1) Use open-source software
Software whose source code is publicly available is more secure than anything developed by Microsoft, Apple, or Google: Its transparency means developers can't easily conceal security holes at the behest of hackers or governments. You'll want open-source platforms for your browser (Firefox, for example), email (Thunderbird), and instant messaging (Jabber), all of which are virtually idiot-proof to install. Switching to open-source for your operating system (Linux is the most popular choice) seems more intimidating, but ultimately isn't much harder than changing the format on a text document. Nerd factor: You've tweaked the default settings in your apps.
2) Hide your location
Install the easily downloaded Tor Browser, which comes preconfigured to mask your IP address and, therefore, your location. Tor's software bounces your data through several of its thousands of volunteer servers; anyone intercepting traffic will think the data came from the last server in the chain. It's like a lightning-speed version of trying to shake a stalker by racing around town and repeatedly switching cars—it may not always work, but it makes you much harder to follow. Downside: The FBI recently acknowledged that it hacked into some Tor servers. Nerd factor: You've downloaded software.
Though we learned in September that the NSA has defeated most commercially available encryption, scrambling your online activities will still foil hackers. The easily installed browser extension https Everywhere encrypts your web activity; for instant messaging, try Off-the-Record Messaging. For email, the program Pretty Good Privacy will let you set up a system of security "keys" to safeguard correspondence. Nerd factor: You likely ride the Google bus.
4) Mind the "air gap"
If you're serious about becoming a digital Deep Throat, buy (or better yet, build) a computer that has never been connected to the internet. If you want to give somebody else a file, encrypt it on the secure computer and physically deliver it to the recipient on a USB stick. Nerd factor: You own The Matrix on Blu-ray.
5) Ditch your phone
In July, a federal appeals court ruled that the government can obtain your location data from carriers without a warrant. You can minimize what you share by disabling tracking functions on your apps and turning off your phone when you aren't using it. Better yet, remove its battery (though iPhone owners don't have that option). Nerd factor: You own a phone.
6) Use a passphrase
A string of random common words—"jose llama tequila mountain"—is way easier to remember and way harder to crack than a single word. Because passphrases are significantly longer than passwords, they contain, as cryptographers like to put it, more bits of entropy. Now if only your bank would stop demanding at least one capital letter and one number and leave you to picture a llama on a mountain of Jose Cuervo. Nerd factor: You remember which "o" is an ø, in your previous password.
Last week, the Whatcom County Council in northwestern Washington voted to buy six new SUVs for the local Sheriff's Department and introduced its annual road construction plan. These were significant developments in this sleepy rural enclave of scarcely 200,000 people, but nothing compared to what's on the horizon: A proposal to build the largest coal export terminal on the West Coast, capable of annually shipping a whopping 48 million tons of Montana and Wyoming coal to Asia.
Its role in deciding the fate of Peabody Coal's proposed $700-million Gateway Pacific Terminal has thrust the unassuming Whatcom County Council into the national political spotlight. The coal industry sees the export terminal as a lifeline from sinking domestic sales. Environmental groups view it as the worst climate threat since the Keystone XL pipeline. Each side is backing its own Whatcom County Council candidates in a November 5th election that has become an expensive proxy fight in the global war over the future of coal.
The money pouring into four council seat races dwarfs anything ever seen in this county of lumberjacks, farmers, and banana slugs. Compared to fundraising during the last county election in 2011, money raised by council candidates and their allies has increased more than seven-fold, to roughly $1 million. Much of it comes from fossil fuel interests such as Cloud Peak Energy and Global Coal Sales, and, on the other side, from A-list environmentalists such as California billionaire Tom Steyer.
Backers of the Gateway Pacific Terminal claim it will create 4,400 construction-related jobs and 1,250 permanent positions at the docks and in associated professions—no small thing in a county where the unemployment rate is fifty percent higher than it was six years ago. Yet environmental groups warn of endless pollution-spewing coal trains passing in the vicinity of Bellingham, the liberal college town near where Peabody wants to load cargo ships with coal bound for China. The council will likely vote to approve or deny the coal terminal sometime in the next two years.
As it stands, four or five of the seven council members are believed to support the terminal. So environmental groups want to flip one or two of the seats and coal companies want to stop them. But here's where things get weird, explains Brian Rosenthal of the Seattle Times:
The word "believed" is necessary because of one more quirk in this unusual election: In largely rural Whatcom County, council members have quasi-judicial duties and are supposed to remain impartial about matters that might come before them in the future.
So the candidates have avoided giving specific opinions about the coal terminal, instead offering code words like "proven environmental values" and "committed to creating jobs."
If that approach sounds familiar, it's probably because state and national politicians often do the same thing—though, admittedly, not often during an extended meet-and-greet with a handful of passerby in a small-town Indian casino, flanked by poker tables and slot machines.
1) Same-sex marriage: Remember the name of that GOP presidential contender who equated legalizing gay marriage to sanctioning bestiality or pedophilia? Don't worry, in a few years nobody will. More than half of Americans already think that same-sex marriage ought to be legal.
2) Higher taxes on the rich: Republicans threw a fit earlier this year when President Obama proposed raising taxes on people who earn more than $250,000. But 6 in 10 Americans think the country's wealth should be more evenly distributed, and a majority wants to accomplish that by taxing the rich.
3) Reducing emissions: The GOP has painted Obama's new standards for power plants as an ominous "war on coal." Call it whatever you want, but nearly two-thirds of Americans—including a majority of everyday Republicans—support tighter limits on carbon emissions from power plants.
5) Immigration reform: The GOP's immigration hard-liners constantly decry "amnesty," which they define as pretty much any plan other than immediately deporting America's 11.7 million undocumented immigrants. "Conservatives will not support a wrapped-up present with amnesty inside," Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Issues, told Breitbart News this week. Never mind that a huge majority of Americans wants to give illegal immigrants a path to legal citizenship.
After spending years trying and failing to win a global climate treaty, environmental activists have finally changed tactics. Instead of pouring all their efforts into passing doomed legislation, they're picking big symbolic battles with the fossil fuel industry.
The campaign to derail the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada's tar sands is just the start. On the West Coast, environmentalists have mounted a similar attack on the coal industry, which wants to reverse its steep national decline by exporting millions of tons coal to China. Green groups believe they can prevent the shipments (and keep the coal in the ground) by stopping the construction of huge new coal export terminals at ports in Oregon and Washington. "Based on our back-of-the-envelope calculation, the burning of this exported coal could have a larger climate impact than all of the oil pumped through the Keystone pipeline," says Kimberly Larson, a spokeswoman for the Power Past Coal campaign, a coalition of more than 100 environmental and community groups that oppose the coal terminals.
Here's what you need to know about the biggest climate change fight that you've probably never heard of:
Yesterday afternoon, a Tesla Model S burst into flames on Washington State Route 167 outside Seattle. The auto blog Jalopnik quickly posted a video of the luxury electric car engulfed in a ball of fire and smoke. Tesla later noted that the fire hadn't been spontaneous; the car had been hit by a metal object that damaged the battery pack. The car's alert system detected a failure and told the driver to pull over, the driver wasn't injured, and the fire never spread to the passenger compartment. Even so, at the close of the stock market yesterday, Tesla's share price had fallen more than 6 percent (UPDATE: It dropped another 5 percent this morning).
The sell-off may have resulted from the video, from a ratings downgrade released the same day by an R.W. Baird stock analyst, or both. Either way, the experience shows how hard it can be for companies to stake their success on radical innovation. Behind investors' (unfounded) hand-wringing over electrical fires or production hiccups is their unease over the basic fact that nobody has ever built anything like a Tesla before.
That Tesla has come this far—the value of its stock has increased six-fold since the Model S was named Motor Trend's Car Of The Year—partly reflects the savvy of its co-founder and CEO Elon Musk. But it's also a classic illustration of the value of federal subsidies, such as the $465 million loan that Tesla received from the U.S. Department of Energy in 2010. When you're trying something really awesome and new, sometimes you need a little help from taxpayers. Just look up the early history of Google and Apple. Yet Musk, a self-described libertarian, has loudly criticized federal subsidies. I take a closer look at this sort of disconnect, which is pretty common in Silicon Valley circles, in my story in the September/October print issue, now online.