Some Systems Go – Newsletter

I’ve started up newsletter to capture some of my longer form thoughts on systems in our world: political, biological, economic… you name it. I’m calling it Some Systems Go.

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My first post is on the Death of Context in social media and how we end up laundering the opinions of others through our own credibility when re-share content online.

Read: The Death of Context

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It’s Too Late To Stop Encrypting Now

Its been a rough few years for someone who tries to be an optimist on the internet, but if I can’t always be upbeat i’ll settle for opinionated.

We’ve had to contend with the revelations of the massive Snowden leaks, Huge data leaks from the Public and Private Sector, and now a flood of very misguided “security” legislation that seeks to undermine our best tools securing our data.

I’ve poured together some thoughts on why we can’t stop fighting for encryption.

Spying on the early internet was in many ways external, physical, and subject to all the old paradigms of law enforcement. Its not until now, decades into the modern computer revolution, that we’ve collectively stopped to take stock of what has changed as an industry.

Check out the post on Medium 

Setting up my local environment

I’m two weeks into a new position and i’ve set up my local environment: Two laughing Buddha statues sit under my 27 inch monitor whilst joyfully hoisting bowls over their heads. My chair is adjusted for a generous recline (slouching is good for you) and my desk situated mostly at a constant height ideal for typing.

I’ve located the coffee making materials and know where and when to be to ensure maximum caffeination in or immediately outside the office.

I’ve picked out a favorite coat hanger and have tried out and settled on the form of mild, but fleeting disappointment when it is taken in the mornings.

I’ve internalized, mostly, when its ok to blindly occupy a meeting room for tangential white-boarding or a bit of quiet seclusion.

I’ve decided which elevator is most auspicious of the six in the lobby and claim a small victory when I get to ride it.

I’ve gotten to know my coworkers warmly and quickly.

Oh, I also got production code to run locally on my work laptop, so that’s alright too.


Episode #11 – Should Apple Crack their own security? And VR goes big.

Its time for a fresh podcast as I can’t stay silent for too long!

Apple is challenged by the FBI to weaken the security of the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhones, but it could set a dangerous precident for both privacy and security for all Apple customers going forward. And on the VR and AR front everyone throws the kitchen sink into changing your reality with big expensive goggles.

The FBI’s legal backing? A law written in 1789 before even the concept of computers existed.

Google, Microsoft, Facebook and a lot of other players prepare to square off and throw down with headsets and software of their own.

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Or listen right here:

Now we’re Tim Cookin’: Encryption in America

Privacy is the big underpinning issue of the last decade and coming century, but since it’s being defined in a largely non-visible space (software) its not drawing nearly the attention and sex appeal of other divisive issues of our time.

That’s why its so important that Tim Cook made a big and definitive statement on Apple’s stance on privacy, encryption, and the governments current stance.

Read it here

A message to their Customers

Apple’s cache as a cultural driver in America and globally cannot be understated and their address to their customers carries huge weight. Very few customers buy phones based primarily on their security features, but the overwhelming majority assume precautions are in place to protect their data.

Trust looms large here and underpins a lot of Apple’s success: People trust Apple to make the right call on features/safety/performance and quickly move on to the salient issues they care about: Apps, texts, and finding a good wifi hotspot.

A message to the Industry

A public statement from Apple has the added benefit of forcing a response from other major players in the US tech industry.  Already Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, has weighed in on the statement and a flood of others have begun to chime in on his heels.

End to End Encryption

Rock solid end to end encryption and security measures that the implementors do not know how to crack is a hallmark of modern security in software: ensuring everything from messaging apps to banking transactions.  A huge part of the security provided by these kinds of measures is there is little to nothing the “encryptor” can be compelled to provide about the content of the encrypted content.

Attempts to undermine this paradigm in encryption effectively blows away end to end encryptions greatest asset and is an incredibly dangerous precedent to set under any circumstance.

Even the former NSA director agrees:

“America is simply more secure with unbreakable end-to-end encryption”

– Former NSA director Michael Hayden

The Law Lags

One of the largest concerns of this whole episode is the contortion of old law to address incredibly new legal challenges of the digital age.

The law the FBI is citing to compel Apple to act on their behalf is The All Writs Act which is a part of the Judiciary Act of 1789. We’re attempting to navigate a technological world where we build the train tracks a half second before the train passes over it with legislation written when the concept of a computer was high fiction.

One of the primary reasons the FBI can invoke the law in the first place is a provision that makes it a catch-all:

The All Writs Act is only applicable if no statute, law or rule on the books to deal with the specific issue at hand.

Read more on The All Writs Act

Setting the tone

At the end of this all the most important thing is that Apple’s lack of silence on the issue allows us to conduct this conversation on the national stage.  This is something that might have been hard/impossible in a pre Edward Snowden era.

Sunlight is often the best disinfectant so lets hope this discussion stays in the Sun.

The Trust Gap

I spent the last week in Iceland the same idea kept cropping up:

Businesses and by extension products don’t trust people enough

I think this is a byproduct of the idea that every business should be able to capture every customer, if only things are spelled out plainly and loudly enough.  By assuming that you can reach everyone you fail to target your natural customers and end up diluting the effectiveness of your brand.

Nowhere was this more apparent to me than on Laugavegur in Reykjavík, Iceland.

A hyper concentrated cluster of over-marketed retail ‘opportunity’.

A street that has been utterly culturally carpet bombed by crass, loud and lowest common denominator messaging to the point that walking down said street is reductive to the whole idea of being a tourist in another country.

None of the businesses up and down this street trusted their potential customers to discern the value of their products.  All was spelled out, in English, and illustrated in large print photos and diagrams.

Restaurants loudly proclaimed: Italian Restaurant! Authentic Italian Food! Pasta – Meatballs – Bread! in both English and Icelandic.

Near the start of Laugavegur. Next door to this was an English Pub named… “English Pub”

In their effort to capture anyone who might want to visit an Italian restaurant, the ambiance one might want from an Italian dining experience is lessened.

A consequence of all the businesses on this street following the same methods means the draw of visiting Iceland’s main shopping street has evaporated outside of the simple gravitational pull of many businesses being in one central location.

Authenticity and trust have been exchanged for maximum value extraction.  But they’ve missed the forest for the trees and collectively lowered the value of the entire shopping district.

Building these same businesses: Bars, restaurants, tourist shops, with a sense of trust that visitors can gleam value for themselves would help raise the level of authenticity and sense of place of the street and in turn deliver real value to each business by customers that self select the experience they want.

I think this lesson applies more broadly everywhere, but the shock of seeing this in such a pronounced way in my once quaint home town forced me to put these thoughts to [digital] paper.

I trust you’ll gather my general intent.

Episode #10 – Star Wars, SpaceX, Netflix Algorithms… and more

I give my numerical review of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, discuss the implications of the FAA’s Drone Registration rules on privacy, Netflix rolls out new compression algorithms to deliver more entertainment with less bandwidth, Dating sites get hacked (no a different one this time), someone develops metal that is 99% air by volume and it has very cool commercial implications, and CISA comes back with a vengeance in the latest Congressional Budget Bill…

and someone develops something that looks a lot like a VR headset, but is in fact, just a regular screen.

All this and more on episode #10.

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Episode #9 – Billion Dollar AI, Climate Consensus, and Virtual Tom Hanks

It has been entirely too long since I last recorded a podcast… that’s been for various reasons, safe to say none of the excuses are quite that good, but seeing all the people listening while I was away encouraged me to start again. So here’s a fresh one for you

Elon Musk and several Silicon Valley big shots set aside a Billion dollars for public AI research, The University of Washington cracks into the lucrative field of Virtual Tom Hanks, Paris Climate talks reach an actual resolution, and acting gets an auto-tune boost from Disney Research Labs.

And this podcast returns from a quite long hiatus…

Subscribe on iTunes

Want to read more?

What Makes Tom Hanks Look Like Tom Hanks [Research Abstract]

The Paris Climate Agreement Would Be A Great First Step If This Were 1995 [FiveThirtyEight]

The world just agreed to a major climate deal in Paris. [Vox]

How Elon Musk and Y Combinator Plan to Stop Computers From Taking Over [Backchannel]

FaceDirector: Continuous Control of Facial Performance in Video [Youtube]