Home | Random | Downloads | About | Hikes | WebCam | Search | Sitemap | Email | Feed

Risky

Risky

The World Economic Forum has published a risk/reward matrix for 12 key "emerging" technologies. You'd think this would be pretty good, because:

"The report’s conclusions on risk are heavily based on its Global Risks Perception Survey, which gathers the opinions of the World Economic Forum’s multi-stakeholder communities of leaders from business, government, academia and nongovernmental and international organizations. Members of the Institute of Risk Management are also consulted."

For some reason IoT devices are the second highest risk. Ahead of biotechnology (we're all dead from an engineered virus), nanomaterials (we're all dead because we're now gray goo) and space technologies (we're all dead because we provoked a violent alien civilization).

The least benefit comes from Geoengineering. Because with Trump in power I'm sure we're going to solve Global Warming via emission cuts. There is apparently more benefit in Virtual Reality and even more in 3D Printing.

(Image from World Economic Forum)

Share:

Where did that app icon go, Android?

Where did that app icon go, Android?

As much as I’m looking forward to Daydream VR and trying to train my Google Assistant to swear there is one big problem left with Android that Mountain View should tackle first.

Where the fuck did my icon go Android?

Every so often when I update apps an icon is missing from my home screen. It’s one of sixteen apps that I use frequently enough to have pinned there but I can’t remember what it was until my muscle memory sends my finger flying to the empty square an hour or day later. Until then I’m distracted and can’t focus and scroll helplessly through the recently updated list in Google Play trying to figure out which of the updates is the culprit.

It’s not the first time I’ve been through this so I took a screenshot of my home screen just so I could not go through this again. But Google Photos backed it up and deleted it to save space so it’s somewhere in Drive that I can’t find doing me no good at all. When I figure this out I’m going to borrow my daughter’s instax and keep a hard copy in my wallet.

Google booking me a restaurant and a babysitter at a whim won’t save the time I lose to hunting down missing apps.

It might be fixed in Nougat but I can’t update for an unknown number of months because of device/carrier/manufacturer fragmentation so that’s still Google’s fault.

I have been a HTC loyalist so maybe it’s Sense and not Android in which case sorry Google, I should get mad at HTC instead.

I’m pretty sure it was Goodreads.

Share:

Methyl L-α-aspartyl-L-fucking-phenylalaninate

Methyl L-α-aspartyl-L-fucking-phenylalaninate

Every time I go back to the UK now I experience some sort of culture shock. A couple of years ago it was the matryoshka of Marks & Spencers. This trip, post-Brexit, I was expecting a J.G. Ballard style post-apocalyptic wasteland. But it was even worse - it's nearly impossible to buy tonic water without sweetener.

I'm unlucky (or maybe lucky) enough to be sensitive to aspartame and anything made with the stuff tastes foul to me. I can no longer have a gin and tonic in a pub because the full-fat tonic is as tainted as the diet stuff. It's not just tonic water, many other drinks are laced with the stuff. And kids in the UK now live on Fruit Shoots which are short on fruit and long on chemical warfare.

Is this some sneaky anti-obesity move I haven't read about? More likely the vile artificial stuff is just cheaper than actual sugar and it's a cost saving measure.

Oh, and I saw a crew of motorway workers washing traffic cones. In the rain.

Share:

Meeting Defragmenter

Meeting Defragmenter

Screw Holacracy, I have an idea that will revolutionize business and drive the next wave of global productivity gains. It’s a simple question of fixing meetings.

My dream week is one where I have two miserable days with back to back meetings and forget lunch, there isn’t even enough time to grab a coffee. Sound miserable? The upside is three uninterrupted days where I can cruise through a ridiculous amount of work.

My real week - meetings dotted throughout each day with half hour breaks in between. And many of these meetings will involve eighteen people shoehorned into a closet because someone booked the big room for a 1:1.

We need a meeting defragmenter.

Let go of picking a time and a room. Just say who you need to meet with and for how long. The meeting defragmenter will pick the best room and group all meetings as close together as possible with a five minute break in between.

Your company can decide if you prefer to load mornings or afternoons, or maybe Mondays and Thursdays. You can set core hours for each team.

Information workers take around twenty minutes to enter a state of flow which is where you need to be to write great code, conduct awe-inspiring analysis or generally do anything of value to your company. A half hour gap in between meetings is just enough time to get back to your desk, dismiss unwelcome interruptions, start to get into a state of mind to tackle some real work and then realize it’s time for another meeting.

Giving more people more blocks of useful time would be an incalculable benefit to their mental health, their businesses and the global economy. This one simple tool could change the world.

As usual if any of my billionaire investor readers are interested, call me.

(Previously)

Share:

Goodreads Feature Request

Goodreads Feature Request

Goodreads needs a shelf called "currently-reading-but-if-i'm-honest-will-never-finish". On this shelf I will put Infinite Jest.

Share:

The real reason Americans don't have passports

The real reason Americans don't have passports

Less than half of Americans have passports compared to around 75% in the UK. Brits often use this statistic to mock Americans for being uncurious provincial stay-at-homes.

I've always felt this was unfair though. As an American you might have visited all 50 states, all of the National Parks and maybe thrown in Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico without having ever bothered with a fully fledged passport.

A Brit on the other hand might have spent a few days eating fish and chips at a British pub in Benidorm and is suddenly a sophisticated world traveler. I don't think so. There is simply more to see and experience in the US without needing to cross a border.

After I moved to America I realized that maybe there was another reason. Americans for some reason don't bother taking vacations. You get massively less vacation time over here and even then a huge number of people don't even manage to take off their paltry few days. There is no effective way to have a holiday overseas if you never take a holiday.

Now I realize that neither of these factors is as important as the United States Postal Service if you have a kid.

In the UK to get a passport you mail in an application and get back a passport. It's pretty easy. Even for children.

In the US you need to go to a Passport Acceptance Facility and that probably means a post office. There is a handy website that lists the 10 closest facilities together with their phone numbers so you can call to make an appointment. These phone numbers are not answered. It's less like a basic government service and more like trying to bag a ticket to Glastonbury.

I gave up and delegated to Fancy Hands (a personal assistant service). They have spent two days on the phone trying and failing to get an appointment.

I was going to do my best to vote my principles this year but at this point any presidential candidate who would force USPS to put in a web scheduling system might just get my vote.

Updated 2016-04-18 23:23:

After I posted this a friend pointed me at the United States Digital Service (via this Ted Video) and basically said why bitch and moan when you could help fix it. Which I don't have a great answer to. Except this.

Share:

OAuth

We'd probably be living in a post-scarcity Star Trek / Culture style universe happily working on self-actualization if we didn't have to spend so much time fucking around with OAuth.

(Previously)

Share:

Got It

Got It irritating me on Facebook

When I run an app or launch a website it's generally because I've got some task to complete and a few free minutes to try and complete it.

Let's take Facebook for example. I want to quickly scan through to see which of my friends are sharing anodyne inspirational quotes superimposed over stock photography and silently judge them.

Facebook picks this moment to let me know about a new feature that will display previously unshared photos and videos to try and get me to share them. I'm instantly pissed off because of the unwelcome cognitive load and then I realize that the whole app has frozen. In fact every time I load Facebook at the moment it just hangs until I give up and do something else.

This is probably because one of my daughters has the endearing habit of shooting hour long 4K videos of the floor. The poor app is probably innocently trying to grab a couple of thumbnails and instead getting an object lesson in the halting problem. I'm sure this will eventually get fixed and it's not even the root cause of my current fury.

Got It irritating me on the Londonist

Got It

My only option is to click Got It. This chirpy little phrase is slowly infesting every corner of interaction design. It seems relatively innocuous at first but let's unpick it a little.

Generally Got It signals that something has been added to an app or site that the designer feels is important enough that they need to let me know about it.

This is almost always going to be bad news. Probably the way I complete my task has changed and I'm going to have to learn the new way. Maybe there has been a complete redesign and the use I had for the app was considered an edge case and has been removed. It could be that for legal reasons I need to be told that some new previously unpillaged corner of my privacy needs to be violated.

I'm immediately in a bad frame of mind when I see Got It.

Also there is rarely a Don't Got It or  Don't Want It link. Got It is a sign that something is being forced on you and the happy language is an implicit forced value judgement that you've both fully comprehended the change and that you wholeheartedly agree with it.

It probably feels cute to designers that come up with this. After all, a whole team has probably toiled for weeks if not months to come up with a new way to cause my phone to hang. They really want me to use it. But you're not putting yourself in my shoes. I rarely care and usually you're making my day fractionally less enjoyable and the design should be about me and not you.

Got It irritating me on YouTube

I miss OK. It's less loaded. I'm OK with dealing with whatever you're inflicting on me. It's not as good as OK / Cancel but sometimes OK is about the best you can expect.

I just don't Got It.

(Previously)

Share:

Correlation is not causation but...

Correlation is not causation but...

Share:

Cisco's insane securedoc HTML attachment

Cisco's insane securedoc HTML attachment

I last got one of these in 2010 and assumed it must have died by now, but no, otherwise sensible organisations are still training their customers to fall victim to phishing attacks by asking them to open dodgy email attachments.

The product in question is Cisco Registered Envelope and it deals with the lack of security in email by sending you an encrypted HTML file. Opening this file sends you off to register on some website and then runs a Java app to decrypt the message. This is insane. The HTML attachment in insane and the Java applet is insane.

The latest email I got in this format was an appointment reminder from UCSF. I'm sure there is some HIPPA requirement that they can't just send medical information in a plain text email. But they could send an email that lets you know you should login to your account to see the appointment. It's not like the securedoc.html method is magic, you still have to create an account on a website to use it so it buys you literally nothing.

UCSF, shame on you. Look after your patients digital health as well as their physical health. Out of self interest if nothing else, nobody can pay you if their bank accounts have been emptied after falling victim to a real phishing attack.

Cisco, shame on you. This product is so wrong headed it's impossible to believe that you're doing anything right.

​(previously)

Share:

BBC Slams BA

Share:

Really BA?

Really BA?

Not to pick on British Airways but yes, that screenshot is real. It's a marketing email opt out that has not only been pre-populated in favor of spam but has then also been disabled.

Previously.

Share:

Might there actually be grounds to sue BA on the basis of a frequent flyer program that never lets you actually fly anywhere ever?

Did you know? You can use your Avios to book hotel stays and car rental...

Well that’s good, as you sure as hell can’t use them for a flight:

There is no availability on British Airways for the displayed date range.

Previously…

Share:

Disqust

Disqust

I just discovered that Disqus started running adverts on my blog without permission. It's probably been going on for a little while and I should have paid more attention, sorry.

By 'without permission' I mean that I'm sure I clicked though and didn't read a terms of service document that said they could do what the fuck they like to my site. And reading other accounts of this issue I'm sure I filed without reading the email they sent out that mentioned this new 'feature' in passing. So in a legal sense they probably had all the permission they needed. In a moral sense they're switch-and-bait scum of the highest order. 

They should have made this feature opt-in and then sent out an email explaining it in detail. Some sites don't want to run ads. You could have non-commercial Creative Commons content on a site that is suddenly a commercial concern. 

It's a free service and at some point they need to make money, fine. If this had been presented as an option I might have considered it. If they wanted to charge for the service I'd probably have paid for it.

Instead I've disabled Disqus and hastily hacked in Facebook Comments which should be coming online as I write this post. 

A side effect of this is that all the existing comments are currently unavailable. I have an archive and will try to get them resurrected soon.

Share:

Chiroopractoor

Chiroopractoor

Google's use crime of a new compose window is going to become compulsory soon.

I suspect this is because it will soon be revealed that Google is rolling out a chain of high street Chiropractic facilities to treat the crick in everyone's neck from composing email in the bottom right hand corner of one's screen.

Either that or it's a bid for mobile dominance by forcing PC users to work in mobile screen sized portions of their screen until you just give up and use your phone.

Share:

I can't post a single photo

I can't post a single photo

You'd think Facebook or Twitter could scrape together a semi-functional Android client but apparently not.

Twitter has some size limit for photo uploads. In a sane world the client would resize a photo that was too large and just get on with it. Table stakes would be an error message. But no, it pretends everything is just peachy and then fails to upload. To post a photo to Twitter I have to remember to go into the camera settings and ratchet down the megapixels which I remember to do about never. 

Facebook used to work occasionally but now just dumps an ugly immobile progress bar that won't go away until I reboot the phone. 

Google+ probably works fine technically but if a photo is uploaded to a forest and there is nobody there to see it is that still in any sense counted as success?

Share:

Religion's Kayne West Tendencies

BBC News has a report today on a conference held by CERN to bring science and religion together around the origins of the universe. It has some choice quotes including:

"Science in isolation is great for producing stuff, but not so good for producing ideas"

From Andrew Pinsent, and from Canon Dr Gary Wilton that the likely discovery of the Higgs boson:

"raised lots of questions [about the origins of the Universe] that scientists alone can't answer ... They need to explore them with theologians and philosophers"

Let me get this straight.

  • The concept of atoms is first proposed by Demokritos in around 500 BC and realized by Dalton in 1808.
  • Subatomic particles are discovered in the late 19th century, followed by Rutherford's gold foil experiment in 1907 demonstrating that an atom is mostly empty space.
  • The Standard Model is built over decades including the proposal by Peter Higgs (and others) of the existence of the field and boson by which particles acquire mass.
  • An expensive and extensive search by Fermilab and CERN eventually seems to have discovered the Higgs Boson.

A few highlights.

And after hundreds of years of theoretical and experimental physics it's somehow time to turn this one over to the pros?

Another quote from the conference, this time from Prof John Lennox:

"When Hawking argues, in support of his theory of spontaneous creation, that it was only necessary for 'the blue touch paper' to be lit to 'set the universe going', the question must be: where did this blue touch paper come from? And who lit it, if not God?"

Science may never have all the answers. It may not even be possible. But it's the only way to keep pushing back the boundaries. All the theologians have to offer is that they've discovered God, just outside the current resolution of our understanding. Ad nauseam. Bugger off. 

Share:

Reviews and Links for May 2012

No book reviews this month.

Links

#boarding SFO http://t.co/YLDFpmwF

Penn Jillette's rant against Obama's drug policy http://t.co/Ri5HAqxH

Congratulations @SpaceX -- Dragon arrives at space station in historic 1st http://t.co/91suk4ZV via @sfgate

Why your camera's GPS won't work in China (maybe) http://t.co/FQIFN8wI

Sigh, obvious, invalid, bullshit -- BBC News - Microsoft wins patent fight with Google's Motorola unit http://t.co/0PENWTCV

BBC News the secret links between Star Wars and Wales http://t.co/T8yEulCu (is there any tenuous link with Wales you won't publish?)

:) Hot weather to continue next week http://t.co/izAc2yA1

Not Skip's Tavern any more... http://t.co/dPx1NIj8

Reality rocks in San Francisco earthquake exhibit http://t.co/yo82B38b (Looking forward to this!)

BBC News - In pictures: Annular eclipse http://t.co/YA5F6or2 (Check out the Lemurs checking out the eclipse)

ITHCWY: Annular Eclipse at SFO: The only solar observatory outside the international terminal at SFO (some… http://t.co/ZqMXm8Ec

Beer was near, sadly earlier. http://t.co/2BeMAJZj

America's great divergence - American History - http://t.co/zQcVJIcQ http://t.co/fSdtXSvl

"Why won't you answer me?" - Parenting - http://t.co/zQcVJIcQ http://t.co/Ljzg6vpG (I should stop telling Kate about her 'milk head')

1906 earthquake refugee cottage at The Presidio. http://t.co/pof5LotA

+1 Judge suspends US law that provided for indefinite detention without trial - Boing Boing http://t.co/xsBuLyYb via @BoingBoing

Daniel Raven-Ellison, Guerrilla Geographer Information, Facts, News, Photos -- National Geographic http://t.co/DjgJdvMJ via @NatGeo

ITHCWY: Gopher Snake: Bernal Heights Park http://t.co/OoHYDU0y

Turned out nice... http://t.co/G2pHtgbd

RT @CatfoodSoftware: Blog: Catfood Software on Google+ and a Hangout Pledge: Catfood is now on Google+. Once 50… http://t.co/ZC84h8AN

ITHCWY: Open Immigration: I'm increasingly in favor of opening up immigration. Partly it's a general sense that a… http://t.co/cBLQT2rI

ITHCWY: Snake rests on Toad: At the California Academy of Sciences. http://t.co/YTQh682A

New Golden Gate Visitor center - lots of tat, no food :( http://t.co/vXmZn099

Obama sighting on morning dog walk. #fb http://t.co/wZdwN2Mj

President Obama: 'I Think Same-Sex Couples Should Be Able to Get Married'; http://t.co/CtC6k2A8 (shameful that it has taken this long)

Gaia revisited: http://t.co/sHSeFph7 - I'm still in the extreme camp: http://t.co/6dzIjBy7

Post Doyle Drive detour quite pleasant on the way home tonight. http://t.co/fSK8e4v9

THINKWALKS: http://t.co/ToOZo3KQ #todo in San Francisco @myEN

ITHCWY: Bottled Water: A company called Evive launched this week to battle the evil of bottled water with reusable… http://t.co/5X9e3emO

ITHCWY: Pelicans http://t.co/0xoup7z5

It's @KQED pledge yet again. Throw them a bone public radio freeloaders: http://t.co/00UvTamT

Illegal dumping can now be voted to fix at http://t.co/SsliF12n #bernal-heights!

Yet Another Awful Dumping Incident on Bernal Hill http://t.co/35kLDRdn via @bernalwood

+1 AllClear ID Rolls Out First-Ever Social Security Number Blocking Service For Children's IDs http://t.co/wnRILNzQ via @techcrunch

Rejected and controversial New Yorker cover art (the mentos one is very good) http://t.co/afo9AxZd via @BoingBoing #fb

Share:

Even Shitier - Citibank Remortgage Scam

Even Shitier - Citibank Remortgage Scam

Citibank contacted us in December offering to remortgage our house. There was a reasonably steep application fee but I was promised a refund in the event that the remortgage failed. Specifically this email:

"Hi Rob,

Unfortunately we cannot waive the application/appraisal fee, however I can refund it back to you in your loan is not approved.

What do you think?

xxxxxx xxxx
Citibank
Senior Lending Consultant"

So we paid the fee, filled in the paperwork and waited for the appraisal.

The appraiser came and did a lousy job. His report mixed up photos, missed salient features of the house and worst of all used ridiculous comps with what must have been distressed sales of crack dens next to the freeway instead of similar nice houses on the west slope of Bernal Hill. Apparently this isn't unusual. Chris Arnold from a recent NPR News story:

"Right. It used to be too easy. The appraisers were part of the problem, so Congress changed the law. And that's had some unintended consequences. And to make a long story short, what sometimes happens now is the lender says, OK, we need an appraiser for Robert's house. And an email goes out, blasted out to a hundred different appraisers across the entire state. And the email says something like: Hey, who wants to do this for a hundred bucks. You know, so the guy you get might be driving in from 50 miles away and really have no idea what the homes in your neighborhood are worth."

So long story short the appraisal valued our house at about $5 and the remortgage application was declined. There was an appeal process for the appraisal but it wasn't possible to complete unless a few of our neighbors happened to have sold their houses in the same week. 

Given that we've never missed a mortgage payment it seems bizarre to suppose that making it lower would represent an increased risk. But it's Citibank's decision and I wouldn't be whinging about it in public if they'd refunded the application fee in January. Despite repeated emails the didn't refund it in February or March either. In fact, after declining the transaction we never heard from our friendly Senior Lending Consultant again. 

I've just got off the phone with the credit card company as in the end I had to resort to challenging the transaction and getting it charged back to Citibank. I'm not sure if it's incompetence on the part of a few employees or a new scheme to defraud customers but be careful if Citibank make the same offer to you. And make sure you get the refund promise in writing.

Previously

Photo credit: Roblawol cc

Share:

Executive Clubbing

Executive Clubbing

I used to really love British Airways. I even got over their silly new livery and refusal to stock full fat tonic water. But I can't get over the increasing uselessness of their frequent flyer program which has recently switched over to 'Avios', a scheme that seems to have been designed to stiff people out of their free flights.

Despite having a stupid number of miles and several free companion vouchers there is not one single seat available to book for the next six months of service, and I have enough miles/points for three of the four cabins.

Even if a seat was available the 'free' part only covers the actual fare and not the fees, taxes and surcharges. Flying from San Francisco to London the fare is about a dollar and then you still have to pay the rest. 

It would be better to not even pretend that the Executive Club relates in any way to free travel. Give me sugar in my G&T on one flight in five and I'd be happier than I am now with my vast stock of worthless Avios points. 

The whole mess is nearly enough to make me defect to Virgin Atlantic, but they only fly as far as Reno and then you have to take a bus the rest of the way to Heathrow. 

Photo credit: caribb cc

Updated 2016-08-04 14:07:

Maybe there is hope - on my most recent flight BA had Fever Tree tonic water!

Share:

Rant, ba

Three reasons the dream of a robot companion isn't over

Three reasons the dream of a robot companion isn't over

David Lee reports from the Innorobo 2012 conference and comes up with 'Is the dream of having a robot companion over?'Apparently it is, because:

1) A five year old girl is mildly frightened by a robot and so this is one of the industries biggest hurdles: 'What will it take for Kibo to be Emi's friend, rather than the subject of her nightmares?'

Sure, it's initially frightening, but leave the robot with her for an hour and you won't get the thing back without an epic meltdown. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of children rather than industry threatening hurdle.

2) '...the industry should perhaps look to recreate simpler, smaller tasks.'

Says the guy that makes the Roomba, a vacuum cleaner. No self interest involved there.

3) 'That kind of notion for a service robot we think is completely wrong.'

Says the guy that makes the RoboThespian, a next generation Teddy Ruxpin. No self interest involved there. 

So general purpose robots are not happening, because a girl was initially nervous and two companies focused on special purpose robotics would rather talk about their niches. Thanks for wasting my time on this BBC.

I'm wasting more time writing about it for two reasons.

The Internet is killing headlines (something I agree with Paul Carr on). BBC news is egregiously awful, both for overwrought link bait and for using warn too much. The dream of a robot companion will never be over.

More importantly, think about every news story that either covered an event or an industry you're deeply familiar with and you'll realize that it's wrong, usually seriously so. What are the chances that it's only those stories that flawed in this way?  

Photo Credit: AV8PIX Christopher Ebdon

Share:

Reviews and Links for February 2012

The Snowman by Jo Nesbø

The Snowman by Jo Nesbø

4/5

Very good, enjoying the entire Harry Hole series. Wishing for translations of the first two now!

 

The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbø

The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbø

3/5

Slightly weaker than the others in the series I've read so far but still knocked it back quickly.

 

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbø

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbø

4/5

Best so far on my quest to read through Nesbo...

 

Nemesis by Jo Nesbø

Nemesis by Jo Nesbø

4/5

On a Jo Nesbo binge...

 

The Leopard by Jo Nesbø

The Leopard by Jo Nesbø

4/5

Compelling crime thriller, rather worryingly one of series featuring Harry Hole so I'm going to have to go back to the beginning and read all of them.

 

Links

Catfood.Shapefile 1.51: http://t.co/BKtkx9Zq (ESRI Shapefile Parser, fixed release binary issue).

4 of 5 stars to The Snowman by Jo Nesbø http://t.co/IrvdrDBf

Breaking Good: how to synthesize Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) From N-Methylamphetamine (crystal meth): http://t.co/fviYaj5P

ITHCWY: Catfood.Shapefile 1.50: I've just released a small update to my C# Shapefile library on Codeplex. Catfood… http://t.co/lXoGoBsY

4 of 5 stars to The Redbreast by Jo Nesbø http://t.co/PqrOQnQL

Epic #Bernal Panorama: http://t.co/zVqZYosG - via @bernalwood

Neal Stephenson on getting big stuff done http://t.co/6PHS1VD1 #todo @myEN

Stop Colbert: http://t.co/kBtSC7NV via @NancyPelosi

Wolfram|Alpha Pro: http://t.co/G88eWq6Y #tools @myEN

A History of the Sky for One Year: http://t.co/UKMjosCK (very cool)

+1: A U.S. appeals court rules Prop. 8 unconstitutional: http://t.co/TZgdKU9k #fb

ITHCWY: Badge Driven Development: Microsoft has released Visual Studio Achievements, an extension that brings… http://t.co/5BOyNF03

ITHCWY: GGNRA Dog Management Plan Update: I love it when making some noise works. The NPS is pushing its dog… http://t.co/fzqaJWM2

Unicode Character 'PILE OF POO' (U+1F4A9): http://t.co/LkGffsvW

http://t.co/NA6TOdQk #todo @myEN

BBC News - Can the US Army embrace atheists? http://t.co/5ubkKT7r

Running an API at HUGE Scale - Webinar: http://t.co/tEnxdRBM #API

4 of 5 stars to The Leopard by Jo Nesbø http://t.co/tIIPs1M5

ITHCWY: Reviews and Links for January 2012: Damned by Chuck Palahniuk 3/5 Very much a vehicle for Palahniuk to rant… http://t.co/6kvApyf1

Share:

LEGO, now for Girls

LEGO.com Friends - LEGO for Girls

LEGO Friends is “The new LEGO theme – for girls!

So I guess the current sets not for girls include Alien Conquest, Architecture, Atlantis, Cars 2, City, Creator, Harry Potter, Hero Factory, Heroica, Kingdoms, Mindstorms, Ninjago, Pirates of the Caribbean, Pharaoh’s Quest, Prince of Persia, Racers, Spongebob Squarepants, Star Wars, Technic, Toy Story and World Racers.

I know they’ve tried this before, but still, how about LEGO Vikings: The new LEGO theme – for Danes!

Misogynistic plastic peddling marketing weasels.

Share:

Radio 4: Can I buy you a new hard drive?

I love that Radio 4 is available outside the UK on iPlayer. It’s an essential link to home. But why, oh why, oh why is each program episode only available for a few days? It’s so frustrating to find an interesting looking series and then discover that it’s halfway through and you can’t listen to the first episodes.

BBC, I’d be happy to send you a new hard drive if that would help. It really can’t require that much space to keep the content around for more than a week.

While you’re at it: per-program RSS feeds and more podcasts please.

Share:

We can’t fix politics without fixing 24-hour news

Take a moment to watch Brian Kilmeade and Janet Jackson below.

Brian Kilmeade

Janet Jackson

The wardrobe ‘malfunction’ resulted in the FCC attempting to impose a $550,000 fine (eventually overturned on appeal). Kilmeade’s “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims”, a genuine obscenity, resulted in a half hearted apology.

We’ve learned very painfully that throwing out Glass-Steagall was a horrible mistake. We need to learn a similar lesson about the Fairness Doctrine.

The current political climate is driven by unbalanced vitriol from both the left and the right. The Fairness Doctrine was eviscerated because of a belief that there was sufficient competition in broadcast media so that all sides of an issue could get fair time. But when you watch a news network that matches your political affiliation this just isn’t the case. If you’re in the news business then there should be some standards, including fairly presenting both sides of an issue and at the very least not repeating lies and insinuations with the authority of mass media.

24-hour news stations are especially bad because most days there just isn’t that much news. This leaves a choice between repeating the news that exists which is boring, or making stuff up which is a lot more fun. Unfortunately It’s also corrosive.

The FCC should be empowered and required to levy substantial fines where news outlets engage in factually incorrect reporting, where a reasonable amount of due diligence (or the slightest familiarity with terrorism) could have a prevented the error. This would reign in some of the worst, and also benefit from generating its own news coverage. We also need to consider brining back the Fairness Doctrine for any news outlet above a threshold audience size – print, television, radio or online.

Share:

Republicans and Democrats: Too big to succeed

The US political system is like daisyworld.

Flower Power Natural World

Daisyworld is a simplified model of the Gaia (Earth as organism) Hypothesis. A planet is populated by black daisies which absorb more solar radiation and white daisies which reflect it. Over time the temperature of the planet is regulated because the white daisies thrive when it’s warm. If it’s too hot the white population booms, increases the albedo of the planet and cools it down again. The black population then surges as the planet cools down and causes lower albedo and thus another round of warming.

This isn’t (directly) a post about global warming or race.

Replace the daisies with Democrats and Republicans. When Democrats are in power Republican voters are driven to the polls and vice versa. Homeostasis is guaranteed. Like daisyworld or the two-body problem it’s a toy system. It’s just never going to produce interesting results.

I think it’s time to break up the big parties (like the big parties should have broken up the big banks). Each party that achieves more than 20% of the popular vote is forced to split into two smaller parties. We have more than daisies. We have the three-body problem.

In addition to introducing some much needed chaos this could also turn the national political climate from us-vs-them to something more nuanced. Yes, there would still be left leaning and right leaning parties but they’d be forced to differentiate themselves through more than name calling and head stomping. We might have a political marketplace of ideas rather than affiliations.

Anything would be better than daisies.

Share:

Reviews and links for October 2010

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

5/5

Stonking. It tells the tale of a Dutch clerk (de Zoet) at a trading post with the xenophobic Japan of 1799. It has the swashbuckling panache and anal research of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle with just a dash of 'Big Trouble in Little China'. I hoped it was going to end with a 'to be continued...' but alas, Mitchell managed to wrap it up. Loved it.

 

Links

- Everest climbers get 3G network from BBC News - Home (Coming soon: escalators).

- Dream recording device 'is possible' from BBC News - Home (Life channels 'Until the End of the World').

- Pope urges migrants to integrate from BBC News - Home (How about getting priests to respect the laws of host countries and then start worrying about immigrants.).

- How Google understands language like a 10-year-old from San Francisco Bay Area News — — SFGate (Statistical analysis is Searle's Chineese Room, not AI.).

- Malcolm Gladwell is wrong about the revolution from All Salon (He's completely right. I joined a group to help the monks in Burma and they're still totally screwed.).

- Man used hosepipe to punish son from BBC News - Home (That's not what I was expecting the hosepipe to be used for. I think the son got off lightly and the father is lucky not to be facing a hosepipe ban related death sentence.).

Share:

Think before you print?

Don’t tell me to think before printing your email.

Firstly, it’s not that special. You’re lucky if I’m reading it at all. Do you really think I want a copy for posterity? Am I going to have it framed? Let’s face it, your target audience is pre-Internet execs who have their secretaries print their emails out so they can dictate a reply back later.

Secondly, do you think your sanctimonious footer comes at no cost? Using the power of randomly Googling facts each bit takes 4.6µJ and 2.8 million emails are sent every second. Assuming a 60 character nag if everyone indulged that’s over 12kW of smugness. For approximately no pages of paper saved.

And don’t get me started on lawyers. We could probably stop global warming if they’d just skip the fifteen page footer explaining how it’s somehow your fault if they send their emails to the wrong address.

Share:

How to fix software patents

In 1790 Thomas Jefferson became the first patent examiner and issued a grand total of three patents. 220 years later the US Patent Office has a backlog of over 1.2 million applications. Internet and software industries are created and destroyed in the time it takes the average patent to issue.

Here's how a startup can easily turn to the dark side:

  1. Investors pressure a startup to file patents in an attempt to make the business defensible.
  2. Tens of thousands of dollars of billable hours result in ‘System and method for displaying a text based colloquial greeting to the populace of a planetary body’.
  3. Startup fails but notices that other companies have implemented their ‘Hello, World’ IP and a patent troll is born.

Software patents are especially frustrating as it's the idea — usually the easiest part of the business — that gets patented. Because patent law doesn't require actual implementation, let alone success, it's as if you could patent “cancer drug” and then sue pharmaceutical companies each time a new treatment rolled out.

It's tempting to call for an outright ban on software patents, as Vivek Wadhwa did recently. This doesn't work because so much technology is software based and because somewhere in that 1.2 million backlog there probably are a few genuinely novel ideas. 

The first part of the fix is to stop examining the patents at all.

This may sound crazy, but think about copyright. You don't need to pay a bunch of lawyers to represent you before the copyright office and prove that this really is the first time a particular novel has been written, or that you were in fact holding the camera when you snapped that photo. Copyright is automatic.

A patentable invention isn't a specific work of art and so some registration system is required. My suggestion is that you upload a PDF and pay a registration fee of around $1,000. It's small enough not to discourage startups and large enough to prevent abuse. USPTO would timestamp the PDF, store it for eighteen months and then publish it.

The obvious flaw would seem to be opening the floodgates to even more patent trolls. That's where the second part of the fix comes in — shift the burden of proof of validity to the company that owns the patent. You can still sue, but the first step is a rigorous and expensive exam process. 

This system makes it easy to obtain a patent but changes the nature of the patent to an insurance policy in case your idea really is as clever as you think it is. It also makes it much harder to use a patent offensively. Resources are more efficiently used to evaluate the novelty of a patent when it is enforced, rather than to do the impossible task of evaluating millions of ideas that never will be.

Full disclosure: I'm co-inventor of several software patents that I hope will never be used against you. I also recently lost a product (Cucku Backup) as a result of settling a patent infringement lawsuit and I hope that never happens to you either!

Share:

AT&T MicroCell Woes

AT&T's MicroCell extends their famously inept network into your home or office. It does a tragically good job — you can use your broadband connection to not make calls rather than not making calls through an AT&T tower.

It's actually worse, because at least on the actual network you know when your signal sucks. With the MicroCell my phone shows five bars but will often refuse to make or receive a call. The first clue is often leaving the coverage of the device and finding out what you've missed. In fact, I think it might even be illegal under the Communications Act of 1934 as it's effectively a jammer. 

Even if I can make a voice call the wretched thing screws up geolocation. In order to comply with E911 the device is registered to a specific address AND requires a GPS lock to function at all. Despite this it tells my phone that it's in Berkeley. Switch the MicroCell off and I instantly get the correct location in San Francisco. Switch it on and I'm teleported to Telegraph Avenue. My Google Latitude history has whiplash every time I leave the house. 

Reading the AT&T forums I'm lucky. Other users are located in the wrong state, and have choppy voice when they can make a call at all. 

Share:

Top 5 reasons to hate the Facebook like button

5. Validation

The metadata required to use the like button looks like this:

[code:html]





[/code]

But the property attribute isn't valid html or xhtml. The “Open” Graph Protocol says that it's inspired by Dublin Core. DC manages to get by using the name attribute like any other meta tag - why can't Open Graph? It's not the worst problem but it just seems needlessly irksome. Facebook has published a presentation describing their design decisions. This would be great, but it's in that Lessig one word per slide style and so it's attractive but completely useless without the presenter.

4. Fragility

Facebook's documentation is frustratingly sparse. For example you need to specify the owner of the page using a Facebook ID, and once you've chosen a name for your profile this is hard to find. The information vacuum has been filled with many erroneous blog posts saying to use the name, or some number from a shared photo (the best source is http://graph.facebook.com/robert.ellison, substituting your own username). Once you've got the admin ID wrong, you can't correct it - the first admin specified is fixed forever. What happens if a site is hacked and a bad actor sets themselves up as the admin? Surely something like the Google Webmaster Tools authentication scheme could have been used instead?

3. Pages with more than one object

Describing the object being liked in the head element limits you to one object per page. For some sites this is perfect, but what about a blog where you have many posts on the home page? It would be useful to have a like button per post, pointing at the permalink for the post in question. I've worked around this by having a like button for the blog on the home page, and a like button for each post on the post pages. Not ideal. I'm using the iframe version of the gadget, possibly there's some more flexibility with the XBML variant.

2. Duplicating existing pages

Let's say you've spent the past couple of years building up a Facebook page for your site/band/blog/movie and have thousands of fans. When you click your new like button for the first time you create a whole new page. There's no way to tell the like button about the existing page or the existing page about the like button. You now have at least two pages to worry about managing and potentially many, many more. You're also starting from scratch on the ‘like’ count, so even if your brand is already popular on Facebook it's back to Billy no-mates for you.

I can't believe this won't be fixed at some point. As with admin authentication above there must be a better way to establish ownership of various objects in the social graph.

1. Vocabulary

Doctors defend genital nick for girls

For better or worse Facebook has the inexorable pull to start making the semantic web a reality. Given this, and that there are something like twenty-four thousand verbs in the English language it's time for more expressiveness than ‘like’. You also can't comment on the ‘liked’ item in your stream (yet) so no clarification or discussion is possible.

--

Having said all that, if you enjoyed this post please click the ‘like’ button above ;)

Share:

Is Intuit Insane?

Yes.

Some more color. I use Intuit's assisted payroll service, which is fantastic. You run payroll straight out of QuickBooks and Intuit handles all the tax disbursement and filing for you.

I got an email today with an attachment called securedoc.html claiming to be a message from Intuit. The idea is that you open the attachment and then login to view the message.

It really couldn't look any more like a phishing email, however I called Intuit and remarkably it's a real message. They seriously expect me to open an email attachment and provide account information. The support person at Intuit was able to read the message to me and it was just a routine acknowledgment that some tax rates had been updated.

Intuit is seriously training its customers to fall victim to phishing attacks. The right approach would be to say that a message is available and to log in to your account to retrieve it, or better still to send a message through the existing system in QuickBooks. Securedoc.htm is just begging customers to provide their account information to the bad guys.

Intuit's payroll service stores bank account information, employee Social Security numbers and other data that you really don't want to expose. If you're an Intuit Payroll customer please call and complain. If you've received one of these messages I'd also recommend forwarding it to [email protected], their address for reporting phishing attacks. 

 

Share:

I Thought He Came With You

Robert Ellison's Blog

7,250,102,861 people still need to read this blog.

GGB

GGB