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 fully understand 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:

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.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Yesterday's Mediocre Newspapers, Today's Ad Servers

It seems that yesterday's mediocre newspapers are today's most prolific ad servers, with clickbait (yellow journalism) websites jumping on the bandwagon. I get it... I understand that news sites need to make money, which they do with ads. But, print news ads were never intrusive or intertwined within articles as current news websites are, today.

Nowadays, I visit my local newspaper's website and I'm playing whack-a-mole as I x-out pop-up ads. Then, after reading about a dozen stories, I end up needing to either go into private browser mode or use Safari's Reader Mode (shift-command-R) to get around their paywall (the latter only works on unsophisticated news sites).

I understand why newspapers need to do this and it's a tough business they're in because nearly all the news on their website can be found elsewhere. Plus, consumers aren't used to paying for news, making it even harder to charge for online subscriptions. Paying for a newspaper subscription was a different story in the "old days" since the customer was buying atoms (a product, the physical newspaper), not electrons (a service, the online news).

The thing about newspapers is they, in particular, had an atypical revenue model before ten years ago.  Back then, their revenue came primarily from business display ads and consumer classifieds. Interestingly enough, while home subscriptions contributed to their revenue, it did so in an odd way. Specifically, newspaper companies realized that each time they raised the price of their newspaper, subscriptions would drop off. But, even though the newspaper was generating less revenue from subscriptions, in the short term, they kept their display ads and classified ads prices the same. Therefore, they'd generate the same revenue from their primary source (ads) while printing fewer newspapers. Then, their sales people would start calling up former subscribers and new customers to get them to subscribe.

What About 24 Hour TV News?

I get virtually all of my news online, almost all in print, because I don't have a TV. The nice thing about getting my news all in print is that, until an article is updated, there no new news to report. Whereas, on TV, the news stations will rebroadcast the same video footage, repeatedly, while having experts speculate on matters. Additionally, TV news programs frequently add video and sound effects (moving backgrounds, swooshing graphics, music, slow-motion video, etc); none of which is vital to the facts of the news story. Watching the same harrowing video, on TV, over and over again, does nothing to ease the public's angst. As a matter of fact, it makes it worse; to the point of addiction, especially in cases of terrorism.

Q: So, what's the best thing to do to deal with news, especially on terrorism?

A: Watch this Vox video...

Monday, November 20, 2017

TIL: Traveling with Airbnb and Alaska Airlines

Today I learned (TIL) two things while booking travel to Cupertino.

1. Airbnb hosts are allowed to decline guests based on gender (but only if the host shares living spaces with their guest). In other words, a host can choose to only rent to a guest of the same gender; i.e. women can choose to rent to only women and men can choose to rent to only men in cases of shared spaces. However, a host cannot choose to only rent to a guest of the opposite gender.

2. Alaska Airlines has dirt cheap flights between San Diego and San Jose (<$60 one-way, including fees and taxes). But they’ll charge you an extra $11.95 to pick your seat. Since the plane I’m flying on has no middle seat, it didn’t matter.
Update: I may have made a mistake about Alaska Air; the $11.95 pick-your-seat fee may have been a fee charged by the online travel agent (justfly.com). I'll let you know if I find out more info.

Le Mobile Feast: An American Adventure

Facebook reminded me that, two years ago, I went shopping with Steve Le as he looked for a teardrop trailer to tow behind his car.

Steve was in the early stages of planning an adventure across America where he would cook a dinner party in every state while writing a book about it. He decided to pass on the trailer in lieu of sleeping in the homes of his dinner party hosts for a more intimate connection. He realized that, while people may keep up their guard at a large dinner party, they lower it in the morning when wearing pajamas, while drinking coffee, in their own kitchen. 

Le Mobile Feast: Dinner Party One
I first met Steve a few years ago at a local Naval Academy chapter happy hour in San Diego. We immediately clicked since we both had open minds and enjoyed writing (the name of his adventure, Le Mobile Feast, is a hat tip to Hemingway's book, A Movable Feast). I've been to about ten of his dinner parties in California and a couple in New Orleans. I clearly recount what's become known as "Dinner Party Zero," on the 2015 winter solstice, at my place in downtown San Diego. That was followed shortly thereafter by "Dinner Party One" at the home of my girlfriend. To add a little mystery... a year after Dinner Party One, we had a "special" dinner party.

Along his journey he's interviewed many people and he has been interviewed on NPR. Steve's still working on the details of his book. Initially, he was considering writing a story about every stop and sharing the recipe. But, since he's become an empirical authority on U.S. citizens, he'll probably focus more on contrasting American politics during the final year of Obama and the first year of Trump.

You can follow his adventures on his website.

By the Numbers
Elapsed time: 21 months
States visited: 42
Cities visited: 98
Dinners cooked: 168
Plates served: 1,353
Dogs: 82

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Target Charging Kiosk

Have you ever walked into Target with a low battery charge on your phone and say to yourself, "I wish Target had a secure way to recharge my phone while shopping."

Lo and behold, Target has a locker kiosk exactly for that. Of course, my shopping list was on my phone (along with Pay). But it's still an improvement from the old days when I'd get to the grocery store and have to guess what I wrote on my shopping list that I left back home. It worked exactly as expected. I entered my phone number, e-mail address, and picked a security image from a list (dog, picnic, fire pit, etc) and then I choose a locker. To retrieve my phone, I entered my phone number, tapped my security image, and the locker opened. Simple.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Fake News, the First Amendment, & Critical Thinking

The challenge with fake news is it is protected by the First Amendment. Even a lie is protected by the First Amendment, in most circumstances (and there are clearly times when lying is OK).

The problem with fake news is "the amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it." This is known as the bullshit asymmetry. And this is a rare case when it's easier to create something (the lie) than destroy it.

We commonly see spin and propaganda in business and politics; they're pretty much both the same thing, depending on the context. I like to think of spin as highlighting the lie in a truth or the truth in a lie. Or, to put it gently, spin is about highlighting the positive in a negative or, especially in politics, the negative in a positive.

The solution to fake news is critical thinking. I will not tell you what to think. But, I am willing to show you how to think. And I am willing to tell you what I think. The rest is up to you.

The most important part of critical thinking is to know the source, confirm the facts as best you can, and understand (prioritize) the importance and relevance of arguments and ideas. If it doesn't make sense, then double-check it and avoid confirmation bias because once we make up our minds about something we tend to stop learning about it. At the end of the day... It's not enough to be right. It's more important to be effective.

And, never forget: Snopes and Wikipedia are your weapons in the war on ignorance. Open your eyes, only justice should be blind.

Steal an iPhone, Then What?

My buddy recently spent a couple weeks in Europe, traveling with friends. He went there for Oktoberfest then visited Italy, the Netherlands, and France. While in Paris, someone stole his buddy's iPhone. They tracked it down to a street corner where they found a group of hooligans (there's a word I rarely use); when confronted, the kids ran off.

My buddy and I both used to work at Apple, so we discussed what someone could do with a stolen iPhone. We concluded that a stolen iPhone is useless without the login and password, even if you replace the SIM card. Around 2010, iPhones and iPads were becoming hot items, making them a key item to steal. A common problem on the NYC subway was that a thief would snatch it out of a victim's hand when exiting a subway car as the doors were closing.

In response to the rash of thefts, Apple began making it impossible for an iPhone (or iPad) to be used without the proper credentials. These devices can't be reset to factory settings; so, if you forget your PIN or Apple ID login and password then your device is bricked.

UPDATE 8 Nov 2017: I asked a question at this morning's Tech Coffee"What good is a stolen iPhone?" and an entrepreneur answered with "Spare parts."
Can iPhones be stripped like a stolen car? Perhaps the screen?

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Tips for Getting Back into the Cockpit

Flying to Catalina.
One key thing I learned from Dave Winer about blogging is that its purpose is to narrate one's work. Whenever I type up a long "how to" e-mail, I realize that other's can probably use the info so I post it to my blog.

A classmate from the Naval Academy wrote me, today, saying that she wanted to get back into flying and she asked for my opinion. 

Here's my response...

Hello Melissa,

Great to hear from you.

Head-set, what type do you use? 
I used https://www.clarityaloft.com headset. It uses foam hearing aid plugs which provides excellent passive noise reduction (plus it doesn’t press against your glasses/sunglasses like traditional headsets). When I was learning to fly, a couple of my instructors were using headsets with active noise reduction (i.e. like Bose), but their batteries kept dying making the noice cancellation useless until they replaced the batteries.
If a helicopter uses the same two prong headset connector as a fixed wing plane then it should work.

Ipad? What are you using? Wi-fi, or the wifi plus cellular?
I always fly with my iPad using the ForeFlight app. It is phenomenal. It graphically shows TFRs, weather, etc. I have cellular so I can file a flight plan via ForeFlight  But cellular isn’t required. When you subscribe to the app, you can use it on two devices like an iPad and iPhone, so you could file your flight plane (VFR or IFR) via your iPhone.
You don’t need data connectivity when flying because ForeFlight downloads any VFR and IFR charts that you need, plus it’ll download the approach plates so you can see your position on an approach as well as on a taxi diagram. 
I have a Stratus receiver that I place above my panel and it relays NexRad weather and traffic to my iPad, plus Stratus has WAAS to augment GPS with accuracy down to one meter.

Kneeboard? Type you use?
I have a generic kneeboard that I bought at my flight school. Nothing special about that other than it has a bunch of handy stuff written on it like light signal codes for loss of communications, special transponder frequencies for emergencies, etc. 

Any sectionals or maps you recommend?
The FAA allows private pilots to use ForeFlight as an EFB (electronic flight bag) in lieu of paper maps/charts, A/FD, etc. Keep in mind, though, that technology can fail. I had that happen once, after I landed at an airport, so I pulled out my iPhone and used the taxi diagram on my iPhone to taxi. I still print out my approach plates and taxi diagrams and have them clipped to my yoke.

Anything else you can recommend to help get me back in the air?
I don’t use anything from Jeppesen only because, when ForeFlight first came out, they used FAA approach plates and charts. Now, ForeFlight offers Jepp, but what I’ve been using is great.

Of everything I mentioned, ForeFlight is the most important to me. You can probably download it and try it for free for a month or so to check it out. It’s amazing. It’s revolutionized cockpit resource management for the single pilot.

One other piece of gear that I love is my Brightline flight bag. It’s modularized to be taken apart, but I always fly with the entire bag. It holds my iPad, Clarity Aloft headset, Stratus receiver, clipboard, charts, flashlight, emergency hand held radio etc.

How’s that sound?
Don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any more questions.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Daylight Saving Time: A Coders Achilles' Heel

Good news – tomorrow's a 25 hour day! Most of us get an extra hour of sleep.

It's also a day when date/time bugs are discovered in code. It's an easy mistake for software engineers to make: thinking that there's always 24 hours in a day.

"When is tomorrow?" asks a coder. Well, I'll just add 24 hours to midnight – a common error that I've seen. Adding 24 hours only works if you add it to, say noon, but not midnight. 

When I worked at Wyndham, a business analyst (BA) reported a bug in our hotel booking website. He told us, in our morning meeting, that QA booked a weekend (three nights; arrive Friday and depart Monday). At checkout, the system was reporting only two nights even though the correct Friday – Monday days was displayed. As soon as the BA said it only happened on one weekend, I immediately knew the problem. I said, "See if that weekend coincides with daylight saving time." Sure enough, it did. It made me look smart, but, truth be told, I had not only made this same mistake myself, as a WebObjects developer at Apple, but I had seen this bug deep in the inner workings of WebObjects prior to version 4.5.

It easy to think that every day has 24 hours and it's hard to test for all the edge cases in software.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Do Not Call Registry

I think the phone company and our federal government's Do Not Call registry (https://donotcall.gov) are letting us down.

The cell phone network is a closed system, which gives the phone companies complete control over who accesses it; so, I'm thinking that it wouldn't be too hard to block calls displaying a caller ID from a disconnected/out of service phone number in the same way that Gmail blocks or filters spam. 🤔