Texas Governor Greg Abbott wants to “suspend relevant state election laws and order an emergency special election” due to rep. Farenthold’s resignation

In a request for opinion to Texas Attorney General Paxton last night, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said that due to the resignation of representative Blake Farenthold of Texas’ 27th Congressional District, “it is imperative to restore representation for the people of that district as quickly as possible”, and in order to do so, state election laws must be suspended and an emergency special election needs to take place.

Representative Blake Farenthold resigned last Friday, before the House Ethics Committee could rule on its’ investigation on whether he had “sexually harassed members of his staff, used official money for campaign purposes and lied in previous testimony to the committee.”

Representative Farenthold had also “promised to repay an $84,000 sexual harassment settlement funded by taxpayers” but “will not complete the final eight months of his term.”

The two main questions Texas Attorney General Paxton have to answer are…

  1. If the Texas emergency powers authorize Governor Greg Abbott to suspend state election laws and order an emergency special election.
  2. If this specific situation (Representative Blake Farenthold’s resignation and the continuing representation of Texas’ 27th Congressional District) qualifies as an emergency.

The official Request for Opinion PDF is here.

The content of the PDF follows…


April 19, 2018

The Honorable Ken Paxton Attorney General of Texas

Attn: Opinion Committee P.O. Box 12548

Austin, Texas 78711-2548

Re: AG Opinion Request CD27

Dear Attorney General Paxton:

On April 8, 2018, Representative Blake Farenthold notified me of his resignation as the representative of Texas’ 27th Congressional District. It is imperative to restore representation for the people of that district as quickly as possible. I am acutely concerned about this issue because many of the district’s residents are still recovering from the ravages of Hurricane Harvey. Indeed, all 13 of the counties in District 27 are still covered by my most recent disaster declaration for the area devastated by the hurricane. Because so many of the hurricane relief efforts depend on action at the federal level, it is all the more important that the voters of District 27 have an effective voice in Washington, D.C., at the earliest possible opportunity. That will require me to call a special election as soon as is legally possible.

Generally, a special election must be held on the first uniform election date occurring on or after the 36th day after the date the election is ordered. See Tex. Elec. Code § 203.004. The only uniform election date left in 2018 that meets that statutory threshold is November 6, which is not soon enough. Id.§ 41.001 (a). In cases of emergency, the governor is authorized to order a special election to be held before the appropriate uniform election date; but in this instance, that authority is rendered ineffective by requirements found in other state and federal laws. See id. §§ 201.054(a) (filing deadlines), 203.004 (b) (emergency election time frame), 203.012 (canvassing deadlines); 52 U.S.C. § 20302 (a)(8)(A) (deadline to transmit absentee ballots to uniformed services or overseas voters). It is impossible to order an election, allow candidates to file, print ballots, mail them in accordance with federal law, and hold an emergency election within the statutorily prescribed 50-day window. Complicating the issue is that if an emergency election for District 27 results in a runoff election, the date for the runoff election cannot be sooner than the 70th day after the final canvas of the emergency election. See Tex. Elec. Code § 2.025(d). I am concerned that the combination of state and federal law makes it practically impossible to hold an emergency special election and to replace Representative Farenthold before the end of September.

As governor, I have been given “extremely broad powers to declare disaster emergencies and to deal with them.” Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. No. MW-140 (1980) (analyzing Disaster Act of 1975). Among the powers conferred on me is the authority to suspend certain statutory provisions if strict compliance with those provisions would in any way prevent, hinder or delay necessary action in coping with a disaster. Tex. Gov’t Code § 418.016. As noted above, I believe that a prolonged vacancy in this congressional seat will impede state and federal efforts in coping with the effects of Hurricane Harvey. Therefore, my question is:

May I utilize my authority under section 418.016 of the Government Code to suspend relevant state election laws and order an emergency special election?

Due to the time-sensitive nature of this request and the emergency disaster recovery efforts in District 27, I respectfully request your opinion as soon as possible. Thank you for your assistance with this important matter.

Sincerely,

Greg Abbott

Governor

Amazon Echo devices keep 60 seconds of recordings. The big question – is this in perpetuity?

For several years, Amazon had been telling the tech world their Echo home devices don’t “…actually do anything with your voice until you say their “wake word,” which is usually just … ‘Alexa’”

There was a big story that threatened to poke a hole in that narrative. Specifically, that an Amazon echo device’s recordings were needed to solve a murder case.

Amazon initially pushed back against releasing the recorded data, claiming “the First Amendment’s free speech protection applies to information gathered and sent by the device”, but eventually agreed to release the data after “after the user… consented to the disclosure”. The murder case was eventually dismissed, but there was never any explicit information on how much data Amazon handed over to the police regarding the investigation or what the data entailed.

The core issue remains. How exactly would an Echo device be useful in solving a murder case if it remains “off” until it is activated by the “wake word”? Why would the police want an Echo’s supposedly limited recordings?

A new finding in a very interesting tweet from Matteo ( @geminiimatt ) a few days ago might shed some light on that discrepancy.

On examining the extracted data from an Amazon Echo device…


Amazon Echo devices keep 60 seconds of recording and stores it “in the cloud”.

In their Alexa Terms of Use page, section 1.3 states very clearly that “Amazon processes and retains your Alexa Interactions, such as your voice inputs, music playlists, and your Alexa to-do and shopping lists, in the cloud to provide and improve our services.”

What is not stated at all is the length of retention or what happens to the data once it arrives “in the cloud”.

With this new finding that Echo devices keep 60 seconds of recording, and combined with Amazon’s admission they do “retain” Alexa interactions, I think it is time to ask a few questions.

Off the top of my head…

  1. Is this data stored in perpetuity?
  2. Is there any way for any person to review the data sent from an Echo device?
  3. Who has authority to review data sent from an Echo device?
  4. Is there a backup of this data?
  5. Is this data “mined”?
  6. How is this data secured?
  7. Is this data shared with any other party outside of Amazon?

Here’s my “worst case” thinking. Amazon pulls 60 seconds from an Echo device and uploads it to the cloud. Then “deletes” the previous 60 seconds on the local device and starts a new 60 second pull. The data uploaded from the local Echo device to the Amazon servers is never deleted on the Amazon servers. The data is stored forever, stamped by device name, location, wifi username and password, and sqlllite database contents. Every 60 seconds on every Echo device.

If this isn’t the case, if Echo devices really do just wait for the “wake word” and the findings by the community and the beliefs of the police are in error, a clear and detailed statement from Amazon on the Echo’s data retention would go a long way.

Personally, I’m still wondering why Amazon Dash buttons have embedded microphones.

Amazon is deleting uploads to their music storage service on April 30th

Not an April fools post. Late last week, Amazon announced they are “retiring” their online music storage service.

Up until this email, Amazon allowed users to upload up to 250 songs to their “personal cloud library” for streaming or downloading. For some reason, Amazon has decided to kill this feature on April 30th of this month.

Customers who uploaded music to their Amazon services have until April 30th to login to their Amazon music page, navigate to their settings page, and select KEEP MY SONGS.

Here is a copy of the email I received from Amazon…

—-

Amazon Music is retiring the Music Storage service, which allows customers to upload and store up to 250 songs in a personal cloud library. Our records indicate you have uploaded one or more songs through your Amazon account in the past.

To keep, download, and play your uploaded songs at no extra cost, simply open a web browser, go to your Music Settings and click the “Keep my songs” button to direct us to save your music to the cloud. Otherwise your uploaded songs will be removed from your library on April 30, 2018.

Your Amazon Music digital purchases will continue to remain securely stored for playback and download — no further action is required to retain those. These changes will not impact your ability to stream Prime Music or Amazon Music Unlimited.

The NBC Store may have just had their email server compromised

One of the benefits to having my own domain is the ability to create as many custom email addresses as I want. When I sign up on a new website, I create a custom email just for that website and redirect it to my “main” email account.

Today, I received a junk email for the email address I set up only for the NBC Store. It is a “amazon delivery” notice with a “confirmation link” that redirects to a website in Spain.

NBC Store scam email
Since I have never used the email address for the NBC Store anywhere else, and since it was sent directly to that alias account I created, I think it is safe to say the NBC Store’s customer email server has been compromised.

If you have an email account with the NBC Store, get ready for a flood of junk mail and malware.

You don’t have to own your own domain to set up a “ghost” email address. Google lets you create something similar with any gmail address!

On the next website that wants you to sign up with your email address, type a + sign after your gmail name and before the @ to make a “ghost” email address that will forward to your main gmail.com address.

For example, if bill.gates@gmail.com wanted to sign up at the NBCSTORE and wanted to use a “ghost” email address, he could just type in bill.gates+NBCSTORE@gmail.com at NBC Store’s website. NBC Store would send their emails to bill.gates+NBCSTORE@gmail.com and Bill would see it in his regular bill.gates@gmail.com inbox as coming from bill.gates+NBCSTORE@gmail.com.

While this takes longer than just putting in a standard email address, I find “ghost” email addresses are invaluable in finding out who sells email addresses (LinkedIn), who keeps them reserved (Apple, Microsoft), and on occasion, who has been hacked.

Kidde recalls over 37 million of their plastic-handle fire extinguishers made from January 1973 to August 2017

In the “yeah, that’s bad” department, Kidde announced a massive recall of their plastic handle fire extinguishers that were manufactured between January 1, 1973 and August 15, 2017 due to failure “to activate during a fire emergency due to clogs”.

On the Occupational Health and Safety website, they say that anywhere from 37 to 40 million Kidde fire extinguishers “may not function properly in an emergency. The recall applies to 134 models of Kidde fire extinguishers manufactured between January 1, 1973, and August 15, 2017, including models that had been previously recalled in March 2009 and February 2015.”

“The recall involves both plastic handle and push-button Pindicator fire extinguishers. The extinguishers can fail to activate during a fire emergency due to clogs or requiring excessive force to discharge. The nozzle also can detach with enough force to pose an impact hazard. There have been approximately 391 reports of failed or limited activation or nozzle detachment, including a 2014 death in which emergency responders could not get the recalled Kidde fire extinguishers to work in a car fire following a crash.”

There’s a long list of all extinguishers affected by the recall on Kidde’s website and even a grim admission that “there have been approximately 391 reports of failed or limited activation or nozzle detachment, including [a] fatality, approximately 16 injuries, including smoke inhalation and minor burns, and approximately 91 reports of property damage” with those affected models.

Most people I know have a Kidde fire extinguisher since they’re sold nationwide at just about every store there is, but Kidde stated on their website these defective fire extinguishers were also bundled “with commercial trucks, recreational vehicles, personal watercraft and boats.”

If you find that you have one of their fire extinguishers, check out the recall list or call Kidde toll-free at 855-271-0773 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday and/or 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. ET Saturday and Sunday to get yours replaced ASAP.

QNAP NAS users: QFinder update now collects usage information

If you use QFinder or QFinder Pro as part of your QNAP NAS management, the
most recent version of the app (QNAP Qfinder Pro 6.3.0) now collects information on your NAS usage.

You can click CANCEL and not OK at the legalese screen after the software installs, but it isn’t immediately apparent if this exempts you from the new TOS or is just a “close window” action.

Following is the “Consent to User Information Collection” that appears after the application updates. (The concerning parts I placed in bold.)


Consent to User Information Collection

Thank you for using QNAP Systems, Inc. (hereinafter referred to as the “Company”) products. To provide a better user experience, the Company will collect usage-related information when you use Qfinder Pro (hereinafter referred to as the “Product”), as detailed below:

Purpose

User information and user behavior helps the Company to better understand user habits and preferences. The Company collects such information to improve the Product and services to meet the needs of users and to improve the overall service quality.

Information Collected

The information collected includes (but is not limited to):

Operating system information, device identification codes, country and language settings, computer model, firmware version and other basic information.

App-related information including: version information, update and shutdown time, usage frequency, and usage time.

User preferences: device settings, product configuration, usage time of the application and hardware.

Other relevant but non-personal information.

Use of information

With your agreement, the aforementioned information will be automatically collected and sent back to the Company. The Company will analyze the collected information to identify improvements that can be made to future products and services. The Company has effective mechanisms and procedures to protect the security of the information collected and shall only use the relevant information internally.

Disclaimer
The Company hereby disclaims all warranties including express or implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for any particular purpose in connection with this consent or in any manner whatsoever. In addition to the foregoing, the Company shall not be held accountable for any direct, indirect, special, incidental or consequential damages, such as loss of profits, loss of data, equipment use or functional damage, interruption of business and events of a similar nature, regardless prior notice exists for such occurrence or not.

Flickr is shutting down their photo books and wall art services

Flickr announced earlier today they “are transitioning our photo book offering to Blurb and shutting down our wall art offering.”

“Beginning October 16, 2017 you will be able to connect your Flickr account to Blurb’s online photo book-making tool… you have until December 1, 2017 to complete any in-progress wall art or photo book orders. After December 1, 2017, you will not be able to access the Flickr wall art tool or the Flickr photo book tool and your progress will be lost.”

As for reprints, “you will need to go to your Flickr Wallet before December 1, 2017. After December 1, 2017, we will remove the wall art and photo book order history. You can manage your new orders on Blurb’s website.”

The Flickr forum for questions on this migration is here. This shutdown will NOT affect “regular” Flickr users or photos hosted on their service. Only the Photo Book and Wall Art sections will be discontinued.

Microsoft Groove is shutting down. Download your music before December 31st

In a late night email I just received, Microsoft announced it is shutting down their Groove music service as part of their upcoming merger with Spotify.

If you have any albums or singles through their service, you have until December 31st to download them before they are deleted.

From the email…

“Groove Music is excited to announce that we’re partnering with Spotify to bring you the world’s largest music streaming service. On December 31, 2017, the option to stream, purchase, and download music from Groove Music will be discontinued. After December 31, 2017, you’ll still be able to listen to your purchased music if it has been downloaded.”

“Keep your current music collection intact by downloading to your devices any albums and tracks that you’ve already purchased. You can download your purchased music through the Groove Music App until December 31, 2017.”

“To download your music, open Groove, go to your music collection and select the Purchased filter. Right-click or press and hold your music files and select Download from the menu.”

The wealthy have access to a different level of firearms

There’s going to be a lot of discussion about gun control in the next few weeks. Most of the gun control debates are going to be over varying levels of trivia. The stock type of a rifle. How many rounds of ammunition a magazine can hold. The type of handle used for a rifle.

For the wealthy, this is all bread and circuses.

What I have yet to see in any gun control debate is a discussion on how the wealthy have access to a completely different level of firearms through “taxes”, careful application of the law, and very specific turning of phrases.

To start with, the act of purchasing a “civilian” firearm is fairly straightforward. You walk into a firearm store, pick a firearm, fill out the appropriate ATF form, and depending on whether you pass the background check, walk out the door 10 minutes later with your choice from the rack.

Fully automatic firearms and “specialty” firearms are a different matter, though.

For most people who are not familiar with firearms, a gun is a gun. However there is a very important distinction in firearms: whether they are semi-automatic or fully automatic.

The difference between a fully automatic and semi-automatic firearm is what happens when you pull the trigger. A semi-automatic firearm discharges once when you pull the trigger and that’s it. To make it fire again, you have to pull the trigger again. Those kinds of firearms are (mostly) legal for most individuals to own (pistols or rifles) under the current laws of the United States and sub-laws of the states themselves.

Fully automatic firearms are completely different. There’s a lever you can set on the side of a fully automatic firearm that lets you choose what happens when you pull the trigger. One setting matches the semi-automatics: one trigger pull equals one discharge. The other setting, the full-automatic one, will let the firearm continue to fire until you either release the trigger or the firearm depletes the ammunition it has access to. Ammunition will expend quickly, but the target will be perforated with bullets far more rapidly than any single trigger pull sequence could ever achieve.

No “regular” firearm store carries fully automatic firearms on their shelves. Fully automatic firearms are generally referred to as “machine guns”, and are (mostly) not straightforwardly legal to own as an individual.

Mostly doesn’t apply to the wealthy.

Let’s say Poor John Doe wants to buy a fully automatic firearm. Since he doesn’t have a lot of money, he’s out of luck. End of story. If he ever comes into ownership of a fully automatic firearm, he’s looking at spending a very long time at a not-so-friendly federal penitentiary.

Now if Rich John Doe wants to buy a fully automatic firearm, he starts off by visiting a “specialty” firearms dealer. This won’t be a Bass Pro or Cabela’s or Academy. This “specialty” store is a firearms store specifically up and running to sell fully automatic firearms and has passed a far more vigorous owner/employee screening process than any of the “civilian” hunting stores even want to think about. They’re called Class III FFL dealers (or a Class I with a Special Occupational Tax) that deal in something called NFA firearms. (The Bass Pro or Cabela’s or Academy stores are just Class I FFL dealers with no Special Occupational Tax. The “class” legalese strictly defines the types of firearms a store can sell.)

Now all RIch John Doe has to do is pay.

That’s it.

Pay an exorbitant upfront fee for the firearm itself (anywhere from $10,000 to $300,000), pay a special “tax” for owning the firearm, fill out a few dozen forms, apply (any pay again) for any extra “tax stamps” the firearm requires, get approval from both the ATF and the local chief law enforcement office, and finally send in photos and multiple forms of ID to everyone in the exchange.

All that is all just a matter of money and time. Rich John Doe has plenty of both.

Ah, but it gets better!

Let’s say Rich John Doe has a fully automatic firearm he really wants to share or pass on to someone before he dies. With all the legal red tape involved in fully automatic firearm ownership, Rich John Doe just can’t hand it to someone and say “here you go!”

But Rich John Doe does have a way out. All Rich John Doe has to do is go to his local neighborhood attorney’s office and set up a “trust”.

A trust is a legal setup to allow for “company” ownership among distributed individuals. Ideally, this would be reserved for boring company assets like cars and condos, but trusts also apply to firearms. This trust rule for firearms was intentionally written into the 1934 National Firearms Act and still applies today.

Back to Rich John Doe. Rich John Doe goes to his attorney and sets up a trust and calls it HAPPY BANANAS and adds his good friend Rich Bob Doe. In a few weeks, the trust is “established” legally. Nevermind Rich John Doe and Rich Bob Doe are the only two in this trust. That doesn’t matter. A trust is a trust, no matter how many individuals are in it. Trusts meet the legal definition of a person even though they aren’t.

Clear as mud yet?

Once HAPPY BANANAS is up and running and all the paperwork is cleared, Rich John Doe goes back to the dealer and the fully automatic firearm is ready for the TRUST to pick up. His TRUST pays for the firearm and the firearm is registered to his TRUST. Not him or Rich Bob Doe because the TRUST owns it. But Rich John Doe AND Rich Bob Doe can use the firearm anytime they want.

A trust can own most any kind of firearm that is registered to it. Weapons and accessories that make the selection at the “regular” hunting store look like Nerf toys. Anyone in the “trust” can use and keep the firearm whenever they want, and more people can be added to the trust anytime with an attorney’s expert help.

There are a few caveats to fully automatic firearm ownership. “No fully automatic weapons made after May 19th 1986 can be owned by anyone (unless you are a FFL dealer and keep your license in good standing)… however, fully automatic firearms registered prior to May 19th, 1986 are. (There are “only” an estimated 182,619 machine guns that fit this criteria.) Machine guns imported after 1968 but before May 19th, 1986 can be bought and kept only by FFL dealers… and machine guns made after the May 19th, 1986 cutoff date are only available for dealers, manufacturers, military, and police.”

So, to sum up, a “new” fully automatic firearm (AKA: a machine gun) is out of the question, but you can get any of the 182,619 fully automatic firearms that meet the above criteria for anywhere from $10,000 to $300,000 each.

Not a problem for Rich John Doe.

Nobody talks about this level of firearm ownership because it is almost financially incomprehensible. Spend years and years of salary on a single firearm?

But now, Vegas happened. The shooter (at the time of this post) was supposedly a millionaire and used multiple fully automatic firearms.

Did the shooter have access to these fully automatic firearms through a trust? Did the shooter pay for each of these fully automatic firearms with the millions he had? Did the shooter pass all the criteria for owning multiple fully automatic firearms without raising any red flags?

The wealthy have access to a different level of firearms.

Why?

 

More detailed information about fully automatic firearm ownership is on the ATF’s website. 

CDMaST Phase 2 is going to change naval warfare

I’m constantly amazed at the level of tech we are achieving in a relatively short period of time. The “future” is coming fast, and sometimes in ways that even the best of science fiction didn’t anticipate.

Case in point – the CDMaST Phase 2 project from DARPA. Long story short, the idea behind this project “revolves around real-time secure networks of manned and unmanned aircraft, surface ships, and submarines able to attack and defend vast areas of the world’s oceans to hold enemy ships and submarines at risk over wide contested areas.”

The CDMaST project wouldn’t be the only line of defense. The project “would augment aircraft carrier battle groups and manned submarines with networked manned and unmanned systems of systems (SoS) that work collaboratively to control the seas.”

Imagine hundreds or thousands of drone-based ships in the ocean, playing basic defense and surveillance “over ocean areas as large as a million square kilometers”. This 24/7 armada would “hold the line” so to speak, and keep the Navy’s “12 aircraft carriers, 52 attack submarines, and 18 ballistic- and cruise-missile submarines” on a more focused and as-needed basis.

It’s brilliant.

Of course CDMaST is going to be target #A1 for hacking, and CDMaST is probably going to be the focus of some terrible movies when the mainstream media gets wind of this, but the idea that technology has reached the point of 24/7 global defense is astounding.

The article is on the Military and Aerospace website here.