Sunday, December 31, 2017

Better UX via the Mouse Pointer

That arrow is the mouse pointer making the entire area clickable.

Background

Paul Fitts was an Air Force officer who, during the 1950s, developed models of human movements that are now primarily used in human-computer interactions and aviation.


This is CNN

This morning, I was on CNN.com looking at a photo gallery when I noticed that my mouse pointer had changed from its typical pointer to a thin arrow. Depending on which half of the screen I moused over, the arrow either pointed to the right (indicating that I could click to go to the next photo) or left (previous). 

I haven't seen a lot of good use cases for changing the mouse pointer icon via CSS (HTML). Up until now, the best one I've seen is of a hand "grabbing" to indicate that a UI element is draggable.

The beauty of CNN changing the mouse pointer is it makes the entire image, and the area around it, a target without adding a new UI element. A large target, nearby, is one key to good UX. It's what makes the corner pixels on macOS such a great target since the corner pixels effectively have dimensions that are infinite in length. This is why the screen corners are commonly used as a quick way to invoke the screen saver and lock your computer.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Raw Thoughts on Bitcoin

Blockchain could be a game changer for non-repudiation, but it might take many years to be adopted/go mainstream, much like Boolean algebra (AND, OR, XOR, NAND, etc). Boolean (truth) logic was useless when it was introduced in the mid-1800s and now it’s the backbone of electrical engineering and computer science.


Blockchain works like this: You and I sign a contract for a sales transaction (i.e. when you sign the credit card receipt at the point of sale). It's printed on paper and we don't want the other party to lose or change the contract. So, we cut up the contract into pieces, like a jigsaw puzzle (think of this as encrypting the contract). The puzzle pieces are placed into a lockbox for which only you and I have the key. Our lockbox (let's call our lockbox OURS) is then welded to another lockbox (called THEIRS) and info from each lockbox is written on the other. Written on the outside of the lockbox is: "I'm OURS and I'm attached to THEIRS." In essence, lockbox OURS has public info about lockbox THEIRS and vice versa, so all the lockboxes know who they’re suppose to be attached to. Another customer comes along with their lockbox (called SOMEONEELSES) and it's welded to our lockbox, forming a chain of three lockboxes with OURS in the middle. This chain of lockboxes is always shared publicly. The public can see all of the lockboxes and how they're attached to one another, but they can't see what's in side of each one.

If this chain is tampered with, then not only would someone see a missing link in the chain, but even if the two lockboxes on either side of the missing link were reattached, the info on the newly attached lockboxes wouldn't be correct for their new neighbor. 

(Think of blockchain as quantum encoding, if one piece is changed, even by mere observation, then it all breaks down.)

Bitcoin might be touted as a currency, but the IRS has ruled it as property much like gold, which is a good call. Gold has real value (in addition to practical uses in electronics), but it’s not a currency.

The key problem with Bitcoin is its volatility. Investors hate volatility – hustlers love it, and the latter use it to hook in get-rich-quick believing consumers over FOMO (fear of missing out).

A few years ago, someone sent me 0.0001 Bitcoin. At that time, it was worth 7¢, today it would be worth $1.38. A fantastic appreciation, but a totally unpredictable gamble. I don’t think I’ve seen a single Bitcoin transaction used “in the wild” (i.e. purchasing an item, in person or online). Of course, there’s nothing wrong with owning some Bitcoin, I would just consider it a long shot, not an investment.

Fascinating Fact

Since mid January 2009, the inventor of Bitcoin (Satoshi Nakamoto) hasn't spent a penny of his original Bitcoin. The public Bitcoin transaction log shows that Nakamoto's account contains roughly one million Bitcoins. As of 17 December 2017, this is worth over $19 billion making him (or them, if it's multiple people) the 44th richest person on earth.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Mystery Sky Phenomenon

clearly remember exactly what I was thinking and feeling when I saw last night’s sky phenomenon. I was perfectly calm, which is astonishing given my panic when I was around 10 years old and saw a searchlight painting the bottom of the low clouds at a high rate of speed in Upstate New York. The encounter with the searchlight was the only time I recall feeling sheer terror. 



My first question to myself, last night, was, “What is this?” Is this a comet?  Seems too low… too close... to be a comet. It can’t be a meteor (or is it meteorite?) because the burn is too long. Perhaps a large satellite reentering the earth's atmosphere? I wasn’t seeing multiple pieces so it didn’t seem likely it would have broken cleanly, in half, unless by deign. But I couldn’t figure out the plume. It wasn’t debris. It seemed more like gaseous smoke or contrails. A long, thin jellyfish stretched out behind it, with some event that had happened a minute or so before I looked up into the sky; that event seemed to produced the puff of smoke. I imagine that was the reason why there was a second piece trailing and falling behind the lead object.

I was trying to figure out if the object was burning up from reentry or still burning fuel and climbing up. This is when I wondered if it was the sun that was illuminating the object's contrail. It was hard to judge direction. I couldn't tell if it was moving up and away, or was it moving up and to the direct left.

What was the second object, chasing it? For pure emotional reasons, it felt to me like it had been a part of the the other object. Then I realized it was definitely the sun illuminating this slow, powerfulsilent dance in the sky. It didn’t seem at all like danger or a demonstration of war. All these thoughts went through my head in the course of 90 seconds as I snapped photos and recorded video.

What if this had to do with North Korea? We'd have nukes in subs on their doorstep, so this rocket wouldn't be outgoing. Hopefully not something from over there, headed in our direction. I don't want to be in a war that I'm not a part of. Plus, this didn't have the feel of a surface-to-surface ballistic missile.

I calmly got back into my car realizing that I would soon know what I saw since I was witnessing this with thousands of others.

These were my candid thoughts as I posted to social media while explicitly discerning fact from speculation. Social media lit up with photos and videos of the same event. At this point, this event had become a shared experience as I saw other’s view points. No one speculated conspiracy theories, that I saw. Although I did see comments that the vapor trail was self-illuminating, there was a pilot ejection, and someone thought they saw a chute. No reasonable person would think they saw the ejection, etc, if they actually knew what it was they were looking at. This is how human brains work – we speculate to fill in the blanks. We want answers – that’s a big part of what makes a loud cell phone conversation in a restaurant more annoying than two patrons speaking at the same volume. The listener can only hear one side of the conversation and the more of the conversation missed, the more annoying it becomes.

I realized that this didn't feel like a bad thing. It was an experience to share – it couldn’t help but be shared. This was a big event in the hands of a small number of people, so it better be good because otherwise we'd be glimpsing of the power of the gods as they battled it out over our heads.

About 20 minutes after last night's event, I learned that I witnessed a SpaceX rocket launch from Vandenberg AFP. It was seen from Southern California to Arizona to Santa Cruz. I got a little annoyed at myself for not even considering that it could be a rocket launch and staging. In 1996, as I was driving from San Clemente to UCI, I saw what I mistakenly thought was an F/A-18 flying straight up – I thought it came from El Toro MCAS. But it kept going up and up. It, too, was a rocket launch from Vandenberg into orbit. 

It’s a huge production to put a vehicle into orbit, which many got to see, last night. And when it catches you off guard, it feels alien.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Us and Them


Tonight, my cousin said that "Us and Them," from The Dark Side of the Moon, was, "...my favorite Pink Floyd song. So, so beautiful."

My reply was...

Mine too. It's a beautiful song about an officer in war. He stands with his troops during the battles, with the cannon fodder taking the brunt of the casualties. "'Forward,' he cried, from the [relative safety of the] rear, and the front rank died."

The generals weren't even near the fighting. "The general sat while the lines on the map moved from side to side."

The war was futile. "In the end it's only round and round."

Then the officer becomes a recruiter with the battle call...
"Haven't you heard it's a battle of words?"

And he recruits new enlistees for war.
"'Listen, son,' said the man with the gun, 'there's room for you inside.'"

And, before you know it, the war's long over and the old officer is forgotten and homeless, dying on the street. "For want of the price of tea and a slice, the old man died."

That's my take on this song.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Kurt Beyer Radio Interview on Grace Hopper

Here's a great radio interview with Kurt Beyer regarding his book that I read about Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, USN. She faced a ton of challenges as the pioneer of computer programming, and she was a key developer of the COBOL programming language which is still heavily used.

Kurt Beyer and I are from the same hometown and went to the same military college, where he was the highest ranking Midshipman my junior year. He caught my eye, again, when I read his excellent book about Grace Hopper.

http://blogs.wgbh.org/innovation-hub/2017/12/8/life-legacy-grace-hopper/

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Apple Park, Visited

Last week, I gave my Apple talk to a delegation of business people from China. After the talk, we visit Apple's HQ at 1 Infinite Loop for a tour, photos, and opportunity to buy unique Apple products only sold there. On last week's tour we had an added bonus by also paying a visit the new Apple Park Visitor Center which had opened about two weeks earlier. The Visitor Center offers a nice view of the new Apple Park corporate HQ building. It's a large building; the Pentagon would fit in it. It's also an expensive building. Its $5B price tag makes it the most expensive building in the United States, and the fifth most expensive in the world.


The Visitor Center has three areas on the ground floor: store, cafe, and an AR experience area with a scale model of Apple Park. The building is covered by a rooftop deck with tables and chairs offering a relaxing view of the main Apple Park building. 


The group I lead was definitely one of the more excited groups I've spoken to. Immediately after my talk, some of them were stopping me for a one-on-one photo opportunity while still in the classroom. After our group photo, about 30 of them queued up to take more individual photos with me in front of 1 Infinite Loop. Then, inside the store, I continuously felt gentle tugs on my jacket sleeve for more photo opportunities. After the group boarded the bus and headed off to the airport, my translator and I had a chance to grab a cup of coffee and relax. She told me that it was almost unsettling to have been literally pulled in multiple directions as the tour group members requested that she translate their wishes to the Apple employees in the stores.

The Apple Park Visitor Center is open to the public – I highly encourage you to pay it a visit.

Friday, December 8, 2017

iPhone Backup Trick

Problem

What do you do when you run out of disk space on your Mac and can't backup your iPhone?


Solution

Create a symbolic link for your iTunes backup folder, linking it to an external hard drive.


Details 

There are two ways to backup your iPhone. You can back it up to either iCloud or iTunes. iCloud is convenient because it happens automatically (daily) when the phone is charging and on a WiFi network. But, the downside of an iCloud backup is that the restoring process can take days – many days – depending on your bandwidth. Even if you have a blazing fast Internet connection, the bottleneck will be with iCloud's servers since your personal data isn't cached on a CDN.

I typically keep my iPhone set to backup to iCloud until I buy a new iPhone. With a new iPhone, I'll connect it to iTunes and choose to make an encrypted backup to my hard drive and then I'll restore the backup to the new iPhone. (Choosing the encrypted iPhone backup option will save your passwords, and other sensitive data, thereby saving time when you restore from your backup.)

But, since my iPhone 7 has 256 GB of storage, I quickly discovered that I didn't have that much free space on my MacBook Air. What to do? I tried freeing up some space, but that wasn't enough.

Then I remembered that I had a 2 TB external hard drive with enough free space. So, I dropped to the command line and created a symbolic link to the external drive. To accomplish this, go to Terminal and cd to:
/Users/username/Library/Application Support/MobileSync

I temporarily renamed the Backup folder, under MobileSync, to Original Backup. Then I created the UNIX symbolic link, with the name Backup, to a Backup folder on the external drive:
ln -s /Volumes/MyExternalDrive/Backup 

Once I created the link to the external drive, I changed my backup option, in iTunes, to "This computer" and clicked the Back Up Now button. It took a few hours, but that was better than a few days. After the backup completed, I connected my new iPhone X to iTunes and restored the back up (which took about two more hours), then deleted the symbolic link, and changed the Original Backup folder name to Backup.




Initial Setup

Old iPhone 7 shaking hands with my new iPhone X
Finally, my favorite part of the iPhone X is, to initially set it up, I simply placed my old iPhone 7 next to my new iPhone X. The iPhone X sensed the older iPhone 7, asked for my PIN, and viola, it began transferring the initial setup information.


Gestures

Need help learning the new iPhone X gestures?
This 5' 30" video will get you primed up.


Face ID

Face ID seems to be working as expected. Frequently, in the time it takes for me to pick up my iPhone X and adjust my grip, it's unlocked.

With Apple's Face ID on iPhone X, the odds of a false positive is down to 1 in a million. That loosely means there are 7,500 people in the world who can unlock my iPhone X – that's a huge improvement over Touch ID which theoretically gave 1.5 million people the ability to unlock my iPhone with their fingerprint.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Supreme Court May Overturn Third-party Doctrine

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a closely watched case tomorrow that will determine whether authorities can search your cellphone location data without a warrant. This dispute could change decades of privacy precedent.

At issue, for SCOTUS to decide, is the third-party doctrine, which says, if you hand your data (e.g. your location) to a third-party then you shouldn't expect it to remain private.

Currently, law enforcement can access much of your information simply by asking for it from the phone company or your ISP. While they frequently can't hand over your content, they can easily discover your location and who you communicated with. We're talking about metadata, which is data about data and how to route it. The USPS currently takes a photo of every letter and package mailed in the US and these images can be used by law enforcement.


One of the most read pieces on this blog, with over 100,000 page views, is a post about Facebook privacy. Then, I discovered that Facebook was keeping track of me via breadcrumbs. Would you like to see if Google is also keeping tabs on you? Then visit history.google.com.


Litmus Test

For tomorrow's case, Orin Kerr submitted a brief on behalf of the government arguing that the Fourth Amendment doesn’t protect location data because it’s the equivalent of being observed in a public space. 

I think Kerr's argument falls short because this data allows us to be observed in private spaces, too.

My litmus test is: how would this apply to the POTUS? Most of us would agree that we shouldn't expect privacy, in the case of a video surveillance camera recording us, in public. If the President walks down a street in New York City, many cameras will record him. But, shouldn't the President's exact location be private, in private? Did the President tweet from the Oval Office, his bedroom, someone else's bedroom, or perhaps a bathroom? Cell phone location accuracy using GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth, etc can be accurate to within a few meters.

The current challenge is that technology is evolving so quickly that consumers don't know how they unknowingly yield their privacy, and laws have not caught up with citizens' expectations or understandings.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Unlocked GSM iPhone X Confusion

I'd like to upgrade to an iPhone X – as soon as one's in stock. Today, I stopped by my local Apple Store and spoke to an employee about which one I should get. For my last few versions, I've had unlocked, contract-free iPhones with AT&T until I switched to Cricket. The rep at the Apple store told me two key things. First, that all iPhones are now unlocked (and have been for a while). Second, I'd have to get one of the iPhone models that work with Verizon or Sprint. That didn't make sense since Verizon and Sprint are CDMA while AT&T, Cricket (which is owned by AT&T), and T-Mobile use GSM.

When I got home I called 1-800-My-Apple. The CSR referred me to Apple's LTE carrier support page (which only makes it clear which carries the phone may work with, not a particular model). While I looked that over, he explained to me that Apple's GSM iPhones only support GSM, whereas their CDMA iPhones support both. That now makes sense – I always wondered why the CDMA iPhones had a SIM tray (part of the reason is that the LTE standard also uses SIM cards).
I learn something new every day.




Further reading:
https://9to5mac.com/2017/10/26/iphone-x-carrier-compatibilitiy
https://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2407896,00.asp

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Future of AI

Things we enjoy in the real world, we don’t like online. I like it, when I walk into my local coffee shop, that they know my favorite food or drink. But, it seems creepy when I visit Facebook and see ads for products I searched for, days ago, on Amazon.

Like all technology, we’ll learn how these interactions work and we’ll get used to it, especially those who will grow up with it. But we sometimes forget too quickly; especially if we didn't live through it. Even our grandparents are too young to remember a time when people scoffed at teenagers, living a hundred years ago, because they learned to drive a car instead of ride a horse. 

AI of tomorrow, like the iPhone X, will know who you are from more than touch (PIN or Touch ID). Like another person, the iPhone X can now see literally see and recognize who you are. And it already knows exactly where you are. Perhaps, its camera and microphone will guess more about what you're doing before you ask, if we can trust it.

Living with AI will be like living with a new species. Almost human, but not quite, probably even after passing the Turing Test.