The ever tightening grip

I watched this video last night:

Basically, with Windows 10 it was “recommended” that you turn on the UEFI encryption keys and the “trusted platform” stuff. In Windows 11, it was a precondition for installation. Now they are planning to build something into the CPU itself, so that you can’t run an OS that hasn’t been approved by Microsoft, basically. What the author of the video didn’t say, and what I find glaringly obvious, is that this isn’t about Microsoft, it’s about America. They want to make sure that “their technology” can’t be used by anyone on their sanctioned entity list, because, if you pay attention, you will see that Microsoft, Apple, Google and similar extensions of NSA routinely sanction countries that refuse to bend over to America, by the principle of “if you refuse to be our slaves we’ll take our toys away”. Let’s say that Macs and iPhones outright refuse to work in any truly sovereign country. You take a thumb drive with Linux, install it, set it up and take a slight hit in comfort and productivity because the open source stuff isn’t written by people whose pay check depends on all the details being polished. However, you will still get the job done, and in some aspects the Linux way of doing things is actually better. I was actually quite productive on Linux when I had it on all my personal systems; the only exception is photography, because nothing on Linux is even in the same decade as Lightroom. But would I manage; oh yes. And if Windows/Mac didn’t really exist as an alternative, I would venture a guess that excellent Russian and Chinese commercial software would start appearing for Linux in short order. So, things would not only work, but also improve with time.

However, if the Americans succeed in putting this “trusted platform” shit in the CPU, it means that you won’t be able to run Linux or BSD on any American-designed hardware anywhere in the free world (because that’s what the “sanctioned entities list” really is). It’s not unexpected, and I actually think they are kind of late with this, but if anyone thinks Microsoft could lobby to put this stuff in Intel and AMD CPU designs without not only approval, but direct order from the NSA (and probably other deep-state structures as well), I have real estate on the Moon to sell you.

So, what does this mean in practice? Is it worrisome enough to warrant an immediate transition to non-American-designed computer architecture and non-American OS? Yes, if you’re a sovereign state. For individuals, it’s a more complicated matter. It’s worrisome enough for me to warrant building and maintaining redundant systems I can use in case this becomes a problem.

Top Gun Maverick review

I watched the new Top Gun movie recently and I actually liked it, but I couldn’t help myself noticing a few things that probably make sense to Americans, and to nobody else.

The hypersonic Mach 10 prototype in the beginning of the movie would have been Russian. The Americans can’t pull that off.

The mission is to bomb some sort of “rogue state’s” underground nuclear facility that’s protected by SAM’s and 5-gen fighters. What kind of a country has 5-gen fighters and still doesn’t have nukes? The 5-gen fighters in the movie are the SU-57 with a dark color scheme, probably to appear more villainous, but the target description looks more like Iran. The target is an underground facility inside something that looks like a deep crater in the mountains, which makes no sense whatsoever, because how would that thing even get built there? Also, why would anyone build it in terrain so difficult to defend properly, and then leave the “air vent” at the bottom of the damn crater where it’s actually the least likely to vent anything? This looks like something of a Bond villain’s lair, if anything, but I guess the Americans think it’s perfectly plausible that “villains” do crazy things like that. After all, they are “rogue” and “crazy” and intend to destroy the world because, well, evil.

The mission is almost an ideal case for either a cruise missile attack through the canyon, using TERCOM/DSMAC guidance, or an overhead attack from either high altitude or using a hypersonic deorbiting vehicle. To use fighter jets in such a scenario is utterly insane, for several reasons. First, the probability of success is extremely low, because it exceeds realistic capability of both pilots and airplanes. Second, the political implications of planes shot down and pilots getting captured and paraded on TV are unpleasant. Third, the tomahawks give you an almost endless number of second chances, unlike the fighter-bomber assault, which either works in the first attempt or not at all. Also, the tomahawks were indeed used to attack a nearby airfield, which implies that they went through the target air defenses without difficulty, which is not realistic, but if it worked on the airfield, why not through the canyon and into the crater? After all, the Tomahawks don’t really need to be fast, since they are not attempting to get out of there alive after striking the target.

The assault is launched from an aircraft carrier, and it somehow doesn’t get noticed in advance, there are no enemy ships with anti-aircraft missiles intercepting the assault, there are no radar stations on the coast to detect either the airplanes or the Tomahawks, and yet the country has lethal air defenses elsewhere, and 5-gen fighters. How in the hell would that be a realistic scenario? Even Iran would send a hundred patrol boats with MANPADs to harass the intruder. Anyone capable would have the shore bristling with mobile radars and rocket launches the moment American fleet was noticed anywhere near the nautical border. The canyon and crater defenses would be the last line of defense, not the first thing the Americans would encounter. In fact, the aircraft carrier would have to live in constant fear of being struck by hypersonic missiles from either the shore or the enemy ships, in a several hundred kilometer range. Also, it would have to live in fear of enemy hunter-seeker submarines. After all, we’re talking about a foe that has SU-57 fighters. The moment the enemy figures out where the attack came from, that aircraft carrier is in acute danger of becoming a radioactive coral reef.

The defending SU-57 fighter jets are called “bandits” by the Americans. How is someone defending his country from a foreign invader a “bandit”? But that’s how the Americans see the world. A country doing things on its own territory that America did during the WW2 is “rogue”, its defenders are “bandits”, and the Americans attacking a foreign country by a sneak Pearl Harbor-like attack, they are the “good guys”.

Other than that, the movie was great. 🙂

Smartphone to dumbphone?

For some reason I got a few videos about switching from smartphone to dumbphone and back in my YouTube stream, so I actually checked them out because the idea seemed bizarre. It turned out that some people are so overwhelmed by a smartphone that they just can’t leave it alone; they constantly find things to do with it, from social media to all the music and stuff you can listen on it, that their entire lives get absorbed in it. The reason why I find it bizarre is that my iPhone sits somewhere on the desk all day and I use it only for internet banking purposes (because Revolut, for instance, doesn’t have a desktop app so I have to use a mobile device) or when someone calls me; basically, when I’m home, I either don’t use it at all, or I use it for very specific things, the way I use a tootbrush or a coffee cup. When I’m going out, I put it in my pocket and basically forget about it, unless I want to check something. I’m probably the least typical smartphone user; I don’t use social media at all, I don’t listen to music or watch videos on my phone, but I do actually need a smartphone, because when I need it, it’s for checking some website or chat or map or things like that; my “screen on” time on the phone is perhaps five minutes a day, if even that. Still, I do kind of understand the problem people are having with them; it’s just that I get stuck on YouTube, watching hours of political, tech or historical videos, and it’s quite easy to lose the whole day like that. Still, I don’t consider it a loss; I want to keep informed in order to understand what’s going on, and analysis of the kind I’m doing requires keeping tabs on multiple data streams, but I occasionally find myself watching something that’s so far off-tangent that I wonder how I got there in the first place.

In any case, I think I’ve been doing it long enough that I can offer advice on how to manage addictive and time-consuming things on the Internet.

First, you need to be focused, as opposed to scatter-brained, and disciplined, in a sense of being in charge and not just clicking on shit that’s in front of you.

Second, you need to take breaks – take a long walk, or exercise, or something else that has nothing to do with either computers or the Internet. It doesn’t count if you use your phone in any way while doing it.

Third, no using the phone in the car. I can’t even tell you how annoying I find the people who drive while doing something on their phones, not to mention that it’s dangerous.

Fourth, when you’re with someone, talk to them. Don’t even touch the phone.

Fifth, do specific things, and when you’re done, let go of the phone, or the computer. Don’t fidget with it because you’ll always find something on it that will preoccupy your attention and waste your time. It’s a tool, not your connection with God.

Sixth, use an ad-blocker and similar tools for de-cluttering your screen. Don’t watch ads, don’t watch useless “entertaining” garbage, avoid live chats in favor of email and forums. Avoid Internet versions of “hanging out” – if you want to hang out, do it with friends in real life. Avoid functionality that keeps you “tethered”, in a sense that anyone can “ping” you at any time. That just keeps you plugged in and stressed. Turn the chat off unless you actually have something of importance to communicate, or if you expect to find something of importance there. In any case it’s best to write an e-mail. Chats are superficial, addictive, waste of time and for the most part they are disrespectful of other people’s limits and time, and if someone wants to keep you tethered it indicates an insecure personality. Avoid. Also, don’t ping others with useless shit – nobody really cares what you ate, or that you had to take a shit. Communicate important ideas, and if you don’t have any, shut up and read some books, and eventually that will change.

That’s basically it. If you’re scatterbrained, shallow and have an addictive personality, technology will certainly give you enough rope to hang yourself, but it isn’t an iPhone problem, it’s a dumbass problem.

First world problems

I’ve been thinking about the phrase in the title recently, and it struck me as a misnomer.

You see, the “1st world problem” phrase was something the Americans used to ironically pull when talking about things such as having to wait in line for a fancy new iPhone or Starbucks not offering their favorite flavor of oversweetened junk anymore, meaning “we are so privileged to live in such a wonderful place, while elsewhere people don’t have food or water or sanitation”.

Enter 2022, and the problems in the West are fuel prices, gas shortages, inflation, expected food and electricity shortages, empty shelves, violent riots and so on.

Excuse me, but those no longer sound like 1st world problems to me. Those sound like the kind of problems I used to have in 1980s socialist Yugoslavia, which was by definition 3rd world (both politically and by industrial development, because it was placed right in between the socialist bloc and the capitalist West by all metrics). In Yugoslavia, the problems were self-inflicted due to a bad political and economic system. In today’s West, it appears to be the same. In both cases, it seems to be caused by ideological rigidity of the ruling uniparty (because all “electable” parties in the West are basically the same flavor of “watermelon” (green on the outside, red on the inside)), opposition of any kind is demonised to the point of total social exclusion, and the economy is controlled by political edicts.

Basically, there is no more 1st world, unless we’re talking about Russia and China. America and Europe are fast approaching Africa in standard of living, which is not unexpected considering how much of Africa they recently imported, and considering how their ideas about economy and politics don’t differ greatly from those prevalent in the banana republics.

Hardware upgrades

Every time Apple, Intel, AMD or Nvidia launches new gadgets I get a million fake-enthusiastic “reviews” (in fact paid ads produced by youtubers who whore themselves out to the hardware manufacturers) in my recommended videos, and they are always layered – first comes the “oh, a new gadgety thingy, how wonderful”, then “oh, it overheats, is underpowered, there are flaws”, and finally “why you don’t need it and should stick with the last year’s model”, until they decide they milked the product for all it’s worth and shift attention to the next thing. I find it boring and predictable in direct proportion to the faked enthusiasm of the “reviewers”, who are trying very hard to convince us that we live in some parallel universe where good smartphones and computers are something new and unheard of, while the truth of the matter is that the entire consumer electronics industry has peaked quite a while ago and we’re seeing very small incremental improvements. I recently made an experiment where I took several pieces of “obsolete hardware” from boxes and drawers – a 6 year old CPU and motherboard with integrated graphics, an old 120GB SSD, a 4 year old Android phone and so on, because someone in the family always has an old but perfectly functional device they upgraded from, and guess what, it’s all fine. I turned the PC into a local staging server where I test for service and dependency compatibility before I deploy things on the web, and I turned the old android phone into a backup device that I can switch to in emergencies.

The way I see it, a piece of equipment goes through several evolutionary phases; first it’s promising but flawed, and every new iteration of the product brings great improvement and one upgrades immediately after the new product has been released. Then it reaches maturity, where it’s good enough for what you need, and new iterations of the product are better in this or that way, but not enough to warrant an upgrade. The third phase is when the manufacturers introduce changes in design, or control layout, but the functionality of the device is the same, or even reduced to save on manufacturing cost, and after that point all further “improvements” are basically in finding out what they could remove, make cheaper, or introduce intentional design flaws that will make the device break down more quickly and force you to buy a replacement.

I remember times where a 6 months old computer or a digital camera was considered obsolete, because things were progressing that quickly. Now we are at the point where my “new” camera is 7 years old, my “old” camera is 17 years old, both are still in use, and their picture quality is excellent. My mid-2015 15” Macbook pro is still perfectly functional, and I could use it as my primary computer with only a slight reduction in speed from the new one I use. That’s a 7 years old computer, and it’s fine.

That logic doesn’t go forever, though. I would hardly use a Pentium II-233 today, or one of the early smartphones; those are junk and are better recycled for raw materials, than used. Also, I wouldn’t say that there have been no improvements in the last 7 years; however, I recently replaced my younger son’s perfectly good Xiaomi Mi8 with 11T pro, and joked that he now has a typical iPhone user experience, where you buy the new expensive one with better specs, migrate your stuff to it and everything works exactly the same and you feel like a fool for wasting money replacing a perfectly good thing. That’s where we are with computers, too; the last upgrade cycle I did was particularly meaningless, because I replaced stuff that worked fine with stuff that also worked fine, albeit noticeably faster in 5% of cases.

There’s a reason why my most recent tech-purchases were battery-powered lawn mowers: I can actually do things with them that I couldn’t before. With computers and phones, well, nice that they have a new shiny design and color scheme and all, but I’ll pass.