When I hear reporters and pundits talk about the recent seizure of Associated Press phone records, or “telephony metadata” from Verizon customers, I can’t help but wonder if I’ve fallen back in time to the quaint (pre-9/11) period before massive breaches of everyone’s privacy became routine.
While ignoring all of the NSA/FBI/CIA/DoD/DHS whistleblowers that were exposing truly outrageous violations of the constitution, the press acted outraged that the Department of Justice was snooping around AP phone records. I’m not defending the DoJ for getting caught with their hand in the cookie jar, but I’m more concerned about the thousands of cookie monsters in the other three-letter agencies that are devouring cookies by the truckload.
I am glad that many previously silent media organizations decided to finally report on the more egregious programs like PRISM, but I’m disappointed that so many pundits have feigned surprise at these excesses. This is not a mere momentary lapse in ethical and constitutional boundaries, or a flawed implementation of FISA or the Patriot Act. The indiscriminate spying and collection of private data is exactly what was intended.
This massive datacenter in Bluffdale, Utah would be quite unnecessary for the seizure of data about terror suspects alone.
Even without the testimonies of numerous NSA whistleblowers, it would be remarkably obvious that a datacenter of this scale is excessive for the collection and storage of any and all information that the US Constitution allows. If we don’t reverse course, some of George Orwell’s works may find themselves in the non-fiction section.
In short, the media’s newfound awareness of the government’s massive invasion of privacy is quite welcome, and I hope it continues. That being said, they are embarrassingly late to the party.
I don’t know what everyone is on about, of course that is what Satan looks like.
I was thoroughly surprised and disappointed when I read the title of (2008 Libertarian vice presidential nominee) Wayne Allyn Root’s op-ed: “Mitt Romney is the only sane choice for Libertarians.” Frankly, Mitt Romney is not a sane choice for any true libertarian , thus the assertion that he is the only valid choice is baffling. The best choice for libertarians is clearly Gary Johnson.
My reasoning is simple. No sane libertarian would vote for any candidate who supports dramatic increases in military spending, indefinite detention without trial, increased military interventionism, the Patriot Act, and expanding the war on drugs. Each is incompatible with freedom, yet they are all supported by both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.
Mr. Root asserts that Romney believes in balancing the budget. But Mitt Romney refuses to propose any serious cuts in Federal Spending, and jumps at the opportunity to say what he will keep or expand. There is currently no good reason to believe that he will not increase the deficit, especially if he cuts taxes. 
Do I think Mitt Romney is better than Barack Obama? Marginally, yes. But it is not a choice between big government and small government. It’s a choice between Democrat-brand big government and Republican-brand big government. We’ve already dealt with both of these for the past twelve years. Neither were even remotely appealing to libertarians.
Gary Johnson is obviously the only sane choice for libertarians in any party. People claim that a vote for any third party candidate is “wasting your vote”, but this is ignorant for a number of reasons.
Unless you’re among the 3% that live in Ohio, the chances of your state casting the deciding electoral votes are miniscule. More importantly, both Romney and Obama are terrible candidates. Surely there is no way to waste your vote more than to vote for someone with a complete disregard for your constitutional rights. Adding to their vote totals will simply increase their complacency and hubris.
On the other hand, a vote for Gary Johnson shows true opposition to the status quo. Furthermore, if Mr. Johnson receives just 5% of the popular vote: the Libertarian Party will gain major party status. This means that they will receive federal funding and equal ballot access in future elections. This could essentially end the two-party system as we know it.
Most of this country is already fiscally conservative and socially liberal. The only way we can expect our government to move in that direction is to end the vicious cycle of electing statist Republicans and statist Democrats. Don’t vote for Barack Obama, don’t vote for Mitt Romney, don’t even write-in Ron Paul. Vote for Gary Johnson.
This comparison demonstrates my least favorite thing about Pinterest: previews of wide photos are miniscule. Meanwhile, portrait photos and infographics are given a ton of space.
This really doesn’t make any sense. The majority of photographs are wide, and a vast majority of monitors are wide. So why must Pinterest turn a beautiful 3200x2000 resolution photograph into a diminutive 192x120 preview? Most users will not click to see the full version of all these images.
A more logical approach would be to have varying widths like Pulse and most physical newspapers:
Another possible improvement would be to switch to side-by-side scrolling, like the (upcoming) new Myspace:
Pinterest is often praised for its simple/clean interface, but this seems like a major oversight. I don’t see any good reason to favor extremely tall infographics over landscape photos like this.
Early this week, the US national debt surpassed $16 trillion. I was curious about how much money that really is, and since my bank account doesn’t have quite that much I had to use some (to use Bill Clinton’s favorite word) arithmetic.
As it turns out… it’s an astounding amount of money. To demonstrate that, I calculated how large $16,000,000,000,000 would be in cash.
Here’s what I found, 16 trillion $1 bills strung together end-to-end would:
» Wrap around the entire Earth 62,265 times at the Equator.
» Reach the Moon from the surface of the Earth 6,681 times.
» If you laid these strings of bills side-by-side, the bridge to the moon would be 1,453 feet wide.
» Reach the center of the Sun from the center of the Earth 16 times.
» From the Sun, the string of bills would stretch well past Saturn and almost reach Uranus (which it will pass next year).
» Weigh 35,274,000,000 pounds, or 17,637,000 tons.
» Extend for 1,550,510,000 miles.
If we instead use the largest denomination currently in circulation in the US, the $100 bill: the string would still stretch around the earth 622 times.
What about the deficits from the last 4 years? Using the official figures from 2009 (when Obama took office) through 2011, and the Congressional Budget Office estimate for 2012: we get $6,668,178,000 in debt. In $1 bills, that debt would stretch around the Earth 25,950 times. The interest payments from the last year alone would also make it around the Earth well over a thousand times.
To calculate these figures, I multiplied the length of the dollar bill (6.1 inches) by 16 trillion and then divided that by various distances like the length of the Earth, distance to the moon, and the distance to various planets. Here is the spreadsheet with my calculations, feel free to check my figures and let me know if you find any inaccuracies.
As the national debt approaches the last two planets in our solar system, I hope that our politicians will consider more (ahem) down to Earth budgets.
This Saturday marked what would have been Alan Turing’s 100th birthday. But although he died in 1954, he accomplished far more than what most people could ever dream of. If you haven’t read about him before, I highly recommend researching his accomplishments in greater detail than I will provide here.
In the midst of The Great Depression, he developed the Universal Turing Machine (which was recreated as a Google Doodle today) and the idea of machines computing independently. He passionately pursued the possibilities of what this kind of machine could accomplish, and accurately predicted the future:
I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.
That statement might not seem particularly groundbreaking to us today, but we must remember that at the time: computers were people. The idea of machines doing any significant amount of computing for us was pretty radical. And yet, he was already pondering the possibilities of concepts well beyond what anyone had thought was possible, like recursive algorithms and artificial intelligence. This wild imagination led him to develop the foundation of modern computing, something that would not be fully utilized until decades after his death.
What is really incredible about his accomplishments, is that they could actually be considered a side project to his code-breaking for the Allied forces during World War II. He repeatedly cracked the various incarnations of Enigma, which was used by the the Germans to encrypt their communications. The interception of these messages allowed the British to avoid starvation by getting their food ships past German U-boats, and gave them a significant tactical advantage in key battles. Because of this, Winston Churchill stated that Turing made the single biggest contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany. One of his colleagues has even stated that “without him we would have lost the war.”
It is astounding to me that he developed the framework of the modern computer in the 1930’s, yet that is still arguably not his greatest achievement.
One would think that the father of modern computing and the biggest contributor to Allied victory in WWII would both be internationally renowned historical figures (and perhaps the subject of Dos Equis commercials). Yet, the same man achieved both of titles- and many do not even know his name.
In closing, Alan Turing is a hero. It’s crazy to me to think about how different the world could be today had he not pushed the envelope so far, so long ago. Conversely, I can only imagine what he would have been able to accomplish if he had survived to see his 100th birthday. One thing is for sure: I am grateful for computers, algorithms, and the brilliant minds that have developed them.
Where Apple’s icons are going, they don’t need roads.
Earlier today the Chronic Dev Team and iPhone Dev Team released the very highly anticipated untethered jailbreak for iOS 5.1.1 on all devices. This is the first jailbreak of any kind to work on the iPad 3.
pod2g (the primary hacker behind the new jailbreak) also shared even more good news, he already has unused exploits that will help them jailbreak the unreleased iOS 6.
The official source for the new jailbreak tool Absinthe 2 is greenpois0n.com. Their site is facing a ton of traffic, so here are the Absinthe 2.0.1 download links for Windows, Mac, and Linux. If you are already on a tethered jailbreak on iOS 5.1.1, you can simply install “Rocky Racoon 5.1.1 Untether” from Cydia.
The jailbreak process is incredibly simple. Here are the instructions from greenpois0n for unjailbroken devices on iOS 5.1.1:
1. Make a backup of your device in iTunes by right clicking on your device name under the ‘Devices’ menu and click ‘Back Up’.
2. Once your backup is complete return to your device and go to Settings – General – Reset – Erase all Content and Settings. This will make the jailbreak process much faster.
3. Open Absinthe and be sure you are still connected via USB cable to your computer.
4. Click ‘Jailbreak’ and wait…. just be patient and do not disconnect your device.
5. Once jailbroken return to iTunes and restore your backup from earlier. Right click on your device name under the ‘Devices’ menu in the left panel of iTunes and click ‘Restore from Back Up…’ then select the latest backup you created before. (restoring this backup will return all the content previously on your device ie, apps, photos, etc.)
6. Thanks for using Absinthe, enjoy your jailbroken iDevice.
If you’re interested in how it works, here are the slides that the “Jailbreak Dream Team” presented at the Hack In The Box 2012 conference in Amsterdam earlier today:
Facebook’s highly anticipated IPO fell flat today. Personally, I’m not terribly surprised. I thought the $100 billion dollar valuation and $38 stock price were a bit overambitious. This was also a terrible week to enter the market. The major indexes had their biggest weekly declines of the year and Europe continues to struggle (Moody’s downgraded Spanish banks yesterday and there’s speculation that Greece will leave the Euro region). Furthermore, Facebook’s opening was delayed as Nasdaq was experiencing trading glitches. So there was a bit of a perfect storm of confusion and uncertainty in the stock market. It was actually a much worse day for other social companies like Zynga, who saw a 13% decline:
Facebook did close with a 23¢ increase, so the $38 starting price wasn’t a disastrous choice. However, they missed out on an opportunity to create steady gains that would have left investors feeling more optimistic. Historically, stocks have seen on average an 18% jump on their first day. Despite this being one of the most hyped IPOs in history, it only saw a 0.61% increase and a lot of negative headlines because of that.
Now they have to dispel worries about a “social bubble” and prove to investors that they can sustain profitability. I think that they can pull it off, but they’re going to have to step up their mobile game. Currently their mobile app is really bad. Not only that, but it has no advertising. While that’s nice for users, it’s not great for the company’s finances- especially now that people are spending more time on the site from phones than they are on computers. I think they need to stop throwing money at startups like Instagram and Karma (which they bought today) and start working on improving and monetizing their own mobile apps. This will be a struggle because many users will not take kindly to ads being injected into a previously ad-free space.
The other problem with Facebook ad revenue, and a major reason that I think the company may be overvalued is that most people do not go to Facebook to shop. Although it has more pageviews than Google, I believe Google will always have an advertising advantage by design. As a search engine, people go to Google to find products. So they have the unique advantage of being able to provide advertisements for products that people are already looking for. When people go to Facebook, they’re typically there to see their friends. Facebook knows a lot about their visitors, and they can leverage that knowledge to provide targeted ads. But that will be based on what they think you generally like- not what you are immediately searching for.
So for example, Facebook knows what TV shows I like. So they might get lucky and display an ad for the one season of Seinfeld that I don’t already own on a day that I feel like buying it. If that happens, they’ll make some money. But for Google, there is no guessing game. They’ll know that I want to buy Season 8 of Seinfeld because I’ll type “Seinfeld Season 8 DVD” into their search box, and there’s a much higher chance that I’ll click on ads in that situation. Clearly when it comes to advertising, not all pageviews are created equal.
All that being said, Facebook is now a $104 billion company and Mark Zuckerberg is worth $21 billion. This may have been a disappointing IPO, but those numbers are definitely nothing to cry about.