Catching Up, Braindump

I’ve been working on a few longish posts, but after taking a week or so off in Costa Rica, I’m now back at work with new deadlines looming and realizing that I won’t be getting around to finishing them anytime soon. Some of them really deserve some more thought anyway, but I did want to at the very least want to do a bit of a braindump.

Anyone following my Twitter feed knows that the NSA surveillance news has had much of my attention since it broke. A month later, I still haven’t quite figured out the proper response, except that in my mind, the leak, our response, and its implications (especially if allowed to continued) is one of the more significant turning points for our society. At least its forced me to consider technological progress through a very different lens. In the meantime, I’ve been keeping what I’m calling a “worry wall” tracking news and developments on the topic. It’s a Hackpad wiki, and I’d welcome contributions: stopspying.hackpad.com

It’s quite possible that there’s no sensible course of action, but it deserves some thinking.

I’ve been somewhat keeping up w/ developments in Turkey and Egypt. This video of a 12yo in Egypt that’s been making its way around is worth a watch:

Doug Englebart died last week. A few years ago, I had the privilege to attend one of his lectures, and while my writeup of the event focused on a critique, it was framed within the large shadow that Engelbart’s seminal works cast. While I did not know him personally, it’d be fair to say that Engelbart’s work and thinking might have been the most influential/impactful not just of my field of computing (the part involving people communicating and thinking together), but also on my own work and thinking, both directly and indirectly.

It’s not every day that one of your intellectual heroes/forebearers passes, and I wish I had something better/more to write about it, but the words escape me.

Like in the Snowden case before it, I saw the AAR 214 crash news break on Twitter. A couple comments related to that caught my eye. On the actual accident itself, The Verge has done a surprisingly good job summarizing.

And that’s it for now… I’ll be headed to YxYY this weekend and while I’m not looking forward to the 100+ degree heat, will be looking forward to catching up with some old friends.

New Pads for the Cans

While I’m not a full-blown audiophile (I’ve been to way too many concerts, shows, raves, and parties to have any illusions on the state of my hearing), I do enjoy good set of headphones/IEMs. These days I mostly use Audeo PFE 232 IEMs with a Fiio E17 in the office, and an old iBasso D2 Boa and a going-on-five year old pair of Denon AH-D2000s at home.

These Denons actually managed to replace my mighty Sennheiser HD-580s as my go-to – mostly because they were both punchier and more comfy for extended wear. However, recently, the pads had started … disintegrating (grody). I started looking for replacement pads and ended up finding the Lawton Audio Angle Pads. After a couple weeks delay, I finally got them in the mail…

Holy cow, these are fantastic. Really comfy, but most surprising is that the the audio, particularly the soundstage is noticeably better. I’m a happy clam right now, and looking forward to the next 5 years w/ these suckers.

Of course I’m wearing these while I type. Here’s one of the tracks I’ve been grooving to right now… (Buy on Amazon)

Late Night Reading

Transcript of secret meeting between Julian Assange and Google CEO Eric Schmidt

And I wanted there to be more just acts, and fewer unjust acts. And one can sort of say, well what are your philosophical axioms for this? And I say I do not need to consider them. This is simply my temperament. And it is an axiom because it is that way. And so that avoids, then, getting into further unhelpful discussions about why you want to do something. It is enough that I do. So in considering how unjust acts are caused and what tends to promote them and what promotes just acts I saw that human beings are basically invariant. That is that their inclinations and biological temperament haven’t changed much over thousands of years and so therefore the only playing field left is: what do they have? And what do they know? And “have” is something that is fairly hard to influence, so that is what resources do they have at their disposal? And how much energy they can harness, and what are the supplies and so on. But what they know can be affected in a nonlnear way because when one person conveys information to another they can convey on to another and another and so on in a way that nonlinear and so you can affect a lot of people with a small amount of information. And therefore you can change the behaviour of many people with a small amount of information. So the question then arises as to what kinds of information will produce behaviour which is just? And disincentivise behaviour which is unjust?

Thinking about this in context of the events unfolding in Boston, and the crowdsourced attention happening among other things.

Some Notes on Labor, Technology and Economics

I think that we are all aware that advanced capitalism is leading us down a road that as a society, we may not want to travel – constant crisis due to increasingly advanced, complex, and unstable financialization, an increasingly vicious trend toward plutocracy and plutonomy that has obliterated socioeconomic mobility via massively increasing inequality, and of course, as an engine of unsustainability, where environmental, health, and social costs are externalized and reality is subsumed via a twisted economic logic.

All these things really should be teased out into much larger discussions, but a few recently related links/discussions I want to make note of (I’m slowly moving some things back out of Evernote into a way that can be narratized):

  • HN: Confessions of a Job Destroyer – a good essay that highlights what technological “disruption” really means; relevant to software, robotics and all sorts of enabling technologies
  • HN: Unfit for work (npr.org) – NPR is doing a weeklong series on how the disability program is hiding massive collapses in the workforce

Also, this image popped up in my Twitter stream recently…

A quick Google search shows that it’s been floating around for at least a year, and the bottom text references an organization that ceased to exist in 1982 so it is probably quite old, but still resonates as much (if not more) today. Here’s the text transcribed (via)

If you’re unemployed it’s not because there isn’t any work

Just look around: A housing shortage, crime, pollution; we need better schools and parks. Whatever our needs, they all require work. And as long as we have unsatisfied needs, there’s work to be done.

So ask yourself, what kind of world has work but no jobs. It’s a world where work is not related to satisfying our needs, a world where work is only related to satisfying the profit needs of business.

This country was not built by the huge corporations or government bureaucracies. It was built by people who work. And, it is working people who should control the work to be done. Yet, as long as employment is tied to somebody else’s profits, the work won’t get done.

The New American Movement (NAM)

Searching for this led to this interesting article:

RIP Aaron Swartz

I was first introduced to Aaron (impossibly young), over a decade ago at a tech conference (OSCON?). And, while we were never close, we often floated in the same circles (tech, activism, civic and political tech) and over the years our paths crossed many times, in emails, projects, at conferences or meetups. The last time I saw him was in Boston, June 2010. We met up outside a food court in Cambridge and caught up on the projects we were starting/wrapping up and swapped some thoughts on civic and campaign tech.

More than a friend, Aaron Swartz was a fellow traveler. He was one of us. In many ways, the best of us. It was a punch in the gut when I read the headline last night. He dedicated much of his life and his many talents in fighting injustice and trying to make a difference.

And beyond the sense of loss, there’s a bitter taste that injustice and indifference has won the day.

Rest in peace Aaron Swartz.

Raw Nerve – some of Aaron’s best writing.

F2C2012: Aaron Swartz keynote – “How we stopped SOPA”

Fall 2012 Mix

It’s been a while hasn’t it? One of the nice things is that there’s a huge backlog of stuff to choose from, although that also makes things a bit harder to remember what you were diggina while ago.

A few of these tracks are from my This Is My Jam – unfortunately it doesn’t really have a history so is less than useful for actually remembering anything…

Anyway, a few tracks. Some new artists, some old. A bit of a future-groove that gets washed away w/ the tide.

MasterCard SecureCode and securesuite.net

Today was my first time encountering MasterCard®SecureCode™ when making an online order. I honestly thought I was being phished. Here’s where I got redirected to.

Going to https://www.securesuite.net/ gives you a nice blank page. And here’s the whois information:

Registrant:
      cyota
      yaron shohat
      174 Middlesex Turnpike
      Bedford, MA 01730
      US
      Phone: +1.8665606153
      Email: 

   Registrar Name....: Register.com
   Registrar Whois...: whois.register.com
   Registrar Homepage: www.register.com

   Domain Name: securesuite.net
      Created on..............: 2002-08-23
      Expires on..............: 2012-08-23

   Administrative Contact:
      RSA
      Network Operations
      174 Middlesex Turnpike
      Bedford, MA 01730
      US
      Phone: +1.8665606153
      Email: 

   Technical  Contact:
      RSA
      Network Operations
      174 Middlesex Turnpike
      Bedford, MA 01730
      US
      Phone: +1.8665606153
      Email: 

   DNS Servers:
      pdns3.ultradns.org
      pdns4.ultradns.org
      pdns2.ultradns.net
      pdns1.ultradns.net
      pdns5.ultradns.info
      pdns6.ultradns.co.uk

Who’s cyota? Who’s yaron shohat? And what fucking moron at RSA thought this was a good idea? Here’s the Google results for securesuite.net phishing. Doing a search for Securesuite.net does not return Visa or Mastercard’s official sites…

Well, it turns out securesuite.net isn’t a phishing scam, after doing some Internet searching, digging up direct links from Mastercard.com, and calling MasterCard directly to get verbal confirmation and to give them a piece of my mind. It’s not a scam, it’s just moronic and a phishing scam waiting to happen.

Tech Predictions, Five Years Later

Five years ago, inspired by a Yahoo! Answers question (their top answers), I put on my tech futurist hat and wrote up some quick prognostications about
Which products, used by few today, will be essential in five years? This was published, incidentally, on Vox (now defunct). Are you getting that mid-2006 vibe yet? Well, it’s been five years (that was quick), so maybe we should take a look.

I won’t reproduce my original article (linked above), but I’ll go through each of the predictions and make some comments:

  • Software as service is standard – My prediction was that social networking, media sharing, and all kinds of apps would be increasingly integrated/prepackaged OOTB. I think that this has been born out, certainly on the mobile and device front, although this year may be the inflection point for the desktop (iCloud, ChromeOS, etc). Even without that, probably the majority of consumer computing is now service/browser based. I find myself totally dependent on many cloud-based services (Evernote, Checkvist, DropBox, Google Docs, GMail/GApps, Twitter, FB, etc). Also, the majority of my small business’s software is also cloud-based.
  • Global digital identity / reputation / relationship system – my prediction was that online/offline personas, relationships, and physical presence would be tied together, potentially controlled by a single company. I think in mid-2006 I would have guessed Google would end up taking it all, but FB was a strong contender, and they’re on top at the moment. Still, as of mid-2011, this ball is still in play, and there are certain components (location, reputation) that are still almost complete tossups. Note: while FB has been enormously successful and will almost certainly be the first Internet company to hit 1B actives, there are some signs that it may have peaked in its developed markets, so it’s not invincible. There’s also a lot of potential left in terms of social utility that’s still completely unexplored (and only in the most superficial ways in many other cases).
  • Digital media – I predicted streaming/wireless syncing of media from anywhere. While iCloud was only just announced (to compete against Amazon Cloud Drive, and Google Music) and music has been lagging a bit (although celestial jukebox services like Spotify and Rdio have been hitting it out of the park, so maybe unfair to dismiss music completely), we’ve seen this come true much more for video. Maybe this is due to the competition traditional TV/Film has faced from the YouTube/Internet video juggernaut (my first YouTube video, uploaded just over 5 years ago). Netflix in particular, which not only has overtaken web traffic, but also BitTorrent. Expect the cord-cutting to accelerate. One last observation. Amazon’s current homepage menu now completely highlights digital goods:
    Amazon.com: Online Shopping for Electronics, Apparel, Computers, Books, DVDs & more
  • Smart phone – I think I hit this one 100% percent. Not much to say about it. Well, one caveat is that while there were rumors of an iPhone floating around for years, it wouldn’t be announced for another 6 months. Apple gets huge props for single-handedly helping to drag the lagging handset/telecom industry into this future, as well as totally shaking things up with its App Store. I’m sure there are some charts somewhere that show recent numbers on mobile vs fixed Internet use, but if that number hasn’t been crossed, I’m sure it will be soon.
  • RFID – I was totally wrong. At Lensley, we’ve been doing some neat RFID integrations with clients, and RFIDs have had huge adoption in thing that touch people’s daily life, like in supply-chain and public transit (as well as less well thought out ways, like US Passports). On the whole, though, they’ve remained too expensive and too niche to get much consumer love (kits from Sparkfun notwithstanding). While NFC in Android (an RFID-compatible superset) has gotten lots of hubaloo, there’s pretty much zilch in terms of real world use, much less anything remotely spimey. We’ll have to see how mobile payments pan out over the next couple years. (2012?)
  • Self Monitoring – While the Quantified Self has been getting some traction (a conference! breathless writeups!) and there are a proliferation of services and devices (Runkeeper, FitBit, Gowear Fit, Zeo, Withings, etc), this is still a pretty niche/nascent movement. I have no doubt it’ll keep growing, and there are some pointers (the proliferation of Feltron-like reports for social activity, checkins) that there’s a tipping point approaching. We’ll see
  • Personal Aggregators – I saw the other day that Flipboard’s at 400M flips/month, and one might argue that Facebook’s news feed algorithms, modern blogs (Gawker, HuffPo, Engadget, etc), or even Twitter have stepped in to fill big roles in terms of filtering the bombardment of crap, but it seems like treading water. I would have expected some smarter/more robust attention management tools to have been developed, but maybe I’m completely wrong on how most people handle infoglut.
  • Shared everything – obviously wrong about fine-grained privacy. Facebook has given us a “mostly private enough sort of for now” model that’s been pretty sucessful. Certainly at moving everyone torwards the social-everything model (you win some, you lose some).

Of my long-shots (things that I thought would be awesome), we actually got one of them in a huge way. At the time I had written this, I just received my iRex Iliad ($700) after waiting for years for an honest to goodness E-Ink device. Sadly, it was a pretty useless white elephant of a device. However, the display was phenomenal, so I threw it on the list. In late 2007 Amazon released the first Kindle, and a few weeks ago, Amazon announced that it is now selling more Kindle books than print books. The Kindle 3, BTW, was the best-selling product in Amazon’s history.

3D printing/fabrication has gotten a lot more traction (even a recent Stephen Colbert interview), as has the maker movement in general. Although it’s still niche, the pricing is right. At $1300, the Thing-O-Matic is cheaper than most people’s first laser printer.

AR HUDs, are as ever, another 5 years away. (The OVF on my X100 is pretty sweet though.)

OK, that’s all well and good. But how about the things that I missed completely. Here’s a short list:

  • Location – while I tangentially mentioned location, I never listed LBS, mapping and other location services explicitly. Looking back, this is a 100% obvious thing, considering how much usage has exploded since. My only excuse is that being hip-deep/working for so long on local/map/mobile stuff at the time probably blinded me to how ubiquitous it wasn’t for the rest of the world while writing this. (I was working on geocoding/map/checkins at Upcoming, and from ZoneTag to Checkmates, to Yahoo! Maps, I was surrounded by all kinds of crazy LBS/geo/mobile stuff).
  • Twitter – I probably first saw Twitter about a month after I wrote my original post. At the time it was “twttr” was a completely different beast – very SMS focused, like group chat. I passed, and didn’t even bother signing up until a few months later when visiting with friends in the UK (it got a lot of early traction because it was cheaper than texting). It took a while (early 2007?) for me to really get to grips with Twitter (writeup here). Kudos to Jack, Noah, Ev, et al for trying out something new, and then working at it for years to refine it. It’s gone through a lot of transformations (mostly for better)…
  • iPad – I was a close follower of the Mobile+UMPC+Tablet industry at the time, and if you had told me that in a few years Apple would have released a friggin Dynabook with 10 finger multitouch, 10 hour battery life, amazing responsiveness, and an a complete App Ecosystem (backed by 10s of millions of sister devices), selling for $500 I would have smacked you. After which, I’d have gone out and bought a lot more Apple stock. Like the iPhone when it launched in 2007, the iPad came from a few years in the future and dragged everyone else, kicking and screaming.
  • Wikileaks – Even during the year of the iPad launch, however, probably the biggest and most unexpected story of 2010 was Wikileaks (some of my favorite writeups). It has literally changed the world, and the most amazing thing is that it’s been a story that’s been in the making for years, if not decades. Wikileaks and many other stories happening right now (the Arab Spring, Anonymous, LulzSec) in many ways epitomize Clay Shirky‘s postulate that “Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring… It’s when a technology becomes normal, then ubiquitous, and finally so pervasive as to be invisible, that the really profound changes happen.”

OK, in hope of publishing soon, I’ll be wrapping up now. No 2016 predictions from me, but maybe it’ll be worth catching regardless up in a few years. For those that are really interested in the things catching my attention these days, here’s a spring graph I made early last year:

On My Mind

Update: An editor from the International Business Times dropped a line yesterday with a few questions. Here’s the writeup they did today in the Luxury and Brands section today: Blogger Correctly Predicted the Future in 2006 (Mostly)

Fujifilm X100 First Impression

I’ve been looking forward to the X100 for months, and have been in and out of a couple X100 forums, so it’s been interesting to finally have one in my hands now. (Actually, due to the way preorders overlapped with shipping, I’ll have two, but obviously one is going back, unless someone in LA wants to pick one up).

It’s still early days – I’ve only gone out shooting once (I’ll be heading out shooting tonight as well) and I’m still getting used to how it handles. I know it’s capable of capturing fantastic images, but coming from shooting tens of thousands of frames on Canon DSLRs over the past decade, adapting to the X100 has been a bit of a challenge so far.

The lack of rangefinder patch, focus screen or some other equivalent is killing me right now (the EVF is not my idea of a good time), but maybe that’ll pass. That being said, I’m actually looking forward to shooting the heck out of this thing. I’m sure it’ll make me a better photographer in terms of thinking about what I’m shooting, estimating distances, and thinking about DOF. It’s certainly not a P&S, and I’ll no doubt miss a lot of shots, but I plan on trying to carry it everywhere, so we’ll see how it goes. (I’ve ordered a Luma LoopIt strap.)

For those considering the X100, I’d probably have to say that this isn’t the camera you want to take with you to evening social events, not unless you really want to work for your photos. While the bright lens (F2.0) and amazing High ISO performance (totally usable at 3200) and quiet leaf shutter would seem to make it great for low-light candids, the AF seems more finicky than average, and sadly, the fly-by-wire focus ring is pretty much useless right now.

That being said, I plan on working primarily in MF mode and zoning, so we’ll see how that works.

Happy Accident

Also, there are a lot of niggles in the firmware. On the bright side, these could all be fixed and there seems to be some noises from Fuji that they will work on the firmware. On the negative, that historically hasn’t been the case. I’ll be keeping a running list of things I’d liked fixed here:

General

  • Startup Times: I’ve managed to get it starting up fairly quickly (about 1s?) but out of the box it took so long that I kept thinking it was broken.
  • File writing: file writes seem to block operations? Is this 2011?
  • ISO settings don’t persist across modes
  • Even in full manual mode, the aperture doesn’t seem to be physically set, so there’s shutter lag. More of an annoyance than a dealbreaker
  • Yep, the battery goes from “low” to shutdown in < 5min; in general power usage/management seems to be rather poor. There must be a better compromise for responsiveness/power usage. Canon DSLR powerpacks are about the same capacity and last forever.

AF

  • My current #1 focusing issue, at the cause of most of my misfocused shots is the OVF AF parallax. The FW fix that would help this greatly would be to recompose the AF point with the focal plane (just move it along with the framelines). More discussion here.
  • Low light AF; is this the best it gets?
  • The focus-frame size can only be adjusted in AF-S; I’ve find it enormously useful if it could be adjusted in MF

Focusing

  • The biggest problem is the focus ring doesn’t work at all for covering distances; it’s not helped by it being incredibly laggy as well. This should be an easy fix with a better acceleration curve, and allowing that to be user adjustable/distance-dependent
  • In MF, since the command lever is used to enter EVF zoom mode, wouldn’t it make sense to allow the lever to be used for focusing as well? Actually would be a lot less finicky than the ring; you could also use one or the other for rough/fine focusing

Buttons

  • It’d be nice to reassign the RAW button (I’m always shooting JPG+RAW, I’d much rather be able to assign that to movie mode or the ND filter)
  • Macro should just be a toggle instead of popping up a menu – it’s either on or off! Same w/ ND – these are probably my biggest usability quibbles after the first week.
  • Auto ISO should be a toggle in ISO menu (so you can easily flip it on/off in the OVF fn mode); actually, for night shooting, being able to toggle Auto ISO off even easier (long-press?) is even more important; it really screws with you when the metering if off by more than the exposure compensation…

Video

  • Manual focusing while shooting. The AF is especially clueless when shooting video
  • It’d be nice to be able to set the fn button (or the RAW button) to go directly into recording

OVF

  • The histogram doesn’t seem to be right? It doesn’t reflect aperture or shutter speed changes?
  • The range scale is good, but would be nice to show the hyperfocal distance as a marking (or as others have suggested, a mode/way to jump to the hyperfocal distance like the GRD)
  • In the post-capture EVF review, it’d be nice to have an option to show brights/histogram; being able to have a 1s or even 0.5s preview would be nice as well

I’ll be trying to post more regularly to my flickr account.

After a couple weeks with the X100, I posted an updated list on Engadget.