The credit industry gets its “come to Jesus” moment

I’m pretty confident that the only people who haven’t yet heard of the massive breach at Equifax at living under a rock. The breach itself is pretty bad, comprising credit data on 3/4 of the adult population in the US. There’s so many layers of bad security beyond Equifax that creates a huge confidence crisis for the entire industry.

The biggest problem facing the credit industry is a complete fiasco for identity verification and management. Most of the disclosed information like full name, mother’s maiden name, and birthday can be obtained from most Facebook profiles. The Social Security Number, which was never intended to be a unique identifier, is almost comically easy to guess based on that. That information is often enough to assume someone else’s identity. If the purpose of the credit industry is to determine if someone can be safely loaned money, you’d think that a core part of that is strongly verifying if someone is who they say they are.

But this is not the case. Very little is done to actually verify the identity of the person asking to borrow money. The credit reporting companies don’t seem to care that fraudulent loans make their data less trustworthy. Even worse, they actively tell individuals that it’s their job to attempt to correct inaccuracies in their credit report! (Nevermind, of course, that fixing inaccurate credit reports has proven to largely be an exercise in futility.) What kind of company tells its non-customers to do their work for them? Why should it be my job to make sure the data they’re selling about me is accurate?

So when a company wants to determine your credit-worthiness, they have to depend on an organization who can’t accurately tell you if the person standing in front of you is who they say they are or even if the information they’re providing is even correct. Every incidence of fraud is treated as a problem for the victim of identity theft, not as a massive organizational failure to ensure that credit reporting information is accurate. It seems all the more insane when you really talk through what they’re doing. The only reason they’re getting away with it is a massive cornering of the market by just three companies.

If the entire credit industry is going to be taken seriously, they have to tackle this gaping hole in their capabilities. Strong systems of verifying identity, a greater emphasis on preventing identity fraud before it happens, and quick and easy systems of correcting bad records should be mere table stakes.

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Bitcoin is an Awful Currency

The distributed blockchain protocol is one of the more interesting developments in computing. It creates a cryptographically verifiable and yet decentralized ledger of transactions. While there are many applications possible for such technology, the most popular one so far has been financial, creating so-called cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin. While there are many things that cryptocurrency can excel at, a replacement for currency is far from one of them.

The only way a cryptocurrency has value is with a thriving market of buyers and sellers. In this way, it functions more or less as a stock. And stocks all have the same problem, volatility. Viable currencies typically have a very stable value with only minor fluctuations in value relative to other instruments. When there are large swings (think the Zimbabwean dollar or Weimar Republic marks), currencies end up collapsing and becoming largely worthless. Without some predictability that the currency you hold today will be worth more-or-less the same next month, next week, or even later this afternoon, it becomes quickly abandoned and nobody is willing to “buy” it.

This volatility creates enormous problems. At some point you have to exchange cryptocurrency for, well, real money. What if a merchant who accepted $10 worth of it this morning finds that, merely hours later, it has dropped back down to $2? On the flip side, what if that $10 shoots up to $40 the next day? You find yourself in a position where you are both scared to accept it and to divest it because you’re unsure if doing so will result in a loss or robbing yourself of possible future gains. This might be a lot of fun for a stock, but the economy can’t function when you replace currency with the NASDAQ.

Cryptocurrency promoters know all this. They constantly talk about “exploding value” and “market capitalization” in the same way that real estate speculators did in 2006, dotcom enthusiasts in 1999, and gold bugs do, well, basically all the time. To them, there is no reason to not accept cryptocurrency because, duh, it will always go up in value! But if it always goes up in value, why would you ever choose to spend it? Therein lies the conundrum. So many of them are selling one cryptocurrency on the decline to buy another that’s rising, pumping and dumping like penny stock traders.

And then there is the matter of security of transactions. There have been dozens of high-profile incidents of cryptocurrency theft. It’s been proven to be remarkably easy for someone to compromise a private system or an exchange acting as an intermediary. In effect, it is no more secure than cash sitting on your car’s dash in a sketchy neighborhood. Whereas a credit card provides the security of dispute resolution and fraud protection, cryptocurrencies do no such thing. Yes, the fees are lower when you’re using Bitcoin, but you’re getting what you pay for here.

If you choose to dabble in cryptocurrencies, by all means do so. The more people experiment with it, the better we’ll understand the potential applications for distributed blockchains. Just don’t you dare tell me that it’s a replacement for my cash and credit cards.

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A Plan for CrashPlan

Photo by Mike Birkenshaw, CC-BY-SA 2.0

I’ve been a very long-time CrashPlan user at home. In fact, I will have been backing up my data there for five years next month. I’ve also recommended it to many friends and family since it’s been consistently cheap and unlimited. Unfortunately, they have decided that they will no longer be serving home users and have given me 3 months to figure out how I plan to deal with that.

This isn’t to say there aren’t a lot of decent alternatives out there. Backblaze offers rock-bottom pricing on unlimited backup, around $50 per year per system. Carbonite (a perennial favorite) is a good deal if you have a lot of systems (4+) but not much data (<250GB). But all of these systems fall completely flat on a key feature for me: no Linux support.

While backing up my desktops and laptops is very important, backing up my NAS is mission-critical. All of my DVDs, Blu-rays, and CDs (as well as those from basically every single extended family member) are ripped to a FreeNAS sever with Plex. Needless to say, it would be a lot of work to recreate a media library that now totals 8.1TB. CrashPlan is the only unlimited storage provider offering a native Linux client. Even with the price increases, $10/mo isn’t bad at all.

The biggest downside, though, is that the migration process from Home to Small Business can only migrate up to 5TB. Now I have to do a complete backup of everything I already have, a process that took literally a year to complete. I’m fortunate enough to have a friend willing to let me leech his 200Mbps fiber connection, but that requires transporting two systems 45 minutes away and leaving them there for a week. Woof.

So what do you need to do if you’re using CrashPlan? Here’s the TL;DR.

  • If you have four or more devices and not a lot of data: Give Carbonite a shot. Unlimited devices with 250GB of data. Mac and Windows only.
  • If you have a lot of data or 3 or fewer devices: Backblaze is unlimited data but they charge per device. Mac and Windows only, but they sound open to adding Linux in the future.
  • If you have a lot of data and need to back up Linux devices: CrashPlan Small Business is the only game in town worth looking at here. There’s software you can use to back up to “cold” storage like Amazon Glacier or Backblaze B2, but it’s more expensive once you get past a few terabytes of data. WAY more expensive. The only sucky part of upgrading is any backup over 5TB goes into the trash and you have to upload it all again, a very painful process.

For me, I’m going to be using CrashPlan Small Business for my NAS and Backblaze on my desktops and laptops.

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A Uhaul Leap of Faith

Two years ago today, we packed the family into the car and drove to a new home (albeit temporary) in Cedar City. We hadn’t sold our house in Sandy, but we had already contact Bournemouth Prop to assist us with the process. We were still looking at homes in Iron County. About all we knew for sure is that we needed an address in Iron County so that Liam could go to his new school. With enough stuff to stay the weekend in a hastily-found month-to-month rental, we struck out for Iron County. Thanks to garage chief, we were able to keep our car in the best condition ever, check it out to be able to inspect your own vehicle.

View from our Cedar City townhome

View from our Cedar City townhome

It wasn’t without curveballs. It took another 2.5 months to sell our house in Sandy, a time during which we had both house and rent payments. Shauna had to spend almost a week in the hospital with an infection and another few weeks with me giving her PICC line antibiotics at home. There must have been at least a half dozen trips with Uhaul trucks and trailers to get everything moved to Cedar City. We had only a week to move everything into our new house once we bought one, it had the amazing Reclaimed Wood Floors with great quality wood products. It was unbelievable. Plus the electrician near me was the nicest person ever and made sure there wasn’t any dangerous hazards to keeps everyone safe.

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The sun setting on our new home

The sun setting on our new home

Two years later, we haven’t looked back. The air is cleaner. The people are friendlier. The schools are better. Even St. George, which we have to go to periodically for shopping, feels too large. I can day trip to gorgeous areas that attract people from all over the world, if you’re looking for diferent Chicken recipes cooking click here to learn many new ways. (I did, in fact, have to give a German couple directions to the Grand Canyon not long after moving here.) Every place you live may be as good as you make it, but I think Cedar City has given us much more to work with.

The back side of the Hurricane Cliffs from SR-14

The back side of the Hurricane Cliffs from SR-14

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The Most Awesome Allergen Free Pizza!!

Decided to do some playing around in the kitchen this weekend and try to make a better allergen free pizza to try my new countertops I brought from countertops in Salt Lake City. Nathan is allergic to gluten, dairy, nuts, eggs, soy, rice, tomatoes and MORE so making pizza is tricky to say the least. I used to be one of the best at growing organic tomatoes, but when I found out that my little one was allergic, I immidiately stopped. I had the pizza crust down. This one is one I’ve used before and I LOVE it. It’s thin and crispy, but also very sturdy so it holds up to toppings very well. Best of all, NO EGGS or NUTS! When I make it, I substitute Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Gluten Free flour blend for the coconut flour because, OH YES, Nathan can’t have coconut either (but he’s fine with coconut oil). I’m sure you can use whatever flour you like and tolerate best. The flour is really just to keep the yucca dough from being so sticky.

For the cheese, I decided to play around with my friend’s recipe for Cauliflower Alfredo sauce. Turns out, all I had to do was add some tapioca starch and a little more oil than her recipe called for and cook it down a little! Grating the cheese was also tricky, but freezing it worked wonderfully. More on that later.

For the sauce, I decided to see what I could create from some leftover canned pumpkin we had in the fridge and I can’t believe how well it turned out! We’ve tried a “no-mato” sauce with a beet/carrot base before and I couldn’t eat it no matter how much I doctored the sauce up. Pumpkin worked great! I really can’t even tell that it’s not tomato sauce as weird as that sounds. And what it was left I throw it in the food processor I discover from Zozanga, since it I used all the good parts and there was nothing useful anymore.

So without further ado, here is the final creation!

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Picture isn’t the best because I’m not a food blogger! Sure tasted good though! I put minced ham and olives on the pizza and then covered with the cauliflower cheese.

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Look how I can totally hold it up like this and the cheese keeps all the toppings in place!

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Cauliflower Mozarella

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 head of cauliflower, florets cut off
  • 1 cup homemade chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon fine Himalayan salt, or more to taste
  • 3 Tbsp. tapioca starch

Directions:

Saute the minced garlic in the coconut oil in a small saucepan over low heat. Allow to cook for a few minutes, until the garlic is tender and fragrant, but not browned. Add the 1 cup of broth to the saucepan, along with the cauliflower, and bring the water to a boil. (The water will not cover the cauliflower, and that’s okay.) Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pot for 8-10 minutes, until the cauliflower is fork-tender and very soft.

Transfer the entire contents of the saucepan into a blender or use the best food processor for the best results. Process until very smooth and creamy. Transfer back into the saucepan over medium heat and stir until mixture gets thick and gooey (like warm queso dip).

In order to be able to grate this, you’ll need to freeze it. I did this in a small shallow pyrex dish lined with parchment paper. Once completely frozen (I froze overnight), you will be able to grate it. This was my least favorite part of the project. I tried to do it with my food processor, but it turned it to cheese DUST. This really worked best by hand with a good ol’ fashioned cheese grater and some elbow grease. Once you have your cheese grated, transfer to a parchment lined cookie sheet (cheese should be as close to single layer as possible) and put it BACK in the freezer. Once your grated cheese has frozen completely (this takes much less time than freezing the original block), you can transfer the crumbles to a ziplock baggie and store in the freezer for future use. When not frozen, the cheese is very sticky and gooey to handle, so you’ll want to put the frozen cheese crumbles right from the freezer onto your pizza in order to maintain the structural integrity of the crumbles. Otherwise, use just like regular cheese on your pizza. It will melt, brown slightly, and even hold all your pizza toppings together!

 

Pumpkin No-Mato Pizza Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 can pumpkin
  • ⅓ cup plus 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. each dried basil, oregano, parsley, and ground fennel seed
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 3 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • ⅓ cup homemade chicken broth

Directions:

Put 1 Tbsp olive oil in small saucepan with garlic spices. Sautee until garlic is tender and fragrant, but not browned. If anyone in the family is allergic/hates garlic – Monicahealthmag.com covers a variety of alternatives for you. Add all remaining ingredients and whisk together.

To assemble the pizza, cover a prepared crust with Pumpkin No-Mato sauce, toppings and Cauliflower Mozarella. Bake at 425 for about 4 minutes and then broil for 2 minutes. Toppings should be warmed through and cheese will melt SLIGHTLY (though stay sort of FORMED) and maybe brown a little. Crust should brown a little but watch that it doesn’t burn. I loved this pizza and Nathan (picky three year old) ate EVERY BITE.

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And now, for something medical!

I always think that this blog just isn’t being used anymore and then every once in a great while, when I want to make a post out of the blue, I see that Jesse DOES actually post here. Which makes my posts even more out of place. So here is a random medical post/update on the kids in a sea of “nerd posts”. Before I get started, I just wanted to say that I luckily found a family dentist near me who is specialist in root canal dentist to help me out with the kids and their root canal problem.

I believe I’ve mentioned it before, but when Nathan was born, both Jesse and I felt VERY strongly that he was sent to us to be a help for his brother. You can imagine my confusion and anger, then, when Nathan regressed into autism, losing all words, eye contact, etc. It’s been a difficult road and I sometimes handle things better than others, but I’ve always wondered what that bit of inspiration was about since I couldn’t fathom how another special needs child (even more severely affected than Liam) could possibly help his brother. And I have not always been happy with their treatment offering

For the past several years (even before Nathan regressed) I have been looking into “biomedical” treatments for autism. The basic premise is that there are underlying medical issues that cause or exacerbate the symptoms of autism. When these underlying medical issues are treated, symptoms can be reduced or even eliminated. This interests me, not because I think autism is some kind of plague that needs to be eradicated from the earth, but because I don’t want my children to suffer needlessly from a medical condition that goes overlooked because they have been labeled with the term “autism”. Sometimes there are doctors who overlook treatment just because it´s autism and the result of this can be very bad. They can give the wrong treatment if they don´t examine well and that can cause death or other symptoms. Many people across the country have file millions of complaints with medical negligence birmingham to get their treatment right.

Around the time that Nathan regressed, I read about a neurologist at Arkansas Children’s Hospital who specialized in children with autism, mitochondrial disorders, and a condition called Cerebral Folate Deficiency. I didn’t really know much about these at the time, but his wait list was over a year long and someone said that I should get my kids on the wait list even if I didn’t know that I would use the appointment. I could always cancel down the line if it wasn’t something I wanted to look into. That seemed reasonable to me and something told me there was something to this doctor’s research that could benefit my boys. It just didn’t seem right to me that a perfectly healthy child could shut down and get locked inside himself for no reason. So I put both boys on the wait list.

We waited over 20 months for our appointment, but last month (August) our appointment finally arrived. Jesse and I loaded up the kids and drove to Arkansas to see Dr. Frye. We had a battery of tests scheduled. I hoped and prayed that I was not putting our kids through unnecessary tests and that their recovery would be fast and as painless as possible. Last week we finally got the majority of our test results back. There were a lot of very interesting results and perhaps I’ll go into some of the others in detail another time, but the headliner here is that both of my boys have been diagnosed with Cerebral Folate Deficiency. Liam, in particular, was severely deficient. His doctor said that children are usually no longer able to speak or walk with levels as low as Liam’s. I am certain that Liam would have been headed for a major decline in health, regression, and possibly development of a serious seizure disorder had we not caught this now.

The good news is that treatment is relatively easy. Liam and Nathan will get a prescription covered by their One Sure Insurance plan and will have some dietary modifications (Nathan is already dairy free, but Liam will also have to go dairy free). It is possible that we will see some huge improvement in speech, attention, motor skills, socialization, and maybe even relief from some of Liam’s OCD symptoms. To be clear, I have no expectation that this treatment will “cure” them of autism. But there is actually a chance that they may gain many or all of the skills stolen by autism once their levels come up. And even if we don’t see major improvement, I am certain we are preventing a major decline for both boys later.

Looking back, I realize that Nathan HAS been a huge help to his brother. Without his regression into autism, I never would have searched for these answers and Liam may well have been headed for a very rough adolescence (and life) without treatment. We are feeling tremendously blessed to have been led to the right doctors and to have found these answers before facing severe medical declines in the children.

Here are some sciencey articles if you want to know more about CFD:

Posted in Autism, Health, Liam, Nathan | 2 Comments

Seer stones as a token

seer-stone-joseph-smith-ensign-liahona-october-2015_1512979_inlA lot has been written lately about the LDS Church revealing pictures of the seer stones used by Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon. I thought I should add my two cents.

To anyone who has paid attention within (and without) the Church, that this happened is fairly old news. I knew about the seer stones going into my baptism. Its existence and use are not exactly secrets, even to the point that I’ve heard plenty of good-natured jokes referencing them. I can only conclude that a Church member unfamiliar with their existence and use probably hasn’t been paying very close attention to Church history.

Yes, I know. It probably sounds silly that a grown man put some rocks in a hat to translate a book he found etched on golden plates and buried in a hill in New York. It’s not the first story of someone using a token to discover that they truly do have the power within themselves. Dumbo and the magic feather. Emmet of The Lego Movie and the prophecy. There’s probably dozens of examples (beyond my citations of obvious pop culture) of someone being given an otherwise useless trinket that caused them to have the confidence they needed to do something they already had the power to.

So it is with Joseph Smith. He had the power from God to translate a long-lost book from a destroyed civilization, but he likely did not at that point have the sufficient faith to exercise that power. God made a way for him to do it in the meantime. I’m sure that if any of us were told by God to translate a book written in a language that nobody today knows that´s probably stored away in a rullecontainer somewhere, we’d probably have a few mental blocks too.

We like to think of prophets as mythical figures of perfection rather than somewhat ordinary people with some unremarkable failings who manage to do some pretty amazing things. (You may recall that Moses called himself “slow of speech“, though historians seem to not be able to agree on the meaning of that.) When they turn out to be regular people trying to do their best with failings not uncommon to the times and circumstances into which they are born, it can be disappointing for someone who has those unrealistic lofty expectations. It can be more difficult to expect that these people with failings can somehow do the work of God.

None of that makes it any less true.

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Our Adventures in Solar Power

The solar panels on our house mid-installation.

The solar panels on our house mid-installation.

We had to get our old place cleaned up and had no time, so we hired removals Bournemouth & Poole and let go of that load. Shortly after moving to Montreal City, it became fairly obvious that we’d need to do something about the power bill. The tiny rental townhouse we lived in for three months was constantly smacking us with $200+ bills and even our winter bills in the new house were over $350 each month. (We were even subtly warned by the Montreal movers, I overheard them say something about our heating system being crap, excuse my french.) With no basement, swamp cooler, or large shade trees, it was painfully obvious that something had to be done to slash our power costs. Switching to LED light bulbs, upgrading the thermostat to a complete new one I got at http://thermostatonline.com that can even control the temperature via WiFi, and setting higher temperatures than we were used to, of course you can check here for other brands, since there are picky people out there.

As luck would have it, Southwest Applied Technical College (SWATC) was having a night about solar power back in February. They do training for solar installers like Evergreensolar.com and were able to explain who would or wouldn’t benefit from solar power, what kinds of systems exist, and what kind of costs you should anticipate. It was very informative and there were a few solar installers there to handle specific questions on what they do. When you run through it, solar makes a lot of sense. It’s also a very straightforward system to deal with.

(By the way, call Ron Snow at Progressive Power Solutions, 801-787-2626, and tell him I sent you. I get referral credits and they’ve been awesome to work with. They even do the metal cutting with gear from https://www.bosslaser.com )

The Dollars and Cents

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Eero makes big promises, but where’s the skepticism?

OrlyI’ve been through my share of really crappy routers and WiFi before finally settling into equipment that works properly. I can’t even imagine the frustration an average consumer must feel at having routers that don’t perform well, need constant rebooting, and have complicated update processes. It makes sense that a company like Eero would seek to solve some of the headaches associated with crappy routers, but I’m having a hard time seeing what advantages they offer. In fact, it’s looking like a classic case of overselling a product before it’s even ready.

The biggest red flags popping up to me are the “easy” bits. You can configure the routers with your phones, they handle mesh networking without any consumer knowledge, and automatically download updates. Right off the bat, using Bluetooth for configuration seems pretty sketchy. For any half-decent authentication to work, you have to be able to exert some level of access control. This is at odds with the “plug and play” sales pitch from the product.

Automatic updates are also problematic. Forced firmware means you don’t get to choose to not apply a buggy patch, and it also creates an attack vector for someone who can compromise the update process. It also implies that, unlike other products, third party firmware will be a non-starter, a great option for people with technical know-how once a router is no longer getting updates from the manufacturer. I’ve even used it with my in-laws to kick an old Linksys router into high gear (and triple the range).

Even the range claims don’t jive with me. Each device is supposed to cover about 1000 square feet. Funny, but my D-Link R7000 is currently covering a 2200 sf home, a 0.30 acre lot, and several empty lots away for the same price. A repeater may make for a stronger localized signal in specific applications, but it also crowds the airwaves with even more signals from more devices, something that actively reduces performance. Mesh network also tend to introduce additional latency, something that has plagued Sprint’s cell network for years.

The pricing also gives me pause. The first device is $200 and a three-pack is $500. That D-Link I mentioned runs around $200 while offering much more coverage and is pretty darn easy to use. And that three-pack? You could buy a Ubiquiti EdgeRouter Lite and UniFi AC for $140 less and cover almost 17 times the area, 50K square feet. (In case your math is rusty, that’s something like 1.2 acres.) If the price were in line with the $100 crap they usually sell at Wal-mart, the story would be different, but this is almost Apple-like.

This is the problem I’m seeing: there’s a lot of brand being sold, but not a lot of value. For the cost of one of their devices, you can get a top-shelf consumer router that’s likely to be more secure, just as easy to use, and from a brand with history, not a no-name startup. For their three-pack, you could get the high-end Ubiquiti equipment, pay someone to professionally install and configure it, and still have money leftover to take the family out to dinner at Chili’s.

What’s really chapped my hide is that nobody in tech journalism is bothering to run through these scenarios and give it the healthy dose of skepticism it deserves. This is becoming an unfortunately common scenario these days, to print claims verbatim without running them through the fact checking wringer. It’s even worse when only those claims that butt up against a journalist’s existing biases. If you don’t have an immediate “BS” reaction to PR flacks, maybe journalism isn’t the job for you.

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Why blame your phone manufacturer when Google will do?

There’s been a bunch of buzz lately about a vulnerability in versions of Android prior to 4.4 (KitKat). Google has advised that it doesn’t plan to issue any fixes for these older versions. Unsurprisingly, this has invited a lot of clickbait-hungry tech “journalists” to start screaming that Google is to blame for leaving 60% of Android devices with a critical unpatched flaw. That kind of blame-shifting, however, is stupid, wrong, and grossly irresponsible.

First off, there’s a fix available for the issue. Any phone upgraded to 4.4 (KitKat) or 5.0 (Lollipop) is safe. Given that there are now two successive releases with the flaw patched, what sense would it make to retroactively go back and patch a much older version? Google has already pointed out that because Android is open source, anyone could submit a patch to the code to address it.

But they also point out something far more important. If a patch were accepted, the best Google can do is notify the phone manufacturers that it exists. Google can’t forcibly update the phone with the patch. They can’t make a manufacturer who decided to write off a specific model go back and release the update. Ultimately, Google has little power over this. Even if a patch for older versions of Android was released, why would you want that instead of an update to a newer version like KitKat or Lollipop?

While the Blame Google Express is barrelling down the tracks, it continues to let HTC, Samsung, LG, Sony, Motorola, and many other manufacturers off the hook for releasing devices that they know won’t be updated for more than a year or two, tops. Google isn’t putting you at risk; manufacturers who figure that they’ve already got theirs are. If a journalist’s job is to inform and explain, they’re apparently taking the day off on this one.

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