire life, but it was the best operating system Microsoft came out with - better than any Windows OS before it, and better than any Windows OS that came after it for almost ten years. We bid Windows XP a fond farewell, and we park it next to the Big Boy locomotive, the Willys Jeep, the A-10 Warthog and so many other inventions that went obsolete long before they wore out or stopped being useful.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Common Core: It's Not Really as Hard as You're Making It

I'm afraid that, in this Common Core debate, the voices of reason (and the voices of the teachers, bless 'em) are getting drowned out by all the yelling and screaming. Adjectives like "shrill" and "irrational" to describe some of CC's vocal opponents come immediately to mind, followed closely by "stupid" and "morons," and then devolving into words not suitable for a G-rated blog.

Here's another attempt to inject some calm and rational input into the debate. A commenter to an article on Yahoo! Shine, an actual teacher, has this to say about Common Core:

Common Core is a set of standards, not a curriculum. I teach common core without a specific textbook or program. I look at the standard such as 7th grade geometry: 7/G.A.1 Solve problems involving scale drawings of geometric figures, including computing actual lengths and areas from a scale drawing and reproducing a scale drawing at a different scale. I find examples of the problem and worksheets to support practice. Then I assess as needed that the student has mastered the skill. The worksheets people refer to are from a private publishing company that has sold the school a new program. If you don't like the program your school purchased, let them know. Common Core hasn't changed the way I teach, it's just a different standard.

Unfortunately, her words will not be heard. They make too much sense, they do not convey an extreme emotion, nor do they convey an extreme viewpoint. In the long run, the bullies and the reactionaries will take down Common Core, just like they're doing with the rest of society's useful institutions. In the end, the Common Core standards will be subscribed to by a small group of exceptional schools who quietly turn out exceptional scholars, while the rest of society wrings their hands about the decay in public education, never realizing that they have brought it upon themselves.

Note: This posting is a follow-on to my previous posting  on the topic. Click here to read it.