Category Archives: Something to be excited about (in not a good way)

Big Data, Google, Orwell. Pretty much in that order.

For the past couple of years I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with Google.   It began with not being thrilled that I had to sign in with a Google (or Google-owned entity) account to post a comment on something I’ve read.   The more I learned about Google, the less I wanted to support creating a history for every website  visited, every purchase made, every email, every picture taken, every person I’ve met, every aspect of my on-line life and — through linking known associates — extrapolating the rest of my life as well.

The nature of who we are is to a great extent defined by the people we love, our families, where we worship, friends we keep, people we meet, work we do,  interests we pursue, words we write, actions we take, places we go, pictures we take, videos we watch, social groups we join,  objects we purchase, choices we make, and aspirations we have.   All of these manifestations of who you are, including your credit, driving, education and medical history,  are found in the records of your life on-line.

No matter how you choose to justify the “convenience” of using Google to search, for mail, calendars, document generation, or any other of their products, the price which you pay is the record of who you were, are now, and based on that data: who you will be in the future.

I started using DuckDuckGo.com (DDG)as my Internet search engine this past week because of their anti-tracking policy.   In the first hour of using DDG, I clicked on a link to a YouTube video and was greeted by the image below:
YouTube videos cannot be watched anonymously

So – all the times that you have been watching YouTube videos, surfing the web, using your browser to participate in social media, write mail, or use other websites, even though you are not signed into your Gmail account, your user history has been logged and recorded by Google and that data paired with the data in your Gmail and Google document accounts.

Staggering, isn’t it?

He who controls the past controls the present.  He who controls the present controls the past. — George Orwell, 1984

A 2012 NPR article quotes, “While Google is not providing a way for users to opt out of its new privacy policy, this tracking only happens when you are logged in.”

Two years later that is no longer true:  Google can — and does — track users whether they are signed in or not.   Couple this knowledge with recent Facebook experiments in manipulating user experiences and Hearst’s role in the Spanish-American War becomes trivial.  Below is an excerpt from an article published in Forbes:

Facebook conducted a massive psychological experiment on 689,003 users, manipulating their news feeds to assess the effects on their emotions.    The details of the experiment were published in an article entitled “Experimental Evidence Of Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion Through Social Networks” published in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. The short version is, Facebook has the ability to make you feel good or bad, just by tweaking what shows up in your news feed.

In 2011 Google‘s search engine was working on shaping news content based upon past history to build a news page reflecting “user intent.”   At that time in order for this feature to work, users had to be signed in to their Google accounts.   As a simple test, if you compare news.google.com between your computer and another person’s you will see that this is no longer true, even if you are not signed in: the news will be “customized” to your viewing history.

A recent Wired article by Robert McMillan reveals the presence of “shadow profiles” which exist even if you are not on Facebook.

Our age of big data was beyond George Orwell’s nightmare view of society.   Today his pithy aphorism might be amended to, “Control the past and you can control the present.  Control the past and the present and you can control the future.”

Hanford Site: Radioactive Levels Ten Times Lethal Limit

The more research I do, the more depressing the results.  The article below (linked to its source) was published in 2010.  In terms of radioactive half-life four years does not make a difference.

Googling “radiation leak Hanford” will return enough entries to make anyone’s head spin.   Hanford is not the only nuclear waste site in the United States.  The EPA references over a thousand  nuclear waste sites in the United States alone.   Projecting this on a global scale boggles the mind.

I can’t help but wonder if the general plan from the 1940s until today(?) has been, “let’s take the money now and let those guys in the future figure things out.”

Bummer for us is that we are those guys.

 

 Hanford, Washington Site: Radioactive Levels Ten Times Lethal Limit At Cold War Nuclear Reservation  SHANNON DININNY   11/17/10 05:36 PM ET   AP   YAKIMA, Wash. — Workers cleaning up the nation's most contaminated nuclear site have discovered an area of soil so radioactive it exceeds lethal limits tenfold, the U.S. Department of Energy announced Wednesday with its cleanup contractor.  The finding represents some of the worst contamination at south-central Washington's Hanford nuclear reservation and highlights the difficulty and danger in cleaning up a site where records about Cold War-era weapons production either weren't kept or were incomplete.  Even though it's highly radioactive, the contaminated soil does not pose an immediate risk to health or safety of workers or the environment, said Todd Nelson, spokesman for Washington Closure, the contractor hired to clean up this area of Hanford for the DOE.  The federal government created Hanford in the 1940s as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. The site produced plutonium for nuclear weapons through the Cold War, but the work left hundreds of radioactive buildings, including nuclear reactors, debris and waste.  Workers found this soil contamination under a building that was used from 1966 to 1996 to explore methods to treat radioactive waste. The workers discovered a cracked steel liner under a drain in a radioactive hot cell, where the research years ago could be conducted safely, then used remote equipment to conduct soil samples under the building to determine if there may have been a leak.  The samples showed radiation levels thousands of times greater than allowable levels for exposure over one hour, and 10 times the lethal limit.  Nelson said the three biggest concerns when such a high level of radioactivity is located are direct exposure to workers, the contamination becoming airborne, and the contamination migrating to groundwater. Because the soil sits under a building and workers are shielded from the radiation, he said, the first two are not an immediate risk.  There also is no evidence the contamination has affected groundwater, said Mark French, project coordinator for the DOE's Columbia River corridor cleanup.  The building in question sits about a quarter-mile from the Columbia River, which is the largest waterway in the Pacific Northwest and creates the northern and eastern boundaries of the Hanford site.
Hanford, Washington Site: Radioactive Levels Ten Times Lethal Limit At Cold War Nuclear Reservation
SHANNON DININNY 11/17/10 05:36 PM ET AP

Et tu, Nat Geo?

The use of hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and gas from the earth dates back to the 1940s, but only in the past few years has “fracking” become an energy buzzword, alluding primarily to the shale gas boom in the United States and all of the controversy that has accompanied it. Fracking—the high-pressure injection of water, chemicals and sand into shale deposits to release the gas and oil trapped within the rock—in recent years has been combined with horizontal drilling and other improvements in technology to harvest stores of gas and oil that previously were thought commercially unfeasible to access. (See interactive: “Breaking Fuel from the Rock“)  The implications of this sea change are debatable, but the impact is undeniable. In the United States, oil production last year reached its highest level in 14 years, thanks in part to output from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale, and is expected to keep rising. Natural gas production, already at new highs thanks to shale gas, is expected to grow 44 percent in the U.S. between 2011 and 2040. (See “Natural Gas Nation: EIA Sees U.S. Future Shaped by Fracking.“)

National Geographic and Shell Oil company?

A recent article in National Geographic (on-line) captured my attention this morning. Specifically the author’s phrase, “…windfall of homegrown energy.” Considering the traditional natural science orientation of the publication, I was surprised that the article skipped over the relationship between earthquakes and fracking as well as the damage done by toxic waste released through hydraulic fracturing above and below ground.  It also left out the multi-billion dollar investments by China and other countries into fracking operations in the United States, as well as the recent $15.1 billion dollar acquisition by China of Canada’s leading petroleum producer AND China’s purchase ($2.1 billion) of Canada’s oil sands producing entity OPTI Canada Inc.

Given China’s environmental record, the quality of drinking water in the United States and Canada is at risk in both near and long-term.

The Federal Government and the State of Alaska are still working on settling $92 million dollars in damages from the 1989 Exxon-Valdez oil disaster.  As I write there is still oil on beaches affected by this spill and neither state or federal governments can collect damages from a multi-national oil company twenty years later.   With an industry track record like this who can honestly believe that there will be any significant accountability (or remediation) once ground water contamination from fracking is documented?

Wyoming currently has an estimated 20,000 abandoned, uncapped wells which were used in fracking which represent billions of gallons of fresh water and  hundreds of miles of roads cut into wilderness1.  Now that the rape of the land is complete, who or what will attempt even minimal repair of our land?

The cornucopia view promulgated by fracking proponents is that of a boundless, infinite, self-replenishing view of the natural world.  This naive concept was a fundamental basis in Marxist economic theory. This same Marxist notion is now advanced by petroleum interests as part of their public relations program. It is also a flat-out, bald-faced lie.

The irony of National Geographic’s masthead is patent:
“National Geographic: Inspiring people to care about the planet since 1888″

There are three articles in the English language: the, a, and anThe is a definite article, referring to a specific noun (e.g. “the planet”) which connotes separation and distinction from the self and that other object.  Our is a possessive pronoun indicating ownership (e.g. “our planet”).

National Geographic’s choice of words is a distinction engineered for a calculated difference.  Through the deliberate use of  “the” when referring to environmental issues, a conceptual schism is created with regard to our biosphere:  “the planet” is fundamentally different from “our planet”.

The question becomes has National Geographic joined Shell’s public relations pulpit or was this article simply a naïve lapse in critical thinking?

Peter Terezakis
San Diego, 2013
1-percent-are-killing-our-planet

San Onofre to close, no thanks to KPBS

“Sempra Energy (SRE), which had a 20 percent stake in San Onofre, expects California regulators to allow it to recover its $519 million investment from ratepayers, the San Diego-based company said in a filing today. The company’s San Diego Gas & Electric Company utility will likely record an after-tax charge of $30 million to $110 million in the second quarter of 2013 related to the plant.”Bloomberg

As someone who has been involved in the effort to shut San Onofre down for years, this news is good news.  Constructed on top of a geological fault line, a couple of hundred feet from the Pacific Ocean and from Route 5, ground-breaking for the nuclear plant began in 1964.

San Onofre construction LA Times


By 1966 the beach had been excavated and concrete poured for the signature “beach ball” containment vessels.  The top pop song for 1966 was the Ballad of the Green Berets, cigarette advertising looked like this, and Star Trek debuted on television (the original one, that is).

Screen Shot 2013-06-10 at 9.27.05 AM

 

 

 

 

What isn’t good news is the way that public radio has acted to support the financial interests of a public utility over the safety over a captive population.

Alison St. John, a reporter from KPBS San Diego has been covering this story for several years. Never an advocate for anyone but industry, a recent article of hers refers to, “howls of protest from people.”

“San Onofre: How did it come to this?” – Alison St. John

Between the article title and closing statement it is clear that Alison St. John has little regard for issues of health, safety, or quality of life for the families and our environment which would be affected by a nuclear event from San Onofre:

“The public and political wrangling going on now is likely part of an elaborate chess game, adding leverage to the real negotiations going on behind the scenes.”

Given Ms. St. John’s track record of advocacy for other SDGE/Sempra projects, I am surprised that she didn’t use industry terminology when referencing the public and call us “ratepayers.”

Public radio has become the PR machine for Sempra Energy, SDGE, Sunrise Powerlink, and Granite Construction Company.    Alison St. John is one their spokespeople, proving once again that advertising is the second oldest profession.

$elling out Science

At the same time that the United States has been slashing the budgets of NASA and continuing to muzzle federally employed scientists and researchers from publishing climate-related concerns and observations, Canada is now following the Bush-Obama protocol for muzzling science by, “performing research which only has a social or economic gain.”
Screen Shot 2013-07-02 at 10.29.58 AM

Phil Plait’s article on this in Slate is in the link below.   Meanwhile, I wonder if the recent flooding of Alberta will impact the outlawing of climate science in North Carolina – or the rest of the United States and Canada?

Muzzling science is not going to control public reaction to rising sea levels and rapidly changing climatic changes.  Burning dirt and/or fracking are also no longer viable energy options for our civilization, if they ever were.

  Over the past few years, the Canadian government has been lurching into anti-science territory. For example, they’ve been muzzling scientists, essentially censoring them from talking about their research. Scientists have fought back against this, though from what I hear with limited success.  But a new development makes the situation appear to be far worse. In a stunning announcement, the National Research Council—the Canadian scientific research and development agency—has now said that they will only perform research that has “social or economic gain”.

Citizens in Tennessee complain about water quality and are threatened by a state official with possible charges of terrorism.

Complaining about water quality could have you charged with Terrorism?

Is this to be the new trend for silencing environmental activists, citizens protesting fracking, the proliferation of GMOs, and the continued contamination of our water, earth, and even the air that we breathe?

NYC: Ground-Zero + Climate Change

As if living with post-9/11 urban paranoia wasn’t enough, a recent map came out showing the evacuation zones for 3 million New York City residents.

Imagine that you are one of 3,000,000 trying to leave town...
Imagine that you are one of 3,000,000 trying to leave town…
Mayor Bloomberg has announced a 19.5 billion dollar program to protect life and property from hurricane storm surges and rising levels of the Atlantic Ocean.I’m a big fan of science fiction, solar power, Cold Fusion, and other fringe-type works of literature and politically charged paradigm disruptors of public utility monopolies across the planet.But Mayor Bloomberg, as anyone who has been out at sea will tell you, you are not holding back an ocean.

If they haven’t already, New York’s financial industries ought to be looking to relocate on higher ground — or maybe move to a state that they could take over like Idaho.

Then again, since the New York Stock Exchange was purchased (2012) by the energy-based InterContinentalExchange (ICE), maybe they will move all operations to Atlanta where ICE’s home offices are located.

Excerpts from Google’s TOS and Privacy policies

 

Excerpt from Google’s Terms of Service (IP):

Your Content in our Services

Some of our Services allow you to submit content. You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.

When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This license continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing you have added to Google Maps).

Google Terms of Service June 3, 2013

 

Excerpt from Google’s Privacy Policy:

Information we collect

We collect information to provide better services to all of our users – from figuring out basic stuff like which language you speak, to more complex things like which ads you’ll find most useful or the people who matter most to you online.

We collect information in two ways:

  • Information you give us. For example, many of our services require you to sign up for a Google Account. When you do, we’ll ask for personal information, like your name, email address, telephone number or credit card. If you want to take full advantage of the sharing features we offer, we might also ask you to create a publicly visible Google Profile, which may include your name and photo.
  • Information we get from your use of our services. We may collect information about the services that you use and how you use them, like when you visit a website that uses our advertising services or you view and interact with our ads and content. This information includes:
    • Device informationWe may collect device-specific information (such as your hardware model, operating system version, unique device identifiers, and mobile network information including phone number). Google may associate your device identifiers or phone number with your Google Account.
    • Log informationWhen you use our services or view content provided by Google, we may automatically collect and store certain information in server logs. This may include:
      • details of how you used our service, such as your search queries.
      • telephony log information like your phone number, calling-party number, forwarding numbers, time and date of calls, duration of calls, SMS routing information and types of calls.
      • Internet protocol address.
      • device event information such as crashes, system activity, hardware settings, browser type, browser language, the date and time of your request and referral URL.
      • cookies that may uniquely identify your browser or your Google Account.
    • Location informationWhen you use a location-enabled Google service, we may collect and process information about your actual location, like GPS signals sent by a mobile device. We may also use various technologies to determine location, such as sensor data from your device that may, for example, provide information on nearby Wi-Fi access points and cell towers.
    • Unique application numbersCertain services include a unique application number. This number and information about your installation (for example, the operating system type and application version number) may be sent to Google when you install or uninstall that service or when that service periodically contacts our servers, such as for automatic updates.
    • Local storageWe may collect and store information (including personal information) locally on your device using mechanisms such as browser web storage (including HTML 5) and application data caches.
    • Cookies and anonymous identifiersWe use various technologies to collect and store information when you visit a Google service, and this may include sending one or more cookies or anonymous identifiers to your device. We also use cookies and anonymous identifiers when you interact with services we offer to our partners, such as advertising services or Google features that may appear on other sites.

How we use information we collect

We use the information we collect from all of our services to provide, maintain, protect and improve them, to develop new ones, and to protect Google and our users. We also use this information to offer you tailored content – like giving you more relevant search results and ads.

We may use the name you provide for your Google Profile across all of the services we offer that require a Google Account. In addition, we may replace past names associated with your Google Account so that you are represented consistently across all our services. If other users already have your email, or other information that identifies you, we may show them your publicly visible Google Profile information, such as your name and photo.

When you contact Google, we may keep a record of your communication to help solve any issues you might be facing. We may use your email address to inform you about our services, such as letting you know about upcoming changes or improvements.

We use information collected from cookies and other technologies, like pixel tags, to improve your user experience and the overall quality of our services. For example, by saving your language preferences, we’ll be able to have our services appear in the language you prefer. When showing you tailored ads, we will not associate a cookie or anonymous identifier with sensitive categories, such as those based on race, religion, sexual orientation or health.

We may combine personal information from one service with information, including personal information, from other Google services – for example to make it easier to share things with people you know. We will not combine DoubleClick cookie information with personally identifiable information unless we have your opt-in consent.

We will ask for your consent before using information for a purpose other than those that are set out in this Privacy Policy.

Google processes personal information on our servers in many countries around the world. We may process your personal information on a server located outside the country where you live.

Google Privacy Policy excerpted June 3, 2013