If this could result in lighter, more effective armor for the troops, I’m all for it. Interceptor armor weights a ton and the newer stuff wasn’t much lighter.


Shock-dissipating fractal cubes could forge high-tech armor.

Tiny, 3-D printed cubes of plastic, with intricate fractal voids built into them, have proven to be effective at dissipating shockwaves, potentially leading to new types of lightweight armor and structural materials effective against explosions and impacts.

“The goal of the work is to manipulate the wave interactions resulting from a ,” said Dana Dattelbaum, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and lead author on a paper to appear in the journal AIP Advances. “The  for how to do so have not been well defined, certainly less so compared to mechanical deformation of additively manufactured materials. We’re defining those principles, due to advanced, mesoscale manufacturing and design.”

Continue reading “”

Intrusive snoop apps on the phone? Not if Ich Bin can help it.


Survey Finds Americans Skeptical of Contact Tracing Apps.

Confusion and skepticism may confound efforts to make use of digital contact tracing technologies during the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent survey found that just 42 percent of American respondents support using so-called contact tracing apps—an indication of a lack of confidence that could weaken or even derail effective deployment of such technologies.

Most contact tracing apps generally try to collect some form of information about a smartphone user’s encounters with other people and notify those users if they were potentially exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 case. But each app has its own approach to privacy and can differ in whether it collects more specific location data based on GPS or merely records close encounters with other smartphones based on Bluetooth radio-wave transmissions. Those differences, coupled with public misunderstanding of different apps, can make it tricky to assess public opinion of specific digital contact tracing technologies.

Continue reading “”

How to remove “COVID 19 Trace you app” from Cell phones

Just another point about ‘gate-keeping’; requiring gubbermint permission to exercise a right. Giving them the benefit of the doubt that the problem is real, and you see how technology can kick you in the seat of the pants. The realistic cynic part says that this is merely an easy way for an unethical gubbermint to deny people their rights


Citing a ‘catastrophic hardware failure,’ Maryland State Police report delays in gun background checks and licenses

Maryland State Police warned this week of delays to background checks for those purchasing firearms because of a “catastrophic hardware failure” to a state data system.

The hardware failure of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has caused an interruption in the state police department’s licensing division’s ability to complete background investigations for regulated firearm purchase applications, handgun qualification license applications and state wear-and-carry permit applications, state police said in an advisory Monday. Continue reading “”

10 Years Ago Today, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Blasted Off for the First Time

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket has certainly earned its place in history. Falcon 9 is the first orbital class rocket to be reused and the first commercial rocket to ferry human passengers to the ISS.

Each two-stage Falcon 9 rocket is powered by a first stage with a suite of nine Merlin engines, which use kerosene (RP-1) and liquid oxygen propellants, and a second stage powered by a single Merlin vacuum engine. The 230-foot-tall rocket weighs a staggering 1,207,920 pounds and can shuttle a payload weighing 50,265 pounds to low-Earth orbit and a payload of 8,860 pounds to Mars. At sea-level, Falcon 9 can generate a whopping 1.7 million pounds of thrust.

June 4th marks 10 years since the rocket’s inaugural test flight. Since 2010, Falcon 9 has launched 84 times and has safely returned to Earth 45 times. Thirty-one of those rockets have been recycled and flown again. Falcon 9’s reusability revolutionized spaceflight, making it cheaper and more efficient.

 

SpaceX spacecraft docks with International Space Station on historic NASA mission

SpaceX’s Dragon Endeavour spacecraft crewed by NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken has docked with the International Space Station on its historic Demo-2 mission.

The spacecraft launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center Saturday. The mission is the first time that astronauts have launched from American soil since the final Space Shuttle flight in 2011.

The mission is also the first time a private company, rather than a national government, has sent astronauts into orbit………..

On Saturday evening Hurley announced that the spacecraft, previously known as capsule 206, has been renamed Endeavour, continuing the tradition of astronauts naming their capsules.

“We would like to welcome you aboard capsule Endeavour,” he said. “We chose Endeavour for a few reasons – one, because of the incredible Endeavour NASA, SpaceX and the United States has been on since the end of the shuttle program in 2011. The other reason we named it Endeavour is little more personal – Bob and I, we both had our first flight on Shuttle Endeavour and it just meant to much to us to carry on that name.”

Why Regulating ‘Ghost Guns’ Isn’t Practical

Lately, people are up in arms about “ghost guns.” You know, those homemade firearms that use less than 80 percent receivers or are 3D printed and then assembled with other parts people bought off the internet. Millions of such weapons are probably built every year, but a handful gets used from criminal acts.

As a result, we have people calling for restrictions on these weapons.

Now, I could go on about the constitutionality of such measures, but the people who I need to reach simply won’t care. They don’t care about constitutional arguments. Oh, they may say they care about the Constitution and may even mean it, but on guns, they’re willing to accept some level of infringement and it doesn’t matter if I call it rationalizing or anything else.

So instead, I’m going to address this piece from a different perspective.

Despite state and national laws aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of convicted felons and individuals with identified mental issues, truly questionable thinking on the part of the powers that be at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Department of Justice, to which ATF officials report, allows what the ATF terms hunks of metal or polymer to be transformed into real guns.

These hunks of metal and polymer are sold in kits that, with relatively little work on the part of the owner, are transformed into real guns. They are referred to as “ghost guns” because they are not marked with a manufacturer’s serial number and do not require a background check prior to purchase.

The frame of handguns and the receiver or action of rifles and shotguns created by licensed manufacturers must be marked with a unique serial number. Those purchasing such a firearm must complete a background check designed to keep guns out of the hands of those who, by law, should not have them.

Since the ghost guns are not finished by the company manufacturing them, instead requiring the final manufacturing operations to be completed by the buyer, they are not considered firearms under federal law.

OK, so, instead of addressing the constitutionality of this, let’s address the practicality.

First, let’s discuss the “relatively little work” required to turn a less than 80 percent receiver into a functional one. After all, these are the words of someone who has never actually tried it. I have taken a less than 80 percent receiver and built an AK-pattern rifle with it. Yes, I used a kit for the rest of the parts, but the receiver was kind of intimidating. I only got it finished because I had the help of a gunsmith at a build party.

The “relatively little work” isn’t necessarily intuitive or easy, especially for people who aren’t particularly handy. Even then, there’s a fair bit of either work or tooling involved, often both. To call it “relatively little work” is to not understand how much work is actually involved.

Keep in mind that a good fifth of the manufacturing of these weapons is incomplete. Would many people be willing to do a fifth of the manufacturing of a car or a home? Of course not. That’s a lot of work, and it’s not really all that different.

Now that we’ve established that there is a fair bit of work required to make one of these, let’s also acknowledge the fact that those who are willing to put that much work in may well be willing to put in even more. This is especially true of criminals who can’t legally purchase completed receivers or firearms.

Let’s be honest, though. That line of less than 80 percent counting as an incomplete receiver may be arbitrary, but so would any other line. And a line has to exist. An AR-15 receiver can be milled from a block of aluminum. Are we going to start declaring any block of metal an AR-15 receiver? If you do, you’re going to have a huge problem with manufacturers who use those same metal blocks to build other things not related to the firearm industry. I don’t think they’d enjoy having the ATF up their posteriors.

Hell, I’ve seen someone take a shovel and build an AK receiver. Are we going to regulate shovels or other bits of sheet metal because they can be built into AK-47s?

As someone who has a few sheets of steel lying around my workshop for non-gun projects, I sure as hell hope not.

It’s easy for someone writing to say that the ATF should regulate “ghost guns,” but the problem is that there’s no practical way to do it. Sure, the ATF could redefine at what point a receiver becomes a firearm, but that will likely push people to build guns complying with the new rules. It wouldn’t actually stop anyone.

Oh, but the kits! Remember how the writer argued that weapons could be completed with kits? He’s right, they can.

But, on the flip side, all those same components can be purchased separately. You don’t need a kit. In fact, a lot of people don’t buy kits to complete their firearms because they want to be particular about each part.

Those same parts, I might add, are used to repair or upgrade existing weapons. If you think people will fight over ghost guns, imagine what happens when you try to regulate people’s repair parts and treat them as firearms. Further, all of those parts were manufactured. That means an enterprising individual can manufacture them all by their lonesome.

That’s the big takeaway here. Nothing you can regulate on this issue will prevent criminals from continuing to do this. Nothing at all. Remember, if they’re doing it now because they can’t buy guns, you’re not going to regulate them out of practice. The best you can hope to do is make it more of a pain, but so long as there is a market–and there will be–some will continue to build these weapons to meet that market’s demands.

It’s easy to say something needs to be regulated, but it helps to at least understand what you’re talking about well enough to know if such regulations are even practical or if they will only impact law-abiding citizens. This writer, clearly, doesn’t.

Can’t stop the signal.…”

Deterrence Dispensed , the developer of a printed AR-15 and Glock, now have come up with a printed auto-sear for the Glock. As always, the disclaimer that the manufacture of a firearm that can fire more then one shot by the single function of the trigger is highly regulated by U.S law.

On this day, May 3

1978: Spam email is born. Gary Thuerk, a marketing executive for the Digital Equipment Corp. of Maynard, Mass., transmits an unsolicited sales pitch for a new line of computers to 400 prospective customers on ARPANET, a precursor to the Internet

1979: Conservative Party leader Margaret Thatcher – The Iron Lady – is chosen to become Britain’s first female prime minister

25 State Attorneys General Demand Trump Administration Kill Online 3D Files

Many of the usual suspects are back again, tearing their hair out over the fact that Defense Distributed has once again made a library of 3D gun files available through their website.

Note that these attorneys general trout out, once again, the bogus scare tactic claim that 3D guns will somehow be undetectable to airport security metal detectors.

You can read the full letter here.

As both the State and Commerce Departments have recognized, effectively controlling the dissemination of these 3D-printed firearm files via the internet is “in the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.” 85 Fed. Reg. 3819, 3823 (Jan. 23, 2020). “In the absence of controls on the export, reexport, or in-country transfer of such technology and software, such items could be easily used in the proliferation of conventional weapons, the acquisition of destabilizing numbers of such weapons, or for acts of terrorism.” 85 Fed. Reg. 4136, 4140 (Jan. 23, 2020).

Anyone who downloads and uses Defense Distributed’s computer files—even if that person is ineligible to possess a firearm due to their age, criminal history, or other disqualifying factor— would be able to automatically manufacture functional weapons that cannot be detected by a standard metal detector and, furthermore, are untraceable because they lack serial numbers. The proliferation of undetectable weapons will seriously compromise security and public safety in locations such as airports, schools, prisons, sporting events, music venues, and government buildings. Easy access to untraceable weapons will also impede law enforcement’s ability to investigate and respond to crimes committed with these uniquely dangerous weapons. Continued dissemination of these files will increase the risk of terrorist attacks and gun violence across the United States.

We strongly urge the federal government to act swiftly to ensure compliance with its export control regulations and the Undetectable Firearms Act to protect our national security and public safety interests.

Government can’t force people to use tech Google and Apple created to trace coronavirus cases

Governments can’t force their citizens to use technology built by Apple and Google for tracking and mitigating the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, senior company representatives said on Monday.

Apple and Google, normally arch-rivals, announced on Friday that they teamed up to build technology that enables public health agencies to write contact-tracing apps. The partnership is being closely watched: The two Silicon Valley giants are responsible for the two dominant mobile operating systems globally, iOS and Android, which together run almost 100% of smartphones sold, according to data from Statcounter.

Contact tracing is the practice of finding people who have been infected with a pathogen — like the Covid-19 coronavirus — and contacting people who may have been in close contact to tell them to self-isolate or take other measures, and has been recommended by experts who have seen the effectiveness of “syndromic surveillance” in tracking and slowing disease outbreaks. Around the world, governments are turning to contact-tracing apps as a tool to help businesses and schools re-open after coronavirus lockdowns. Singapore released a contact-tracing app called TraceTogether in March. England’s National Health Service and several French ministries are working on their own apps.

The fact that the apps work best when a lot of people use them have raised fears that governments could force citizens to use them. But representatives from both companies insist they won’t allow the technology to become mandatory.

Opt-in only

Starting in May, Google and Apple are planning to update their phone operating systems with new APIs — application programming interfaces — that apps can use to track what other phones have been close by using Bluetooth signals. Recognized public health agencies would then use these APIs to build digital contact tracing apps, with some development help from Google and Apple.

The way the system is envisioned, when someone tests positive for Covid-19, local public health agencies will verify the test, then use these apps to notify anybody who may have been within 10 or 15 feet of them in the past few weeks. The identity of the person who tested positive would never be revealed to the companies or to other users; their identity would be tracked using scrambled codes on phones that are unlocked only when they test positive. Only public health authorities will be allowed access these APIs, the companies said.

The two companies have drawn a line in the sand in one area: Governments will not be able to require its citizens to use contact-tracing software built with these APIs — users will have to opt-in to the system, senior representatives said on Monday.

The more people in a region who download the area’s contract tracing app, the more effective it’s going to be at identifying people who may have been infected. To succeed, then, the companies and public health officials will need to persuade people to trust them with their data — which is why they are emphasizing opting-in as a key component of the software. Users who don’t want to participate can stop, delete the apps and tell the software to stop tracing them, an Apple representative said.

Apple and Google said that they could shut down the system region-by-region when the pandemic slows.

The companies said they’ll provide sample apps that can be treated as a starting point for a public health agencies rolling out these apps. Then, later, the companies plan to build the software directly into both Android and iOS so that downloading an app won’t be necessary to start contact tracing, expanding the number of people participating in the network.

Some questions about the effort in the United States remain — in particular, accurate testing is essential for contact tracing to work, but testing has not been widely available in the U.S. That’s been an issue for Alphabet’s Verily, whose testing site provides limited options for users due to low capacity of testing from health officials.

If Google gives it to you for free, it merely means you are the commodity.


Two children sue Google for allegedly collecting students’ biometric data

Two children from Illinois are suing Google for allegedly collecting biometric data, including face scans, of millions of students through the search giant’s software tools for classrooms.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in a federal court in San Jose, California, is seeking class-action status. The children, known only as H.K. and J.C. in the complaint, are suing through their father, Clinton Farwell.

Google is using its services to create face templates and “voiceprints” of children, the complaint says, through a program in which the search giant provides school districts across the country with Chromebooks and free access to G Suite for Education apps. Those apps include student versions of Gmail, Calendar and Google Docs.

The data collection would likely violate Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act, or BIPA, which regulates facial recognition, fingerprinting and other biometric technologies in the state. The practice would also likely run afoul of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, a federal law that requires sites to get parental consent when collecting personal information from users who are under 13 years old.

In August 2013, DEFCAD released the public alpha of its 3D search engine, which indexes public object repositories and allows users to add their own objects. The site soon closed down due to pressure from the United States State Department, under the pretense that distributing certain files online might violate US Arms Export ITAR regulations.

From 2013 to 2018, DEFCAD remained offline, pending resolution to the legal case Defense Distributed brought against the State Department, namely that ITAR regulations placed a prior restraint on Defense Distributed’s free speech, particularly since the speech in question regarded another constitutionally protected right: firearms. While the legal argument failed to gain support in federal court, in a surprise reversal in 2018, the State Department agreed that ITAR did in fact violate Defense Distributed’s free speech. Therefore, for a brief period in late 2018 DEFCAD was once again publicly available online.

Shortly thereafter, 20 states and Washington DC sued the State Department, in order to prevent DEFCAD from remaining online. At its core, this new suit (correctly) cited a procedural error: the proper notice had not been given prior to enacting the change in how ITAR applied to small arms. As such, DEFCAD was once again taken offline, pending the State Department providing proper notice via the Federal Register.

On March 28, 2020, DEFCAD once again became publicly available online

Gun-Rights Activist Releases Blueprints for Digital Guns
Cody Wilson calls the move impervious to legal challenge

A U.S. technology company made thousands of digital-gun files publicly available, including blueprints that will enable users to make plastic guns with three-dimensional printers, a scourge of gun-control advocates.
Cody Wilson, a director of the company, Defcad, has waged a multiyear legal battle against the federal government over the right to share 3-D-gun-related materials. This was the third time he has released such files, but the first time he has abided by U.S. foreign export controls online, using what he said are digital verification tools to ensure legal file downloads.
Mr. Wilson said he believed his release of the files would be “impervious” to legal challenge and would help normalize the distribution of such material for easy download in the future.
Mr. Wilson is offering access to the files for an annual fee of $50, characterizing his service as “Netflix for 3-D guns.”
His opponents quickly condemned the action, saying that he is bypassing federal gun laws, including those providing for background checks of gun buyers. Foes are also concerned about the proliferation of 3-D-printed guns, which don’t have serial numbers, making it difficult for law-enforcement officers to track them should they be involved in a crime.
“The biggest concern with 3-D-printed guns and the technical data for them is that they’re not traceable,” said Kelly Sampson, counsel at Brady: United Against Gun Violence, a gun-control group. “It’s a huge loophole and opportunity for people who would otherwise be unable to access firearms to be able to do so.”
Federal law generally permits the manufacture of guns for personal use.
The State Department, which oversees the distribution of 3-D-gun blueprints, regardless of export intent, has the responsibility of scrutinizing Mr. Wilson’s new effort. The department declined to comment.
Mr. Wilson said he is fighting the imposition of limits on personal freedoms and that he expects people to download the 3-D-gun files not necessarily to manufacture guns, but “as a form of internal resistance.”
“For me, this is a political battle,” Mr. Wilson said.
Mr. Wilson first alarmed lawmakers when his company, Defense Distributed, published 3-D-gun design files in 2012. In 2013, the State Department ordered him to take down the plans.
The Obama administration ultimately reasoned that the files could be downloaded by foreign nationals and were thus classified as exports regulated by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or ITAR, a U.S. control on the export of defense and military technology.
Mr. Wilson had run afoul of laws designed to control sales for export, not those restricting domestic transactions.
Mr. Wilson engaged in a lengthy legal fight with the federal government, ultimately prevailing in 2018 when the State Department amended its policy and allowed the files to be posted, issuing Mr. Wilson a license to do so.
President Trump waded into the discussion that summer, writing on Twitter that he was “looking into 3-D Plastic Guns being sold to the public. Already spoke to NRA, doesn’t seem to make much sense!”
Mr. Wilson again published the plans on his site, before a group of 19 state attorneys general brought suit against him in Seattle federal court. U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik issued an injunction ordering Mr. Wilson to take down the plans.
In his ruling, Mr. Lasnik wrote that Mr. Wilson aimed “to arm every citizen outside of the government’s traditional control mechanism.”
Mr. Wilson said he had been waiting for a long-planned transfer of 3-D-gun oversight from ITAR to the Commerce Department to go through before reissuing the blueprints. Commerce Department oversight is in some respects more lenient than that of ITAR, as it isn’t subject to congressional approval.
But when a new suit was brought in Seattle federal court last year, blocking the transfer of 3-D guns to the Commerce Department’s oversight list, Mr. Wilson charted a new course.
Instead of openly publishing the plans, he said that he would now first vet people who would like to download them, ensuring that they are U.S. citizens or legal residents and that they are located within the U.S., maintaining compliance with ITAR export rules.
To achieve this, Mr. Wilson said he would employ four levels of security, including IP geolocation and proxy detection and technology developed for credit bureaus and anti-money-laundering specialists.
“The internet is not an airtight, hack-proof system,” Ms. Sampson said. “Even some of our most secure databases are vulnerable. It’s not quite living in reality to assume that you can 100% secure information that’s online.”
Mr. Wilson’s proposed system can’t prevent people who download blueprints from sharing them with others, including with those outside the U.S. “I can only tell them that it’s against the law to do so,” Mr. Wilson said.
Nevertheless, Mr. Wilson said his approach adheres to export rules. “I’m a compliant part of the system,” he said.
Defcad has so far made 3,680 files available. Mr. Wilson said that the site will ultimately offer more than 25,000 files, the great majority of which will be for traditional guns and gun components. Many of those are already in the public domain.
Mr. Wilson, who lives in Austin, Texas, timed his Friday release to coincide with the anniversary of the 1836 execution of several hundred soldiers in the Texas revolution in the town of Goliad.

 

The First COVID-19 Vaccine Was Made in ‘Record’ Time and Phase 1 Trials Have Begun in Seattle.

Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health says the United States has developed a vaccine for the coronavirus, COVID-19, in record time.  Fauci made the statement at the White House update on the coronavirus.

He told reporters that the first vaccine was given in Seattle on Monday.

“The vaccine candidate that was given the first injection for the first person took place today. You might recall that when we first started I said it would be two to three months and if we did that, that would be the fastest we’ve ever gone in obtaining the sequence to being able to do the Phase 1 trial. This has been now 65 days, which I believe is the record.”

Fauci told a White House briefing on the coronavirus that 45 people in the coronavirus hot-zone of Seattle were given the vaccine and will be watched over the next year to determine its efficacy:

“What it is, the trial of 45 normal individuals between the ages of 18 and 55. The trial is taking place in Seattle. There will be two injections, one at zero day, the first one, then 28 days. There will be three separate doses, 25 illigrams, 100 milligrams, 250 milligrams, and the individuals will be followed for one year, both for safety and whether it will induce the kind of response that we predict would be detected. So it’s happened. The first injection was today.”

President Trump announced more efforts to quash the virus on Monday at the update. He urged people to avoid groups of more than ten people.

So far, there are about 4,100 confirmed coronavirus, COVID-19, cases in 49 states, Puerto Rico, and in Washington, D.C.

School Canceled Because of Coronavirus? A Homeschooler Offers Some Tips.

For those parents who haven’t already converted to home schooling to remove their children from public school those cesspools of leftist indoctrination

COVID-19 is in the news with new cases reported every day. The list of schools, colleges, and other institutions suspending their efforts is also adding up. But there’s one education sector that may get away with minimal disruption: homeschoolers. Families that take responsibility for their kids’ education have a distinct edge in terms of flexibility and adaptability when it comes to unexpected events like … well … a worldwide pandemic that has people on edge.

“Closing schools and using internet-based teleschooling to continue education” was the scenario envisioned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Dr. Nancy Messonier in a February 25 press conference. “You should ask your children’s school about their plans for school dismissals or school closures. Ask if there are plans for teleschool.”

Teleschool? Homeschoolers are so on that. Or if they’re not into teleschooling, they have a stack of books and papers, kitchen-counter science experiments, video lectures … The list goes on, and much of it adds up to the “social distancing measures” of which teleschooling is supposed to be part.

What’s “social distancing”? As Messonnier noted, social distancing is “designed to keep people who are sick away from others.” That means breaking up large gatherings where germs can be shared and spread.

Discouraging gatherings is an important move from a public health perspective, but it’s enormously disruptive to businesses, government bodies, and organizations that are designed around assembling large numbers of people in one place. That means big challenges for, among other institutions, traditional brick-and-mortar schools. Homeschoolers, however, have an edge because their efforts are not inherently constructed around large gatherings.

That doesn’t mean that homeschoolers never get together. Contrary to accusations from critics, family-based education is not an inherently solitary venture.

Homeschooling often involves group lessons that take advantage of specialized expertise, collaborative projects, field trips with homeschooling associations, sports teams, and more—which means that homeschoolers have changes to make in a time of pandemic, too, in terms of reducing or eliminating outings and activities. But that doesn’t mean cutting down on education; these days, there are loads of relatively easy work-arounds for homeschooling families.

If you’re new to family-based education, and especially if you’re busy with your own remote work, you may find it best to go with a comprehensive online program, like a virtual publicly-funded charter school or tuition-charging private school.

Virtual private schools are available anywhere in the United States, while the availability of charters depends on your local laws. Arizona, where I live, maintains a list of virtual charter schools, but you’ll need to do a bit of research for your own state.

Besides full schools, the Internet is a treasure-trove of learning materials that don’t require you to trek to a bookstore, a lecture hall, or even to wait for package delivery. Classic literature is available for free in electronic format through Project GutenbergKhan Academy has long since expanded beyond its original mission of delivering math lessons, the American Chemical Society gives away a complete chemistry curriculum, and a variety of lesson plans are freely available from the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Edsitement. If you’re interested, I’ve prepared a downloadable list of resources.

I’ve never met a conference software that I’ve loved—video sometimes freezes, audio drops out, and connections fail. That said, my son has used both Blackboard and Zoom in the course of his lessons, and he and his peers as young as 10 or so took to it naturally, even troubleshooting glitches as needed. Conferencing software will accommodate presentations, feedback, shared screens, and other means of simulating a classroom across distances and without putting students in one place to share germs. Teachers and students can even transfer files back and forth.

Skype is an excellent stand-by for online meetings with teachers. Yes, your kids can be verbally quizzed in a foreign language across that platform while the teacher looks on to check for cheat sheets or other shortcuts. The kids might then receive messaged feedback through the same software.

For teamwork on projects, I think working online may be more effective than getting a bunch of kids together in one room. Recently, I got to listen to a bunch of 14- and 15-year-olds collaborate on a script for a skit that they edited in Google Docs. For presentations, they’ve worked the same way in Google Slides. One nice feature is that the technological solutions really cut down on the “I left my work at my friend’s house” factor. No, you didn’t, kid; it’s sitting in the cloud.

(Incidentally, collaborative software doesn’t make teenagers act any less like teenagers. If forced to listen in, you will still want to bang your head on a table.)

When it comes to sharing short pieces of work, art, and the like, my son and his friends sometimes take photos of their efforts and text them to each other or to an instructor. That’s a quick and easy solution in many cases when uploading and downloading documents is more effort than necessary.

The hard part isn’t finding work for your home students to do; it’s keeping them focused. Every child is different, and some are more self-directed than others.

Yes, you will have to check on them even if you’re not directly administering their lessons. That can be a challenge for new homeschoolers, but my experience is that most kids respond better to mom and dad than they do to teachers they barely know and won’t see after the year’s end.

Socializing is where the “social distancing” recommended for our virus-ridden times bites deep. But I have to imagine that cell phones, social media, and video chat make easier work of dealing with the requirements of the pandemic than what our ancestors suffered when they dodged polio or the Spanish flu. The kids can all complain to each other over their favorite apps about the privations they’re suffering in these hard times.

Fast delivery, downloadable books, and streaming video do away with a bit of the sting, too. The kids can still consume current media and discuss their favorite shows and novels—just not face-to-face for a while.

And here’s the thing. If you try homeschooling, you may discover that it’s not just a good way to keep COVID-19 at bay, but an effective approach to education more generally and a good fit for your family. If so, well, welcome to a happy, healthy, and growing club.

Microsoft, the ID2020 Alliance, universal digital identification and you

I don’t know what it may sound like to you, but to me, I remember something in a book written by a man named John, that was along the lines of referring to something like an issued universal identity being needed for any and all commerce.

Last year Microsoft joined ID2020, a global Alliance whose goal is to create universal digital identities for everyone. What are the social, economic and ethical implications of such an initiative?

Our digital activity increasingly parallels our real-world activity. Participation in the modern economy, the ability to buy and sell, attain employment, healthcare, social services and more are virtually impossible without a digital identity. In May of 2016, at the United Nations Headquarters in NY, ID2020, an alliance of governments, non-profits, academia, over 150 private sector companies and 11 United Nations agencies collaborated on how to provide a unique digital identity to everyone on the planet.

Most coverage of the ID2020 Alliance focuses on its noble objective to provide digital identities to the over one billion refugees, women, children and others without any form of identification. The message of providing digital identification for this “invisible” portion of the earth’s population to enable their participation in society places a human face over the true mission. It also creates a rallying point that this open alliance hopes other entities will, like Microsoft, embrace and become a part of this global effort.

The fundamental mission of creating a universal identification system that incorporates every person on the globe, using modern technology and the support of various governments, financial institutions and more is the goal hidden behind the humanitarian cause.

The ID2020 Alliance and its 2030 goal

According to the Alliance’s Governance material “by 2030 it aims to have facilitated the scaling of a safe, verifiable, persistent digital identity system, consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals” agreed upon by the United Nations.” It’s short-term focus toward that goal is the development and testing of the best technological solutions for digital identity; and working with governments and other entities in their implementation. The focus on the 1.5 billion people without identification is part of that short-term vision.

The long-term vision revolves around the Alliances “Case for Action” which states a convergence of trends provides an unprecedented opportunity to make a coordinated, concerted push towards the goal of universal digital identity. Those trends include political accord among United Nations members, growing global connectivity, emerging technologies and global calls for a new model of identity.

  • Political Unity: In 2015 all United Nations countries made a global commitment to provide legal identity for everyone by 2030.
  • Global connectivity: Smart device proliferation allows new registration methods and enables consistent interaction with identity data.
  • Emerging technology: Block-chain technology, like that used with Bitcoin, and into which Microsoft has invested to create a decentralized id (DID) makes secure and verifiable tech accessible to the masses.
  • New Identity Model: Consumers want a seamless and secure digital experience.

Microsoft, in a recent announcement regarding using blockchain technology for decentralized identification further articulated its support of this initiative stating, “Each of us needs a digital identity we own, one which securely and privately stores all elements of our digital identity.”

You Can Now Stop Facebook From Tracking Your Activity on Other Websites. Here’s How
The ‘Off-Facebook Activity’ tool allows you to control what information about you is tracked and associated with your Facebook account.

As of Tuesday, you can now turn off the collection and sharing of data that sites and apps send to Facebook. You might have had some idea that Facebook was keeping tabs on what you do, but I’m willing to bet you’ll be surprised by the volume of information Facebook has about you. In fact, as I wrote earlier today, even your Ring doorbell app is sharing information with Facebook.

Websites and apps use Facebook’s Pixel and software development kit (SDK) to collect information about your device and your activity, and send that to Facebook. Facebook uses that information to then show you targeted ads.

It’s why people are convinced Facebook must be listening to their conversations since they see ads in their News Feed for the very products or items they were just talking about. Here’s a newsflash: Facebook doesn’t need to listen to your conversations. It already knows so much about you, it can practically read your thoughts.

If you don’t believe me, the “Off-Facebook Activity” tool that Facebook announced back in August is finally available. Go take a look at exactly what Facebook has collected about you. You might be surprised at all of the sites and apps you use on a regular basis who are sharing information about what you do.

Here’s how to find out what sites are sending information to Facebook about you. The “Off-Facebook-Activity” tool isn’t easy to find (though you can click that link to go directly to it). If you want to navigate there, click on the drop-down carrot in the top right of the desktop version of Facebook. Then select “Settings” and “Your Facebook Information.” There you’ll find an option for “Off-Facebook Activity.”

JASON ATEN

There you’ll find a list of all the sites that are sharing information with Facebook, and you can clear your history (removing this information from your account), turn off tracking for specific sites, or disable this tracking completely. To be clear, if you turn it off, Facebook will still receive information about your activity, it just won’t be associated with your account.

also, turning off this type of data sharing does mean that you won’t be able to use Facebook to log in to other apps or sites. Never mind that you shouldn’t be using it, for this very reason, but if you are, you’ll be logged out and have to create a new login for those accounts or apps.

I don’t often give Facebook credit for considering the privacy interests of its users, but this is a welcome step in the right direction. The company has often had a hard time balancing its need to know as much as it can about you so that it can monetize that information, with the ability for users to control what information is being collected and tracked. While there are still a lot of changes Facebook will have to make before it can really claim to be a “privacy-protective” platform, this is a good start.

14 January Patch Was the Last for Windows 7. Also Microsoft: Actually… Wallpaper-Stripping Bug Will be Fixed

Microsoft has quietly admitted that it will be fixing the final Windows 7 patch that left some stretched wallpapers borked.

It was to be the last hurrah for Windows 7: After the 14 January patch there would be no more freebies from Microsoft as extended support was turned off in favour of its paid-for Extended Security Update (ESU) program.

The up to three years of extra patches is being punted to enterprises or badly organised Germans, but out of reach for most ordinary users.

Those ordinary users, however, could be forgiven for feeling a little hard done by after an image of a favourite kitten or corporate logo was replaced, just by the act of applying the final patch — something more representative of the black heart of the Microsoft of yesteryear.

Microsoft updated its support page for the patch, suggesting those afflicted by the curse of KB4534310 should stop using the Stretch option wallpaper, or go for something that matched the desktop resolution.

Why Unlocking More Oil and Gas is Good for Every American – And the Environment

What if gasoline prices doubled?  In other words, if you had to pay $5.00 per gallon, how much would that hurt your life?

That’s what happened during the 1970s oil crisis. The Middle East-led Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) weaponized oil by embargoing the United States twice. At that time, America lacked the capacity to make up for the lost oil. In 1978, the average price per gallon was around 60 cents.  By 1981, it reached $1.35.  The economy went into severe recession and millions lost their jobs.

But more recently, major unrest in the Middle East has not affected Americans as strongly as it used to.

On September 14, 2019, Iranian-backed militias attacked the world’s largest oil refinery, in Saudi Arabia. The attack cut the refinery’s capacity in half.

But despite some expert predictions, oil prices barely flinched. Americans saw no price spike at the pump.

Iran escalated the violence. Its proxies assaulted the American embassy in Baghdad just before New Year’s Day. This attack could have sent fuel prices through the roof, hurting our economy. But even after the United States responded by killing the Iranian terrorist general who orchestrated the attacks, fuel prices rose a little and then dropped back to where they were before the hostilities. If you blinked, you missed it.

The likelihood that Iran or any other bad actor can use violence or weaponize oil to hurt the global economy has dramatically receded. Why?

American energy leadership is why. As the chief regulator of oil and gas production in Texas, I am on the front lines of American energy production. And I am seeing a revolution that helps all Americans.

Our modern economy needs energy. From the smart phone in your hand to the lights in your home to the electric cars more Americans drive, we depend on affordable and reliable energy. We have vast proven oil reserves, we have the technology to extract it, and under the Trump administration we have the freedom to produce it and get it to market. Americans produce oil and gas more affordably and reliably than anyone else.

This affects everything for the better, including the environment. When I was building my business, I visited about half the world’s refineries. No one produces energy more cleanly than Americans do. Some point to flaring natural gas as an issue. Natural gas is a by-product of oil production. No one likes flaring, but producers are flaring just one to three percent of the total natural gas produced in Texas.

The solution to flaring is not to slow down oil production, or ban fossil fuels as some suggest, but to speed development of pipelines and other capacity to get natural gas to market. America has actually reduced emissions faster than any other industrialized country, thanks to the market-driven switch to natural gas. We just need to get more of it to market here and around the world.

The United States was once desperately dependent on foreign oil. In 1973 we imported about 35% of our oil from the Middle East. In 2019, the United States became a net oil exporter. Now, we produce 12 million barrels per day (5 million in Texas alone) and import less than 10% of our oil from the Middle East.

We have diversified our other foreign sources. When we were dependent on Middle Eastern oil, American forces had to stand cop on the beat to keep the oil flowing through chokepoints such as the Straits of Hormuz. This made us more likely to get into wars. Now our energy sources are more stable and reliable than ever.

Energy is one cost that no one in our modern economy can avoid. Unlocking America’s energy makes us safer and richer. For the teacher or nurse making $60,000 per year, at current gas prices you’re paying about $2,600 per year for gas if you commute 25 minutes to and from work every day. A 1973-size gas price spike would raise your costs significantly, to around $4,000 per year – just to drive to work. The price of the electricity to power your home would also rise significantly. You’d feel that pinch right in the wallet. I’m working every day to make sure that doesn’t happen.

What do Americans really want from oil and gas producers? Affordable and reliable energy produced as cleanly and safely as possible. How do we get that?

Drill baby drill. Right here in America.

Ryan Sitton is the Texas Railroad Commissioner.