All Your Social Media Are Belong to US

The Trump administration and the Department of Homeland Security now want visitors to USA to surrender their social media login information before being allowed through security.

“We want to get on their social media, with passwords: What do you do, what do you say?” [Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly] told the House Homeland Security Committee. “If they don’t want to cooperate then you don’t come in.”

Right, so this rotten idea pretty much wipes the United States straight off of my list of places to visit, until the whole thing is declared irreversibly dead and cremated. No, it’s not about whether I have anything to hide, it is about the fact that I have no intention of giving any of the cretins seated in or working for the Trump administration full access to and control over any of my Facebook, Twitter, blog or email1 accounts. I don’t bloody trust them!

1) Email is not quite social media, but with the merging of messaging services and social media, the boundary is becoming more and more blurred. I hardly ever get personal emails anymore; most private messages go through Facebook, and fewer and fewer people can even tell those things apart.

It’s been suggested to me that you could simply wipe the contents of your phone or laptop, and once through security, you can then download everything from an online backup service. Or you could simply leave your devices at home. However, this won’t make any difference.

Because it’s not just about what might be stored on your phone or laptop; they want your Facebook password, Twitter password, Tumblr, Instagram, WordPress blog, Reddit, WhatsApp, Flickr, Snapchat, you name it. And you might as well forget right away the thought of lying and saying that don’t have any. These are the DHS, the NSA, FBI and other American security agencies; you can pretty much count on them knowing if there are social media accounts related to your person. And regardless of whether you have any of your devices physically with you, once you provide them with your login info, they can then log into your accounts on their own computers, with full access to not only see, but also delete, modify, or post content on your behalf, as well as downloading your entire history of posts for later scrutiny, as well as your contact lists.

Moreover, and this is equally or perhaps even more important, they can also view friends-only content on your friends’, family members’ and acquaintances’ profiles, as well as restricted content in closed and/or secret groups and forums, so that it’s not just your own privacy which gets compromised and violated, but also that of anyone you know, on any social network platform that you happen to use.

This, to use a metaphor, quickly escalates from the equivalent of ripples on a pond, to the equivalent of an ocean–wide monster tsunami which kills and injures tens or hundreds of thousands of people almost immediately, and destroys highly polluting industrial installations and nuclear power plants for long term damage.

Although the general rule is that you should never post anything on the Internet, whether public of private, that you don’t want anyone to see, and although you may be careful about what you post, it is highly likely that a good number of, say, your Facebook contacts are posting personal details about their lives, or even about lives of other people they know even if you don’t, that were never intended for the public eye (including but not limited to opinions, feelings, political views, likes and dislikes, loves and hates, references to their own or others’ emotional or mental issues, criminal offences, relationship status and/or history, much of which oneself wouldn’t consider even remotely serious), and which might be used against them by sufficiently skilled and motivated adversaries such as lawyers and security agencies.

Considering the principle of Six Degrees of Separation, it is highly likely that insight into the social network profiles of a small number of people, would reveal “useful” and possibly damaging information about a significant number of other individuals.

To use a slightly different metaphor, the dent in your own personal privacy may be as insignificant as the tiny, round hole left by a hollow point fragmenting bullet on one side of a water melon (or someone’s forehead, if you want the morbid version), but that is practically nothing compared to the explosively splattered mess which is the exit wound on the other side (and a personal word of caution: do not google images of this unless you have a very strong stomach).

Know what other country was formerly at the top of my list of places not to visit? Saudi Arabia. Many reasons, but one being that they’ve declared me to be a terrorist. Why? Simply because I’m an atheist. Mind you, with the religious fanatic leanings of the GOP, the prospect of getting banned from USA for simply being an atheist doesn’t seem all that far fetched anymore.


It Ain’t So Bad Here

So it’s not perfect, not by a long shot, but as the author puts it, “a work in progress”, aiming for an ideal goal which, though perhaps not quite entirely reachable, helps guide us towards an increasingly beneficial society which works for, if not absolutely everyone, then at least as many as possible, and leaves if not no-one then at least as few as possible behind.


A crash course in social democracy by Ann Jones

We’re not strangers to praising ourselves and our own ways — as would be the case of most any nation and flavour of government and social structure — but we’re also willing to take that self-praise, and also, perhaps especially, that of our governing powers telling us how wonderful we are, with the appropriate amount of grains of salt.

Outside praise, however, is a measure that enables us to see how we look from the outside. It’s kind of heartwarming, and makes me appreciate what we have even more.

Again, not perfect, but I’m grateful for what we’ve got, for the freedoms, equality, security and benefits that are the cornerstones of the society that I’ve been lucky enough to be born into. I only hope that we possess the collective wisdom to carry on the good work, and keep building and improving on that which we have.

This year is an election year. Vote with your heart AND with your brain.


Perspective

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the Universe — both the very, very large, and the very, very small — and found great excitement and pleasure not only in seeing the beauty that exists both without and within, as mesmerizing and terrifying as anyone could imagine, but also in the exercise of trying (though not necessarily succeeding) to wrap my head around the immense differences in scale, and the scientific explanations of how things work and how they came to be, explanations that become more detailed and accurate as our tools and our understanding of nature increases. One of the most profound sciences that repeatedly strikes me with awe is astronomy.

This blog post is an expansion on a small piece I wrote on Facebook earlier, with a few extra but relevant — or at least I think so — bits added to the end.

∗ ∗ ∗

If I were to name two astronomy photos that are the most humbling to me in the face of the Universe around us, I would firstly name “The Pale Blue Dot”, the image of Earth, appearing as nothing more than the tiniest speck suspended in vast nothingness, taken by Voyager I in 1990 from beyond the orbits of Neptune and Pluto, accompanied by Carl Sagan’s narrative.

Voyager's 'Pale Blue Dot' photo by NASA
Pale Blue Dot: photo by NASA

It’s hard enough to properly grasp the size of our home planet when we’re standing on it. It seems incomprehensibly large to one’s eyes, and even when you know full well that it has finite bounds, it appears as if to be a whole universe unto itself, with uncountable wonders and mysteries, most of them yet to be uncovered. To then perceive it as almost nothing compared to an empty void that despite its vastness is not even close to infinity, can take a tremendous, overpowering toll on the mind and the imagination.

The second would be the Hubble Deep Field image from 1995, where the space telescope looked outwards into a tiny, dark patch of sky which until then had seemed to us like nothing but empty space, yet it turned out to contain galaxies upon galaxies upon galaxies, each containing billions and billions of stars, stretching into unimaginable distance, and backwards into unimaginable time.

Hubble Deep Field photo by NASA
Hubble Deep Field: photo by NASA / Wikipedia

Either one of those two images, the Pale Blue Dot looking inwards, and the Hubble Deep Field looking outwards, and even more so when considered together, tell me that we are are next to nothing in the face of Cosmos, that this place, whatever caused it to exist, was not made for us, and if it was in any way created, it was not created with us in mind. We are too small, too insignificant, to matter in the grand scheme of things. But they also tell me that we are part of something immense, something tremendously big and beautiful. We are in the Universe, and the Universe is in us.

And when we are so small in the face of it all, when our existence is so minuscule as to seem overwhelmingly meaningless, then we should value it even more than we seem to do. We may not matter much to the Universe at large, it may not even know or notice that we are here, but we should certainly matter to each other, and we should make the most of our tiny place on this mind-boggling stage, and cherish the experience of being alive, together.

Welcome to the Universe. It is the biggest thing you will ever know.

• • •

ADDITIONAL

Hubble and the Unexpectedly Crowded Sky

The history behind the Hubble Space Telescope, an embarassing failure that was turned into a tremendous success, and the birth of the idea and the mission that became the Hubble Deep Field image.

∗ ∗ ∗

Where is the Hubble Deep Field at?

And to think that such a daunting and mind-boggling image as this is taken from somewhere as homely and familiar as just above the Big Dipper, which even most children will easily be able to find in the sky. That’s practically in the back yard.


Screen capture from Stellarium

The little yellow square shows the approximate location of the Hubble Deep Field. Not to scale, mind you. The actual area is far smaller, about a couple of pixels’ worth in this image, or as the above video says, the head of a pin held at arm’s length.

From Wikipedia: The field that was eventually selected is located at a right ascension of 12h 36m 49.4s and a declination of +62° 12′ 58″; it is approximately 2.6 arcminutes in width, or 1/12 the width of the Moon.

∗ ∗ ∗

Taking a Closer Look

All those galaxies far, far away, what would they look like really, really close up? Well, being so far away means not even Hubble nor any other of our existing telescopes will be able to give you a nose-to-nose encounter. Rest assured, though, that each and every one of them is, in the words of Dave Bowman, full of stars. The one galaxy that we can have a closer look at, however, is our nearest neighbour Andromeda, a mere 2½ million light years away.

“The new Hubble image of the [Andromeda] galaxy is the biggest Hubble image ever released and shows over 100 million stars and thousands of star clusters embedded in a section of the galaxy’s pancake-shaped disc stretching across over 40 000 light-years.”

 
The jaw-drop moment is, or at least it was to me, when you reach the amount of zoom where you see mostly image noise … and then you realize when it keeps on zooming that the “noise” is actually individual stars. Lots and lots and lots of stars, floating like the tiniest droplets in mist, except these droplets are a million miles or more across, and light-years apart. You may also note a considerable difference in star density when comparing the centre of the galaxy to its outer rim territories.

I’ve added a few screenshots to demonstrate, but why take my word for it, when you can zoom it yourself right here?

Hubble Andromeda Zoom full view

Full view, showing about a quarter of the Andromeda Galaxy, like a smooth, translucent veil against the blackness of space, just like we know it already.

Hubble Andromeda Zoom max zoom

Almost halfway there, with what looks like background digital image noise. The larger stars you see here are all members of our own Milky Way galaxy.

Hubble Andromeda Zoom max zoom

Zoomed in all the way, and the “image noise” resolves into a glittery jumble of individual stars. And if there’s anything we’ve learned about stars in recent years, it is that they tend to have planets around them. This has been shown to be true of stars in our own galaxy, and there is no reason to think that the Andromeda galaxy should be any different in that regard. Here be worlds, upon worlds, upon worlds.

∗ ∗ ∗

Missed Conjunction

The evening of August 27, 2016, was scheduled to feature the conjunction of the planets Venus and Jupiter shortly after sunset, a marvellous mere ½ degree apart, the same as the apparent diameter of the Moon, which is pretty darn close in a big, big sky. That’s a must-see in my book! As a last minute decision I went for the best nearby vantage point I could think of, which was the west side of Slottsfjellet (“Castle Mountain”) in Tønsberg, a mere 20 minute drive from home. I was gonna shoot me some planets!


Hiding behind them there cloudses

Although the sky was mostly clear and outstandingly beautiful with the sunset and all, I missed the conjunction on account of lovely but otherwise annoying clouds on the horizon. On the upside, on account of wearing shorts, I have several brand new mosquito bites to keep me entertained the next few days.


Screenshot from Star Walk overlayed on camera view

I followed the planets until they were well below the horizon. Not only were they hiding behind clouds the whole time, the sky was still bright enough that they probably wouldn’t have been very visible anyway.

According to Space.com, “the next time Venus and Jupiter will get this close will be in November 2065,” by when I will be a whopping 96 years young. Bring it on!

In the mean time I’ll just leave you with this.


Screenshot from Star Walk overlayed on camera view

The sky beneath my feet.
Stars.
Space.
Darkness and light.
Emptiness.
And grass.

~

The Two Extremes

One side wants women to be objects of property, the other wants women to be objects of sexual desire, both of which are hardly different from the other in terms of respect for women as human beings.

There needs to be another version of this animation, where the woman slaps both men silly, then proceeds to wear and do whatever the heck she wants, and walks off with a man, or woman, who respects her and treats her as an equal.

(Animation source: giphy.com)

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