Aviator Doesn’t Fly for Me

I listen to a lot of podcasts on various subjects, and recently I heard the hosts of the Digital Underground Podcast from Kaspersky Labs talking about a new web browser called Aviator. Built on Chromium, but designed for privacy, I figured I’d give it a try. I like Chrome, and I like privacy, what’s not to like about a browser that behaves like Chrome but protects my privacy?

Well, it depends…

Let’s start by looking at how it protects privacy.  You know how you can go back to a website you’ve visited before and it kind of acts like it “remembers” you? It does! It placed a tiny file of text onto your machine called a “cookie.” That cookie contains information about your visit to that site, it may contain login information (which is why you never want to have banks and places like that “remember” you), it may contain information from a form that you filled out while you were there that indicate certain preferences. Aviator deletes all those cookies when you close out of the browser. Poof–gone. You have to log in all over again. If you’re serious about privacy and protection, that’s a good thing.

Aviator also uses an ad blocker called Disconnect. More later about this, but an ad blocker does just what it says: blocks ads.

Java is not available to run in Aviator, because the current version of Java, and therefore the only version considered remotely “secure”, is only available as a 64-bit program. Chromium, the foundation for Aviator, is only available as a 32-bit program, so the current Java won’t run in Chromium. Most security gurus will tell you that you shouldn’t run Java anyway.

Aviator will ask you, as you go to shut it down, if you’re sure you want to quit. This is an important question, because unlike most other browsers, if you accidentally shut down, there is no recovery of open web pages. Aviator doesn’t keep a file or a log or any sort of memory of what was open when you closed it. So it asks.  Every time.

As of this time, Aviator only runs on Windows and Mac. There isn’t a mobile version at all yet, though they are working on it, and, interestingly enough, there is no Linux version; Chromium is based on Linux.

So–my take on it:

Overall, the browser has a great look and feel. It’s clean–I LOVE clean!–and as responsive on click as any other browser I’ve used.  (Every time Safari gets an update, the Macazoids say, “It’s snappy.” Okay, Aviator is “snappy.”) It has plenty of visual appeal, the color scheme is attractive. I don’t use a lot of customization on my Chrome browser, so I didn’t go looking for anything to customize as far as colors, etc.

For me, a huge part of what makes a browser work or not is whether it facilitates or hinders productivity. Because Aviator is built on Chrome, all of the plug-ins/extensions I use with Chrome are available for Aviator. Every. Single. One. Yes, color me impressed. Built on Chrome notwithstanding, I did expect something to be missing.

After I got all the plug-ins and extensions loaded and configured, the one I use probably more than all the others compbined, XMarks, synced flawlessly and presented my Bookmarks Bar exactly as I’m accustomed to seeing it in Chrome. Again, nothing missing.

For casual surfing, Aviator was fine. As long as nothing needed saved or passed or searched, Aviator did what I expected it to do. Beyond that, however, Aviator and I seemed to disagree on what constitutes a reasonable user experience.

The links for a survey I wanted to take wouldn’t pass through the preference on cookies, which meant that I kept having to tell Aviator that it was okay for this website to remember who I am. Since I didn’t know how long the survey was going to be, this had a potential to get real annoying real quick. As a result, I have a concern with online courses; I think it’s safe to assume that online courses may behave in the same way. I just couldn’t seem to get anything done without having to tell the browser to let me do it. If I only spent a few minutes a day using a browser, that might be tolerable, but I spend quite a bit of time using Chrome, and I have a very low tolerance for answering the same question more than once. In that respect, Aviator was like a curious toddler, constantly asking the same question. Gave me a somewhat new respect for a child’s “Why?”.

The crushing blow for Aviator on my laptop came when I found a problem with Google not liking it. In less than an hour of use, it raked up enough venom from Google that when anyone in our home tried to use the Google search engine, they had to type in a captcha response. Google hadn’t anything specific to offer by way of explanation, just a vague reference to a violation of terms of service. I made sure none of the computers in the house were sending out spam, but the only devices connected all day were iPhones and my MacBook pro. We never have network problems, I keep all our machines patched and I pay pretty close attention to network issues. It really wasn’t difficult to determine that the difference was Aviator.

 

A bit more digging and I found it–the ad blocker, Disconnect. Google is a business, but you are not the customer. You are the product. Don’t vilify Google, Bing is exactly the same; all the browsers are. The revenue model is that they serve up ads and if you click on them, someone makes money. If there is no ad being served, there will be no money made. So Google makes it clear–somewhere deep in the bowels of its terms of service–that something like the aggressive Disconnect is unwelcome in the Googlesphere. Note here, our family didn’t have any troubles going to any other websites; just doing a Google search. That was what helped me zoom in on the issue.

Amazing Partnership Between God and Man

Under normal conditions, the human body has an astonishing capacity to self-regulate and heal itself. Unless weakened through misuse, environmental damage, or anomalies at the cellular level, to name just a few exceptions, we are largely capable of overcoming most illness and damage. Sometimes we have to help, like splinting or casting a limb, providing stability and immobility while a bone heals, and sometimes we have to give the immune system a little help with an antibiotic, jumpstarting the process of overcoming the germ attack. Minor incidents like colds and flus, scrapes, bumps, bruises, for the most part, can be handled by our physiology without much intervention from outside the body.

But not always.

War, disease, birth defects, vehicle and industrial accidents, sports injuries, can all produce conditions that the body just can’t overcome. Medical science has made tremendous strides in assisting patients in living more normal lives through transplants and prosthetics, microsurgery and superdrugs, and the advances have been exponential as we look through the history books. We’ve been anxiously anticipating the day when cancer is cured, when childhood diseases don’t rob children of the joys of youth. We’re not there yet, but a recent giant leap in that direction may permit these miracles in our lifetime.

Part biology, part sculpture, the scientific medical art of growing body parts has me in complete awe. Using the patient’s own tissue as a base, researchers provide a place and ideal conditions to allow the tissue to form a scaffold (think armature or mold for a paper mache sculpture). They use stem cells identical or structurally similar to the ones from the damaged, diseased, or missing organ, from the patient himself. (I know you can see where this is going and why it’s so exciting). When the scaffold is mature enough, the cells are applied to it, appropriate to the organ, along with any other necessary substances, cells, or tissue to begin the growing process.

The research results in the lab were successful enough to lead to implementation in human cases. Bladders, ears, kidneys, tracheas, and female genitalia malformed through birth defects have been fully functional in application.  Researchers are experimenting with growth of other parts as opportunity and need arises, and they have expressed confidence and cautious optimism in the future of this science and medicine.

The prospect of the success of this effort  has me on the edge of my seat for several reasons. One of the most disappointing events for a transplant patient is when, after a months-long or years-long wait for an appropriate organ, the body rejects the new organ; sees it as an intruder and attacks it. Because these new organs are made with the patient’s own organ tissue, the research hasn’t evidenced any rejection of the “new” organs.

Another huge plus for this research is that, although it uses stem cells, these are not the controversial embryonic stem cells recovered from aborted fetuses; these stem cells are from the patients themselves. If this research has continued success, it could open the door to further non-fetal stem cell research.

Diseases and conditions where stem cell treatm...

Diseases and conditions where stem cell treatment is promising or emerging. (See Wikipedia:Stem cell#Treatments). Bone marrow transplantation is, as of 2009, the only established use of stem cells. Model: Mikael Häggström. To discuss image, please see Template talk:Häggström diagrams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Finally, and this almost brings me to tears to think of it, it’s still the patient’s body, mending itself, with, admittedly, a great deal of assistance, but the truth here is that this is the body acting in partnership with itself and the researchers, and by extension, Science acting in partnership with God to use what God created to work in its own behalf to do what it can no longer, or could never, do in its own behalf.

I’m an organ donor, a blood donor, and a bone marrow donor, and I don’t think the needs for those products is going away anytime soon; this research still has years to go before it’s common practice. But it’s coming.

Want to read more?  Here’s an article from the Smithsonian magazine, one from the Guardian, and one from Forbes. What excites you or concerns you about this research?

Hubble: An Icon for Space Junkies (like me)

In April of 2015, the Hubble Space Telescope will turn 25 years old, and in that quarter century, it has given scope to the imaginations of space geeks everywhere. Recently I saw a really neat photo that got me curious about the device, so I figured it’d make a great first space post here. I’ll tell you a little about the telescope itself, and some of its accomplishments.

hubble-space-telescope-by-renaud-t

photo credit Renaud T

 

The Hubble Behind the Hubble

It’s been known since the early days of telescopes that the atmosphere plays heck with focus and clarity beyond earth’s realms. It’s also what makes the stars “twinkle twinkle.” The idea for a space-based telescope first surfaced in the 1920’s; an official proposal was floated in the 1940’s, and the project was birthed in the 1970’s. Edwin Powell Hubble never worked on this telescope itself, but his name is applied to it for his contribution to the understanding of the expansion of the universe. The launch date was scheduled for 1986, but a few months prior to its launch, the space shuttleChallenger exploded shortly after liftoff and as a result delayed deployment for almost a year.space researcher edwin-hubble-groupe-imperial

Nearsighted

Early in its deployment, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) discovered that Hubble had trouble focusing. The edge of the mirror was too flat, by less than 1/50th the width of a human hair. In response to the issue, the first Service Mission assigned, five mirrors were installed in carefully calculated positions, and Hubble’s myopia was cured.

Upkeep

Four Servicing Missions were conducted, the most recent one in 2009. Since the discontinuation of Space Shuttle missions in 2011, no further Servicing Missions have been scheduled. I guess it’ll be up to SpaceX or Virgin Galactic to do any further maintenance, but at this time, Hubble is running smoothly enough that no work is needed or anticipated.

Interesting Facts about the Hubble Telescope

Hubble is about as long as a school bus, not quite as wide (right around 7 feet) and weighs about as much as two full-grown elephants. Well, not in space, of course….

It takes a little over an hour and a half for Hubble to make it around the earth. That’s about 17,500 mph. It has made more than a million observations of more than 38,000 celestial bodies, producing more than 100 terabytes of data. (I’m actually surprised it’s not more!)

Amazing Discoveries–by no means a complete and comprehensive list:

  • Photographs of a supernova
  • Estimating the age of the universe (13 to 14 billion years)
  • Deep space” snapshots
  • Identifying elements in and around extrasolar planets
  • An honest-to-goodness black hole
  • Gamma ray bursts caught on camera
  • Where quasars live
  • protoplanetary disks–possibly the birthplaces of new planets
  • Jupiter’s injuries from potshots fired by Shoemaker-Levy
  • The unique qualities of planetary nebulas
  • Dark matter
  • Two moons of Pluto
  • dark energy–the force that accelerates the expansion of the universe
  • Galaxies in all stages of evolution

WHO CAN USE THE TELESCOPE?

From HubbleSite.org:  “any astronomer in the world can submit a proposal and request time on the telescope. Teams of experts then select the observations to be performed. Once observations are completed, the astronomers have a year to pursue their work before the data is released to the entire scientific community. ” About 4,000 astronomers have used it so far. (Did you even know there were 4,000 astronomers?)

 

You can read more about the Hubble Space Telescope at these sites:  NASA: The Hubble Story ; The Hubble Site;  

Search and Seizure in the Digital Age

It is a rare circumstance when our United States Supreme Court agrees so completely as they did in the case of Riley v. California: all nine of the Justices agreed that law enforcement officers DO need a search warrant to examine the contents of your cell phone.

This question is no longer about seeing who called and whom you called, right? And it also isn’t just about the pictures you took with your phone. Today’s smartphones are very small computers that either store or grant access to much of a person’s whole life. Here’s a short list off the top of my head that people can use their smartphones for:

Phone
Phone/address book
date book
file folder of letters
file folder of documents
photo album
record collection
tape recorder with recorded voice messages
answering machine
atlas
camera
bookshelf
sky map
book of stores, offerings, promotions (coupon books, etc.)
lockbox
shopping list
television viewer
movie collection
newspaper stack
magazine rack

I know there are many functions I’ve left off, but, as I said, this was off the top of my head. The significant thing is that for each of these items I’ve listed, in a physical world, law enforcement would need a search warrant to search these items.

After most of the arguments had been made, NPR posted some of the significant ones, and this exchange, in particular, was chilling on one hand, and encouraging on the other:

[California Solicitor General Edward ]DuMont replied that people make a choice — they “choose” when they carry their cellphones with them — and thus they should have “no expectation of privacy” if they are arrested.
[Justice Elena] Kagan, incredulous: “Are you saying one has to keep a cellphone at home to have an expectation of privacy?”

This ruling was more than simply telling law enforcement to obey the Constitution; this ruling made clear that we are living in an age that is very different from the one that existed when the Constitution was drawn up, and that in order to preserve the liberty that the framers intended, the limits on the State—which was the sole purpose of the Constitution—must be examined and clarified and explained from time to time. Whereas in a previous age, a pre-digital age if you will, a person’s effects carried with him were indeed searchable, at that time we would be talking about a few photos, or a few letters, or a couple of books, but at this time we must adjust that understanding to be a stack of photo albums, a cabinet of correspondence, an entire library, and even beyond that, a bank teller, a shopping portal (I can’t even think of a pre-digital counterpart to that), and a window to documents stored elsewhere.

The arguments against the warrant requirement seem to have been covered by exception rules in non-digital warrant requirement cases. An amicus brief filed by the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies cites the example of a car parked in front of a building, cop walks by and sees bomb-making materials in the front seat and the driver frantically sending a text message. Under those circumstances, that is, to prevent harm and/or to prevent the destruction of evidence, the law enforcement officer could search without a warrant. He may still be called on the carpet for it in court, but he would easily be able to defend his actions as being pursuant to preventing harm or destruction of evidence. And if you read through the brief, you will see that every example cited in hopes of obtaining a broad ruling against a warrant requirement was covered by the exception.

Another brief filed to support the state of California’s position uses similar arguments, but takes it further, claiming that law enforcement has “unqualified authorityto search the person of the arrestee.”

If we could always count on authority to use power wisely and properly, and to handle our information appropriately, we would never have needed the Constitution in the first place. I was very surprised, and extremely pleased, to see that all nine of our Supreme Court Justices agreed with me on this one.

Read the whole thing HERE, and see how the process unfolded HERE.