In what must be terrifying news from the solar front, these two stories can’t be good news for the future of electric utilities and the coal industry. The first story reports that researchers have been able to covert sunlight to electricity with 40 percent efficiency, doubling the efficiency of solar cells.  The second story talks about Elon Musk’s new factory that will produce stand-alone batteries for home and small office use, and be available from Home Depot, or Lowes.

Although this will not happen immediately, the writing seems to be being written on the wall that the future of coal-fired electric generating plants will not be long for this world.  Now you won’t need to live in Arizona or some other high sunlight state to get adequate energy to supply your home with electric power both day and night.

It will be interesting to see how the legacy companies react to this.  No doubt the political contributions from these industries will flow to Congress in greater amounts to create obstacles to the new company’s deployment of these products.  Legacy companies seem to always fight the future rather than figure out how to use future technologies to insure their future.

We live in exciting times.  I may not be around to enjoy the benefits of this (it will take time to rollout), but my son and his wife, and my grandchildren will certainly be around.

When many people contribute to the current debate about privacy on the internet (or in the 21st century generally) they lament the loss of privacy our digital lives have engendered.  It is true that our digital footprints have led marketeers, and governments to know:

  • what we are viewing,
  • who we are conversing with,
  • what we are searching for,
  • what we have bought,
  • etc.

The default reaction is that this is an invasion of our privacy and should not be tolerated.  The EU now has a ‘right to forget’ law that allows people to petition the search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) to omit valid links on the Internet that the person does not want to show up in searches.  Interestingly the offending link isn’t taken down, just the search result.

So, what are the cost and what are the benefits to this loss of privacy?

Costs

To Me:

  • Others can know all that I have written online by using a search engine,
  • Marketeers can see what I am interested in buying, or have bought, by tracking my online digital footprints,
  • Search engines can monitor what I have searched for and taken that as a proxy for what I am most interested in,
  • Anyone can put all this, and more, together to get a sense of who I am:
    • my age,
    • my gender,
    • my hobbies,
    • where I go,
    • who I go there with,
    • etc.

To the collectors of the info:

  • Aggregating and storing all this crap, and most of it is worthless,
  • Finding ways to take advantage of all this crap,
  • Delivering something of value to me that they can monetize.

Benefits

To Me:

  • Delivering search results that are relevant to me,
  • Delivering ads (which I am going to get anyhow), which are more likely to be relevant to me,
  • Delivering content that interests me
  • Delivering content that is relevant to me

To the collectors of the information:

  • Something of value they cherish (money, prestige at knowing something about me,etc).

Summary

What is missing from all this discussion is the benefits to me, they only talk about the benefits of the ‘trackers’; and the costs to them, they only talk costs to me.

I don’t know, and in fact nobody knows, all that everyone knows about each of us.  I know that Google has a digital dossier about me, as does Facebook, and Amazon, and Newegg, and Best Buy and … I don’t know what I don’t know about all the others that have collected info on me.

I can’t or don’t want to worry about tracking all that stuff.  The bottom line is that I don’t care what they have in their files about me, I only care about what they do with it, and how they use it.

  • If they just store it (I know that is unlikely) they incur the cost and get no benefit,
  • If they use to provide value to me by one of the benefits listed above, I gain and they gain
  • If they abuse the data, I just need some recourse against them for abusing information about me. This recourse could be:
    • Not interacting with them anymore
    • Participating in a class action suit,
    • Leading, following, or whatever in some sort of boycott or protest against them.

I protect my identify as best I can online by using secure passwords, and never re-using them, and I use two-factor authorization wherever I can.  I can’t recall ever having a credit card number stolen when purchasing something online.

I have potentially had a credit card stolen by thieves getting access to it at Home Depot, Target, and Neiman Marcus during an in-store purchase.  Fortunately, in the US, it is the bank that is responsible for any loss in these situations not me.

The bottom line, for now, is I get sufficient value from others having and using that information.  When the calculus of that changes I might sing a different tune.

Yesterday I wrote a post on using a password manager to protect your online passwords. Today I am going to suggest you use two factor authentication to further protect your online identity.

How is Security accomplished?

Access security is based on:

  • Who you are
  • What you know
  • What you have.

For example: using an ATM requires 1. something you have (your debit/credit card) and 2. something you know (your pin).

What is two factor authentication?

Generally speaking, signing onto a an online site requires a username/email account and a password. So, in this case the username is who you are, and the password is something you know.  Using the user’s email address is becoming more and more common, principally because each email address is unique, but it is not hard for someone to impersonate you just by knowing your email address.

Two factor authentication adds an additional level of security by requiring something you have.  Most two factor schemes use a smart phone app that produces a time-based code that you need to log into your account.  These apps are available for iphone, android and windows phones. You also turn on two factor on a site-by-site basis.

A back-up code is offered that allows the user to get a code by sms, or a phone call to your home or mobile phone if your smartphone is not available.  You also can deem devices as secure, so you only need to authenticate your desktop computer once, and then it only asks you for your username and password to sign in.

Two factor authentication is becoming more and more prevalent on the web.  The most often used site: Facebook, Twitter and Google all allow two factor.  There are a growing list of sites that use two factor, and is available from here.

Even if you don’t want the minor inconvenience of using two factor on all you accounts, consider using it for sites that you want to be sure isn’t compromised, such as your email or bank accounts.

Check out who is treating your account and password appropriately.

Using the same (either secure or insecure) password for multiple sites is an invitation to disaster.  When some nefarious character gets one of your passwords, they have access to other accounts.  Since your email address is often used as the user name it becomes trivial for someone to get access to multiple accounts.

I use lastpass as my password manager.  There are others available but lastpass fits my needs.  It generates passwords of incredible length, and you are able to use alphanumeric, and punctuation characters in your password.  You only need to remember one password and then have access to all your other passwords. The web version is free,and the mobile version is $12/year for iphone and android versions.

You can’t afford to mess around with insecure passwords.

Uncle Richard, the 93 year old twin of my father, credits his longevity with waking up every day with something to do.  He has maintained an incredible garden throughout his yard. Until 6 months ago he split wood with a maul and sledge hammer regularly so he had wood to burn in the winter.  He rotated his garden with different plants for each season. He always knew what he wanted to get done each day,  What a legacy that is.

Now he laments the fact that he no longer can do what he did even just 6 months ago.  The  most incredible thing he said this Thanksgiving was that he is getting a paunch.  Jeez, I’ve had one for years.