I’m Blogging Again

Why? No one blogs anymore.

I know, but I enjoy trying to create things that are entertaining. Even if only a few friends come and visit regularly, it seems worth it.

My plan is to write about technology, law, and the occasional bit of fiction. I’m not doing that last one on my own as much as I would like, so perhaps this can serve as a commitment device (and a get over yourself device). I also hope to share music (mostly beats and loops) and pictures (mostly of my dog or random macro pics).

Hopefully I will entertain a few people. If not, well, screaming into the void on a blog isn’t much different than doing so in meatspace.

(I’ll probably read this all later and feel cheesy and delete it.)

WordPress and Google Docs

I am always trying to figure out the best way to draft my writing before sending it off to the blog. I am a big fan of iA Writer on Mac and Android, but it does not exist on Chromebooks, at least not until full Android integration happens. But, I may not need to worry about that now because I can push my drafts straight from Google Docs into WordPress. Best of all, I can still use Markdown in my drafts and it will translate over when I push the document into my blog. Yay.

Find out more here.

Adobe Audition = $$$$

Out of nostalgia for my days of slicing up audio using Cool Edit Pro, I checked out Adobe Audition today. After searching in circles, I realized that there is no purchasing Audition. You have to subscribe to access the software through Adobe Creative Cloud. Minimum price = $19.99 a month. If this model was the only way to access music software, I imagine we would have a lot more piracy or a lot fewer budding dorm room producers and engineers.

Thank you, PropellerheadAbleton, and so many other music software companies for not going this route.

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

Werner Herzog’s latest documentary, Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World, starts with the director introducing us to one of the birthplaces of the modern Internet, UCLA’s campus. We then meet computer science professor Leonard Kleinrock who introduces us to first node of the Internet where the first message was sent over the network (“Lo” after the machine crashed while typing “Login”). Kleinrock is one of the many enthusiastic men–and it really is mostly men in this movie–who tell us about the beginning, the present state of, and the future of our connected world. If the movie had stuck with that format, I would have been enthralled (if disappointed at the dude-ocity). Unfortunately, the strength of the first third of the movie is outweighed by an ugly middle section and a muddled finale.

Divided into 9 chapters, things start to go wrong about 30 minutes into the movie at Chapter III: The Dark Side. This section is composed solely of a single edited conversation with the Catsouras family. In 2006, one of their daughters died in a car crash, and the grisly photos from the accident were leaked online, resulting in the family being anonymously harassed. While their story is tragic and upsetting, the sight of the family at one end of their dining room table, with three plates of muffins and croissants prominently framed in the foreground, makes me wonder what I am supposed to take away from their plight. If not for the tragedy of the story, I would think that I should be mocking their demeanor, appearance, and statements about the evils of the Internet.

The same awkwardness carries on to Chapter IV: Life Without the Net. It begins with another enthusiastic scientist, astronomer Jay Lockman, at the Green Bank Science Center in West Virginia, home of the largest fully steerable radio telescope. In order to eliminate interference with the telescope, there are no cell towers, and limited signals that could cause interference. Again, geeky cool, until we abruptly shift to three people who moved out to Green Bank due to their electromagnetic hypersensitivity–they get poisoned by Wi-Fi and cell signals. As with the Catsouras family, I don’t know if I should mock them, or feel sympathy. Perhaps that is Herzog’s strength as a filmmaker–he doesn’t take pot shots at these people and their idiosyncracies.

After this odd middle section covering the outliers of our connected world, the movie makes its way back to the Internet and its role in society. Solar flares will wipe out the net and civilization as we know it. Hackers are already everywhere and will get you through social engineering (though this is true). Mars needs Internet too (I think this was just an excuse to interview Elon Musk). The movie wraps up with discussions of AI and the self-centered future of connectivity.

Most of these topics are interesting and relevant, but we never get as deep as I would have liked. We also have mostly men interviewed, and oddly, most of them are associated with Carnegie Melon. It’s like Herzog went to visit campus, and decided he could get most of his movie done with the people there. The one woman prominently featured was the badass astronomer Lucianne Walkowicz, and she made some of the more interesting points in the back half of the movie. But, there are plenty of other women who have played a prominent role in technology and the Internet. I’m sure Herzog could have interviewed a couple more.

Lo and Behold started off well, and throughout there were many great moments (kudos also to the gorgeous soundtrack). But, the creepy middle third and the somewhat rushed ending took away from an exploration of one of my favorite topics. For that, I can’t give this movie a strong recommendation until it makes its way to Netflix and you are bored.

If you just can’t wait, though, the movie is now available for rent on Amazon, Google Play, and iTunes.

Lo and Behold chapters:

  • Chapter I: The Early Days
  • Chapter II: The Glory of the Net
  • Chapter III: The Dark Side
  • Chapter IV: Life Without the Net
  • Chapter V: The End of the Net
  • Chapter VI: Earthly Invaders
  • Chapter VII: Internet on Mars
  • Chapter VIII: Artificial Intelligence
  • Chapter IX: The Internet of Me

For more on electromagnetic hypersensitivity, see Caitlin Dewey’s article here.

EpiPen Prices Have Soared – World Rages

Photo by Greg Friese under CC License
Photo by Greg Friese under CC License

 

My morning dose of rage came courtesy of Gizmodo and their reporting on the high cost of the EpiPen, the emergency epinephrine injector used to treat anaphylaxis. We all have that friend who will die if they get stung by a bee (apologies if you are that friend), or the one who needs to go to the hospital if they so much as look at a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Yeah, that is what EpiPens help to treat while you rush to the emergency room.

Back in 2007, an EpiPen cost $57. Today, you can get a two pack (no more single sticks for you) for $600. This amazing price increase was brought to you by the drug company, Mylan. They have been pushing up the price of the drug while making efforts to make sure it is everywhere. They worked with congress to help pass the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, resulting in EpiPens in most schools. Disneyworld is stocking them now too. Sarah Jessica Parker took part in an ad campaign–that seems to have been casually disguised as a public service campaign–to talk about her own child’s experience with anaphylaxis.

Thankfully, after all of the articles that came out yesterday and today, there has been a swift backlash. Congress is calling for a price drop and FTC investigation (“Wait, is this partially our fault?”). Hillary Clinton asked Mylan to voluntarily lower the price of the drug. Even king pharma scumbag, Martin Shkreli, called Mylan “vultures.” Oh, and their stock took a 5.41% dive.

How does this sort of thing happen? Lots of reasons. But, the one that stood out for me is the availability heuristic. When making judgements about something–say the likelihood that your child is at risk for anaphylaxis–people rely on the most available information on the subject. They see Sarah Jessica Parker talking about her kid. They hear a story about a little girl who dies after eating a peanut. They remember a friend who went to the hospital with a bee sting. It must happen all the time. We need a law to make sure our kids are safe in school. I need a few pens too, because I think my kid is at risk.

I am not criticizing people who make decisions based on the availability heuristic. It is a natural process of thinking. I am sure that I employ it all the time. But, when pharmaceutical companies take advantage of it, we should feel scammed and get mad.

From Bloomberg’s article:

The biggest threat to EpiPen could come from Teva Pharmaceutical Industries. It settled a patent lawsuit in 2012 allowing it to market a generic version of EpiPen as early as this year, if it wins FDA approval. Mylan isn’t too worried. Predicted Bresch in August: “You would not see the traditional market loss because of just the brand equity with EpiPen.”

Eek. I think you just lost some “brand equity” Mylan. I look forward to their press release by the end of the week.

References:

Gizmodo
Ars Technica
The Verge
Lifehacker
Bloomberg

Android Nougat is Rolling Out Today

Photo = Googles
Photo = Google’s

Android 7.0 was released today. It’s called Nougat. It occurred to me that most of the 4 people who read this blog may not know that Google has named every release–since version 1.5–of its Android operating system after something sweet, in alphabetical order:

  • Cupcake
  • Donut
  • Eclair
  • Froyo
  • Gingerbread
  • Honeycomb
  • Ice Cream Sandwich
  • Jelly Bean
  • Kitkat
  • Lollipop
  • Marshmallow
  • Nougat

Really, though, every release should be named after a different type of donut, because donuts are my number one sweet of all time. But, I suppose this works too. Nougat is an ok name. But who eats nougat by itself? Nutella would have resonated more deeply with people. Nougat makes me think, “Is that the mystery goop in Snickers bars?” Nutella just makes me salivate. And a Nutella-filled donut? Oh my.

Photo linked from bakerbynature.com
Photo linked from bakerbynature.com

Back to the operating system. Is Nougat any good? Apparently. Life changing? Probably not.

I am excited for the split-screen multitasking–a great feature once Google releases an Android tablet worth buying. This feature sounds pointless on a phone, unless you have a monster-screen Nexus 6P like me. Then, it is actually possible to use it in a productive way (perhaps with a bluetooth keyboard). I think. I’ll let you know when I get the update.

Should you get it? Eventually, yes. You probably don’t have a Nexus phone, though. Which means that you won’t get the update for a long time, or until you buy a new phone. Sorry.

At least you can tell people you know about Android’s tasty naming conventions.


Duo is Released Today

Google’s Video Chat App, Duo, is Released Today. But, Who’s Going to Use It?


Google released its new video messaging app, Duo, which let’s Android and iOS users have one-on-one video chats with other users of the app. Duo is meant to have a simple interface, requiring no separate account, just a phone number (like the WhatsApp of video). It is also supposed to be fast, even on slower networks. Finally, all Duo calls are end-to-end encrypted.

The screenshots for the app look pleasant enough, but Google has an uphill battle with this one. Who is this app for? It works with both iOS and Android, so presumably everybody. But, are iOS users dying to chat with their Android-using friends? Because they certainly aren’t going to leave Facetime for this app. Are the security minded worried about using end-to-end encryption for their clandestine video chats? Why would Hangouts users switch to Duo, when the former is already installed on their device? Why not just upgrade Hangouts to Duo? Google is now asking its users to make a choice between two of its services.

While I am pretty close to being a card-carrying Google Fanboy, I am confounded by how Google treats its users with app rollouts? Google Voice? Well, it still works. For now. Hangouts? You can still use it, but it’s going to be more enterprise focused in the coming days. So, use Duo for video and Allo for chat instead. Or just keep using Hangouts and Messenger. Or maybe use all of them and see what more of your friends use, which is probably just FB Messenger and iMessage.

Will I use Duo? Yes. I have a wife who travels internationally and Hangouts is awful with slow hotel connections. Hopefully Duo ’s speed can fix the problem. But, beyond that, I can’t think of any daily, or even weekly, use case.

I’d love to hear from my 3 readers on whether or not they will install, and what they would use it for. Hit me up in the comments.

References:

Recommendation: Mercy Thompson and Alpha & Omega books

I just finished Cry Wolf, the first book of the Alpha & Omega series by Patricia Briggs. I have been reading the Mercy Thompson series for the past few years, which takes place in the same universe. If you haven’t read that either series–and enjoy urban fantasy–I recommend checking both out.

The books take place in modern day, except with werewolves, vampires, fairies, and other supernatural creatures. The Mercy Thompson novels are narrated in the first person by Mercy, who can shapeshift into a coyote. She lives in Kennewick, in the Tri-Cities, home of a werewolf pack lead by Adam Hauptman. Do you expect things to get steamy and romantic? Are you ready to turn away running? Surprisingly, the stories are more about Mercy solving supernatural mysteries–often with the help of Adam and the pack–than they are about Mercy’s love life.

The Alpha & Omega series, which I am just getting into, revolve around Anna, a rare Omega werewolf, and her mate, Charles a powerful Alpha werewolf. The first book, Cry Wolf, focuses on Charles and Anna’s developing relationship. Together they solve mysteries around the country as they are sent out by Charles’ father Bran, who is the head of all of the werewolves in North America.

As I was editing this post, it struck me that the descriptions here probably sound really cheesy. And you know what? The premise is a bit silly. But, no worse than a hundred-year-old vampire who falls in life with a teenager, or a bunch of kids taking wizarding classes. If you aren’t down with supernatural stories, this won’t change your mind. But, if you are, then maybe this sounds a bit less goofy.

The main characters in both series are likable and don’t make dumb decisions just for the sake of moving plot forward. I have been particularly impressed with Briggs’ characterization of Mercy Thompson. I have read too many stories with strong women who are “strong women”–they have spunk and announce their spunk and that is the proof of their strength. That’s not Mercy. She has her vulnerabilities. She doesn’t make bad decisions to prove her strength, only to have a man swoop in to back her up. She is just a capable woman who goes up against ridiculous odds and often comes out on top.

If you need something light, with a universe and mythology that deepens over the course of the series, I highly recommend these books.

Where to start:

  • Moon Called – Book 1 of the Mercy Thompson Series
  • Alpha & Omega – A short novella introducing the Alpha and Omega Series
  • Cry Wolf – The first proper novel in the Alpha and Omega Series

Apathy and IM Security

A new study says that you care about neither security nor privacy when choosing a mobile instant messaging app.

The study consisted of an online survey of 1,510 participants, followed by interviews with 31 expert and non-expert participants. It found that peer influence is the primary factor that drives people to choose, and stick with their IM app, with WhatsApp, Hangouts, and Facebook Messenger ranked as the most used apps. Privacy and security only play a “minor role” in people’s decisions to adopt an IM. This goes for both experts and non-experts–“[I]nsecure behaviour exhibited by the participants…was roughly identical across both groups.”

My favorite part of the study, though, was the description of how experts view non-experts:

When asked what a non-expert knows about the sending process, 3 experts stated that they would know little to nothing and if they would think about it, they would most likely assume a direct connection between the two smartphones (8 mentions). Six of them even assumed that normal users would consider it “magic”. Furthermore, only one expert thought that normal users would think about whether the communication was encrypted or not. Interestingly, the experts highly underestimated the non-experts’ knowledge.

On the one hand, the experts think that we are a bunch of buffoons who use tiny magic pocket boxes to connect with our friends. On the other hand, they are just as awful about security and privacy choices as the rest of us.

My recommendations based on this study:

  1. Move to WhatsApp. A lot of your friends are already on it and WhatsApp recently activated end-to-end encryption by default. With that you will have a (relatively) secure setup, you can do what your friends do, and you don’t have to think about any of it.
  2. If you meet a security “expert”, punch him in the face shake your head in disappointment because he probably has already judged you as a Neanderthal.

Read the full study.

Or, just read Motherboard’s summary.