Saturday, November 30, 2013

Android's curious advantage: lawbreaking made easy

Remember when Apple made ads about ripping CDs? iTunes and the iPod made it elegantly easy [1]. The ads were coy but clear -- wink, wink steal that music. Used CD stores made good money loaning out CDs for extraction. This was after Napster launched digital music, but before legal DRM-free tunes crushed CDs.

Now, of course, Apple is again virtuous, and iOS is a hard target. There's still no iOS 7 iPhone 5s jailbreak. Not only is IOS more secure, there's also less interest in iOS jailbreaking. The hacker community has moved to Android. 

With good reason, because Android is oddly easy to jailbreak. Almost as though bypassing DRM were to Google and Samsung's competitive advantage. Which, of course, it is.

That's interesting, albeit unsurprising, but it gets better. Not only does Google keep Android rootable, the Google Play store sells apps that require rooting to work. Wink one.

It gets better still. WiFi Tethering, one of those root-requiring apps, exists only to bypass carrier restrictions on tethering. So Google sells an app that's designed to at least violate contract terms. Wink two.

That shouldn't be a big deal to carriers who charge for data [3], but for 'unlimited data' [4] carriers like Sprint and TMobile it's money out the door. A single LTE connection can support quite a bit of traffic.

Story done? Not quite. There's one more interesting bit. Nobody writes about this [5]. It's a de facto conspiracy -- because we all hate carriers [6]. Wink 3.

I suspect Google will clean up its act soon. With 80% of the retail market this is a good time to go straight. Android will become harder to root, Google will make more money from DRM, and the Play store will stop selling apps that bypass tethering restrictions.

The wild days will become a passing memory. Who remembers now when Apple was rad?

- fn -

[1] iTunes was a LOT simpler in those days.

[2] Really, that is remarkable.

[3] I dislike AT&T as much as the next geek. Go get 'em!

[4] Of course carriers play games here -- data rates can get pretty slow after first few GBs and unlimited data plans have become pretty expensive in the US. So the real advantage is people who are holding on to low cost legacy unlimited plans. I am so jealous of these (mostly) guys -- they have the equivalent of a rent controlled apartment in Manhattan.

[5] Yes, of course there are a zillion articles about how to bypass tethering restrictions. I mean nobody writes about Google/Samsung's business strategy. By contrast when Apple made ripping CDs easy there was a lot of coverage. Fortunately i'm not giving anything away here -- my readership is very small.

[6] Even people who work for them. Ok, maybe we don't hate Ting - notice they don't have unlimited data.

Future Stunned: Earlier reality flux in the post-material world

When I was a child, I read Alvin Toffler's 1970 book Future Shock...

... Toffler argued that society is undergoing an enormous structural change, a revolution from an industrial society to a "super-industrial society". This change overwhelms people. He believed the accelerated rate of technological and social change left people disconnected and suffering from "shattering stress and disorientation"—future shocked...

For Toffler Future Shock came from physical changes, like a store that moved, or disposable lighters. In the 1970s we went from owning things for decades to owning them for months. We were a long way from the world of possessing a photo for seconds.

Toffler is still alive. I wonder what he thinks of Beijing.

Of course Future Shock turned out to be a relatively mild ailment. Even in China, we seem able to adapt to rapid change. Of course one day we may have more trouble; we may yet fall off the exponential curve.

I had a small taste of the latest version of Future Shock when my daughter accidentally downloaded a 1.5 GB movie and ran up a $136 AT&T data charge (which they reversed).

No, I'm not yet that old. The Future Shock didn't come because iOS 7 changed the rules about the location of our movies. Sure it's mildly disorienting that one day they were all on the phone and could be safely viewed, the next they were in the Cloud and could be viewed anywhere -- for a price. Call that Future Ouch.

The shock came because one day there were no iOS cellular settings on my iPhone (picture is from Emily's screen this morning as she still doesn't have the option):

IMG 2653

and 12 hours later there are (this is from my phone)...


Over at some people have this option, some don't.  Our current theory is that my family is in the midst of an AT&T/Apple service transition. One or the other or both are newly enabling movie download to iOS 7 devices. As the feature rolls out, phones quietly gain a new setting - albeit with odd delays.

As a "happy accident" the setting defaults to On, so some AT&T customers are going to run up big data charges during the transition.

This, as you might have guessed, is Future Shock 2013. It's when people with 50 yo brains aren't sure whether they just missed seeing something, or whether it really wasn't there. It's a state of reality flux that used to start around age 80, but is steadily moving downwards. Call it Future Stunned, or less kindly, premature dementia.

It's going to get worse.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Resolution: tighten bike bolts AND the shoe bolts every 2 months

There are a lot of bolts on my bike and they're always yearning to be free. 

Last week it was a brake lever than went from a bit wiggly to all off in two rides. Tonight, during my the last scheduled commute for 2013 [1], my left shoe got locked into the pedal. Bit of a nuisance as I was trying to put that foot down; happily I could glide far enough to put the right shoe down. When I got home I undid the shoe, then took bike and shoe down for surgery.

Turns out a bolt had fallen out, so the shoe couldn't torque the cleat. I'm not quite sure how I wiggled the shoe off the remaining bolt, but the secret to removing a shoe-less cleat is to drop the pedal spring tension. It comes out easily by pliers.

Ok universe, I get it. I need to do something different. I've created a task for April 2014 to tighten bike AND shoe bolts, I'll do that every 8 weeks or so. 

You should too.

[1] In December I go to CrossFit 3/x week because non-slip roads are unpredictable through March. I used to commute year round, but that was pre-kids. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

1973 vs. 2013: Stagflation vs Stagbubbilation

Stagflation was a catchy way to describe the economics of the Vietnam war West:

Stagflation, a portmanteau of stagnation and inflation, is a term used in economics to describe a situation where an inflation rate is high, the economic growth rate slows down, and unemployment remains steadily high.... 

... In the version of Keynesian macroeconomic theory which was dominant between the end of WWII and the late-1970s, inflation and recession were regarded as mutually exclusive, the relationship between the two being described by the Phillips curve....

The end of this period, around the time of the Zero-sum Society [1], is conventionally ascribed to Volcker's US rate increases @1980 that increased unemployment and supposedly controlled inflation. [3]

We don't have stagflation in year 13 of the Forever War and year 16 of the Bubble era. Instead the US has "The Great Stagnation" (Cowen version) or "Secular Stagnation" [2] -- a time of low inflation/deflation, "free money" that's fueling corporate acquisitions and mega-growth, neo-Feudalismrecurrent Bubbles, and, of course, mass disability and the related return of the Basic Income movement. All, I personally believe, arising because our economic structures can't respond quickly enough to the rise of China, India and information technology. We've fallen off the exponential curve [3].

Now the people who have been mostly right over the past five years are saying we need to embrace the Bubble. Another analogy, one I prefer, is to that we can't get out of the whitewater, we have to shoot the rapids.

Which is kind of desperate advice, since there could be a waterfall down this river. It's easy to invent policy alternatives, but hard to imagine how today's democracies can implement them.

- fn -

[1] "... Thurow proposes that the American economy will not solve its most trenchant problems-inflation, slow economic growth, the environment-until the political economy can support, in theory and in practice, the idea that certain members of society will have to bear the brunt of taxation and other government-sponsored economic actions"

[2] Krugman - stagnation "of or relating to a long term of indefinite duration”

[3] Around the time the IT world began.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lessons from - we have the wrong Cabinet

This is the The Cabinet of the executive branch of the USA (slashes mine)

  • Department of State
  • Department of the Treasury
  • Department of Defense
  • Department of Justice
  • Department of the Interior
  • Department of Agriculture
  • Department of Commerce
  • Department of Labor
  • Department of Health and Human Services
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • Department of Transportation
  • Department of Energy
  • Department of Education
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Department of Homeland Security
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • Office of Management & Budget
  • United States Trade Representative
  • United States Mission to the United Nations
  • Council of Economic Advisers
  • Small Business Administration
  • Council of Technology and Science Advisors
I'm looking forward to a Challenger-commission style review of what we should learn from I doubt we'll get one; I suspect neither party will let it happen.

If a real review happened I'd like them to look at the Cabinet offices. I've slashed the ones that no longer make sense, and added one that would have owned the debacle.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Managing the Facebook Problem

Facebook Reasserts Posts Can Be Used to Advertise. So if I click "Like" on a new offering by Encyclopedia Britannica, my Facebook friends (friends of friends of friends?) will see that in their ad stream and EB will be charged a click fee.

Since my Facebook friends and family members are into sex dolls and bondage they'll be terribly offended by my boring tastes and stop sending me party invitations.

It's the same story with Google+ of course, but G+ isn't a Problem. That's because by the time G+ came out we all knew the rules of the game. My 2011 TrueName G+ account lasted about two weeks; I use G+ services today through my John Gordon and corporate/professional identities.

The Facebook Problem is that I started using it when I was young and stupid - and I still value it. It's been a good way to keep our distant family members connected, and keep connections to old friends. Facebook Pages have worked well for the kids sports teams and especially for following notifications from local non-profits, selected businesses, and government.  

So... a bit of a conundrum. Were I to start using Facenbook today I'd use a 3rd synthetic identity, bringing the total [3] to four (each of these has its own Chrome Profile - which works better on Windows than OS X)

  • Public geek: John Gordon. (Once we'd have said "intellectual", but geek is less pretentious and certainly accurate in my case.) I switched my blogs from my TrueName to John Gordon in June 2005.
  • Corporate-Net/Professional: Today that's LinkedIn and a G+ account at this time.
  • TrueName: This is John Gordon F.... Once it led to a web site, an Amazon account and a Google Profile. Most of those are gone.
  • FriendsAndFamily: Something like John Lanan -- where the last name might be somewhat unique but not too unique.
So can I do with Facebook what I did with my net identity in 2005 [1]?
Maybe -- for the moment anyway. Facebook allows one username change and a "limited number" of name changes -- though the new name is supposed to be a RealName and was designed for American marriage/divorce practices. Pseudonym use is a violation of Facebook's TOS. (Remember the 2010 Google Buzz and 2011 G+ TrueName wars? Charles Stross's rant is still a classic, he's still not on G+ [2])
I may do the Facebook name change - at least as a stopgap measure. I already have a separate locked down pseudonymous Facebook account with zero followers, I'll migrate to that account for subscribing to Page activities and managing Pages. I'll remove my image and identifying information from Facebook, and switch the phone to a GoogleVoice/Hangout number associated with one of my many non-TrueName Google identities. My oldest child has a Facebook account, but I think the younger two will go elsewhere.
I rather doubt Facebook will miss me, but I will miss the good things Facebook brought me.
- fn - 

[1] My TrueName is fairly unusual, but happily there's now an actor with the same name. He's almost as handsome as I am, and his images have swamped mine. It didn't take long for Google to more or less forget about me, the dominant hit with my TrueName is my public LinkedIn profile. 

[2] Charlie has a popular Twitter account and might worry about where Twitter is going, but as an professional writer he can't separate his professional and personal identities as easily as I can. I think he's always considered his Twitter identity to be both a professional and public intellectual identity.

[3] I'm simplifying. My iPhone's user-resettable advertising identifier is an effective identity, and iCloud/AppleID is a non-public identity related to a set of services not including email.

See also

Update: As part of my migration I made a Facebook profile picture which no doubt violates TOS.

JF FB Page

Here's the latest iteration -- my first ever use of (and not quite kosher because it's a section of an Apple owned desktop image, but I'm iterating...)



Friday, November 15, 2013

Apple reactivates anonymous charitable donation via iTunes - please Cook, make this permanent.

Apple has quietly reintroduced something I've wanted even before CARE.ORG broke our deal and sold us out to the donation industry. They are again offering a way for non-wealthy people to donate anonymously to the Red Cross via iTunes.

They did this previously for Superstorm Sandy ...

iTunes now accepting Red Cross donations for Superstorm Sandy aid

iTunes will transfer 100 percent of all donations directly to the American Red Cross without sending users' names or contact information.

Unfortunately it's not a permanent service ...

The iTunes and Red Cross giving system was most recently activated following the devastating earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011. Before that, Apple offered the service in 2010, following a series of deadly earthquakes in Haiti.

We need Apple to make this a permanent service. Please join me in adding this request to Apple's iTunes Feedback Page. Apple can deduct the cost as a charitable donation.

We need this. Emily and I gave up our annual donations because of the deluge of mail, spam, phone calls and the like. These weren't huge donations, but they were non-trivial. If we were wealthier we'd give through a legal shield, but we don't have that kind of money. We can't be the only family hiding from the crazed donation industry.

So now we can donate to at least this cause. The only acknowledgement is an email receipt for tax deduction. The American Red Cross doesn't get any more information -- which is very Apple like. Here's how it looked on my iPhone today:

Come on Tom Cook -- make this permanent!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Human domestication, the evolution of beauty, and your wisdom tooth extraction

My 16yo is having his wisdom teeth removed tomorrow. Blame it on human domestication.

The Economist explains the process. Domestication, whether it occurs in humans, foxes, or wolves, involves changes to "estradiol and neurotransmitters such as serotonin" (for example). These changes make humans less violent and better care givers and partners -- major survival advantages for a social animal. They also have unexpected side-effects, like shortened muzzles and flattened faces for wolves, foxes, (cows?) and humans.

Since domesticated humans out-compete undomesticated humans, the physiologic markers of domestication become selected for. They being to appear beautiful. Sex selection reinforces the domestication process.

It seems to be ongoing ...

 The evolution of beauty: Face the facts | The Economist:

... People also seem to be more beautiful now than they were in the past—precisely as would be expected if beauty is still evolving...

Which may be why we are becoming less violent.

Of course a shortened muzzle and smaller mandible have side-effects. Teeth in rapidly domesticating animals don't have room to move. Which is good news for orthodontists, and bad news for wisdom teeth.

See also:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

So every male over 65 will be on Statins now?

The AHA's new guidelines tell us anyone with a 10 yr risk of MI over 7.5% should be on Statins.

I ran the 10-Year Risk Calculator Results on a pretty healthy 65 yo male:

Total Cholesterol: 180 mg/dL

HDL Cholesterol: 45 mg/dL

Smoker: No

Systolic Blood Pressure: 130 mm/Hg

On medication for HBP: No

Risk Score: 12%

12% is more than 7.5% -- by a good margin. By way of comparison, I'm 54, do CrossFit, lead an abstemious life, and my risk is   still 4%.

So following these guidelines would mean almost all men over 60 will be on statins. There's reason to suspect that's a bad idea. Personally I'd note that anti-inflammatory agents are often associated with increased malignancy rates, and that statins alter neuronal lipids - which is certain to be a mixed bag.

I want to see what the US Preventive Services Task Force has to say.

PS. Years ago, while studying for my board exams,  I wrote about a problem with our risk models notes:

The risk estimation guidelines are a mess, because they combine two different models -- a Framingham data based model (Bayesian, see NHLBI risk calculator) and a predictive risk factor model. Diabetes and Family History, for example, are a part of the 2nd and missing from the Framingham model -- probably because the data was not recorded. LDL is estimated in the Framingham model from HDL and total cholesterol, but is a part of the risk factor approach

This is not good. A 48 yo male with fifteen years of diabetes, but good BP, non-smoker and not-too-bad lipids wouldn't get Statins from the Framingham model, but they would from the Risk Factor model.

In the new AHA/ACA's guidelines they pull all the diabetics out -- they go on statins regardless of their risk score. But the Framingham model, as best I can tell, included diabetic patients. So its risk scores ought to be much higher than the true risks for a cohort that excludes diabetes ...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How the US could get a real (big) carbon tax

The Philippines has been hit by a very powerful storm. Thousands are dead and more will die, suffering will be extensive and long lasting. (Yes, poverty matters, but remember Katrina killed 1,500-3,500 and devastated a wealthy country city.)

Science-based thinkers expect a grim outlook for the Philippines. Sea level will rise, storms are likely to be more powerful, this will happen again even if many move away from the current crowded coastal zones.

Which makes this a good time to talk about a Carbon Tax. Not a trifling Carbon Tax, but a 'sell-the-SUV' and 'wear sweaters' and 'upgrade AC to smart adjust' carbon tax. A Carbon Tax that's politically impossible in 2013 China, USA, Australia, Canada or even Germany.

To be sure, a (Big) Carbon Tax (BCT) isn't about raising money for research - the funds would likely be offset by other tax reductions and by subsidies to people most hurt by cost shifts.. It's about keeping Carbon in the ground longer (maybe forever) by making extraction unprofitable, and accelerating transitions to low CO2 technologies (esp. solar, smart tech energy, etc) by making them cost-competitive ten years sooner than expected.

Nice idea, but impossible.

Except ... things change. Warfare happens. India suffers, and declares if it's going down it will take wealth western cities with it. Massive rogue geo-engineering projects have nasty side-effects that lead to more war, more threats.

Maybe a BCT becomes more palatable. Here's how it might happen -- the key is Border Tax Adjustment - "... import fees levied by carbon-taxing countries on goods manufactured in non-carbon-taxing countries...".

So what happens is China, India and Germany commit to a BCT -- for reasons of self-preservation and economic advantage. They tax American goods and services with the Border Tax Adjustment. The US can either suffer this or can add its own Big Carbon Tax -- and put various compensatory tax reductions/subsidies in place. The BTA goes away, the money stays in the US.

Once you have China, India, Germany and the US the rest of the world falls in line.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Lessons from Photo Stream Unlimited - Typhoon Mobile and is Apple going to make a prosumer camera?

For an old school technology geek, reared on local file stores and data cables and file formats and backups and (ugh) synchronization, these are challenging times. Our life is getting harder as the tech landscape shifts to fit billions of connected devices paired with humans who don't know a .docx from the proverbial hole in the ground.

Remember Cnut and the tides? He knew you can't fight City Hall. The best we can do is figure out which way the wind blows. (Ok, I'll stop now.)

So what does Google's mangling of old school email [1] and weakening of CalDAV support, Apple's ending of iTunes USB sync of calendar and contacts [2], Apple's disregard for iTunes metadata [3], Apple's mobile/Cloud retcon of iWorks [4] and, especially, Apple's very quiet Everpixing [5] of Photo Stream tell us about the wind?

It tells us that mobile has at last eaten the world. We knew this was coming, but we didn't know when. Hello Typhoon Mobile, good-bye the world we elder geeks evolved in.

The new world is transitory -- people don't keep photos any more. They walk away from Facebook accounts with barely a backwards look. It's Los Angeles all over.

The new world doesn't have cables. It doesn't really have local file stores or local backup. It rarely does power or complexity -- pro power is going to get expensive. Do you love your iTunes Smart Lists? Play 'em Taps while you can.

We can't fight this -- heck, even Apple can't fight this. At best Apple may support a rear guard action for its old school paying customers. Google, Amazon and Samsung ain't gonna be so merciful or so motivated. [6]

Maybe we'll meet at a bar sometime and raise a glass to the days that were.

Oh, and that camera? 

Well, if Photo Stream is as big as I think it will be -- just enough memory in the age of transience -- there's a nice little business for a Photo Stream compatible prosumer device that is to as the MacBook is to the iPad. It's a natural Apple software/manufacturing disruption move. An iCamera they make that works with Nikon, Canon or Leica glass -- whoever makes the right deal. I'll buy one.

- fn -

[1] I just modified the wikipedia entry to say Gmail is an "email-like" service rather than an "email service". I doubt that will stick, but eventually it will. 

[2] So far on Mavericks. It's effectively ending for Podcasts and iBooks as well. After Apple stops selling iPods all cable sync is going to go.

[3] You can change Podcast titles in iTunes, but if the Podcast is available online those edits are ignored.

[4] Retcon is how comic books dealt with middle-aged superheroes that were born 60 realtime years ago; it's a recapitulation of how Greeks did mythology -- every town had its version of the stories, and they got frequent reboots. In software we once had "updates" that added features and capabilities or managed platform changes, now we have retcons that inherit branding. They come with new capabilities, but also substantial regressions. Apple has kinda-sorta apologized for calling iThing 13 iWorks, but they didn't have much of  a choice.

[5] Everpix was a photo service that claimed to store all images forever for all devices. They were so obviously high risk I avoided them, but it may not be coincidental that they died around the same week that Apple ended its Photo Stream image limit.

[6] Who is it that makes Office 365? Can't remember.

Update: A corollary of all of this is that we're never going to come up with a DRM standard for either eBooks or movies. We'll go instead to a pure rental model.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Bicycling related kickstarters wanted: integrated cam/light, power platform, autonomous vehicle communication

These projects almost certainly exist, either or kickstarter or some design document, but I'll share them anyway. No rights reserved - except proof of prior art where applicable (I'm sure there's prior prior.) If there's a kickstarter for one or the other let me know.

Integrated incident cam and bicycle light with optional smartphone app

  • Typical LiOn modern USB charged bicycle light (example Niterider Lumina) with front mounting brackets
  • Integrated incident cam mounts above and behind light element
  • Optional: companion smartphone app (there are standards for sending data to existing smartphone bicycle apps)

Modular power/peripheral platform with open connector standard

  • key is open standards for the power and data connections including Bluetooth to smartphone peripheral
  • USB 3 charging (compatible with emerging high power standards)
  • power source can be LiOn battery, generator, etc.
  • implement on standard bike or eBike
  • platform modules include lights, incident cam, etc
Both projects can include support for broadcast/smartphone broadcast notification of planned route, velocity, steering angle, location, etc to compatible semi-autonomous car systems and tracking of autonomous vehicle metadata (incident prevention and reporting).

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Wanted: A blog feed that consists of a random sample of all past posts

I've been idly looking for a solution to the blog backlog problem. Lately I've seen others looking for the same thing, so I'm expecting a fix within the next few months.

What's the backlog problem?

The backlog problem is discovering a great blog, but reading only the most recent posts. That is, after all, how blogs were designed to work. Problem is, there's a lot of great stuff in the backlog. I'd like to read that too - the same way I read my other blogs.

What I want is a special feed for every blog I read that's the 'random post feed'. It could be generated by a WordPress extension for example -- it just has to be integrated with the blog's database and publish 1-2 posts a day. [1]

Any day now ....

[1] Google Reader could have done this because Google kept old posts around, but nobody else is going to keep billions of blog posts in an archive. The RSS feed for backlog posts has to come from a random selection of all past posts -- say 1 random selection a day. I've seen mention of using Yahoo Pipes to do something like this, but Pipes can only randomize the urls exposed by a feed -- not all past posts.