Marijuana – An Exploration (Part 6 – Manipulation Of The Endocannabinoid System)

Marijuana – An Exploration

Part 6 – Manipulation Of The Endocannabinoid System Via Cannabinoids

Introduction

I decided to kick off the newly emerging year AND decade by tackling another segment of the marijuana project. This time, endocannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system.

The Endocannabinoid System

One surprise that I encountered in my research was how little is currently known about the endocannabinoid system generally (let alone what is available). This network of receptors and their cannabinoids came to light in 1988. And with research into cannabinoids being heavily restricted pretty much right up to the tail end of the 2010s, the field has advanced very little in the past three decades. Like every other area of research concerning cannabis, the legitimate research data is now years (if not decades) behind the uncontrolled public experiment that is legalized marijuana.

Something a pot alarmist would say? Maybe.

However, it is far more of an indictment of countless politicians and other leaders that have stood in the way of cannabis research. Many of which now trot out the “But there is no research! This is unprecedented!” argument against legalized marijuana.

I have said more than enough about the idiocy of a previous generation of busy idiots, however. On to the good stuff.

What do we know about the Endocannabinoid System so far?

We know that there is no part of the body of which is not touched by the ECS. The main three components of the system are:

Endocannabinoids

Receptors

Enzymes

The body manufactures endocannabinoids (also known as Endogenous Cannabinoids). In total, there are three different types of cannabinoids.

-Endogenous

-plant-based

-synthetic

So far, only two types of endogenous cannabinoids are known.

Anandamide (AEA)

2 Arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG)

The primary role of the endocannabinoid system is homeostasis. Though both endocannabinoids can be detected, the precise levels that constitute an average concentration of each are not currently known. Part of this is due to the fact that the body manufactures endocannabinoids as needed.

Endocannabinoids serve as agonists, binding to endocannabinoid receptors located throughout the mass of the body. These receptors keep tabs on activity outside of cells, triggering a response if activated by a cannabinoid of any kind.

The two primary endocannabinoid receptors that we know of so far are:

CB1 Receptors (in the central nervous system)

CB2 Receptors (in the peripheral nervous system, particularly within immune cells)

Since endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor, the effect all depends on where the location of the receptor. And which endocannabinoid links with it.

Enzymes in the endocannabinoid system break down endocannabinoids. The main two that we know about so far is:

Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase (breaks down AEA)

Monoacylglycerol Acid Lipase (breaks down 2-AG)

The endocannabinoid system is integral to the following processes:

  • Appetite and digestion
  • Metabolism
  • Chronic Pain
  • Inflammation (and other immune system processes)
  • mood
  • learning and memory
  • motor control
  • sleep
  • cardiovascular function
  • muscle formation
  • bone remodelling and growth
  • liver function
  • skin and nerve function
  • reproductive system function

How does cannabis play into all of this?

It’s all about the receptors.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the well known main cannabinoid of the cannabis plant, has the powerful ability to bind to both CB1 and two receptors. Thus driving the various effects of THC intoxication (not all of them desirable).

Research is underway to create a version of THC which is more endocannabinoid system friendly. In people like me terms, the effects you desire without those you don’t. For the medical community, the resulting compound could end up being far safer than many alternatives (particularly in the area of pain relief. Imagine not ever needing opioids!). For me, no more paranoid walks down dark streets four blocks from my house. And for the world of recreational marijuana in general, the possibility for . . . Endless possibilities.

Marijuana and THC strains that people can consume without the risk of accidentally triggering schizophrenia?

What about CBD?

At the moment, the mechanisms through which CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system are unknown. Researchers know that CBD does not bind to either CB 1 or 2 receptors. However, the picture beyond these findings is not as clear.

One is that CBD may interact with metabolic enzymes and cause them to be less effective, leaving endocannabinoids active for more extended periods. Another is that they may bind to a receptor that has yet to be found. Even with all of the unknowns, research still shows promising results when it comes to treating pain, nausea and other characteristics of multiple conditions.

There is also a hypothesis that considers the possibility of the newly discovered endocannabinoid system as being the missing link for many illnesses that don’t otherwise have a clear origin. This general condition is known as endocannabinoid deficiency. Reduced levels of endocannabinoids may manifest in abnormalities.

A few examples of such possibilities are:

  • Undiagnosed migraines

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome

As significant a role as the endocannabinoid system plays in our functioning; we still have a lot to learn.

What a fascinating time the coming decades are going to be.

Closing Notes

In the time between deciding to write this segment of the project and concluding, two potential problems came to light. One came to light last October when a research study discovered lowered sperm count in male daily cannabis users (compared to their non-using counterparts).

The other, released just yesterday (January 23ed, 2020), highlights an active link between cannabis use and increased potential for certain cancers of the head and neck. Researchers identified the mechanical pathway in which THC was activating, which resulted in unchecked growth of cancerous cells.

In hindsight, the above may NOT be endocannabinoid system related (I’m not an MD). But I’ll cover it anyway for the sake of honesty.

When considering the 2 cases above, remember how little we know about this area of human physiology. Not smoking cannabis (or otherwise ingesting cannabinoids) may be a good idea if you are trying to have children or at risk for the cancers outlined above. However, I caution everyone else from reading too much into this.

The way that scientific studies often get covered in the media is problematic as it is. When you add the fear, ignorance AND bad faith reporting which often goes into marijuana complication reporting . . . you get the picture.

These examples are used strictly to illustrate the time period in which this was written. I don’t know when future readers will find this post, so as such, I want it to be taken in the current context of research (we’ve hardly scratched the surface!).

“Electric Buses Charge Quickly With This New Wireless System” – (Ecowatch)

https://www.ecowatch.com/electric-bus-charging-system-2641538688.html

Around a month or so ago, I wrote a piece exploring my hypothesis that my country (in particular, one province within it) was betting on entirely the wrong horse when it comes to the future of energy. For that piece, I tried to keep a fairly level head in my explorations, despite holding strong opinions on the subject matter. As much as I value viewing the future in a pragmatic way, I also understand the human dynamic. When a new status quo technology transitions into being the new dominant infrastructure, you invariably have hundreds, thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of people displaced from employment.

The oilsands case for me is an interesting one for a few reasons.

As an environmentally minded citizen, I am in obvious opposition for that reason (leave it in the ground). Though those in favour are all about the good-paying jobs, it’s an inherently flawed argument. Good paying or not, corporations will ALWAYS run with but the absolute minimum amount of labour as is necessary to generate the desired revenue. And if those few jobs can be automated away, then there goes that argument. Even if they get their pipelines and whatever other infrastructure they demand from provincial and federal governments, all but the most technologically skilled engineers will STILL end up on the chopping block. The proverbial square one.

After the recent Canadian federal election, I more or less reiterated the same message. Though this time, I was far less contained in displaying my true feelings. A product of hearing the same old arrogant whining and complaining from the same short-sighted bunch of (generally) boomers, I lost my cool and had to release some steam. It wasn’t the unifying message that this country arguably is in need of. But at the same time, we’re all adults here. Whether or not adults choose to accept the consequences of future change that will almost certainly be out of their control, they will be affected by this change.

You can fight it. You can stay in the delusion until the progress of reality runs you down like a freight train and leaves your life, region and economy in a state of disarray. Or you can acknowledge the dangerously rough waters that lie ahead and start attempting to plan accordingly.
These plans may not help ALL affected by the change, nor may they even turn out to be the right guess (who knows what we can’t foresee in the coming decades). None the less, having a plan is far better than watching the economic, social and (and potentially, civil) fabric erode before your very eyes. Whilst my main focus herein on the Alberta economy, the aforementioned automation transition will affect far more regions than that.

Alberta may be in dire straights now. But they ain’t seen NOTHING yet.

Which brings me to the article I have linked above.

In Long Beach, California, some electric buses can charge along their route without cords or wires.

When a bus reaches the Pine Avenue station, it parks over a special charging pad. While passengers get on and off, the charger transfers energy to a receiver on the bottom of the bus.

Michael Masquelier is CEO of Wave, the company that makes the wireless system in Long Beach.

“We automatically detect that the vehicle’s there, automatically start the charge,” he says. “So it’s completely hands-free and automated.”

Wireless charging systems use what’s known as inductive charging to produce electricity across a magnetic field. Wireless phone chargers and even some electric toothbrushes work in the same way.

As you can see, it’s not a new technology. At very low power, it’s how proximity-based badge and credit card readers work. As noted above, it’s how wireless charging works. I have one of those pads, and as mobile device makers continue to work towards waterproof devices (as opposed to water-resistant), they will become even more commonplace.
Apple is already rumoured to be creating such a device in the iPhone 12. This means that other manufacturers (particularly Android flagships like future Pixels) won’t be far behind. Lack of ports means more opportunities for home branded headphones, wireless dongles and who knows what else.

Either way, the reason why I wrote this is to showcase a demonstration of this technology in action TODAY. If this can be made to work for buses, then it seems plausible that parking spots outfitted with similar tech could well be the future of charging personal EV’s. Maybe not at home, but consider the comfort and security of initiating payments and the other steps of the process without even leaving the vehicle. No current driver, gas OR electric, can boast that convenience.

This leaves semi-trucks and long haul trucking.

This has been typically viewed as a problem in the area of conversion since it’s hard to match the per kilometre (or mile) range of the average transport truck. One way of dealing with this would be swapping out batteries between trips. Another could be charging the battery (possibly with the assistance of plugging in to ensure maximum juice flow into the batteries) while the truck is at a warehouse or depot loading and unloading. The undercarriage of a trailer certainly has enough space to house the required conductors. Whether the time between loading and unloading a given shipment of freight is enough time to gain a proper charge, is questionable. But as these things go, maybe the solution isn’t just to rely on charging at layovers. Maybe a battery swap plus a charge is the answer.

Either way, the point of this is to try and further outline the seemingly obvious. The future is here, in all its fascinations and uncertainties. When it comes to the question of whether you can sustain an economy with heavy fuels only, it is less a question than a countdown.

It is not a matter of if. It is a matter of when.

In Defense of Jessica Allen

Many of my early posts were commentaries on wider society and popular culture annoyances which drove me nuts. Though I  had some focus areas, everything from Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil controversies, to Gene Simmon’s latest ban from Canadian radio (always after saying something stupid about suicide victims after the lastest overdose) would elicit a response from me. For a while, it seemed that there was not enough free time in a week to keep up with all the nonsense.

But eventually, I became much less interested in the trivial. As is very visible in the number of pieces that I have published in the last few years. One would think that POTUS #45 would be worthy of weeks worth of material in one single day. On one hand, yes. But on the other hand, everyone else has it covered. For a play by play, you need look no further than Twitter or any news outlet.
This particularity of what I cover had only increased when I started doing more focused long forms. And my attention span for this stuff is even thinner on account of me being in the process of writing a manuscript. All this, plus working 30 to 40 hours a week, doesn’t leave much time for nonsense.

This is why this deviation of the norm (and use of my valuable time) is surprising, even for me. Why has an issue centred at the crossroads of 3 different areas that I don’t normally care about (Hockey, popular culture and The Social) garnered so much of my attention? Why do I give a shit?

Annoying people have that effect on me. Particularly annoying hypocrites.

First off, let’s consider Jessica Allen. More so, what exactly she had the balls to say on national tv that got the masses knickers tied up into such a knot.

This nicely ties together the whole clusterfuck that brought this to my attention in the first place. It started with Don Cherries’ last stupid comment on the Rogers platform. Actually, I suppose those are both 1 and 2. Then there was the reaction to this interview.

First off, the obvious. Sure, how people spend their money is their business. But there is nothing here that I haven’t been saying for years. There is nothing here that other people haven’t been saying for years. Canadian hockey fans are akin to American evangelical zealots. Hockey culture in this country is toxically masculine and, overall, fucking annoying.

Since I am here anyway, I may as well do a clusterfuck play by play. Starting with #1.

You people . . .

First off, I was rather amused to find no less than 2 of the so-called sacred plastic poppies left discarded in dirty puddles around the city 2 days ago. Reminded me of my internal struggle to dot this I when I was a child. Poppies gradually come into the picture after Halloween is done. Then there is the start line for when every single Canadian TV personality (from pop culture personality to news anchor) has one. As though it’s a law.
But after . . . I never knew when was when. How long are you supposed to keep wearing this thing? And when you are done with it, what do you do with it? People buy new ones every year, yet do they throw out a sacred symbol of 3 days ago?

I am a natural-born Canadian citizen. I don’t wear a poppy. I haven’t for years. And in that same timeframe, I’ve seen Canadians that prioritize the symbol only grow more ridiculous. My longtime observation has been non-existent religious entities getting more respect than war hero’s just going by business hours. Here in Manitoba anyway, nothing is open on most holidays, but November 11th remembrance ends at 1pm. And people line up to get in the door.

Then there are the political implications of post-2016. As foreigners get even more skilled at using social media to manipulate the electorate of the western world, we see the whole of the world shifting ever more to the right. Authoritarianism and fascism are starting to make a comeback.

But as this all unfolds before our eyes, the seeming reversal of history, of course, the biggest story of the day is the neglected use of symbols. Whether it’s bigoted idiots calling out You people not wearing them, or getting pissy over people now wearing them in general.
Poppies are not the reason. Poppies are the symbolism to the reason.

You CAN have poppies and fascism, hand in hand. However, when you get to that point, you have missed the boat. And all that you thought you were defending, was for nothing.

The Firing

Before all of this, I really had no opinion of Donald Cherry.

Well, that isn’t entirely true. He proved himself a moron back in 2012 when he came out against science in terms of his Cold FX endorsement.

Aside from that though, the man was never on my radar. Not surprising, since the man occupied a completely different cultural space than I.

He was not without controversy, even before. How much harm this inflicted depends on whom you ask, but the man had overall been shown no boundaries. Until Rogers finally decided that enough was enough. So goes the so-called Canadian tradition that is Coaches Corner. Retired in disgrace. Much like half of its duo.

Of course, the disgrace part is disputed by long-time Cherry fans (and hockey fans alike). Like many other aspects of the world today, this is seen as yet another instance of oversensitivity poking its nose into the rest of culture. Rogers shouldn’t have cowered to those SJW bullies pushing their weight around. Poor Don Cherry.

Naturally. Every attempt at evening out the playing field in a distorted landscape is going to elicit this reaction. Equality means someone is going to lose power and privilege, and few are willing to part with longheld power and privilege quietly.
And then there is the freedom of expression angle. Another clusterfuck within a clusterfuck.

1.) Not wearing a poppy is a freedom of expression that was fought for. Remember that next time you start running your mouth off about what was fought for.

2.) Don Cherry has freedom of expression.

3.) Rogers has the freedom of saying “You’re OUT!” when it comes to his place on their platform

That is all there is to it. Tradition, freedom of speech, SJW’s . . . none of it matters. He toed the line too far, and it finally caught up with him.

Worry not, fans. We do live in the age of the podcast, after all. I would be VERY surprised if Don Cherry doesn’t make a comeback VIA a podcast or youtube channel sometime next year (likely in time for NHL season 2020). Your beloved segment isn’t going to disappear . . . just move to a new medium.

This shouldn’t be a worry since Hockey Night In Canada is run on a cable channel, to begin with (most cable subscribers also have broadband). I am inclined to highlight unfairness in that (hockey ONLY on cable?!), but I’m sure this point has already been raised.

Jessica Allen’s Controversy

Compared to what Cherry has in his past backlog of commentary, what Jessica had to say was tame. For many people existing outside of the hockey bubble, this is hardly controversial at all. The audience reaction alone was noteworthy. Of course, anyone in that audience is of a more like mind than not. However, the point still stands.

Someone finally had the balls to call out Canadian Hockey culture on a national media platform. And as expected, the bubble completely lost its shit.

First off, the hypocrisy.

“Rogers should not have fired Cherry!” one day. Then “Bell (CTV) should fire Jessica Allen!” the next. Is it too much to expect consistency from you bandwagon jumpers?
Think before you post. I’ve been saying it for years.

And then there is this.

https://calgary.ctvnews.ca/family-of-humboldt-broncos-crash-survivor-blacklists-ctv-over-comments-on-the-social-1.4686510

First of all, the fact that a Humboldt family can dangle interview privileges in the face of a news organization (how Trumpian, might I add) is asinine. Why do I care whether or not you want to be interviewed? Why should ANYONE care?

Being front and center to a mass casualty situation is one thing. Though I was more annoyed with the fact that the media descended on the town like a vulture onto a carcass, the fact that the town welcomed it was their choice. However, this screams milking the situation for all one can get.

The bus accident was a tragedy. But it only became what it became because of who was on board.

They were not the only victims of that very intersection, or even of bad semi driver training. They just happened to be from one of the most beloved groups in this country (hockey players!).
This would not be still in the cultural white noise if the semi had struck Greyhound bus. And few of us would know about this AT ALL if it had struck a smaller vehicle. It was and is a traffic accident.

Though the overall reaction to this was generally useless limelight toward Humboldt AND racism directed at the driver, not everyone let their emotions get the better of them. Some focused on truck driver training, which was found to be lacking pretty much everywhere aside from Ontario. Another area of focus was seatbelts in buses (should they be added?).

Whilst the jury is out on whether or not seatbelts will help in the case of busses or (in particular) school buses, many provinces have stepped up their training requirements. Alberta recently backpedalled somewhat on their original post-crash requirements, but not without getting an earful from Humboldt families.

Which is in fact, a good thing. If the publicity ends up being the driver of much-needed improvement, then so be it. It won’t bring back who was lost, but their legacies are not in vain.

Moving on from THAT and back to Jessica Allen, do I think she should apologize?

No.

I don’t know if CTV released this (or if someone crafted it for their benefit), but this pretty much sums it up.

On one side, you have this crowd:

https://www.thepostmillennial.com/the-don-cherry-jess-allen-double-standard-is-awakening-canadas-silent-majority/

And on the other side, you have anyone with a functioning brain.

Of course, the ears of the so-called silent majority (as noted in the post-millennial article above) perk up when they hear racism and bigotry they perceive is directed at them. How DARE someone talks about White boys and their culture of sports and meanness. How DARE Jessica!

All the while, every divisive thing that Don Cherry every said. . . that’s just the way he is. Every division that he ever sowed, excusable. All the toxicity that he has ever introduced into the fandom of the sport that Canada loves . . . what toxicity?

Double standards . . . did I just find another one?

An old guy with the privilege of longevity in the public eye is allowed to say whatever he wants without having to show remorse, but a young women must be fired for stating what amounts to an obvious but painful truth. Seems legit.

Jessica need not have apologized. CTV made the right decision (for once, Bell doesn’t disappoint me. Unlike HERE). And I hope not to ever feel the need to write about any of this trivial nonsense ever again.

 

A Canada In Disarray

My country is becoming an ever-growing disappointment for me of late. I say now, of late. But I can’t even really put my finger on when this divisiveness really started becoming stark.

Certainly, after Justin Trudeau was elected. Among some I know, suddenly the main problem was no longer Obama setting up FEMA camps in Headingly, Manitoba. FEMA, not a Canadian thing? I know. The regurgitators of this information fail to grasp such nuances.
There must have been a bit of a lull in the crazy because nothing sticks out overtly. Then Potus #45 comes storming into the worldwide political scene. For the previously mentioned crazy, the man may as well have been the second coming of Jesus. Though they are blatantly homophobic in typical prairie fashion, they would likely give the Donald a hummer if presented with the opportunity. And I ain’t talking about the GM gas guzzler, either.

In this country (or at least on the prairies), Trudeau didn’t have to do anything to earn the ire of the prairie provinces. Even before SNC Lavalin, the simple act of being born was all it took for many of these people. A generation that grew up with parents that hated Pierre, therefore, fuck JT.
Many of these people (when asked why they hate Trudeau so much) could invariably only spit out Facebook memes.
He’s letting in too many immigrants. The carbon tax. Veterans. All the typical talking points one expects to find in a foreign created toxic meme meant for our ageing Boomer populace. People ill-equipped to deal with the misinformation cesspool that is the internet.
Another sign of the times . . . I have never heard so many people casually call for the assassination of a political leader before. I never heard it for Chretien (though I was quite young). Not For Harper. Only Justin Trudeau seems worthy of this horrifying badge of honour on the part of whiny ageing conservatives.
And amusingly enough . . . the SAME people that casually drop this shit (even openly in public) also complain about censorship. You can’t say anything anymore without SOMEONE getting offended.

Uh . . . the power of privilege to shove heads up keesters.

Getting back to the state of the nation overall, however, we come to Canada’s petulant child. Alberta.I don’t recall when this province first started losing it’s fucking shit, but now, the dung is flying in all directions.

Alberta want pipeline, Alberta better get pipeline or else EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
HOW DARE YOU TAKE OUR HARD EARNED EQUALIZATION PAYMENTS YOU SMARMY UNGRATEFUL DEADBEATS!!!!!!! CANADA IS NOTHING WITHOUT OUR LANDLOCKED OILLY GOO!!!!

Whilst not everyone from the province is driving a coal roller or Jason Kenny, it’s hard to speak to even a smart Albertan who hasn’t had this mental disease warp their faculties. If Alberta isn’t the center of the Canadian universe now (and forevermore!), then there is no getting around getting the oil flowing. To Asia, to the east coast, to the US (but not optimally, even though they have the infrastructure to cook the bitumen). We just need to build the pipeline and they will come.

I suppose much of this lies from the accidental election of an NDP government for one term. Another case of a leader being damned no matter what she did.

Either way, no matter what, we now find ourselves in quite a situation. A growing contingent of the prairie provinces wants to separate from Canada. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and BC want to go migtow. I’m not sure about the territories since the pictures of future Canada #2 often don’t make that explicit. I’m not sure if it’s an oversight (some guy in St. Petersberg forgot Canada had 3 territories?), but it seems a mighty important detail to work out. Then there is the matter of Indian reservations and North American treaty rights.

Still wanna Brexit Canada?

But enough ranting. Time to deliver the bitter truth.

Alberta is an economic powerhouse in era with high oil prices and insatiable demands. Even as short a time ago as 5 years ago, this would seem to guarantee Alberta (and the Western Canadian Select class of petroleum in general) a bright future. But times are changing. And so too are economic trends.

https://mbman.wordpress.com/2019/08/09/the-future-of-the-alberta-tarsands-industry-and-the-future-of-work/

I sunk my teeth into this topic before, so I encourage all to take a gander. Since I have already done the work before ^^^, ill make it fairly brief.

Alberta is indeed an economic powerhouse currently. However, Alberta is also essentially operating a single-industry economy. All the eggs are in the same volatile basket. And if that basket tips over, there go all the eggs.
Not too long ago, OPEC tipped the basket over. American shale production is also giving it a good kick. And even if the price does come back up, you still have the matter of increasingly usable and long-range alternatives to fossil fuel-driven transportation.
You won’t see the elimination of all 50 to 60% of the share of oil consumption that makes up the transportation sector (including lubricants). However, even the retirement of a quarter to half of the current fossil fuel-driven fleet will make a huge difference in the overall price of oil. Which is bad for bitumen and WCS because of its heavy nature. If Canadian’s want to sell finished gasoline or diesel fuel, then we’re paying to crack it out of the bitumen. Or we sell it for dirt cheap and let someone else eat the growing cost.

It’s an unforgiving and vicious cycle that we are NOT going to win. The only solution is to follow the likes of such other oil economies as Norway and the UAE. Diversify and find a new solution.

I explored some of the long term ramifications in the paper I linked earlier. In there, I also took a stab at understanding what the future of work was going to look like. If memory serves, I was mostly thinking in a post work context. As it turns out, the post-oil sands era makes for a great time to experiment with how to deal with the post-employment era.

But, here we are. Living in 2019, after the federal government has just bailed out Canada’s fledgling energy industry to the tune of 1.6 Billion dollars. Another interesting quote from the global news article above:

The package is rolling out as pressure mounts on Canada to fulfill its promise to end all subsidies to fossil-fuel producers, and as European banks flee the sector altogether.

Sweden’s central bank said Wednesday it had sold its Alberta-government issued bonds because it will no longer invest in assets held by governments or companies with large climate footprints. A day later, the European Investment Bank, the non-profit lending institution of the European Union, announced it will not invest in fossil-fuel projects after 2021.

Both decisions followed a warning from Norway’s central bank on Nov. 5 that climate risk must be considered in all assessments before investments are made.

These are not the words of some hippy-dippy environmentalists (to quote an Albertan I know). These are the biggest financiers of industry in the world.

Consider this as well:

Canada’s energy industry is reeling from the departure of massive amounts of capital, with $30 billion divested in the last three years, even as global demand for oil is forecast to grow. The International Energy Agency said this week that global demand will grow by about one million barrels a day over the next five years, but plateau by 2030 as the use of more efficient vehicles and electric cars begins to take hold.

Both the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Alberta government said this week investors need to know that Canadian oil and gas are produced more sustainably and with tougher environmental standards than similar products almost anywhere else in the world, and remain a good investment.

2030 is a hair from less than a decade from now. How is more oilsands investment a GOOD investment?!

Play the “We have better social and ecological standards” card all you want. From a pragmatic standpoint, Oilsands is done. The Betamax of the energy world.

Are there political and humanitarian problems when it comes to the mining of rare earth minerals like Cobalt and Lithium?
Yes. Recent news out of Bolivia is a great example of what can happen when a small sovereign geography wins the resource lottery. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

I do consider these things. But one should also consider that anyone that makes use of any technology of today (from a smartphone or laptop, to the infotainment system in any post-2010’s era vehicle) also has blood on their hands.
Thus if you are criticizing my stance on electrics based on a faux-humanitarian stance on twitter, you are full of shit.

One more quote:

What might be most concerning to Canada’s energy workers and the economy as a whole is that natural gas is also on the Europeans’ chopping block. Liquefied natural gas, which produces fewer emissions than coal when burned for electricity, has been held up as an alternative fuel and Canada is responsible for more than one-third of new global gas projects now in development.What might be most concerning to Canada’s energy workers and the economy as a whole is that natural gas is also on the Europeans’ chopping block. Liquefied natural gas, which produces fewer emissions than coal when burned for electricity, has been held up as an alternative fuel and Canada is responsible for more than one-third of new global gas projects now in development.

Europe does not even want natural gas anymore. As for Asia (the market that Alberta wants to reach with its second pipeline to the west coast), consider the case of China. The nation has been battling to (and slowly making progress toward) reining in air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels.

https://www.scmp.com/news/china/science/article/2166542/air-pollution-killing-1-million-people-and-costing-chinese

And now, the ante has just been raised significantly. This air pollution is not just bad for health and economy in the sense we already understand, it’s also undermining new energy solar investments.

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/08/china-air-pollution-blocks-solar-panels-green-energy/

I now ask every Albertan to consider, where in this picture does heavy crude stand?

Why would a market that is already dealing with horrific air quality want to import more low-end fuel which will only add to it?

And if Canadian’s do pull off a miracle of finance and secure the funding for a high volume heavy crude refinery somewhere in Canada (remember that as of TODAY, it’s profitability lifespan is maybe 10 years), what of it?
China is a Paris agreement signee. Sure, it’s easy to look the other way when the emissions are dumped into the air in Canada (as opposed to mainland China). But either way, the footprint is the same.

I didn’t intend on writing about this topic, AGAIN. And after this, I am likely done. I took the time to stick my head out of the bubble to take stock of the situation, and if people stuck in the bubble can’t be bothered . . . suit yourself. The future will be filled with much less hardship if you confront it head-on (as opposed to putting one’s head up one’s ass), but suit yourself.

It looks like 2030 is a fairly key timeframe here. But whilst it seems to represent the plateau of future growth in oil and gas production, I sense that the Canadian energy sector has already crossed this threshold. In an era of dropping prices for easier to obtain streams (such as WTI), heavy streams will lose all viability much sooner.

Though there seems to be infrastructure for such fuels on the west coast, getting it there is a problem. No matter why Quebec is taking the stance that it is, I doubt it will change anytime soon. Particularly if residents and politicians are reading from the same economic tea leaves as me and the rest of the world.
As for trans-mountain . . . I think it is only a matter of time before that is greenlighted. I was not happy with the federal government wasting that amount of money on a future stranded asset, but it is what it is. I’m just hoping the fucker doesn’t burst somewhere ecologically sensitive before the world renders it obsolete.

Ah, yes. Ecological damage. That is all that Canada is going to be left with after this orgy of tarsands driven capitalism inevitably folds under the weight of its own arrogance.

Forgot the carbon time bomb that is represented by the extraction of all the tar sands oil that is available. Consider the giant scar that is represented by the now-abandoned open-pit mines. Consider all of the infrastructure that will be left to rot. The millions of litres of toxic fluids left to fester in ponds which are perilously close to waterways. Waterways which feed and water countless creatures and indigenous peoples.

Consider this carefully, Wexit’ers. Make a break for it, and this is what you are left within the not so distant future. As for Canadian’s in general, this is what WE are stuck with if this continues. When these companies start to go belly up, they are not on the hook for their toxic legacies.
Consider THAT price tag the next time you hear Jason Kenny (or anyone else on the pro-delusion bandwagon) griping about Alberta energy keeping Canada afloat with its equalization payments. If the bill that follows is less than what has been paid out, i’ll be shocked.

In Conclusion

Speaking for myself (I have made my argument heard already), I will first address one obvious potential critique of this piece. In an era of division, throwing gasoline on the flames (as I just have) is likely not to be seen as helpful. Particularly when it plays into the whole delusional dynamic that is the problem.

Alberta is in trouble, and the rest of Canada just does not GET it.

I understand the sentiment. I also understand that many people may well have been too inflamed by my earlier unfiltered rantings to bother reading this far. It is unfortunate, but frankly . . . tough shit.

1.) Whilst I took the time to back most of my statements with outside sources, this was still an exercise in venting. I’ve been hearing the so-called unheard populace spewing this garbage for years, now. If I was a bottle of cola in a paint shaker, this is the result of the bottle finally losing the battle with the forces therein.

2.) We are all adults. This is politics, and frankly, this is how the world works.

As the so-called myth of human progress continues to move forward, there are always people left behind in its wake. Whether this result is unnecessary (such as outsourcing based on corporate greed) or inevitable (new technologies replacing previous breakthroughs), the result is the same.

People end up without a job. More pertinently though, they lose their sense of purpose. This inevitably leads to increases in all manner of self-destructive attempts to fill this gap.

As adults living in this evolving world, you have a choice. You can continue to be triggered when the cold hard truth is spelled out for you clear as day. The transportation sector is changing, and Alberta bitumen is OUT.
Or alternatively, you can continue playing the current hand. Crying and moaning about your needs not being understood whilst simultaneously thumbing your noses in the face of provinces that benefit from the fruits of your labour.

Considering how receptive this populace has proven to be to all but emotional manipulation attempts, I admit that I don’t have much hope for them waking up anytime soon. I suspect that we will have to learn the hard way. After which the rest of us provinces will be there to help ease the burden. Such is the guarantee of Canadian Federation status.

For me, living in the prairies, this backwards mentality has always bothered me. I live in a city which always votes Conservative, no matter how little of value that the party (or it’s candidate) brings to our community. It’s what you get when baby boomers still make up the vast majority of the voters. Familiarly bland pablum.

I work for an organization that suffers from similar issues. Founded by, catering too, and primarily controlled by baby boomers at all it’s hierarchical levels, I fear that it will also fall victim to its leader’s vast blindspots.
A household name based on the Canadian prairies, it is a brand that everyone between Winnipeg and the Rockies will know and recognize. And it is a brand that will likely invoke a highly positive reaction amongst pretty much all prairie residents. Companies pay marketing firms millions of dollars to attempt to garner the type of reputation that my employer has in its market.

This was one of the reason’s I tried to get on there in the first place. Unlike every other corporate cog that I have ever found myself employed in, I thought it was more than just a job. In the first few months, people I worked with treating it as a typical workplace baffled the mind.
Of course, time goes on and novaltie wears off. Work becomes work, and boredom sets in. Then comes management changes, with all the issues that come with that. But such is par for the course of any place.

What bugs me though, is not the small picture. My little cog in the machine is indeed misfiring on account to COMPLETLY OBVIOUS NON-SENSE (if only those at the top bothered to look), but again, par for the course.
Where my concern comes in, is looking to the future. Looking down the road 10,15,20 years. When it comes to this outlook, I don’t have high hopes for the companies long term longevity.

The brass in the offices in Saskatoon do. At their brand self-promotion seminar that every employee was forced to attend last year (featuring a brilliant speaker that was WASTED on them, frankly), they ended the pageantry by celebrating 100 years of the company and looking forward to 100 more years of the company.

And here we come back AGAIN to the cancer of western Canadian business, oil. This company has millions of dollars invested in both petroleum reserves and petroleum infrastructure. Such is the number that the price of oil directly affects the end of year gross, and all other holdings don’t even come close.
It’s a place that is known as a good place to work. It’s a place that does indeed try to make this happen by way of good employee pension and benefit plans. If you stick around for the long haul, you will be set for retirement, they say. And considering how many 20, 30, 40-year retirings I’ve seen, it’s not hard to understand why they say that. They do live up to the promise.

But, for how long?

Up until maybe 4 or 5 years ago, the profitability and continued feasibility of fossil fuels of all kinds was not even an afterthought. It just was. But those days are gone.

When I look at my employer and what it stands for, I see big dreams. But what I also see is a petrochemical company equivalent to Leeman brothers. Outside of the anchor that is it’s oil holdings, I also see no cohesive future planning strategies. All I see coming from the top is more doubling down on what has always worked, and careful following of the industry wherein changes have become standard. Though the organization has the power to set standards using its substantial western Canadian base of operations, it chooses to be a follower.

This organization has been the best employer out of all that I have ever worked at so far. They do indeed have excellent benefits and retirement packages (compared to many others). However, what good does that do a young worker if substantial downsizing AT A MINIMUM becomes an inevitability in as little as a decade or 2?

My employer is an interesting marker since it’s current existence mirrors the bigger issues at play here in Western Canada. Its existence is so entangled with that of Western Canada that it can’t help but be a mirror to the big picture. It could potentially even serve as a canary in the proverbial coal mine.

I could play nice and talk about rainbows and pipedreams (pipelines!) that will solve every problem and make this Neverland once more (though hopefully not MJ’s interpretation). But I prefer to stick to reality and, forgive the cliche, swallow the red pill.

The time for childish antics is over. Let’s see some fucking action.

Rememberance In The Era Of Uncertainty

Writing something on this so-called day of remembrance has come to be somewhat of a tradition of mine since creating this blog. However, this time around, I really don’t have all that much new to say. I said all I had to say last year.

Will I have more to talk about aside from cautionary advice next year? Maybe.

It’s election time. Canada had it’s round, and Canada only barely emerged unscathed. Let’s see how our American counterparts drive the ship.

A Raindrop In The Ocean

poppies

That time of year has come around, once more. When we honor the souls who made the ultimate sacrifice, affording us the lives we currently take wholly for granted. And so it goes. Like the poppies growing row upon row, we follow the script year after year. Go through the same ceremonies and pageantries, followed by a whole lot of nothing. Well, at least until next year.

Speaking of traditions, even I have developed a remembrance day tradition of my own. Since debuting this blog onto the net back in early 2013 (just after my second foray into twitter the month previous), I have had a remembrance day related post for every single year.

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

These posts vary in substance, from my gripes and complaints about this day in the context of my life and work to fairly long-form explanations of my views on wearing…

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Encryption

 

Encryption

Part 1 – Intro

Encryption.

For those of us living in the modern world, it is an essential aspect of everyday life. It both guards our secrets and keeps other’s secrets safe from us. To borrow a quote from one of my favourite shows of all time:

“The world’s run on codes and cyphers, John. From the million-pound security system at the bank to the PIN machine, you took exception too. Cryptography inhabits our every waking moment.”

Sherlock

Series 1 / Episode 2

The Blind Banker

https://www.planetclaire.tv/quotes/sherlock/series-one/the-blind-banker/

As one may gather, this is an enormous topic. Even I didn’t realize the scale of it until setting out on this journey — yet another giant branch of the interconnected set of issues that surround modern-day digital technology.

The Sherlock Holmes quote neatly describes the security aspect of cryptography in modern-day life. What is far more pertinent to most people in this age, however, is cryptography’s other significant benefit that we all reap.

Privacy.

In general, the rule of thumb has been the more that technology (particularly communication technology) advances, the better it’s inherent privacy characteristics become. You can observe this through-line cordless and cellular phones, to modern-day cable tv.

Gains are particularly visible in transitions from analogue to digital. First, the development saved bandwidth (freeing up room for the bandwidth-intensive applications we take for granted today). The change also allowed the addition of cryptography into these distribution systems. Thus keeping older baby monitors out of your cellphone conversations, and making the management of signals by cable companies easier (along with countless other advances). And as technologies continue to advance, so do their inherent encryption characteristics. Though seldom fast enough to keep pace with the black hats looking for holes in the software to exploit, however.

A common saying in the IT security universe is that attacks never get weaker; they only get stronger. Such is the reason why your many devices are always prompting you about updating this and that.

Part 2 – The Definition of Privacy

Before I go any further, I have to pause and define precisely what I mean when I use the word privacy. Because in the context of the modern internet, precisely what is meant by this word can become quite convoluted.

First of all, I will grab the dictionary definition of the word.

A state in which one is not observed or disturbed by other people.”

“The state of being free from public attention.”

https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/privacy

When it comes to the online world (and interpersonal communication theirs in general), privacy invaders fall into three categories based on agenda.

a.) Evesdroppers

b.) Government Officials / Law Enforcement

c.) Advertisers

Going back to the days of analogue cordless phones and cellphones, we were at pretty much everyone’s mercy. Though all cellular network transmissions from the 2ed generation onward are nowhere near bulletproof, it’s far more challenging to accomplish a breach than in the early days. A mere two decades out from the first cell phones, we now find ourselves entirely in the internet age. Though advances in cryptography now do a reasonably good job in protecting communications from those in our immediate surroundings, most of the eavesdropping has shifted alongside the nature of modern-day interaction.

Whether you are using a direct connection (ethernet) or wifi, most prying eyes are likely between the modem and the packet’s destination. Every node that handles the packets on their journey has the opportunity to intercept, alter, copy or otherwise tamper with the data as it transits the web.

Part 3 – TLS

To combat this problem, much of the internet (at the behest of privacy advocates) has embraced various Transport Layer Security (or TLS) protocols. One of the most visible forms of this (to the average end-user) is Https://. Any website that you visit that presents the green padlock in the address bar is using TLS encryption. In English, this means that the only entities that know what links you are clicking within site are your browser, and the website itself. All that an intermediary (including your ISP) can see is gibberish flowing between you and the website.

Thanks to the work of groups like Mozilla and The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the internet isn’t far from becoming ubiquitously https (and otherwise TLS) based in its entirety. Since all browsers give users warnings when visiting partially or unsecured websites, full encryption will become necessary for sites that want to remain accessible in the coming years.

Along with web and email protocols, work is being done to shift the Domain Name System (or DNS) to a more secured status (called DNSSEC).

Anything devices do online requires knowing where to find or send this data. Here is where DNS comes in.
In a nutshell (see link above for more details) organizational LANS, ISP’s, or private organizations (e.g. Google Public DNS, OpenDNS, or Cloudflare) all have DNS repositories that provide client devices with IP addresses.

Though DNS inquiries generally provide scant information (particularly if much of the HTTP traffic is encrypted), it still serves as a map to your footsteps all around the web. Akin to how a car’s GPS history can serve the same purpose for your travels in the real world.

Part 4 – Cyber Security

One of the biggest drivers of the push towards TLS encryption wasn’t privacy, interestingly enough. One of the biggest drivers was cybersecurity. An interesting and facinating timeline (that goes all the way back to the begining) can be seen HERE.

Although the more sensitive areas of online life-like online banking already employ encryption, much of the other stuff was transmitted transparently for years. Meaning that all of those MSN Messenger conversations, search engine queries, forum visits, and sent/received email messages were more than likely to be easily intercepted.

Consider the possibilities:

  • snooper on your LAN (particularly if in a public place) or within range of your WEP enabled or unencrypted wifi network.

  • Your ISP (be it for mandated record-keeping, or at the behest of a law enforcement request)

  • Anyone with ill intent can plant themselves anywhere between your machine and the destination IP (be it foreign governments or blackhats with a variety of agendas). Some ISP’s have even been known to intercept and cut off P2P traffic to minimize network load.

Wifi Hell

Speaking of wifi, I should also note that WPA2, the current wifi standard, has now as been broken. With ease, it seems. A researcher playing with the newest standard (WPA3) accidently found the krack vulnerability in conducting his work.

https://www.zdnet.com/article/new-wi-fi-attack-cracks-wpawpa2-passwords-with-ease/

Oh yeah, someone also broke the WPA3 standard already.

https://www.zdnet.com/article/new-dragonblood-vulnerabilities-found-in-wifi-wpa3-standard/

Did I say that all of this stuff was fascinating? What I should have said was facinating, but also often times frustrating, and occasionally downright terrifying.

Back to it

While the potential of prying eyes on the wire was terrible, the far more damaging and dangerous potential lay in the potential injection of malicious code into passing traffic. For example, if an eavesdropper notices their target fetching photos from a webpage, they may be able to inject malware into the picture as it transits back to the user.

The rise in attacks like this (along with the public becoming increasingly more sensitive to privacy issues) ended up driving both platforms and browsers towards adopting transport layer safeguards. While this has not stopped the distribution of malware VIA web browsers, TLS encryption has still succeeded in making the internet safer and somewhat more private for all users. Particularly the increasing number of novice users (who’s ignorance of cybersecurity knowledge often leaves them reliant on the default settings of the various software vendors that they utilize).

Part 5 – Going Dark

While protocol level encryption has proven beneficial in contributing to both the privacy and security of everyone online, it has made surveillance much more difficult. While higher-level intelligence organizations tend to be less affected by this than lower-level organizations (such as local police forces), encryption hinders investigations at all levels.

I will now cite a recent mafia bust in Ontario as an example of the changes happening in this area.

The operation was named Project Sindacato, and it took place in Vaughan, Ontario. After over a year of listening in on nine members and associates of the Figliomeni crime family via wiretaps, York police moved in and made the arrests. In a joint effort with authorities in Italy (who also arrested 12 people), York police seized $35 million in assets from the family.

https://globalnews.ca/news/5655827/police-allege-crime-family-busted-in-mob-raid-laundered-more-than-70m-through-ontario-casinos/amp/

The reason this is on my radar is that it made me consider the age of most of those arrested. Of the nine people arrested, they range in age from 30 to 56, with the bulk of the group either over or approaching 50. The reason I find this interesting is, frankly, the everyday habits of those of that cohort. Though far from being a ubiquitous trend, that cohort tends to have reservations towards embracing (or at times, even understanding) new forms of technology. And even for those that aren’t afraid to embrace new technology mediums, old staples tend to remain the dominant go-to (i.e. Cable TV and landline phones).

Though authorities don’t explain what is entailed by their use of the word wiretapping, I will go out on a limb and say that it is likely self-evident. Whether they were using primarily landlines or cellphones, both technologies are relatively easy to wiretap.

Going back to my teen years, one could say that I was a bit of a geek. Alongside my fascination with all types of infrastructure, I was often curious about how many digital breadcrumbs were left behind by my day to day activities. Growing up in a post 9/11 world, I always assumed that something was watching. Whether it was ISP’s keeping records and logs, or automated systems scanning communications traversing the internet, I never believed I was truly alone.

Edward Snowden Rant

Hence why I never took the Edward Snowden revelations seriously. It’s not that what he did was not commendable; it’s that it was shocking to me that what he exposed was considered outrageous. Both because of the social media revolution (with people sharing all kinds of details publicly), and because it all seemed rather obvious. It only took a decade for the world to completely forget about one of the ongoing hangovers from the 9/11 era, the patriot act.

All of this made even more annoying by the fact that Nova’s documentary “The Spy Factory” was released long before Snowden was ever in the spotlight. It aired and published online in 2009, 3 years before Snowden would make his debut on the world stage in 2014.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdPpdu8OGDQ

As is blatantly apparent, I don’t particularly like Edward Snowden. Though he most certainly did the world a favour, the fact that he had to do so was bothersome. Not to mention the whole Assange-esk, “I am a martyr for your freedom!” act.

Look where he ended up — the bastion of human rights, free expression, and digital privacy oasis that is RUSSIA.

Back to it

Either way, even before seeing the story of the fallen Figliomeni family on the news, the question “How surveillable am I ?” occurred to me. In pondering this, I found myself coming to a surprising conclusion. Though the answer is far fr on “Not at all” or “Impossible,” I do conclude that the response in recent years would have to be “Difficult.”

Advertisers And Data Brokers

First of all, one can’t fully explore this topic without touching on one of your main adversaries when it comes to privacy online. That is, data minors and advertisers.

Existing to resell every data point that they can get (in the context of individual internet users), advertisers/data brokers are the biggest threat to privacy online. Be they transparently visible or under the guise of some other internet business, it’s challenging to maintain an identity online without coming into contact with these parasites.

Much like anyone else using the internet that is aware of this stuff, I am conscious of my at times involuntarily shared breadcrumbs that life online creates. There are ways to push back (ad blockers, anti-tracking browsers and browser add-ons, using a VPN all the time), but no way is truly foolproof. It is indeed possible to avoid many of these pitfalls, but it is at the expense of the convenience and ease of use that we all often take for granted. Thus, you have to decide what is more relevant to you: privacy or comfort.

Back to it

Despite everything contained in the previous paragraph, I still have to say think that I am difficult to wiretap. The main reason for this being everything that happens on most platforms accessible by browsers has now shifted onto the TLS protocol. While this is not always the case, users tend to be less wary of using platforms that don’t trigger scary warnings and signals from their web browser. Thus, it quite literally pays to ensure that your advertising and tracking methods fit into the secure tunnel environment.

This is where this all gets interesting is from a surveillance perspective. What may be useful in the stream of data entering and leaving my various devices? At this point, almost none of it.

Let’s consider the mafia bust that I referred to earlier. I ran with the assumption that much of the intel on the case originated from telephone conversations. If they had cellphones, text messages might have helped as well (if not from the phones, then from the carrier records). Interestingly, authorities will have no such access if they used iPhones/iPads with iMessage enabled. Not only will the messages be encrypted, but so to will the phones themselves.

If I look at myself, there are a few possibilities — my cellular carrier stores all of my text messages for 30 days. Though I do make phone calls, they tend to be few and far between (like others in my generation, I’m not a big fan of phone conversations). Not unlike most others my age and younger, much of my communication has shifted into the cloud.

While we interact on devices kept in our homes and pockets, the real action happens far from where most of us live — making surveillance of individuals utilizing this technology, challenging.

That is why the Ontario mafia bust caught my eye. Police didn’t have to go further than a local court to obtain the wiretap warrants, which is simple, compared to surveilling someone using cloud platforms.

Though one could start by going after the data gathered on this person by their ISP or cell carrier, one is likely to learn minimal (thanks to TLS protocols!). Which only leaves going to the social media platforms themselves. Often, this involves dealing with a company in another country, which may or may not grant your request on account of their local laws. Since most of the big guys are in the US, these companies may be compelled to follow US law.

While this can be problematic for authorities, the increasingly ubiquitous nature of unbreakable encryption is far more troublesome. In cases where targets use robust encryption platforms on encrypted devices, obtaining access can be very difficult (if even possible). With more manufacturers shipping devices with encryption enabled by default, and more platforms than ever announcing experimentation with fully encrypted messaging services, the possibility of all communications going dark is not out of the realm of possibility.

 

Part 6 – The End Of Encryption?

Not to long ago, I wrote a piece about cryptocurrencies. I compared the decentralized nature of the blockchain-based crypto ledgers to that of mid to late 2000’s era P2P networks and the bit torrent protocol. Neither of which will ever be fully shut down, but both of which will become far more of a hassle to access

.

While this hassle imposed obsolescence has already happened with legacy networks like Gnutella (think Limewire) and Fastrack (think Kazaa), BitTorrent is still in the early stages. No, BitTorrent will never cease functioning. However, it’s user base will become far more limited than it is now.

I carried this argument over to modern-day cryptocurrencies, citing their common utilization by criminal elements on account of their deliberate lack of transparency. Since there is money to be made in the business of cryptocurrencies, I doubted that government-sanctioned versions were too far off into the future. These will give legitimate investors a pathway to continue building and growing their investment without the worry of eventual crypto bans freezing all of their assets.

As the reality of this situation becomes apparent (libertarian forms of cryptocurrency are on the way out), the falling valuation will drive the remaining holdouts over to the now more valuable government-mandated ledgers. As such, though there is no way to halt any cryptocurrency blockchain entirely, enough legitimate investors will bail on them to shrink the user base enormously. Once bans are announced, more users will flee, particularly if they need to convert the coins into real-world fiat currency.

It was this write-up (and some discussion of this very subject on a tech podcast I listen too) that made me consider the fate of encryption as we know it. Unlike Gnutella, BitTorrent, and modern-day cryptocurrency, governments can quickly stop encrypted connections. All they have to do is force ISP’s to block such connections from ever being made (as noted by Steve Gibson in a recent Security Now episode). Though no governing entity would consider such a tactic today (the economy would grind to a halt!), we should not take the modern-day internet for granted. Even though companies and organizations are fighting for our right to privacy ought to be commended, we must consider the reality of the situation. If the flick of a switch can hinder all of the privacy gains of the modern-day internet, we are NOT in control.

Though I have no doubts that all interests involved will continue the fight right to the bitter end, I also do not doubt that the status quo WILL eventually change. The real question mark for me is exactly how this change is going to look.

Part 7 – Options

One way in which this might go would be a mass revert back to weaker forms of encryption. While this would solve the going dark problem, this ought to be a non-starter since it re-introduces every issue resolved by strengthening encryption. Sure, law enforcement and the five eyes alliance now have NO problem seeing into the world’s data. But so to will anyone willing to dig up old exploits and vulnerabilities. It’s terrible news for anyone who values even a modicum of privacy and, horrifying for dissidents and whistleblowers living anywhere on this earth.

The next option would be to keep the secure encryption (and therefore, all the gains that have come from it), but ensure some form of back door accessibility.

Indeed, this argument is controversial. And honestly, I don’t know that I necessarily agree with the premise, either. However, I feel the need to be pragmatic. Though I’m not fond of making it easier for authorities to intercept communications, it would be delusional to think that governments will accept being locked out. After all, we already know that the NSA is vacuuming up petabytes of data traversing around the internet. They don’t know what they have, but have all the financial resources they need to keep trying to break the cryptography.

Although figuring out precisely what this new accessible encryption is going to look like is going to be up to the companies implementing it, a couple of methodologies come to my mind.

One of them would be to enable the cloning and decryption of packets as they traverse on the wire (making for an updated version of a traditional wiretap). This method has the benefit of exclusivity. Authorities can put in requests to access specific traffic (e.g. Social media messaging apps) while leaving everything else unreadable.

Another method that is far more invasive than the last one is mandating an Operating System backdoor in all devices. While the benefit is no required weakening of any TLS protocols, the drawback is the considerable amount of accessibility you gain into someone’s life. Instead of just instant messages and social media, you get everything.

Part 8 – Who will be the gatekeeper?

A far more complicated problem than even figuring out the technical aspects of this is figuring out who will be in control of the keys to the kingdom. And not just who controls the keys, but who decides how much accessibility is acceptable in each instance.

This mattering because the difference between monitoring selected traffic and an OS backdoor is the difference between wiretapping a phone line and placing cameras and microphones in someone’s home. The saturation of various technologies into modern-day life promotes a need for a change in how wiretapping used. Since modern devices contain far more information than they once did, what will be the new limitations when it comes to accessing this personal information?

Let’s consider a possible real-life example. Police suspect that Person A is selling drugs (or some other contraband) using end to end encrypted chatrooms. Since the old method (slap a wiretap on the phone line) won’t work, what then?
The next step would likely be to go to the platform and request access. However, if that fails, what is the recourse? Aside from the seeming necessity in catching the person red-handed (so there is no shadow of a doubt), it seems that getting their hands on the device becomes very important.

Using the same situation, let’s say that law enforcement finds enough probable cause to request (and be granted) an arrest warrant. So person A is picked up, and their devices are seized and entered into the case as evidence. However, the devices are encrypted (as is typical, these days), and the person refuses to divulge the password. At this point, authorities strongly suspect that the devices contain valuable evidence to support their case. So:

  1. How much access should be granted to their devices?
  2. Who makes the decision?

While it depends on the manufacturer, the answer to that question these days is generally none. Since most modern devices contain all of their decryption keys internally, manufacturers can’t even help law enforcement break-in.

Which is the point.

Not only is it a good selling point, sticking to privacy principals is worth more than gold in terms of public image (particularly in high profile cases).

A Slightly Fruity Rant

Here is a big reason why the most anti-competitive and anti-consumer device manufacturer on earth is still widely adored by the public at large.

Having said that, why device manufacturers embrace full device encryption is not the issue. Even if it does come across as a glaringly transparent marketing ploy (since their largest competitor’s core business model heavily relies on data-mining), the result is still an overall net positive. However, as stated previously, I don’t think that taking such a hard-nosed stance is necessarily beneficial for digital privacy in the long term.

Part 9 – The Post-Encryption World

When (I don’t believe that it is a matter of if) the floodgates do finally open, decisions will have to be made.
Will (should?) all levels in the law enforcement hierarchy have equal access to all potential data? How will these determinations be made?

Given the sensitivity of the information involved (often people’s entire lives), I think that a third party auditing process should be established. We know that law enforcement will ALWAYS push to get their hands on as much data as they possibly can. And manufacturers will generally be inclined to fight tooth and nail (the more publicly, the better) NOT to divulge anything more than they have to. With two interests so opposed (and one side holding the stick that is the Patriot Act), there comes the need for a neutral zone of arbitration. An entity that can evaluate both if such a breach of one’s privacy is warranted, and how far the parameters of the search will extend.

In conclusion, we have come a long way when it comes to personal privacy. And with more and more services starting to embrace end to end encryption even for everyday use cases, things are only getting better. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that no matter how you feel about all levels of government, they WILL win on this issue.

We likely won’t see governments becoming aggressive around this issue anytime soon. However, this is no reason to sit on your hands.

ISP data-mining

Though not necessarily related to the previous subject matter, people in the United States should consider their online privacy on account of a very recent revelation.

As of 2017, ISP’s now have been given the green light to sell data they harvest from their customers to data brokers. While these ISP’s mostly only see metadata these days (thanks again, TLS!), you can still learn a lot from that. An ISP may not know what I am reading on truthdig.com or what my uncle is reading on Foxnews.com. However, repeated behaviour (visiting sites like these repeatedly) is valuable information in itself. As would be visiting a page like plannedparenthood.org.
Both AT&T and Verizon have already jumped into the advertising game. And Google (think Google Fiber) is already well known for AdSense.

It’s something worth considering. While a VPN would fairly quickly get around this privacy invasion now, it may become challenging if VPN’s are forbidden (and actively blocked) by law. Given that ISP’s have a vested interest in making encrypted tunnelling disappear, it’s average Americans that need to keep their eye on the ball.

Part 10 – Addressing The Whistle Blower / Dissident Dilemma

I can not conclude this without taking the whistleblower and dissident argument into consideration. Of all the people that such a drastic move against blind encryption would affect, whistleblowers and dissidents are going to be impacted the most. Both the future that I envision (law enforcement and intelligence agencies turning on end to end encryption) and the technology I envision will solve this problem are inherently antithetical to the highly sensitive needs of the whistleblower or dissident. While I am fully aware of this . . . I don’t know what to tell you.

Are these changes going to further discourage people from coming forward with injustices they discover?

It seems a likely scenario of such a world.

Could this make it close to impossible for a whistleblower or dissident to embrace electronic communications of any kind?

Again, this is not out of the realm of possibility.

I don’t like it, either. And honestly, it would be much easier to fall in line with the “Down with spying!” crowd and call it a day. Given my increasingly pragmatic nature, however, I feel compelled to bring issues like this to the forefront.

Indeed, I don’t have the answers required to put a cute bow on everything outlined in this writing. In a sense, though, that is the point.

The problem is far more significant than me. And it is going to impact us all, whether we like it or not. The silliness of the average anarchist or libertarian comes to mind. We Should do this, and we should do that. This is how things should be.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but what you/me/we think should be the case means diddly squat. While persevering over the worldwide signals intelligence apparatus certainly makes for a nice thought, that is all that is.

A dream.

Even if there exists no looming deadline in which to fixate on, it is in everyone’s best interest to start considering this problem NOW.
Doing so will ensure ample time to perfect these new standards (whenever they become relevant legislatively). Doing so will give governments and companies time to figure out how to deal with the privacy dilemmas explored previously. And most importantly, doing so will ensure more time and resources are devoted to figuring out a potential solution for the whistleblower / dissident problem.

This does not mean that this problem will be solved. However, we have a much better chance of a positive ending if the expirimentation begins long before any hard deadline is ever proposed (let alone enacted).

Cryptocurrency

I have been covering many topics related to future technology of late. One topic that has been on my radar but that I have not given much thought to, are cryptocurrencies. Most are likely familiar with the topic through the most well-known variant (Bitcoin), though there are hundreds of more varieties. The phenomenon even has a home in popular culture in Mr. Robot (spoiler alert!), in Evil (E) corp’s attempt to switch the world over to E-coin (as opposed to the traditional US dollar) after the 5/9 hack.

This has been in my periphery for some years now, but I recently grew interested in it on account to 3 factors. Some interest was generated by various segments of The Majority Report which outline the technology’s libertarian roots. However, the major triggers were a combination of viewing a segment on the subject by John Oliver, AND hearing about the David Pakman show being robbed of a few grand in of cryptocurrency.

Both in the same week.

This is not the first time that a hacker has made off like a thief in the night with a bunch of coins. But you could say that it was the first time it hit close to home. If one can say that as a regular viewer of an online personality. Isn’t it interesting this online infrastructure has done for human relationships and interactions?

Anyway, John Oliver covered the topic in enough depth to satisfy the casual viewer, but not mine. I understand skimming over the black box stuff and getting straight to the meat of the issue (this seems to be driven almost solely due to popularity), but I need more. I love peeling back the shell and seeing what circuits lie beneath.

And so that is what I will attempt to do. Peel back the curtain on cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, as well as blockchain, the underlying mechanism that drives them. Blockchain in itself being something that I find myself increasingly running into (there are tv spots advertising the technology now!).

The obvious place to start is the underlying platform that is blockchain.

Simply put, a blockchain is a continually growing, widely distributed, and continuously updated list. The technology was invented along with bitcoin as a completely decentralized way to keep an ongoing ledger of the currencies use, but it could also be put to use in other areas (such as tracking shipments).
In the context of bitcoin, the ledger (along with various forms of cryptography) prevent the so-called double spending flaw of digital currencies. Since a bitcoin is nothing more than a digital file, copies could be made, thus (in theory) ending in an unlimited amount of currency. This glut of non-existent (fraudulent) coins can destabilize the currency by devaluing it (relative to other currencies).

One of the benefits of common and uncommon cryptocurrencies (expect both lists to change as the year’s pass) is the independent and fairly isolated nature of the framing that supports the respective systems. All necessary background data pertaining to past transactions involving the given currency are publicly available, a necessity due to the finite number of bitcoins in existence (the reason why a glut of fake coins would crash the value of the currency as a whole).
As it stands, not all cryptocurrency ledgers have (or likely, will) prove immune to attacks attempting to break the double-spend safeguards, as happened with Ethereum Classic earlier this year.

I should explain Ethereum. Like Bitcoin, Ethereum is yet another variety of cryptocurrency, forking off from what is now known as Ethereum Classic. There are 2 different types of fork (hard and soft):

1.) A hard fork results in 2 (or presumably, more) different and incompatible blockchains (and thus, 2 different types of coins). Ethereum Classic and Ethereum are a good example.

2.) A soft fork results in 2 different blockchains, but with the forking chain being compatible with the parent chain. For example, the SegWit fork in context to  Bitcoin. 2 different blockchains, the same pool of coins.

https://cryptocurrencyfacts.com/understanding-hard-forks-cryptocurrency/

Since the only requirement to creating a fork (hard OR soft) on any blockchain seems to be a good enough white paper, this would seem to make the whole of the system ripe with vulnerability. A malicious fork could net a whole lot of crypto to reward the efforts of the creator, and it’s not entirely clear that most adopters would know how to spot the deception. A completely understandable enigma given that the whole phenomenon is complex as it is.

Though seemingly an exercise in the theoretical, such attempts have been found in the context of the Ethereum blockchain.

https://cointelegraph.com/news/two-alleged-ethereum-scam-forks-appropriating-users-private-keys-report-finds

From the look of it, the 2 forks seem to do what they are intended to do, but with the downside of sending users private keys to a remote server. A remarkable find given that this key is what users need in order to access the coins in their wallet. If it is compromised, the coins are as good as gone.
Fortunately for the average user, a fair number of organizations seem to be keeping a close eye on the crypto world, watching for these blockchain level scams. When it comes to everyday fraud though, it’s up to all users to be vigilant.

Though a different problem entirely, just as much grief can be caused by the loss of a private key. Whether it’s forgotten, lost or otherwise beyond your reach, so too are the coins held behind that key. If there is no way to retrieve the key, they are as lost as the cash stashed in the cabins of the Titanic.

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/bitcoin-exchange-quadrigacx-password-cryptocurrency-scam-a8763676.html

It’s happened to many users before. Millions of dollars worth of coins lost to forgotten credentials or careless storage. However, this appears to be the first time a coin exchange (the crypto equivalent to a bank) lost its funds due to password negligence. An allegation that I don’t hesitate to use considering that Password managers exist. As much as they annoy me, they would be VERY handy given the circumstance.

As it turns out, the QuadrigaCX scandle was about much more than just password negligence. The guy also had very sticky fingers.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/quadrigacx-founder-used-aliases-moved-assets-into-personal-accounts-ernst-and-young-1.5182984

But I am getting a little lost. Possibly, reversed in terms of how I should be presenting this. Either way, back to the origins of crypto.

The most well known of all of them (and most valuable) is currently bitcoin (and has been pretty much since it’s inception and introduction to the market back in 2009). Despite the explosive popularity of the bitcoin whitepaper and the phenomenon that followed (which is now gaining enough economic power to catch the attention of those with a skeptical eye of anything outside of traditional investments), we don’t know who got the ball rolling.

Uh . . . what?! The Mark Zuckerberg of the digital currency world is STILL a mere blank avatar, even a decade out from the debut of his handiwork?

It would seem so.

The name floating around in the absence is Satoshi Nakamoto, his(?) digital pseudonym. From releasing his ongoing project with a cryptography mailing list in late 2008 and the first software (and coin release) in early 2009, right to handing the reins of the Bitcoin  black box over to a fellow named Gavin Andersen in mid 2010, we still don’t know the identity of the person behind the pseudonym.

When it comes to obtaining Bitcoin for yourself, you have the choice of either mining for newly minted (well, newly released) coins, or obtaining coins already in the marketplace. Since it is a currency, it can be obtained in more or less the same ways (direct purchase, payment, wages, gambling etc), though the prices for direct purchase are WAY out of reach for many. As of today (August 12th, 2019), the value of 1 bitcoin is $11,374 USD. This is up from the $7,400.00(ish) that it was back in May of this year (when I started writing this).
As for mining, that is also generally out of reach of most of us. Being that it involves enormous amounts of computational power that only the most wealthy investors can afford. Such is the expense of Bitcoin mining that it has a carbon footprint (those servers have to be powered by something!).

https://www.businessinsider.com/bitcoin-climate-carbon-emissions-rising-2018-10

Though Bitcoin is out of the reach of most people, there are plenty of other alternative cryptocurrencies that are both valued low enough to be accessible AND requiring of much fewer resources for their mining (such as Etherym and Monero). However, as with how all things involving the internet and anything valuable go, the nefarious are never far behind in their quest to hunt down ever more profitable vulnerabilities.

Enter, the crypto miner.

Though generally not nearly as profitable as ransomware deployed in the right environment (such as corprate, or more recently, municipal networks), crypto minors can become a significant source of revenue if deployed on a large enough scale. Given the wide variety of ways that these minors can distribute themselves, generating massive numbers is generally not an issue.

First, you have the obvious. Browser drive-by downloads.
However, these can be of limited use because any AV worth it’s salt should catch that almost instantly, and if not, certainly after a heuristics analysis.
Where things get complicated is when these minors (or a worm that it is bundled with) takes advantage of old unpatched vulnerabilities in all manor of internet-facing infrastructure. Set and forget devices such as routers and servers. Devices that are often issued patches when these exploits are found, yet devices that almost never actually GET updated in any way (if they don’t ship auto-update capable).
Unpatched older home routers that shipped with unknown bugs (or even idiotic default settings, leaving them far more open to the internet than most owners realize) have become notorious for enabling all kinds of exploitations (from mining to DDoS attacks). However, there is also no shortage of unpatched commercial equipment deployments out there that can easily be exploited for personal gain.

But I am once again, I am off course.

Not that you shouldn’t heed this advice, however (KEEP YOUR DEVICES UPDATED!!). It’s not just good security . . . it’s as much a part of everyday life as keeping your doors locked while you sleep.
This is second only to good password hygiene.
Along with keeping your software up to date, LOSE THE REPEATED PASSWORDS!!
There are many password managers on the market (free and paid) that allow the ease of use of only needing to remember 1 password (for your vault). Take the time to transition your now more secure passwords into a vault and you will have less to worry about if a service you use inadvertently spills your credentials into the wild.
You will only need to change 1 password (as opposed to ALL OF THEM).

It’s 2 relatively easy to implement changes in digital behaviour. But they serve to protect you from 2 growing areas of consumer exploit. Certainly, something to think about if you are considering getting into the crypto game.

I will now conclude this piece. So far, I have covered many downsides of this technology. It would seem, disproportionately so.

Given this, I will now look at some positives.

I think the most obvious one (as outlined by its many proponents) is the focus on the individual, along with the ease of cutting out the middle man in almost every transactional situation. Though offsite wallet storage options for coins exist, individuals can also opt to keep their coins stored on a computer, mobile device, or even a physical piece of hardware (generally connected to a USB port). Transactions of all types are promoted as being more straightforward, with less interference (and of course, fee’s) than one would face when dealing with a traditional banking or lending institution.

We will now pause to explain the concept of the cryptocurrency wallet. It is not quite what it sounds, though the name given helps to make the concept more digestible to the less technically literate. It is less a wallet that stores all your coins than it is a repository of your private key.
Though no coins are actually moved in any of these processes (I know . . . ), it’s all about tracking. In order for coins to change hands, the sender has to know the recipient’s public address (anyone that deals in crypto will have one). It’s a bit like an email address. In order to access these funds, coin owners also have their own personal private key. This is what gives them access to all of their coins, and thus needs to be heavily guarded against theft, loss or human error (OPPS! I forgot my key!).

Either way, I’ll let the Huffington Post’s Ammer Rosic explain some of the positives of cryptocurrency as viewed by its proponents:

How will cryptocurrency help you?

Fraud: Individuals cryptocurrencies are digital and cannot be counterfeited or reversed arbitrarily by the sender, as with credit card charge-backs.

Immediate Settlement:Purchasing real property typically involves some third parties (Lawyers, Notary), delays, and payment of fees. In many ways, the bitcoin/cryptocurrency blockchain is like a “large property rights database,” says Gallippi. Bitcoin contracts can be designed and enforced to eliminate or add third party approvals, reference external facts, or be completed at a future date or time for a fraction of the expense and time required to complete traditional asset transfers.

Lower Fees: There aren’t usually transaction fees for cryptocurrency exchanges because the miners are compensated by the network (Side note: This is the case for now). Even though there’s no bitcoin/cryptocurrency transaction fee, many expect that most users will engage a third-party service, such as Coinbase, creating and maintaining their bitcoin wallets. These services act like Paypal does for cash or credit card users, providing the online exchange system for bitcoin, and as such, they’re likely to charge fees. It’s interesting to note that Paypal does not accept or transfer bitcoins.

Identity Theft: When you give your credit card to a merchant, you give him or her access to your full credit line, even if the transaction is for a small amount. Credit cards operate on a “pull” basis, where the store initiates the payment and pulls the designated amount from your account. Cryptocurrency uses a “push” mechanism that allows the cryptocurrency holder to send exactly what he or she wants to the merchant or recipient with no further information.

Access to Everyone: There are approximately 2.2 billion individuals with access to the Internet or mobile phones who don’t currently have access to traditional exchange, these people are primed for the Cryptocurrency market. Kenya’s M-PESA system, a mobile phone-based money transfer, and microfinancing service recently announced a bitcoin device, with one in three Kenyans now owning a bitcoin wallet. (Let me repeat that again. 1/3)

Decentralization: A global network of computers use blockchain technology to jointly manage the database that records Bitcoin transactions. That is, Bitcoin is managed by its network, and not any one central authority. Decentralization means the network operates on a user-to-user (or peer-to-peer) basis. The forms of mass collaboration this makes possible are just beginning to be investigated.

Recognition at universal level: Since cryptocurrency is not bound by the exchange rates, interest rates, transactions charges or other charges of any country; therefore it can be used at an international level without experiencing any problems. This, in turn, saves lots of time as well as money on the part of any business which is otherwise spent in transferring money from one country to the other. Cryptocurrency operates at the universal level and hence makes transactions quite easy.

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/7-incredible-benefits-of_b_13160110

It should be noted that the author of this article is also the CEO of a company called Blockgeeks, an organization that looks to be specializing in courses covering everything one needs to know to get in the game of blockchain (and by extension, cryptocurrency). Not exactly a case of conflict of interest, but worth keeping in mind.

And now, the long-awaited conclusion. Almost.

As it stands right now, I am personally leary to embrace the technology as it exists today. Aside from the libertarian-leaning selling points of it spawning skepticism in my mind (as opposed to curiosity), I just don’t trust cryptocurrencies at the moment. I am far too risk-averse than to hedge my bets in an emerging market that is not only barely a decade old, but also a rife target for law enforcement due to its inherently lawless nature.

Can any government takedown Bitcoin, or any other digital currency? At the moment, no.

It reminds me of the grief that P2P programs like Limewire and Kazza brought to content heavyweights like the RIAA and the MPAA in the early to mid-2000s. Unlike the easily accessible public trackers of the BitTorrent protocol that would eventually replace these earlier platforms (such as Gnutella), decentralized filesharing made it much harder to take stock of all participants on the network. Such was the scope of the network that not all users would necessarily see all other users.

Though all of these protocols still exist to this day (it’s true!), they were eventually rendered obsolete by way of government actions eventually taking down all of the most publicly available access points to these networks (P2P programs). Not to mention the availability of legal options (particularly streaming, now).Though you can still peak into these networks, it’s not nearly as easy as it once was (nor will the pickings be as plentiful).
BitTorrent will eventually suffer the same fate. As governments both knock out the aggregation sites and issue warnings to copyright law-breaking offenders (by way of tracking their IP address VIA trackers). It won’t go away, but it will go out of favour. And then we will repeat the process again with the next technology (stream-ripping?).

The way that cryptocurrency is currently deployed is effectively a black hole for law enforcement. Many know this, and take full advantage of this anonymity for this very reason. Which is why it is going to be a prime target for future enforcement.

If I were to hypothesize how this may come about, I would guess that new and officially sanctioned cryptocurrencies will be developed (just as there are several different currencies in use worldwide). As these begin to pick up steam, the writing will be on the wall for people invested in the outlaw currencies, and they will go where the money is.

Like the Gnutella and FastTrack filesharing networks that preceded it, the accessibility of unregulated currencies will eventually become far too complicated for most to bother with. And as legitimate users depart, coin exchanges will have less and less cover for any illicit activities happening within their servers. Like the owners of torrent aggregation sites or the developers of P2P network access platforms (who technically don’t control how users utilize the service), they will too eventually no doubt bow to the legal pressure.

Cryptocurrency (and blockchain technology itself) is fascinating. And I have no doubt that it has a place in the financial landscape going forward. However, I would be VERY surprised if the cryptocurrency landscape as it stands today remains as it is for more than maybe 15 years. As much as libertarians love freedom, governments don’t like black holes.

In the time since this piece was first drafted, Mark Zuckerberg has jumped into the crypto marketplace with the release of Libra. At first, I thought that this may be Zuckerberg (and Facebook’s) reaction to reading the tea leaves (just as I just did). However, it is looking more like Evil corp’s E-coin as showcased on Mr. Robot. Nothing like beginning and ending on the same note.

Though it is being marketed as a way of getting the unbanked online, it’s hard to take a private entity at its word. Particularly if there are fears that the currency could end up becoming powerful enough to compete with legitimate currency.

That is a whole lot of consolidated power.

Crypto is not going away. It’s current form isn’t going to stay the same. The question now becomes, will the new form be any better than the current one?