Riding The Cloud To Victory; or, I Got My Laptop Stolen (Part 1)

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Typical disclaimer about how I don’t update anymore, blah blah blah. Life is great and full of wonder, or, the night is dark and full of terrors. Either way, I’m busy and trying to enjoy every minute of the short life I have. You should too!

I recently had my laptop stolen. Yes, it sucked. It’s not a pleasant experience, imaging someone going through your personal affects (it was in a messenger bag), looking at my decor and organizational strategies and sneering with delight. Of course, I have no idea what they’re doing – they could have smashed it on the side of the road, or it could be halfway to China by now with a new MAC address. Of the three apps I used to try and track it, none of them: Find my Mac, Prey, or Tile, turned up anything the day after it was stolen out of my car (a smash and grab job), a few feet away from where I was quietly sitting in a cafe. This, of course, is not surprising: in order for the apps to work, they would need a constant internet connection. Since there was already a secure password set on my computer, the thieves probably spent little time cracking it and immediately opted to reformat the hard drive, which would delete the tracking software I had installed. The Tile locator, which works via Bluetooth, had a slightly better chance, attempting to ping off other Tile users in the area, but the app’s popularity doesn’t really warrant much success in this area. The locator was also attached to the laptop case which was easily removable.

This also begs the question: where the thieves intelligent, or dumb? Their behavior can tell a victim or law enforcement a lot about where to look. Unfortunately, I’ll probably never know what happened, and there is little recourse for a situation like this. However, some precautionary measures like a better car alarm, putting valuables in the trunk, and increased vigilance, would make quite a bit of difference.

Another potential issue with WiFi based trackers like Prey or Find my Mac (via iCloud) are they require a user to have the computer open and connected to WiFi. If you have a password set for your user account, as I did, this won’t work. However, if you leave your account password un-protected, you’re in business; here’s a success story using Prey for this method. As the comments bear out: this is not a tenable option for me – if I leave my laptop without a password, a thief would have access to all my files, cloud back-ups, and Google Chrome with hundreds of passwords saved. An alternative solution would be a guest account with no password (called a “honeypot” for this use) that Prey still runs on in the background. I plan to employ this solution when my new laptop (this time with some sort of insurance) arrives.

Setting a firmware password would block the hard drive reformatting, which could by you some extra time as a thief becomes frustrated and may try to guess your password again (obviously secure passwords are a must!) An alternative is LoJack, which claims to be embeddable in the firmware of the device itself, thus surviving reboots, reformats, and I would imagine even hardware modification. They claim to “work with law enforcement” to give your device back, which may or may not be a good thing. I’m interested in this, though it seems to bring up privacy concerns by the number of “remove LoJack” videos that exist on YouTube. A low-tech, alternative solution is an anti-theft sticker that becomes nearly impossible to remove, betraying the item’s true nature (and making it less attractive to steal, from, say, a coffee shop).

Clearly, I’ve thought a bit about this in the last few days. In Part 2 I’ll detail why the disaster wasn’t so great after – almost all my data was backed up to either the cloud, or a local Time Machine disk. Cloud back-ups can be nebulous, so I plan to discuss my history with it and offer some of what I feel are the best solutions currently.

Note: it should be said that while Find my Mac/iPhone/iPad comes free with iCloud and OS X/iOS, and while Prey offers a free version. LoJack does require an annual license for its premium software. Use at your own risk!

Note 2: an alternative solution would also be so low-tech I didn’t even think of it in the first place: don’t own an expensive laptop, don’t travel with it, or at the very least, keep it on your person if it’s so damn valuable. I’m constantly reminded of how incredible it is; the worth that we apply to pieces of metal and mineral with a fruit logo on them.

Update 1/17/15: As there is no BIOS in Macbook Pros; a firmware based installation of LoJack seems impossible. Strange, as Apple often tries to bundle the software as an add on.

Veganism and Title VII Protection: Commentary & Guest Post

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If you haven’t yet seen the underreported story of the vegan refusing the flu vaccine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, the case is worth a glance. Essentially, vegan and ex-hospital employee Sakile Chenizra was fired from the hospital for refusing to get an employee-mandated flu vaccine at the request of her employers. It’s common for hospitals to impose this, as it is in nursing homes, schools, etc. If you’re not aware, the flu vaccine as it stands in 2012/2013 is not vegan: it’s egg-based and also tested on animals. A great dialogue regarding the ethics of this are located here at Choosing Raw.

Chenizra sued the hospital for religious discrimination under Title VII, claiming the veganism, or rather, her belief in it, is strong enough to be considered a religious belief. Surprisingly, the court is allowing her claim to move forward! They wouldn’t throw the case out, and it’s set for a July 9th date. This is good news! If veganism can be taken seriously as a belief “with a sincerity equating that of traditional religious views” (the court’s words) then our foot is in the door for taking animal rights seriously. Which means, well…I’ll leave that to your imagination! For a preview of that possible future, check out the Nonhuman Rights Project.

So, I’m very excited to see how all this develops. However, legal stuff isn’t my forte, so I had the privilege of getting the insight of a friend and longtime vegetarian Joe Dunman. He was kind enough to give some background on this issue, and other comments. His remarks are below. Enjoy!

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Is Your Boss “Insane?”

This was sent to me for posting – what I find more telling than the facts presented here is that someone took the time to create this, and that there are people out there that many statistics about workplace dominance, stress, and so forth. What the hell are we doing to ourselves? Even a stressed vegan could be in trouble if their workplace is causing panic: a 23 percent increased risk of heart attack was found in stressed workers.

Below is the infographic from LearnStuff.com:

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A Post-Religion World

Ah, Facebook. A place to share photos, silly photos of cats, and bash religion. While the Dalai Lama wasn’t necessarily “bashing” religion, his status update last week raised a few eyebrows and prompted this excellent io9 article, “Dalai Lama tells his Facebook friends that religion ‘is no longer adequate’.” When I shared the article on my Facebook, I garnered quite a few likes as well (though, admittedly, I have a lot of non-religious friends). The specific words of the Dalai Lama were, to be clear:

All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.

As io9 (who, if you are not aware, are basically the futuristic/sci-fi/transhumanist wing of Gawker/Gizmodo/Lifehacker) points out, this is sounds an awful lot like Sam Harris with his morality-should-be-decided-by-science approach. Hear, hear!

As the Alaska Dispatch (yeah, huh?) points out, tweets from the spiritual leader mirror this sentiment:

(Side note: WordPress did a damn good job of those tweet embeds! More on that here.)

So where do we go from here? Comments from my friend circle find the Dalai Lama’s remarks not altogether surprising, but I think that’s also because many of us in America typically look at him as a source good quotes, not a spiritual leader like millions of other Buddhists around the world. And at the same time, is Buddhism not a religion? By some counts, sure, by others it’s merely a philosophical practice, or a way of living. As The Onion so succinctly put, “No One Was Murdered Because Of This Image” which indeed includes the Buddha being “violated.” Sadly we cannot say the same for satire of Muhammed.

In light of the recent outrage about a mere comedic film, which included mass rioting, injuries, and death, how much longer can we tolerate extreme faith? Or any faith, for that matter; the moment we begin to criticize irrational, god-first-and-foremost, “praise be to him” thinking, the moment we can speak clearly about much of this violence, be it from an Islamic or other religious basis. From the NY Times article:

Raising banners with Islamic slogans and denouncing the United States and Israel, Iraqis called for the expulsion of American diplomats from the country and demanded that the American government apologize for the incendiary film and take legal action against it’s creators.

This is simply ridiculous, and highlights the continuing issue with Islamic politics and their faith-crazed viewpoints. Trying to be as unbiased as possible here: holding an entire country accountable for the offensive film created by a few within it, is just ludicrous.

At least some Libyans disagree, as evinced by these photos. And I think many of us see these events unfold as evidence that a portion of Muslims are just wacky, deluded into violence by some promise that it will bring them salvation in the end if they live up to the creed of following the Quran as they interpret it. But I think we need a broader picture: the same faith that they use to fuel these attacks is the faith that causes irrational belief in any god, be it Allah, Yahweh, or Jesus. We have to confront the source: that faith, and religion, are no basis to make these moral and real-world decisions when the teachings inscribed within their books are from an archaic time long ago.

Sam Harris puts it well in his TED Talk from 2010, where he drives home the point that we don’t tolerate “differences of opinion” in other areas of science, where facts are facts and bullshit is bullshit. So why should we do it with morality?

[T]here are right and wrong answers to questions of human flourishing. And morality relates to that domain of facts. It is possible for individuals and even for whole cultures, to care about the wrong things. Which is to say, it’s possible for them to have beliefs and desires that reliable lead to needless human suffering. Just admitting this will transform our discourse about human morality. […]

We can no more respect and tolerate vast difference in notions of human wellbeing than we can tolerate vast differences in the notions of how disease spreads, or the safety standards of buildings and airplanes. We simply must converge on the answers we give on the most important questions in human life. And to do that, we have to admit that these questions have answers.

Photo: Wikipedia

Running Out Of Water? Time To Go Vegan

That’s the theme of the Guardian’s Global Development series last week, with the headline “Food shortages could force world into vegetarianism, warn scientists.” Stockholm International Water Institute warned that there simply won’t be enough water to produce the meat we need, at the current rate of eating, by 2050:

Humans derive about 20% of their protein from animal-based products now, but this may need to drop to just 5% to feed the extra 2 billion people expected to be alive by 2050, according to research by some of the world’s leading water scientists.

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Adopting a vegetarian diet is one option to increase the amount of water available to grow more food in an increasingly climate-erratic world, the scientists said. Animal protein-rich food consumes five to 10 times more water than a vegetarian diet. One third of the world’s arable land is used to grow crops to feed animals. Other options to feed people include eliminating waste and increasing trade between countries in food surplus and those in deficit.

“Nine hundred million people already go hungry and 2 billion people are malnourished in spite of the fact that per capita food production continues to increase,” they said. “With 70% of all available water being in agriculture, growing more food to feed an additional 2 billion people by 2050 will place greater pressure on available water and land.”

The Guardian’s Lagusta Yearwood followed up this piece with a great addition of her own, “Forget meat – there’s a world of vegetarian food out there,” where she writes:

 Particularly, we can look to what poor women from every corner of the globe have invented. Why? Because they have always created the tastiest dishes – so many of today’s classic, beloved dishes originated from women who had to put food on the table for their families, no matter what. When kings and queens were busy dying from gout because of their overly rich diets, housewives in Sicily were making luscious caponata from aubergines and celery in a sweet and sour marinade; women in Oaxaca were wrapping corn dough around roasted chilies, seeds, and vegetables to make tamales filled with mole sauces; cooks in Egypt were frying onions in precious olive oil and topping their lentils and rice with them to make koshari; women in Africa were pounding peanuts to make rich stews laced with fresh greens and spices. Vegetarian dishes are everywhere, if we look.

While Yearwood dismisses meat analogues as “expensive” and poor-tasting (which I both agree and disagree with, respectively), her point of not making meat the centerpiece is spot on. We pretty much have to do that, or we won’t be able to feed our booming earth’s population. Of course, we could stop having so many kids too…

Then there was the rebuttal of “Turning vegetarian will not solve the food crisis” by Priyamvada Gopal, who argues that, yes, factory farms are awful and we’re destroying the planet, but

Wealth concentration generates disparate purchasing power that allows richer nations as well as the better-off in every nation to consume – and waste – a disproportionate share of food, fuel, water and other resources. Arable land itself is put towards profit through speculation, mining, and logging, rather than feeding people. The predictable argument that overpopulation is the main problem remains a red herring. When one person can consume or waste between two and five people’s share at a time when per-capita food production has increased, inequity, not human numbers, and the richer, not the poorer, are still the problem.

Gopal argues against the overzealous vegan, pushing their tofu and expensive organic vegetables across the table, but can one get past the ethical implications? Not really. Meat is still murder for large portions of the world where it is simply unncessary, and now, as we see, wasteful and in dwindling supply. Does those buffalo getting slaughtered by the Indians as Gopal references, recognize their contribution to world hunger and lay down with a smile to get slaughtered? No – they simply do not.

Still, there are many issues at work. The goal, in my opinion, is to feed the world, while harming as little as possible. Respect for all life, not just humans, while taking care of the earth, and keeping us healthy. Are these lofty? Absolutely. But, we don’t really have a choice. As Paul Watson says, “if the oceans die, we die.”

Photo: niOS