Archive for technology

Apple vs. the FBI: Technology Gone Wild

By | February 24, 2016 | 4 Comments

 

Smart phones you can’t use.

Recently my wife’s iPhone updated its software without asking permission. During the download the phone was unusable. But after the download completed, the phone froze. It recognized neither the thumbprint nor the password. Two hours at the local Apple store were no help. Two more hours on the phone with customer service finally got the phone working, though e-mail still did not function. Of course, this necessitated a land line, since the smart phone was unusable. The problem cost my wife most of a day.

Checking the Internet, I found that such updates occur with no way to stop or defer them, unlike what is possible with Windows updates. I also found that freezing phones and other problems are common with updates – “iPhone freeze after update” yields 2,420,000 entries on Google.  What is more, the updated operating system causes the battery to drain faster. Have a nice day.

Smart phones have become essential for business and personal use, as well as for phoning 911 or the Auto Club in emergencies. Disabling a phone unexpectedly, with no way to stop it, is worse than annoying – it’s potentially dangerous.

Now you can see why I have no sympathy for Apple’s refusal to cooperate with the FBI in its effort to hack the iPhone of the dead San Bernardino mass murderers. Apple takes over our phone without permission, temporarily inactivates it during the update, and changes many of the settings. Am I to believe that Apple couldn’t have read our messages during these manipulations? Now they have the gall to claim that they are safeguarding our privacy. Privacy to do what? Get shot or blown up during the next terrorist attack that might have been prevented? There, is that private enough for you?

Besides, iPhones are manufactured in China. Is it possible that the Chinese are planting a back door that they can use to hack the phones and obtain military or industrial secrets, the same way they spy on their own citizens? Of course it’s possible. Perhaps the FBI should ask the Chinese government for help. Or not. But please, don’t talk to me about privacy. The phone was owned by the terrorist’s employer, San Bernardino County. The terrorist had no expectation of privacy in the first place, and the actual owner wants the phone opened.

Tim Cook may have close-cut gray hair and glasses, and he may wear a dark shirt and jeans, and he may have one-syllable first and last names − but he’s not Steve Jobs. Apple may make a great fuss about the privacy of iPhones, but that’s an illusion, too. No device connected to the Internet can ever be secure from snoopers. Attempting to hide evidence of terrorism from the FBI is a really dishonorable advertising ploy, and one that may backfire.

E-mail you can’t get.

My wife is a clinical psychologist, so her e-mail may contain crucial, time-sensitive material. Some time ago, her e-mail became inaccessible. This was true for both of our computers, so it was a server problem.

After at least 30 minutes on the phone with someone with an almost incomprehensible accent, my wife was still unable to access her e-mail. I then spent nearly an hour on the phone with another tech “expert.” He did not succeed in accessing the mail, but he did succeed in disabling my web browser. I then spent another hour on the phone with Microsoft tech support. They restored my web browser, and I was happy (well, willing) to pay the fee.

But no one will pay for our wasted time, of which my wife spent even more in an ultimately successful effort to get her mail. This required her to drive across town to an office of the service provider, where she was fortunate to find someone who spoke both English and computerese.

Washrooms you can’t wash in.

The food court in a local mall was upgraded to “go green.” The faucets, soap dispensers, toilets, and urinals were changed from manual to electronic. A few months after the mall reopened, half the faucets, and one in four soap dispensers in the men’s room were inoperable.

Paper towels were replaced by hot-air hand dryers. How does using 1500 watts save energy? Unlike old hand dryers with nozzles, these have a narrow slot. It is almost impossible to insert one’s hands without touching the edges of the slot − which the previous user touched after wiping himself. This seems more brown than green.

When the Minneapolis Airport was closed by a power failure during a storm, about 500 people were stranded overnight. But the restrooms were “green,” so neither the water faucets nor the toilets worked. Here we cross the line from useless to dangerous.

But these electronic gizmos actually use more water with “phantom flushes” – in the midst of a severe California drought. Where else can you get a deal like that?

Cars you can’t stop.

Toyota and Lexus were troubled by multiple reports of unintended acceleration. Most were attributed to driver error − stepping on the accelerator instead of the brake. But a few were something else.

A 20-year veteran California Highway Patrol officer was driving his wife, daughter, and brother-in-law. The car accelerated spontaneously. An eyewitness reported smoke coming from the wheels, indicating that the brakes were applied. The officer did safety inspections on heavy trucks, so it is impossible to believe he couldn’t tell the brake from the accelerator. He was trained in high-speed driving and was able to control the Lexus at 120 mph. But technology prevented him from stopping it, and all four were killed in a fiery crash.

The familiar ignition switch is user-friendly − turn right for on, left for off. A button used for both on and off is a user-unfriendly gadget looking for trouble. If I have to wait a few seconds for a forced shutdown of a computer, it’s no problem. If I have to wait a few seconds to shut down a runaway car, it’s a big problem.

Cars should be designed by automotive engineers, not by makers of electronic toys. Basic functions like engine start-stop and shift pattern should be standard.

The bottom line.

Appliances like washing machines, dryers, and dishwashers are our mechanical servants. But smart phones and computers can become our masters. What else do you call devices that demand daily attention and care? But unlike pets, they return no love or companionship.

Rest rooms that are electrified but unreliable, and smart phones and computers that are too complex for the average “expert” to fix − what do all these suggest? They suggest technology that changes too fast to be perfected. They suggest childlike people who want constant entertainment and “change.” They suggest a civilization in decline. They suggest a nation making itself needlessly vulnerable to terrorism.

And now our personal and health information will be stored in an ObamaCare data hub, which will be accessible by “navigators” – who will not have background checks – as well as by the IRS, the Justice Department, and assorted hackers. Your Social Security number and birth date? The fact that you had genital herpes at age 19? Identity theft? Privacy? Your records confused with a sex offender on the No-Fly List? What, me worry?

Sooner or later, the lines will cross. The declining level of general education will cross the rising level of unnecessary complexity. We depend on “experts” in foreign countries − sometimes countries hostile to us − to build and repair our vital electronic devices. The Romans also depended on foreign workers. Like the Romans, we will be left staring at the ruins of what we do not know how to repair, much less how to build, while the barbarians take over.

We should recall the words of Commander Montgomery Scott, chief engineer of the USS Enterprise: “The more they over-think the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.” But even Scotty never imagined “phantom flushes.”

And these are the self-anointed geniuses who now are designing self-driving cars. Maybe we can’t stop them, but presumably they will be able to stop themselves. The geniuses have done so well with phones that freeze, e-mail we can’t access, and rest rooms that waste both water and electricity – why shouldn’t we trust them with our lives? After all, they are the techno-wizards who know what is best for the ignorant “masses.”

Some people think that if our civilization collapses, the last thing we see will be a nuclear mushroom cloud. But I believe that the last thing we see will be this:

Contact: dstol@prodigy.net. You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.

www.stolinsky.com

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