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Five Things – 26 July 2020

I haven’t been blogging through the pandemic, nor through the recent social movement. I have lots of thoughts on why that is, and I may put some out there about that at another time, but one of the reasons is that I’ve been working mostly on new plays. I’ve been working on my latest full length and off, and on, a ten-minute play based on my most recently completed full-length. Or, perhaps that’s just an excuse.

But not blogging or writing much of anything else, and feeling the urge again, is the main reason I decided to come back and blog again, at least weekly.

I’m going to do my best to blog weekly, one or two items from the tech world, one or two from the arts world, and maybe one or two personal things. We’ll see how it goes.


Instagram Fake, the Twitter Breach, and Social Trust

A couple of weeks ago, I found out somebody had created a fake Instagram account using my name and my picture. Apparently, it had been created some time in June and I only found out because I was tagged in a post by a third account that roots out such fake accounts (big ups to them for this.) This was pretty surprising because I’m not a known name or anything, not yet. I didn’t think there was any value to impersonating somebody without much social visibility or trust or good will built up. At least not outside of people I personally know.

And yet, there was the fake. Along with the new profile picture I’d most recently posted, this time, across all of my social media accounts, as my Gravatar, et. al. The account creator had lifted the verbiage from my Twitter profile, albeit without linking to this website or to my Keybase identity, both of which would have immediately exposed them as a fake. Not that posting on Instagram in different languages, not found on this site or in my other social media accounts, helped to establish any credibility any. Nor did not posting anything about Baltimore, which is one of my things.

I reported the account and for a few days, it was still there. A friend of mine told me she’d gone through the same experience and had to send Instagram a picture of herself, holding a piece of identification. Fortunately, by the time I found my passport –I’d decided that was the ID I’d use instead of my license– and was about to take the picture, Instagram had already removed the offending account.

I’m glad I didn’t have to go through the extra steps and all and while Instagram never notified me of the steps they took (which it says they’ll do when you report an account impersonating you), I would have liked to know if they decided that the offending account was truly the fake because I have these small measures of social trust posted online, e.g. my Keybase account and this website. I honestly thought about going live as proof that my account was the real one because while the offending account could certainly have downloaded any video out of my account and uploaded into theirs, Instagram would have at least known how the video was created –streamed directly into their service– and known that I’d made it and the copycat had not.

Hopefully the Keybase account is good enough for at least techies to trust. At least it probably was before Zoom’s acquisition of Keybase. It may have been in this case. The offending account didn’t offer any form of social proof that they were me.

Whether it’s Keybase or not, these forms of social trust are going to become more crucial in the future. Especially looking at the recent Twitter hack.

As I mentioned before, my Keybase proof is in my Twitter profile. However, had I been a victim of the recent breach on that service, that would not have mattered, since the hackers had access to the service’s administrative console. They could have deleted any references to my Keybase proof. So, while there is some social trust in verified Twitter accounts, that trust now greatly rests on not just the user becoming verified, but also on practices like Twitter admins posting sensitive passwords with wide access in locations like Slack channels.

I know this is a sensitive issue, especially inside the privacy community, and adopting specific means of identity verification, even like Keybase, is going to be difficult. But for the larger Internet, some kind of alternate means to say “this is the person you believe you’re communicating with” will probably become more important as we learn more about how some social networks operate.  Nothing compulsory, but a place where people can more reasonably trust that they’re communicating with the people they think they’re communicating with.

In the meantime, I still have my Keybase account and it’s here:

https://keybase.io/kesschristopher

And remember, if an account online displays this proof, but the Keybase profile doesn’t point back to it, then it’s likely not me.  And you can come here to see if an online account says it’s me, but you have concerns.


Thin Clients for the Masses

I love thin clients, as quite a few folks I’ve worked with, will tell you. Not that they did. Most of the people that I asked, and even a bunch more that I never asked, and who volunteered this information, partly due to one frustration or another, did not. At least not the ones at the office, moreso the Wyse Winterms than the HP thin clients we eventually moved to, running Windows XP. At least, initially.

Some of the same people did not like Chromebooks when they first came out, either.

And now, coming next year, Microsoft will be releasing an Azure powered cloud PC. DaaS, Desktop as a service. Essentially a thin client. Probably for a subscription fee.

According to Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet, Windows loaded on a machine’s local storage, as we know it now, won’t be going away any time soon. But, what will be coming sounds like something that businesses, large and small, as well as some freelancers, will be interested in.

For instance, say you’re a small nonprofit and you own a lot of legacy equipment and perhaps have an Office 365 subscription, but take advantage SaaS apps for functions like accounting and such, this may be more attractive than, say, buying a bunch of new PCs at once.

Maybe you’re a large enterprise and you want to hand out laptops to users but don’t want them to be used off of your corporate network. Assuming Microsoft baked in IP address filtering into the service, it could prevent machines from booting anywhere but on the corporate network.

Perhaps, down the line, you buy yourself a new Apple-silicon based Mac, but need access to a Windows desktop. Last I checked, the situation with software makers like VMWare and Parallels was unclear (even though Parallels will let you run Windows on a Chromebook in the future). This may end up being another case for Windows AAS.

There may be lots of use cases in the corporate world.

Depending on cost, I can certainly see some in the education world adopting this model. If there’s a need for certain software, yes. I’d imagine a company like nComputing, whose legacy equipment I’ve supported in an educational setting, developing hardware specifically for this Windows use case. And because of the pandemic, with public support for distance education at the K-12 level growing, being able to deliver a (more than likely) familiar Windows experience may have some value, as systems further refine their distance learning strategies.

Hopefully, this news, coupled with Chromebooks still being popular as learning devices, larger conversations can be had about the digital divide, especially in places like Baltimore. Baltimore City Public Schools System (BCPSS) and the City of Baltimore, along with some local nonprofits, have been distributing Chromebooks to help with distance learning, often times disadvantaged areas. The problem has been that Chromebooks need to be connected to the Internet (I’m writing this on my original HP Chromebook 14) to reach their full functionality and the City has addressed this by distributing WiFi hotspots. But even with that, there have been complaints about the bandwidth and data amounts provided by the service being inadequate for the online instruction being offered as well as the availability of the devices to begin with.

If companies are offering these tools and local school systems where there are inequalities of access, want to leverage these systems, there need to be real solutions for delivery. The value of systems like DaaS and hybrids like Chromebooks is predicated upon reliable, high speed Internet.

Will I want to run out and get one of these Windows cloud PCs? If you have a .edu email address to share with me, then yes.

Also, speaking of my coworkers, I told some years ago that desktop support as a job would be going away one day “in the not too distant future.” Well, if you’re a company running Windows, either in a data center or from the cloud, you have less need of someone to support desktops there in your office. Managed service providers, as long as those are around, will need people to support desktops remotely and sometimes in the office (seen that in action, personally), but even that should change some, the more that Microsoft moves things towards the cloud. It won’t happen in the spring or even perhaps for a few years, but if Microsoft can choose between allowing you to pay once for local Windows desktop or month-to-month for a Windows cloud subscription, I wonder which it will choose.


TaaS – Theatre as a Service

With the pandemic, theatre has moved online. I’ve seen more tweets and FB posts about theatres, large and small, here and there, offering one kind of performance or another, online. One playwright I’m friends with on Facebook has had weekly readings of his work for the last few weeks now. Broadway itself isn’t moving back into in-person performance until some time next spring. So, in the meantime, if you’re into theatre, you have to know how to work Zoom (which you probably do by now), Facebook, or YouTube. Theatre has become, hopefully for the time being, at least here in the US, a virtual service. Theatre as a service, if you will.

I’m part of the fun too, as my latest ten-minute play, “Milton Avenue,” will be part of a group of readings by local Baltimore playwrights by Rapid Lemon, a local production company.


Baseball

Baseball came back the other night. It was surreal to hear all of this talk of MLB’s opening night while it’s hot and muggy out. We’re supposed to be seeing the top teams start to pull away going into August. But MLB is giving it a go, still, albeit without fans present. I don’t think any fans will see any MLB in person anywhere in 2020, assuming the league even makes it to the end of the season, which I’m struggling to see happening, at least not the way it started.

I only say that because I’m less certain they’ll make it, than I am say, of the NBA and WNBA making it through their continuation and “full” seasons respectively. As it was reported, Juan Soto missed the other night’s Yankees/Nationals opener because he had been diagnosed with Covid-19. That test was administered on Tuesday, before that day’s Orioles/Nationals preseason game, in which Soto played. So, he had to have played while positive. And even as of the other night, all I heard in the media was that Soto had tested positive, but no word about his teammates. But he played around his teammates and around the Orioles. And this weekend, his teammates played around the Yankees. And this weekend, the O’s have played the Red Sox. And are supposed to be playing the Marlins tomorrow, with four players having tested positive.

At least the NBA and WNBA are playing in bubbles with strict protocols about players entering and exiting the environment. They apparently tested completely free of the virus the other day. The bubble and the wubble have worked.  MLB is already stumbling. I am hoping for the best as I love baseball and while I’ve enjoyed KBO, staying up until 4 or 5 AM to watch it, has been tough (I like to watch sports live). Having said that, NC Dinos is my KBO team. I like their uniforms.


Breathe, You Are Alive

In the 2000s, I encountered the work of the Vietnamese Zen Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. I’ve enjoyed and found great wisdom in his teachings. One of my favorite ideas I’ve picked up from him is the phrase, “breathe, you are alive.” It’s the title of one of his many books.

When in times of distress or upset, I learned to come back to my own breath. Come back to that center. And not to just breathe, but to feel it deeply and ground myself in my breath, in my body. I learned to feel gratitude for the breath because it was a reminder that yes, I was still here. And if I’m still here, I can feel better, think better, do better.

How scary it feels to know there’s a virus running rampant still, whose main activity is taking away the breath. And whose long-term effects aren’t known.

Mask up. Be safe.  Remember to come back to the breath.

Writer, et. al.

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