Why You Should Encrypt Your Texts

Just because you’ve got nothing to hide doesn’t mean you’ve got nothing to fear.

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You’ve got spies in your house.

You let them in.

The day you bought a smart phone, an Amazon Echo, Google Home, or a smart remote for your TV, you placed an always on, always listening device in your home. Even Siri is always listening for her name, meaning she’s always listening, period.

You don’t care. You think “I’m not that interesting” or “I’ve got nothing to hide.” But there are three problems with that.

First, if you think that surveillance programs are only there to catch bad guys, think again. Second, the “nothing to hide” argument puts the burden on you to prove your innocence. Constantly. “Why are you so worried about privacy?” law enforcement will ask. “are you doing something you’re not supposed to?” Third, you’ve given up the choice of what you share and when. Are you okay with the government reading your email? Out loud? In public? How about searching your house and car and body any time they want? Why not publish your bank balance and parade around naked while you’re at it? After all, you have nothing to hide.

Everyone is probably breaking some law at some time. I speed. I also routinely run the bullshit stop sign at my corner unless there’s a car coming from the other side. Chances are 100% that you, too, break the law in ways big and small.

And we all have tracking devices in our pockets, meaning government officers know, or can easily find out, what we did. Since they can’t arrest everyone, laws are selectively enforced. Marginalized groups such as young people, minorities, immigrants, and the poor are the ones who get arrested for stuff we all do.

Your friends, your colleagues, your children, your children’s friends. I guarantee at least one of them has something to hide from the government. Not because they are doing something illegal or wrong (technically, we all are), but because of selective enforcement.

We can’t do anything about selective enforcement. And in most cases, we can’t live without the spies in our pockets. But at least we can minimize the harm they do.

One easy step you can take is to encrypt your text messages. Instead of sending plain texts, that are easily read by anyone with a search warrant (or in many cases, without one), you can easily encrypt your messages, so that no one but you and the recipient can read them.

Think of it as herd immunity. Journalists and human rights activists around the world encrypt their texts, for good reason. But the problem is, simply encrypting texts by itself can throw suspicion on someone. However, if we all encrypt our texts, it becomes the new normal. Nothing to see here, journalists and humans rights activists and young people and minorities are simply doing what everyone else does.

Lots of apps can encrypt your messages. I like Signal.  It’s made by a hacker collective and gets high marks from the ACLU. PC magazine says “It’s the best secure messaging app we’ve tested.”

It’s free and seamlessly replaces your usual texting app. You need zero tech know-how to use it. You send texts just like you always do. If you’re messaging someone who also uses Signal, it encrypts the message. If you’re texting someone who’s not using Signal, then a regular message goes out as normal.

Signal uses strong, tested end-to-end  encryption tools, which means that even if a court order demanded it,  the developers of Signal would be unable to deliver your messages to the government. It’s not that they’d refuse to do it. They simply couldn’t.

You can’t afford to be passive about this issue. Not now. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for the most vulnerable among us. And with free, simple, and seamless apps that will help, there is no excuse not to.

About the author: Alex Kourvo is an editor-for-hire. She sends as few texts as possible, and encrypts every one.

The Day We Grabbed Our Country Back

It was a long, hard, necessary journey.

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Last weekend I wore my pink hat and joined 500,000 of my new best friends at the Women’s March on Washington.

It wasn’t easy to even get there. At the very last minute, our bus company canceled some of the contracted buses. They left eighty people behind. Our bus seats were the narrowest ones I’ve ever seen, and the bus lacked things like power outlets and temperature control. The door wouldn’t fully close, so we froze up front, while the back of the bus quickly warmed to ninety degrees. Nobody complained, since we considered ourselves lucky to get on a bus at all. We left Ann Arbor at 10:00 Friday, planning to drive through the night and arrive in DC early the next day.

At 3:30 in the morning, our driver pulled to the side of the road and we glided to a soft stop. “I don’t want to scare you,” she said. “But we don’t have any brakes.” We were somewhere in Pennsylvania and the GPS showed no towns for miles. The fog was so thick we couldn’t see the next mile marker.

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I called our bus company and spoke to someone who sounded like a college intern on her first day. She didn’t know where we were and didn’t know how to help. Luckily, our bus driver was a miracle worker and somehow found a mechanic to drive to our location in the middle of the night to fix our bus right there by the side of the road. We got going again, but we were two hours behind. So we took a vote: stop for breakfast, or drive straight through to DC? We overwhelmingly chose to drive straight through. We gave up sleep, food, and coffee in order to get there on time. This is how much we wanted our voices heard.

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As hungry and tired as we were, just being in DC lifted our spirits. Everyone we talked to had a story. We met two senior citizens who’d been protesting since the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam war. They’d each had three hip replacements, and yet were willing to be on their feet all day for this. We gave our granola bars to a trio of college kids from North Carolina who’d decided to drive up at the very last minute, not stopping to pack food. We met someone who’d come from Colorado and was at the march alone.

We were all different, and all united by one thing—the determination to grab our country back. Our bus driver gritted her teeth and guided our rickety bus through the DC traffic. “If you’re on my bus, I’m going to get you there,” she said. The women with the artificial hips knew they would be in incredible pain the next day, but endured the trip anyway. The person from Colorado, with no support from family or friends, still made the trip.

Husbands marched with wives. Sometimes three generations marched together. Moms brought their kids.

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Cell towers were overloaded and none of us were getting news or social media. We had no idea how big our march was, or that demonstrations were happening across the country and around the world. We didn’t get the scope of it until later. Cheers broke out on the bus ride home as people pulled up aerial photos of DC, Chicago and Denver. We all looked up our hometowns. “They had six thousand in Ann Arbor,” someone said, passing around a cell phone. “They marched in Copper Harbor!” someone else cried, showing us the picture.

Back in Michigan, I removed my shoes and peeled my sticky socks off my feet. I napped and showered and went out to get groceries. My pink “pussyhat” had become a natural part of my wardrobe by then, and I wanted to keep wearing it. As I filled my cart, five people stopped me in the store to tell me they loved my hat. I couldn’t stop smiling. For the first time in two months, I felt proud of my country.

As I was checking out, the cashier asked me about my hat. “I saw them on the news,” she said. “But where did you all get them?” I told her that my best friend had knit mine. I explained that the hats were all homemade. Every single one.

“That’s amazing!” The cashier held out her arm. “Look! I have goosebumps.”

I knew the feeling. I got goosebumps several times at the Women’s March. I’m not kidding myself into thinking it was perfect. It wasn’t. It was very white and very straight. Parts of it were amateurish since this kind of political action is new to most of us. Some people will pat themselves on the back and not do anything else to fight this dangerous administration.

So what? It didn’t have to be perfect. It had to be done. This isn’t the end. This is the beginning. And with a new pair of socks on my feet, a bright pink hat on my head, and goosebumps on my arms, I’m ready to march again.

About the author: Alex Kourvo is a freelance editor. She plans to travel to DC again this spring for People’s Climate March.

I’m Not Buying Your Racist Economy.

I don’t trust our country to do the right thing. I’m not buying it. Literally.

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Things I’d planned on buying in the next six months:
Glasses
A kindle
A dining table
Gutters for my house
A car

Service people I’d planned on employing:
A mason
A gutter installer
A landscape company

Things and services I’m actually going to buy in the next six months:
None

In fact, I might not buy any of that stuff for a year or more. I’m joining the protest economy.

People who look like me, people with the same privileges I have, elected a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic rapist as our President. And gave him lots of friends in congress to play with. They will hurt people who don’t look like me.

My peers claim they aren’t racist or sexist. They say this election was about “smaller government.” They say it was about “the economy.” That is a lie. They voted out of hate. And that hate has put me and my family in jeopardy in countless ways. I will probably lose my health insurance. My brown, queer children fear for their very lives.

My peers claim this election was about “bringing jobs back.” If jobs come back, it won’t be on my dime.

I’m not hiring anyone to fix my gutters or to deliver a new table or sell me a computer. I’m opting out of this economy as much as possible in the coming year. I won’t buy anything I don’t have to. This includes movies, restaurant meals, and even books. If my rake breaks, I’ll duct tape it together. If I lose my umbrella, I’ll get wet. I hope my family likes donations to charity for Christmas because that’s the only gift they’ll get from me.

This capitalist country is racist as hell, and I’m going to leave it the only way I can, by removing myself from it economically.

And the money I’m not putting into our broken system? That’s going to three places: Planned Parenthood , EMILY’s list , and the Sierra Club. They are doing the work I want to see done, and the only work I’m willing to pay for right now.

About the author: Alex Kourvo is a freelance editor. She won’t be buying any books this year.

[Photo credit: © Ridiculousbroomstick | Dreamstime Stock Photos]

See You at the Polls

If you don’t vote, you’re giving away your power.

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Vote for your favorite or vote against your least favorite.

Go in educated about the issues or go with your gut.

Carefully consider what you’re doing or decide at the last minute.

Do it as cheerful exercise of your citizenship or do it as an unhappy obligation.

But whatever you do,

VOTE.

About the author: Alex Kourvo is an editor-for-hire. She can’t wait to vote on November 8.

The Encouragement Manifesto

You. Yes, you. You’re doing just fine.

Have you seen this quote? It shows up around social media a lot.

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It’s supposed to be funny…I think? I don’t find it so. O’Connor goes on to say that many a bestseller would have been prevented by a good teacher. Because how dare some people think they can write? In O’Connor’s world, not even a college degree is enough to prevent bad writing.

I find this attitude infuriating. I know there are more bad writers than good ones. I also know that some people think they are good writers when they are not. Or more accurately, they aren’t good writers yet.

That’s what bothers me most about the idea of “stifling writers.” It feeds into the myth of innate talent, as if pro writers never had to learn their craft but were born knowing how to write flawless first drafts.

Some people think the way to help new writers is to cut them down—otherwise known as “telling them the truth.” But writing well is hard work and the publishing process is soul-sucking. Why add to that misery?

I teach a class. I help new writers. When I read their sample pages, I tell them they are doing just fine. I tell them to to keep writing. Because you know what? That is the truth. The most important thing a beginning writer can do is write more. It’s the only way to get better.

I’m not patronizing or condescending. I give solid advice in addition to praise. I recommend books that can help with specific problems. And when it comes to publishing questions, I tell it like it is, with no sugar-coating.

But I don’t spend a lot of time trying to fix someone’s manuscript. Leaving my own fingerprints all over someone else’s pages won’t help them. It will only make them believe they can’t do it themselves. But what will help them is knowing that someone sees their potential, thinks they are on the right track, and is rooting for them.

That’s what other writers did for me. And that’s what I will always, always do for other writers.

And there’s no way anyone can stifle that.

About the author: Alex Kourvo is a freelance editor who is wildly enthusiastic about brand-new writers. 

Five Carl Sagan Quotes That Will Make You Happy You’re a Writer

Scientist, educator, philosopher, writer. Carl Sagan’s life and work continue to inspire us.

Having a hard day? Finding it difficult to get words on the page? Here are five quotes from Carl Sagan that will brighten any writer’s day.

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Sitting in a room and making stuff up? It’s your job. Your imagination is taking you places!

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…and the reality is, you’ve got to get some chapters written.

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I love how Carl lapses into second-person here. As if maybe he, himself, isn’t quite human? But he’s captured the essential nature of humans: we need to live together, and we need the stories that teach us how.

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You have an obligation to future generations. Start working that magic!

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So let’s go discover it in a book.

About the author: Alex Kourvo is a freelance editor who is passionate about helping new writers.

Ten Life Lessons from The Princess Bride

Because I love this movie like Miracle Max loves a nice MLT.

The Princess Bride is a fairy tale that turns the cliches upside down and inside out, while at the same time, giving us every familiar theme we love. I’ve seen this movie an inconceivable number of times, but I’ll always happily watch it again. It’s a comfort movie, perfect to watch when I’ve been mostly dead all day.

The Princess Bride is both modern and timeless, with nifty life lessons in some of the most quotable dialog ever. So, what can we learn from a kid’s fairy tale—a (gasp) kissing book? Well, let’s just start with what we have. (It’s for posterity, so I’ll be honest.)

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10. Kind of like when you mix up your and you’re on the internet.

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9. …And if you haven’t got health insurance, you’ll soon have less than nothing.

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8. There is such thing as a fatal amount of confidence.

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7. Being right is no good if you’re also too late.

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6. Every time you stand in line for something, you pay twice: once in money and once in time.

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5. If Westley can survive the Pit of Despair, you can survive your Monday morning meeting.

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4. You went to the grocery store on an empty stomach.

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3. Those conspiracy theories your weird relatives spout off? Some of them are true.

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2. Karma will always catch up to you in the end.

…and the best, most important thing to remember:

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1. There is nothing better than sharing a book with someone you love.

About the author: Alex Kourvo is an editor-for-hire. She never goes against a Sicilian when death is on the line.

[Photo credits: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation / Act 111 Communications]

Everyone loves Whole30. Except me.

I ate squeaky clean for thirty days. I’m never doing it again.

IMG_2809I first heard of Whole30 on the internet. It seems like everyone loves this eating plan, with people posting before and after pictures and Instagramming their meat-and-veggie lunches. Whole30 isn’t a diet. It’s more like pushing the “reset” button on your eating habits. By cutting out sugar, grains, dairy, alcohol, beans, soy and peanuts for a month, you’re supposed to change your relationship to food, and eat more mindfully ever after.

The testimonials sound too good to be true. By eating like this for just thirty days, people report effortless weight loss, clear skin, sound sleep, boundless energy, and an end to all food cravings, forever. Some people say that Whole30 cured their high blood pressure, asthma, or diabetes. Who wouldn’t want to be in on that? I filled my grocery cart with delicious, whole foods and for thirty days, ate nothing but meat, eggs and vegetables, with a small amount of fruits and tree nuts for a treat.

For people who eat a lot of restaurant meals or packaged food, Whole30 is a huge lifestyle change. But I was already cooking my own meals from scratch. I was already eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. I never ate fast food or instant ramen or sweet cereal. My big indulgences were granola bars and dark chocolate. Still, I thought that surely cutting out cheese, oatmeal, popcorn and wine, not to mention noodles and bread would give me some of those miracle benefits the internet was raving about. Everyone who does Whole30 says “It changed my life.”

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Let me tell you what Whole30 did for me.

Nothing.

My skin looks the same. My energy levels didn’t improve. I didn’t lose a single pound. And if anything, my insomnia got worse.

And I missed out on so much.

I’m not talking about sandwiches or stupid store-bought cookies, because who cares about those? I’m talking about meaningful treats that people put real effort into. My friend opened an ice cream store, which was his dream come true. I attended the celebration without tasting a single one of his homemade creations. I went to a birthday party and didn’t eat any of the cake. I told my writer’s group that I wouldn’t bring muffins this week.

But the worst was when I had a spat with a family member and after we made up, he went out of his way to bring me my favorite dessert and I didn’t eat it. He was nice about it and said he admired my dedication to my goal, but I could tell he was hurt. I should have said “screw Whole30” and eaten every last bite, because no eating plan is worth harming a relationship with a loved one.

Whole30 wasn’t all bad. I learned a some new recipes. I made a couple of new Instagram friends. I learned that my diet was already quite healthy. The reason I didn’t receive huge benefits is because I didn’t make huge changes.

It took eating super clean for thirty to days to learn that while my normal diet isn’t perfect, it is good enough. Now that I know that, I never, never, never have to do Whole30 ever again.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo is a freelance editor who is passionate about helping new writers, no matter what they’re eating.

Taking Chances

Women make minute-by-minute calculations about their own safety all day every day. And sometimes we get it wrong.

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I was waiting to cross the street. Waiting through two light cycles. The crosswalk signal changed from “stop” to “walk” for the second time, and still I hesitated. Because like all women, I’m constantly scanning my surroundings, and I could see what was waiting for me on the other side.

I don’t know if he was dangerous or not. It was hard to tell, and I didn’t want to risk finding out. All I know is the guy standing on the other side of the street scared me. He was underweight, unwashed, wearing lounge pants and a t-shirt and a camouflage necktie as a headband. He was yelling incoherently at the top of his lungs. He stood on the balls of his feet, his entire upper body leaning forward in an aggressive way that said he was going to take a swing at the next person who got too close.

This was in broad daylight, about 11:30 in the morning on a Thursday, downtown Ann Arbor on the corner of Main and Ann, across from the courthouse. There were other people around, but not enough people. Nobody else seemed to be going my way.

I couldn’t cross on the other side of the street. Sidewalk repairs. Street closed. I’d either have to walk a two-block circle or take my chances with yelling guy.

I was about to take the detour when I saw him. A man of about thirty, in a dress shirt and pants, walking in my same direction down Main Street. He wasn’t huge, but he was big enough. More importantly, he looked confident. He sized up the situation and maneuvered himself to stand on the other side of me, so that he’d be between me and yelling guy when we passed him. We crossed the street together.

“Thanks,” I said when we’d put half a block between us and yelling guy. “I really didn’t want to walk past him by myself.”

“No problem,” he said. He held out his hand. “My name is Christopher.”

“I’m Alex.” I shook his hand. “Thanks again, Christopher. Have a great day.” I kept walking.

Christopher kept pace. “Are you single?” he asked. “Can we be friends?”

I stopped walking. My jaw dropped. “Are you serious right now?”

“What?” he asked. “We can’t be friends?”

“Don’t be that guy,” I half-whispered. “Please, don’t be that guy.”

“Yeah, all right.” He smiled as he sauntered off. “Have a nice day…Alex.” He added that special little lilt at the end, the one that says, “I know something about you.”

I had at least ten years on Christopher. Maybe fifteen. My hair is going gray. I was wearing what I describe as “mom shoes.”

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None of that mattered. Christopher had walked me across the street. He had bought my attention.

I should have taken my chances with yelling guy.

And that’s what I hate most about this whole thing. Of the two men, Christopher looked like the safer bet. Women make these moment-by-moment calculations all day every day, and sometimes we get it wrong.

It was a small encounter, more annoying than dangerous, but it might not have been. What happens when a man like Christopher walks a woman to her car, in the dark? What happens when he insists on being more than friends?

I told this story to some girlfriends and they sympathized with me. They understood it because they’d all been through some version of this. But my guy friends all said, “Oh no! What a tool. I would never do that.” And I believe them. They wouldn’t.

But guys, here’s what you have to understand. For every one of you, there is at least one Christopher out there.

And he’s ruining it for the rest of you.

#YesAllWomen

About the Author: Alex Kourvo is a freelance editor who walks almost everywhere. 

[Image: Google maps]

Ten Ways Being an Adult is Super Awesome

Don’t believe the coffee cups, t-shirts, and internet memes.

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“I can’t adult today” is one of the internet’s favorite sayings.

And I honestly don’t get it.

I’ve wanted to be a grown-up since I was five years old. That’s when I realized adults don’t have a bedtime and can say “no thank you” to green beans. Now that I’m actually grown up, it’s even better than I thought it would be and I don’t understand why everyone else doesn’t love it, too.

Of course, I’m not talking about people who have depression or anxiety. Sometimes those issues can deplete someone’s daily store of energy before they even get out of bed. And I get that. I do. Self-care is important. In fact, self-care is part of being an adult. You get to do that now.

And you get to do so much more. Here are ten great reasons being all grown up is the best thing ever.

10. You’re in charge of you. You can choose your own bedtime, what to wear, how to color your hair, and your own music in the car. You can eat your dessert without finishing your vegetables and you will never, ever be grounded, no matter how sassy you are.

9. Coffee. Wine. Sex. Swearing. Would you really want to trade in these adult pleasures for fewer responsibilities and a daily nap?

8. You can choose your own friends. Heck, you can choose your own family if you want.

7. No one asks you what you want to be when you grow up, because they can clearly see you already are. You get to have your own identity. You’re not just “so and so’s child,” you’re you.

6. Knowing how to do things feels really, really good. Grown-ups can drive a car, cook a meal, program the DVR, vote, and write in cursive. Or at least do some of these things. And these things are awesome.

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5. Paychecks > allowance.

4. Your parents get smarter every year.

3. You can watch all the scary movies you want. And read books with sex scenes in them. And see TV shows with lots of blood and maybe naked butts.

2. You don’t have to sing with your classmates, exercise with a group, deal with mean girls, or fill out a bubble form with a #2 pencil ever again. If you want to learn something, you get a book and learn it at your own pace. :::Wipes away a tear of joy:::

1. You can have children if you wish, and spend time with them feeling like a kid all over again.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to spend the afternoon building a blanket fort and then I’m going to sit inside it eating graham crackers while reading books. Because I’m an adult, which means I get to spend my free time any way I want.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo is a freelance editor living her best grown-up life.