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SOAPBOX: The Failure of War

Start Soapbox

Each night after dinner, my wife and I watch the national news. It has been so depressing lately that, even though I want to be informed, I can hardly stand watching. The constant news of war and people killing each other in the name of religion, territory or riches is simply senseless.

You know that I have often predicted in my annual prognostications that this would be the year of confirmed alien contact. But let me tell you, if I was an intelligent alien, I would stay way, way away from this planet. War is barbaric, uncivilized and the case can be made that wars do not solve any problems.

I certainly see that in recent wars. We sent our sons and daughters to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan and I would challenge anyone to give me a list of problems that they have solved. In both cases, the situation is worse, not better, and thousands and thousands have died and suffered.

The Israelis and Palestinians have been fighting my entire life, and while I unequivocally support the right of Israel to exist in safe and secure borders without rockets raining down on them, I cannot justify the indiscriminate violence against Palestinian civilians which is causing such dramatic suffering. Of course, I do not have a solution to the stand-off, but it saddens me and alarms me that each side so easily slides into war as the answer.

Syria, Ukraine, Somalia, Nigeria, Central America, Central African Republic and literally dozens of other smaller wars are causing such widespread suffering, displacement and death that I just start thinking about Albert Einstein’s famous quotation, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Until we eliminate war as a means of “solving” problems, the most important challenges facing humanity — poverty, hunger, climate change, health care, education — cannot and will not be addressed, and we will slip deeper into the haves and have-nots. The strong, the weak and ultimately, innocent people will continue to be the victims.

War is simply a failure. A failure of humanity to think clearly. Before our country went to war in Iraq, we put out a big sign in front of our headquarters that had the simple message “NO WAR.” I think it is time for us to put up another that says “END WAR.” Dwight D. Eisenhower, a notable military man, President, and General, has perhaps summed it up best:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”

End Soapbox


Internet Privacy, or Lack Thereof

Something that has been in the news lately (or at least the online news articles) is the topic of privacy on the internet with regard to how government agencies and other commercial entities are trying to keep tabs on people’s browsing habits.

Complete anonymity online is nearly impossible, as you are tagged by the address assigned to you by your internet service provider (ISP). Your browser is also being tracked by where you go, what sites you visit, and this information is being logged and sent to companies that track consumer habits to better advertise to those particular consumers. All of this paints a disturbing picture where just about everything you do online is being watched by someone and logged for analysis.

There are ways to protect yourself and make it difficult (but not impossible) to track your online travels — however, those methods are now being watched. If you even research how to protect your identity online you get flagged for monitoring 
(article from The Independent who re-ran this article

 from WIRED, and the Herald).

Once I started reading about how transparent everyone’s online journeys were to the people with the right equipment, I began researching about how to have a smaller online footprint. Yes, this probably got me flagged — but since I don’t partake in illegal online behavior, I’m not too concerned.

There are several ways to try and protect your identity. One would be using Proxy servers or Virtual Private Networks. Using Proxy servers is risky unless you know/trust the server owner and the latter usually requires some form of payment method. If you have access to a VPN, then whoever provides this service would most likely be the one to be flagged for the watch list. Your web traffic would likely get bundled into the provider’s internet access as well.

Another method is what’s called the TOR browser. TOR stands for The Onion Router, which is a service originally created by the US Navy, and is now privately maintained (though it still receives funding from the government). The TOR browser bundle includes software that allows you to connect to the TOR network. When your computer is connected to a node on this network, it gets bounced all across the world while encrypting your traffic every step of the way until you come out at your destination.

Say you want to visit; normally, your computer would connect by the shortest distance between your ISP and our ISP, making as few ‘hops’ as possible. The TOR browser makes your computer travel all over the world to protect your source and destination, as well as the travel paths of the nodes along the way.

In the past, TOR has been a safe way to browse the internet anonymously, but it recently has become the target of government agencies across the world because, as we all know, information is power. Russia has even offered a reward to the Russian researcher who is able to crack the TOR network and allow it to be monitored.

 This reward is only available to Russians within their borders in order to protect what is discovered from outside government agencies.

There have been a lot of articles about the NSA watching the traffic of average Americans, but that is for another article. For the time being, I have been thinking about how to reduce my footprint online and the biggest hurdle is social networking. Everything you post to a social network — be it Facebook or LinkedIn — is stored on some server somewhere forever,* even if you delete it from the social network it was on. There are no takebacks when it comes to posting online. Somewhere, everything that has hit the wire has been saved somewhere else. So whatever you post online, you should probably be okay with a total stranger looking at it because nothing is ever completely safe.

Knowledge is power, so guard it well!

*Editor’s Note: “Forever” may not be literal when it comes the internet, but we also know that it has a very long memory…better to be safe than sorry.

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Automatic Car Accessory

I drive a lot — two hours a day covering a total of 100 miles. This week, I was shown this cool little device by a coworker and was immediately intrigued.

Automatic is a tiny device you plug into your car’s data port and links to your iPhone or Android (download at Google Play) through an app. It provides all sorts of fun information about your driving and your car. At first I thought my 2007 VW Rabbit wouldn’t be smart enough to contain the proper hardware to make this work, but Automatic actually works with most cars that have sold in the US since 1996.

The Automatic Link gives you useful information such as gas consumption, time it takes to get to and from places, driving style and car maintenance. It’ll also keep track of where you park, which can be helpful in certain situations (I may or may have not lost my car in Brooklyn a few weeks ago…).

Automatic learns your driving style and gives you the appropriate feedback to improve things like wasting gas from accelerating too fast or slamming on the breaks too often. Every week you’ll get a driving score to help you improve. They even claim that a high score could save you hundreds on gas every year.

Automatic is priced at $100 and does not have subscription fees. My other car-enthused coworker may just invest in one of these in the near future. I think I may wait to hear his feedback before rushing out to grab one myself, but I think that this could provide some really cool information as well as improve my (sometimes crazed) driving.

Have one yourself? Tell me about it!

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Dog Days of Summer Specials

We have so many deals this month, we don’t have room for them!

Click here to view our double-sided flyer with all of the specials you’ll need to see before heading back to school.

Special In-Store Financing

Go to any retail location to apply — the application process takes less than five minutes!

  • 6 month offer (no required amount)
  • 12 month offer (purchases of $499 or more)
  • 18 month offer (purchases of $999 or more)

Conditions apply; note that required Minimum Monthly Payments may or may not pay off purchase before the end of promotional period. See store for details and to apply.

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iPhone's Mysterious "Other" Data

If you’ve ever filled your iPhone to capacity, you may have suddenly noticed a gray section of stored data titled “Other” in iTunes. What could this mysterious data be?

Well, there could be a couple things that could be contributing to it, but the most likely culprits are your apps. More specifically, one culprit: iMessage. You’re probably not aware of this, but every time you send or receive a file within an iMessage — whether it’s photos or various documents — your iPhone stores that data. If you are like millions of other users who enjoy sending silly photos to friends and family (or inappropriate ones if you’re into that sort of thing), that data can accumulate very quickly over time.

On the rare occasion, restoring the iOS on your iPhone can resolve this issue, but the less invasive solution is to locate problematic apps on your phone that could be taking up space.

To free up that space, follow these instructions:

  1. Make sure your phone and apps are synced in iTunes.
  2. If possible, make sure you have backed up or copied off any documents or data you might need, as you will lose it. A lot of apps allow you to email documents and data.
  3. On the phone, go to Settings/General/Usage. You should find a list of all the apps.
  4. On the right hand side is a list of the total storage space each app is using, including the app itself. The list is also handily listed in descending order of size. If you tap on on one of the apps on the list, it shows you how much space is being used by documents and data. You also have the option to delete the app.
  5. To delete the app, simply tap on “Delete App.” The app is deleted, and so is the data stored in the ‘other’ area. Repeat for other apps if necessary.
  6. To re-install the app(s), plug it in to your iTunes and re-sync your phone. The app(s) are re-installed with no data taken up in the ‘Other’ area.

If you want a visual representation of your data, the third party app iExplorer is very easy to use and available as a temporary demo. You can also buy it if you want.

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