The government bricked my phone after calling 911

An alarming feature of Android was recently brought to my attention when I had to place a call to 911 (for those outside of the North American Nmbering Plan area this is the number for emergency services) after witnessing a driver barrel through two red lights and nearly strike a pedestrian. After pulling over to write down as much of the license plate as I could remember I phoned 911 and waited several minutes to get an operator. I read back the partial plate and described what I had witnessed, they confirmed my phone number and asked for my name which I happily gave in the event I was needed as a witness. I ended the call and attempted to make a Facebook post about the experience and found I had no data connection, could not place a call and could not get any SMS or MMS messages to send. Peculiar.

At this point I thought perhaps my phone was being odd and locked the screen with the intention of unlocking it, toggling airplane mode on and off, and attempting to use data or send SMS/MMS messages again and this is when I noticed two messages on my lock screen that I had never seen before. 

Emergency Callback Mode. No data connection for 1:17 minute

 

and

Call blocking disabled for 48 hours. Disabled because an emergency call was made

 

Odd. I still could not use my phone for calls or data so I waited for the timer to expire, as soon as it did my ability to call, send SMS/MMS and use data was restored and I fired off messages to a few friends asking if they'd ever seen such, the answer was no. One of these friends is on the same carrier as I, Project Fi which is an MVNO run by Google that uses three different cellular networks (Spring, T-Mobile and US Cellular) for coverage. This friend had needed to call 911 himself a couple weeks before and had not seen this message so I dismissed it as odd.

Two days later I was going through my screenshot album and saw the un-cropped original of the above image and something fired in my brain. This is bad, this is very bad. I began to look into this and finally found that at least as recently as May 13th, 2016 this has been a feature of the Android operating system, I suspect my friend with the same phone on the same carrier as I did does not have this update as he rooted his phone in December and has not updated it since. 

Further research shows this to not be an Android only feature. A user-reported case of this occurring on their Blackberry in May of 2008, a major carrier had this documented on their site in their E911 FAQ, an FCC document from 1996 mentions selective routing of calls and callback capability and the data blocking appears to be explained away as a way to ensure Assisted GPS can function to provide your location to the emergency call center. Reports seem to vary on if you can or cannot make phone calls during this window, I personally could not get calls to go through despite having reception and being in the exact physical location I had talked to the emergency operator at in crystal-clear quality.

There are a lot of things wrong with this feature. In the event of an emergency, once you have terminated your call with emergency services, your phone is effectively a brick for 5 minutes. I can think of many scenarios off the top of my head where this could be an inconvenience: 

  • Your wife has delivered your child at home and you wish to celebrate by sharing the news by firing off a social media post or a few text messages to folks and tell them she is headed to the hospital and you'll be following shortly. But oh, you can't for 5 minutes
  • You were in an automobile accident and for one reason or another an ambulance has been requested, the ambulance has arrived and the injured party is being taken care of and you now want to fire up your insurance provider's application to immediately start a case, upload photos and get a tow truck headed your way as your car can not leave under its own power, oh but you have to wait 5 minutes. 
  • An active shooter is in the area, you and several others have notified emergency services and first responders are on the scene. You do not want to stay on the line as your friend/coworker/colleague/child is also in the building and you want to make sure they are safe and to tell them to stay calm, your texts won't go through nor will your calls. 
  • Your office is on fire and you can hear the fire engines coming 'eeeeeeooooo eeeeeeooooo ahhhhht ahhhht ahhht eeeeeeooooo' and as a manager it is your responsibility to make sure all of your employees are safe, you look around and Steve is nowhere to be found you end the call and call Steve's cell, you can't reach him or your phone simply will not dial out as in my case. You try texting Steve, bah it won't go through! Steve's car is behind you in the car park and you tell the firefighters you can not find him and he might be in the building. In they rush, a firefighter is injured searching for Steve when come to find out he clocked out early because his wife came and got him for lunch. 

These are all nuisances. After thinking up a few of these scenarios I then grew concerned. Wait, this is a software feature in your phone that detects when you have called the emergency services number. Now cellular telephones in the United States can receive emergency alerts from the government via something called Wireless Emergency Alerts which were formerly called Commercial Mobile Alert System and Personal Localized Alerting Network. The Federal Communications Commission came up with this in response to the Warning, Alert, and Response Network (WARN) Act passed by Congress in 2006. This system allows federal agencies to aggregate and send alerts from the President of the United States, the National Weather Service, and emergency operation centers via cell broadcast using a technology similar to that of SMS messaging. So your phone has the ability to receive pushed messages from the government, in my case Android effectively removed my ability to communicate with anyone other than the emergency services call center after having called 911. Interesting.

Now, I am not a programmer nor have I inspected the code that allows the phone to effectively disable itself for 5 minutes following a call to 911. However a fair question to ask is 'could the government, or a sufficiently skilled and motivated hacker, remotely activate this feature without a call being made. Given the fact that the government already has a way to send messages to your phone en masse during emergencies it is quite plausible that they could send a packet of data to your phone that uses this built-in feature to disable your ability to use your telephone. This possibility is terrifying. 

Imagine if you will, an event takes place that causes civil unrest. A militaristic police action, marshall law, little green men landing in the middle of a sporting event, a peaceful protest, take your pick. Via the Wireless Emergency Alerts a geographical location can be targeted to send alerts relevant to that area. Something happens they want to put a lid on, instead of needing to disable cell networks of multiple carriers and/or jam cellular frequencies a few keystrokes mass message everyone in the area, it tells their phones to disable for the 5 minutes, or 60 minutes, or days. You have photos and video of the event but try as you might you cannot send them to YouTube or Facebook Live, you cannot email them or MMS them to your friends, you try and call the local media to tell them of what is going on but you cannot call out. 

While I can see why this feature may have been thought up so that emergency services can contact you immediately following a call for any number of reasons, this Orwellian restriction the software places on your phone gives this author the chills. In a world were revolts and coups are something that are regularly in the news, with one coup just a few weeks old, this 'feature' on my phone does not sit well with me. Whether or not the government has the ability to remotely trigger this 'feature' is unclear, but take note in the event of an emergency your phone might be temporarily crippled when you reach out for help.

LEGO 71013 Minifigure Series 16

Well, these originalyl weren't supposed to be released until September, however looks like for one reason or another LEGO has started shipping these to stores. They first appeared in the wild about six days ago for sale. My LEGO 71013 Minifigure Series 16 is now complete! Allow me to introduce you to them: Babysitter with Baby Boy, Scalawag Pirate, Female Cyborg, Ice Queen, Penguin Guy, Banana Guy, Arabian Knight Archer, Serenader, Imp (Boy in Devil Costume), Spy, Hiker, Rogue, Wildlife Photographer, Dog Show Judge, Female Kickboxer and Spooky Boy

 

LEGO 71013 Minifigure Series 16

Environmental impact of textile manufacturing

 

WOW! I started looking into the cost/environmental impact for producing textiles and all I can say is I am absolutely dumbfounded! I looked at both cotton and polyester. In this blog post I will look at the resources required to produce 1kg of cotton fiber and 1kg of polyester fiber. 

 

Cotton:

Depending on the growing area 1-3 bales of cotton can be produced per acre of land, a bale weighs approximately 500lbs. One bale of cotton can make approximately 1200 men's t-shirts (you can see more bale to item conversions here). Cotton is harvested with modern cotton picking machines, these machines use rotating spindle to harvest cotton and then pass it along via a conveying system to a second machine that then remove the open bolls from the plant and finally a third machine receives the separated seed cotton and stores it until it is transferred to a separate storage container or vehicle.

Growing cotton uses a LOT of water. 20,000 liters (approximately 5300 gallons) or more is used to produce (from seed) 1kg of cotton fiber as well as approximately 450g of fertilizers, 16g of pesticides  and approx 60MJ (16.67kWh approx.) of energy to create. You also have to consider the fuel used sowing and harvesting the cotton as well as transporting the cotton to a factory and the kWh used to process and spin the cotton into fibers. You then have to take the fiber and manufacture a finished textile which will likely involve more water (dyeing) and electricity in several steps of the process (automated cutting, automated sewing, conveyance between these processes etc) and the shipping costs to get the good from a factory -> shipper -> warehouse -> store -> you. Just creating 1kg of cotton fiber generates 10-15kg of carbon dioxide emissions.

Polyester:

Polyester requires far fewer resources but is still mind boggling. Polyester is synthetic, it's produced from fossil fuels. Forgetting the amount of energy required to get oil out of the ground and refine it for use: 1kg of polyester requires approximately 1.5kg of oil, 17 liters of water and just shy of 100MJ (27.75kWh approx.) of energy to create. Creating 1kg of polyester generates approximately 2.3kg of carbon dioxide emissions.

 

Guys! This is insane! I love cotton clothes but WOW I'm going to focus on mostly synthetic fiber clothing going forward and even then the resource usage is just mind boggling to produce a synthetic textile garment! I like 100% cotton because when a garment is no longer wearable I could cut it up and compost it but my research shows me most cotton growing operations use absurd amounts of irrigation which is just disruptive to the local environment as well as wherever the water is being trucked or piped in from. 

 

 

 

I bought a Chromebook, and am dual booting linux!

For those of you not familiar with Chromebooks, check out Google's page on them. I encountered a Chromebook for the first time in the wild this past Saturday and was quite impressed with how snappy and functional for casual web browsing they were.  A little bit of research later that afternoon I discovered several (the Intel ones) are capable of running Linux with minimal effort. After doing a fairly quick Google search I found that the Acer Chromebook CB3-131-C3SZ 11.6-Inch Laptop would allow support for dual booting Chrome OS and Linux if I flashed the rom with a custom one. 

 

I decided to go with Gallium OS as my Linux distro as it is made, and optimized, for use on Chromebooks. Acer Chromebook CB3-131-C3SZ 11.6-Inch Laptop would allow support for dual booting Chrome OS and Linux if I flashed the ROM with a custom one. Flashing the ROM for this specific device was easy:

  • At the Chrome OS screen I logged into my WiFi network but NOT the OS. 
  • Opened a crosh shell by pressing CTRL+ALT+F2(which is actually just a right arrow where the F2 key should be)
  • Logged in as 'chronos' with no password
  • Followed the instructions on https://johnlewis.ie/custom-chromebook-firmware/rom-download/ which download and install the firmware ROM for the chipset my model has. I went with 'RW_LEGACY' as it allows dual booting.

This flashed the rom and I then powered the machine off and turned it back on just to be safe before proceeding to the next step. I was now ready to install Gallium OS! This was equally as simple:

  • At the Chrome OS screen I logged into my WiFi network but NOT the OS again
  • Opened a crosh shell via Ctrl+ALT+F2 again
  • Logged in as 'chronos' with no password again
  • Then ran the chrx install script 'curl -Os https://chrx.org/go && sh go' which downloaded the install script and gave me a few options for the install, like setting the partition size (I gave 9 of the 12gb to it as recommended). 

After about 15 minutes it had downloaded the distro and installed and bam there I was at the Gallium OS log in screen! It works great. Now when I turn on my Chromebook I have 30 seconds to select which OS I want by pressing either 'CTRL + D' for Chrome OS or by pressing 'CTRL + L' for Linux, if I do not select one within 30 seconds it automatically launches Chrome OS! I've read you can change the default as well as the time but it's not a big deal, within 1 second of pressing the power button you are at the screen then it's just a quick tap. Chrome OS takes about 9 seconds to load now from pressing 'CTRL+D' and Gallium OS takes roughly twice as long after pressing 'CTRL+L' to be at the log-in screen!

I have to say, this Acer Chromebook is a great little machine. Its housing is plastic but it makes a great little machine for browsing the web, chatting, using pushbullet to text etc while I sit on the couch watching TV or while sitting in a coffee shop people watching out the window! 

LEGO 31032-1: Red Creatures, reimagined

So a discussion came up on /r/lego about doing 31032-1: Red Creatures in other colours, I decided I wanted to do one by replacing all the red with black

LEGO 31032 black MOC
LEGO 31032 black MOC 2

I ended up not being happy with the black spines on black body, fortunately these trans orange slopes had been on the pick a brick wall here in Indy recently and I had grabbed several hundred of them to fill empty space in a cup. I'll admit I'm biased as it's my creation but I really like the orange on black way better than The LEGO Group's black on red.

LEGO 31032 black MOC 3
LEGO 31032 black MOC 4

Becoming a Better Man

I'm currently working on becoming a better man. How am I doing this? Lots of ways! 

  • Drastically giving up television, I've currently divorced half of the currently airing shows I watch and am working on divorcing nearly all of them, I'll always enjoy some television though.
  • Reading more, I used to read a TON and I just kinda stopped. I've been reading an hour a night on average before bed and I want to increase that. Currently I'm finishing John Scalzi's Old Man's War series and have roughly 50 other, mostly hard science fiction, books queued up to read next, all multi-title series. I also want to start spending more time reading Masonic texts, shooting for at least a half hour a night before my science fiction reading.
  • Lose weight, I need to lose at least 100lbs and in the past week I've drastically reduced my portions, I've got granola at my desk at work that I can eat a pinch of when I want to go raid the vending machine and I've also been keeping some slimfast in my desk to keep me from ordering a foot-long and cookies from subway days I want something more for lunch.
  • Generally being more pleasant, I'm trying to be more cheery. Saying good morning to people, keeping my negative thoughts to myself etc.
  • Looking for a new Lodge, after writing Speedway Lodge No. 729, dead at 76 I've decided it's time to find a new Lodge. I'm visiting two next month, one of which I'm very very excited about!

That's all for now! 

Coalition to Save Freemasonry in Indiana

A group, or person, has identified as the 'Coalition to Save Freemasonry in Indiana' and have sent a letter out to WM's here in Indiana. The letter can be found below in this blog post. I'd really love if someone from this 'coalition' could reach out to me. Several things they addressed in their letter had me nodding or are things I've already thought/been concerned about. Freemasonry in Indiana is getting downright silly. The Powers That Be have been driving Indiana Freemasonry into the ground the decade and change I've been a Mason in Indiana and it's saddening. I want to see a return to our early roots as Freemasons in America. I want to see changes. I want to help bring about that change. I can't do it alone and I don't even know how to go about finding like minded Masons. 

This week my Lodge changes from Speedway #729 to Speedway #500 purely out of vanity. Seriously, we are getting a new charter so that we can take #500 because we are down the road from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway... membership declines in Indiana, ritual is stumbled through at many a Lodge, members regularly fail to return after they are raised... but the GL thought it was a good idea to offer us the ability to change from #729, after 77 years of history, to #500 for vanity. This means a new charter, this means a new signing, this means time wasted by dozens of Brothers to bring about this change. Then this letter surfaces bringing to light many far far more concerning issues. Please, would someone from the Coalition to Save Freemasonry in Indiana reach out to me, if anything it would be nice to have someone to vent to. 

Even if you aren't a member (or the sole individual) of the Coalition to Save Freemasonry in Indiana, and are just a like minded individual that is concerned by the above issues (or similar ones) and are a member of the GL of Indiana, please reach out. Lets talk, lets get together and have a cup of coffee or a bite to eat and discuss some of our concerns. Lets see if we can't start to be the change we want to see in Indiana Freemasonry. Maybe we can start a club and come together once or twice a month to be better Brothers and go to our Blue Lodges monthly and be the change. Comment here, or drop me a message via the Contact link in the top right corner of this site.