Category Archives: Tech

I’ve wondered the same thing

In Silicon Valley, disruption can also mean a massive con job

BEFORE THE FALL: Theranos Chairman, CEO and Founder Elizabeth Holmes (L) and TechCrunch Writer and Moderator Jonathan Shieber speak onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt at Pier 48 on September 8, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings for TechCrunch)
BEFORE THE FALL: Theranos Chairman, CEO and Founder Elizabeth Holmes (L) and TechCrunch Writer and Moderator Jonathan Shieber speak onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt at Pier 48 on September 8, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings for TechCrunch)

The stock market is soaring once again, thanks in the large part to the same kinds of companies that caused the last tech stock meltdown — companies with great press and lots of venture capital (and sometimes initially stunning but financially questionable IPOs). Many seem to be built on hype and not much else in terms of profitability.

Enter biotech startup Theranos and its precocious and secretive CEO Elizabeth Holmes. She started as a 19-year-old Stanford dropout and took the company to soaring heights and a valuation of $9 billion. The press loved her, especially the tech press with its legion of underpaid and gullible young reporters eager to report on the Next Big Thing.

Yet, as an article in the current issue of Vanity Fair makes clear, something was amiss, including Holmes’s weirdly unscientific answers to questions about the basic science of the company’s much heralded breakthrough medical testing technology which promised to test efficiently for many diseases without painful blood draws.

It was as if the legendary tricorders carried by medical personnel during Star Trek — capable of diagnosing diseases with just a point of a handheld device at any individual — were one giant step closer to reality.

And all it took to uncover this Silicon Valley grift was one Wall Street Journal reporter with the knowledge to question the stenographic reporting of the rest of the press — and his ability to look critically at Holmes herself and wonder if perhaps her weird managerial tics as CEO, seen by much of the fawning press as proof of her genius, were signs something was off about this rags-to-riches story:

In a technology sector populated by innumerable food­ delivery apps, [Holmes’s] quixotic ambition was applauded. Holmes adorned the covers of Fortune, Forbes, and Inc., among other publications. She was profiled in The New Yorker and featured on a segment of Charlie Rose. In the process, she amassed a net worth of around $4 billion. 
 
One of the only journalists who seemed unimpressed by this narrative was John Carreyrou, a recalcitrant health ­care reporter from The Wall Street Journal. Carreyrou came away from The New Yorker story surprised by Theranos’s secrecy—such behavior was to be expected at a tech company but not a medical operation. Moreover, he was also struck by Holmes’s limited ability to explain how it all worked. 
 
When a New Yorker reporter asked about Theranos’s technology, she responded, somewhat cryptically, “a chemistry is performed so that a chemical reaction occurs and generates a signal from the chemical interaction with the sample, which is translated into a result, which is then reviewed by certified laboratory personnel.” 
Theranos blood-­testing machines.
 
Shortly after reading the article, Carreyrou started investigating Theranos’s medical practices. As it turned out, there was an underside to Theranos’s story that had not been told—one that involved questionable lab procedures and results, among other things. 
 
Soon after Carreyrou began his reporting, David Boies, the superstar lawyer—and Theranos board member—who had taken on Bill Gates in the 1990s and represented Al Gore during the 2000 Florida recount case, visited the Journal newsroom for a five­ hour meeting. Boies subsequently returned to the Journal to meet with the paper’s editor in chief, Gerard Baker. 
 
Eventually, on October 16, 2015, the Journal published the article: HOT STARTUP THERANOS HAS STRUGGLED WITH ITS BLOOD­-TEST TECHNOLOGY. 
 

That article started a domino effect that essentially erased the company’s patina of biotech invincibility and stardom. (That did not stop the venerable Harvard Medical School from still offering the fallen star a seat on its Board of Fellows. One had to wonder how much that perk cost her since Harvard is never wrong, especially when it comes to taking money.)

The Vanity Fair article is a great read, even if you do not invest in the stock market. Because the markets are again flying high and much of it is based on nothing more than hype.

Many government entities in this country, including the largest pension funds, invest in stocks and mutual funds. When the stock market goes bust, it’s not just the companies and stockholders who lose money. State and local governments (and taxpayers) are also left holding the bag.

The great financial meltdown of 2008, from which many low-to-middle income Americans have yet to recover even as the financial sector once again earns billions of dollars, had many villains who directly preyed on financially inastute or willfully blind consumers and government officials.

But the rest of us paid dearly. And the only people who made money were the very people who caused the bubble in the first place. 

Note that a few months ago Forbes Magazine, which had hyped Holmes on its cover, revised the company’s net worth down from $9 billion to $800 million.

Last July the company sent out of press release noting that the federal government had put severe sanctions on the company. There are also active criminal and civil investigations.

The company is appealing the sanctions and Holmes is still in charge.

thernosbigbadneedlesign

 

Google Fiber may bring a broadband revolution

Google Fiber jefferly.com llogo

It appears to be a sad fact of life: American household consumers are stuck with crappy internet speeds and customer service because of the stranglehold that Comcast, AT&T, Sprint and the rest have over the marketplace.

Take a look at these world internet connection speeds. The U.S. ranks 11th behind Latvia. LATVIA! (No offense, Latvians. But c’mon!)

And it’s expensive to get internet service in the U.S.

We could be doing so much better. 

And that is the topic of this TechDirt post by Karl Bode:

When Google Fiber first launched in 2012, many analysts (myself included) believed that while cool, Google Fiber was little more than a clever PR experiment. Having cities throw themselves at Google for $70, gigabit connections created wonderful PR fodder in papers nationwide, in the process drawing attention to the lack of broadband competition and spurring incumbent ISPs to action. But Google was never going to really follow through on the promise of better competition, and would probably get bored in a few years. After all, it would cost way too much to actually deliver competition on any scale, right?

But as the list of looming Google Fiber markets grows, Google Fiber is looking less like an unserious experiment and more like a wholesale telecom revolution, albeit one that’s taking its time. Sure, Google Fiber is only available in portions of Provo, Austin and Kansas City now — but the company’s currently building networks in some major urban sprawl-scapes including Salt Lake City, San Antonio, Nashville, Atlanta, Raligh/Durham, and Charlotte. The company also recently unveiled (or is rumored to soon announce) expansions into Portland, San Diego, Irvine, Phoenix, San Jose, and Louisville.

This week, Google said it’s also working with Oklahoma City, Jacksonville and Tampa to pave the way for gigabit speeds sometime in the next few years. And whereas many incumbent ISPs and sector analysts used to laugh off Google Fiber as an empty threat (one called it “over-hyped like Ebola“), lately they’ve been changing their tune. A recent study by Bernstein Research noted that while Google Fiber only currently has an estimated 100,000 or so subscribers, it has real potential to be a concrete, disruptive force over the next five to ten years.

It just cannot come soon enough. Really. Srsly.

Source: With Another Major Expansion, Google Fiber’s Looking Less Like An Adorable Experiment And More Like A Disruptive Broadband Revolution | Techdirt

Technology moves so quickly

ButterChurn jefferly.com technology cartoon

Stephen Hawking on income inequality

Professor Stephen Hawking's answer to a question about "technological unemployment" that was asked on Reddit AMA in October 2015.
Professor Stephen Hawking’s answer to a question about “technological unemployment” which was asked on Reddit AMA in October 2015.

Time Capsule fix: the power of the geek hive mind

Time Capsule
The tech support page said to wrap my Time Capsule external drive in aluminum foil and bake it at 350 degrees for seven minutes. So I did it.

My Apple Time Capsule was accidentally unplugged this morning. When I plugged it back into the power strip, no green or amber lights. Not showing up on my home network. Nothing.

Panic time. This is my backup drive and archive drive. I can replace the backups, no big deal. All the information would just be replaced. But I also started using using it to archive photos, videos and many years’ worth of other personal files for which I no longer have room on my laptop drive. 

I’ve been meaning to attach an external drive to the USB port to back up the archives. You know how that goes. I can get to it tomorrow.

This is despite the fact that I knew that many models of Time Capsules were prone to power supply failure at around 16-18 months because Apple decided to not put any cooling ports on a hard drive enclosure. So the intermittent cooling fan in the Time Capsules, when it comes on at all, simply blows hot air around the inside of the enclosure. 

This is a recipe for power supply failure, which Apple will not fix outside of warranty. Which is true of my 16-month-old Time Capsule. But at least a power supply problem could be fixed by a third-party vendor if I was willing to shell out the bucks. 

But my problem was different. I can hear the drive spinning inside the device. There were just no power or indicator lights. My power supply is working. 

Searching a bit more on Google I found a post that suggested an odd solution:  Wrap my Time Capsule in aluminum foil and bake it at 350 degrees for seven minutes. 

Why do that? 

Apparently my model year of Time Capsule has a soldered connection that is prone to coming loose. This is a problem that people who take them apart and fix them have discovered.

Allegedly if you bake your Time Capsule, this will soften the solder enough to reconnect the bad connection.

What choice did I have? I don’t have the extra funds to fix it right now, nor the money to replace it. 

So I baked the sucker. 

It worked. (Handle gently until it — and any softened solder inside — cools.)

Never underestimate the usefulness of the geek hive mind. 

(After having been the target of frivolous lawsuits (twice) the litigious little voice that lives inside my head now needs to point out that I am not an expert on Apple peripherals, I do not represent in any way that this fix will work for you, watch out the drive and oven will be hot, and don’t forget to wear oven mitts.)

Pooductive: file under “an app for everything”

Pooductive

By coincidence, I was involved in a funny chat thread last Wednesday which started on the Facebook account of my friend Craig in Texas who demanded (he’s a little bossy):

Dear everyone, stop answering phone calls in the bathroom. That’s disgusting.

I have to admit that I had never really given much thought that people might be in the bathroom while I talk to them. 

Craig’s post engendered some funny responses, including: 

We can still agree that Facepooping and Tumblpooping are efficient uses of time though right?

And:

If you want me answering calls on the pot then you really don’t wanna know what I doing as I’m leaving this comment.

It was generally agreed, however, that the practice was bad form.

Which is why I thought of my friend Craig when I saw that there is a new smartphone app out there called Pooductive for people who actually want to talk to others who are sitting, um, doing that thing he hates:

Say…what?

So, what is Pooductive about?

The overwhelming, unbearable, nay alienating boredom that we are all confronted with once a day (more or less) is an experience that each one of us can identify with. The fact that there is only little to do whilst tending to ‘number two’ is common knowledge, and truly a first world problem.

Pooductive lets you chat with local and global strangers who are on the toilet, somewhere across the world (or your neighbourhood), at the same time as you.

You could simply call it a messaging app if you wanted to, but it’s so much more. It’s a community, made up of people who are all in the same position as you…pardon the pun.

And that is the exact reason why it is so much better and more entertaining then simply reading the back of a shampoo bottle or just playing any other odd game.

The price you ask? Free. That’s right…zero! Why? Because we know how you feel. We’ve been there and now we’ve got your back.

Oh. how nice. They have my back.

I wish I was in the room when the app’s authors ordered a logo.

We’re not sure what we want, but we want it to be cute, accessible and we want it be feces.

The logo is cute (see below) although I can’t tell if that left eye (poo’s left, not yours) is a monocle or an eye infection.

I’m not sure I want to know the people in my city or neighborhood who might be in the same place I am — talk about a relationship built on very little — but it’s nice to know the app is there if I want it. I think.

If I do want it, however, what will we chat about for the 3-5 minutes our rendezvous is in full swing? The weather? Bathroom tiling? Charmin vs. Cottonelle? Strong vs soft?

It seems rather limited. Will people make up statistics on their profiles? (Although I cannot imagine what those might be.)

I won’t say I will never try it out of curiosity. But for the time being I will stick with crossword apps.

Speaking of which, does anyone know a five-letter word for “movement” that begins with the letters B-O?

Source: Pooductive

PooductiveLogo

Meet Zach King, video king of Vine (and other platforms)

Fun Vine, huh?  It’s part of a series of the producer getting ready for work or school or something. Someone posted it today on Facebook where it scrolled across my wall.

Parents, this is what you might create if you give your child a camera at a very young age.

Meet Zach King:

I started my journey in film when I was 7 years old when my parents gave me the home video camera at a wedding. Since that moment, i’ve had the film bug in my blood. I love entertaining people, making them laugh and wonder about life.

When I was a freshman in film school (Biola University), I started my youtube channel where I started posting my film projects. I remember making a video called Jedi Kittens, posting it, and waking up to a million views on the video!! – you can say I had caught the viral video bug!! I continued to develop my youtube channel to almost 100 million views.

In September of 2013 I opened a vine account and posted my first vine video. I opened the app and I challenged myself to create one vine video a day for one month. It’s been an incredible joy to create videos for my audience and I hope to be brining fun entertainment to my fans for many more years, on vine, youtube, television, and someday the big screen!

If you are here looking for my vine videos, you can watch them here.

Watch some of my youtube videos here, they are kinda like longer vine videos.

Zach has issues with capital letters. Oh, well.

His future lies not in editing text. It’s in creating videos. I love that the internet allows talent like this to grow and flourish.

From Portland, Oregon originally, somehow King had missed my notice, but this is a guy with a bright future in video production and entertainment, although he hardly needs anyone’s endorsement at this point. He is that popular already.

Plus he seems very sweet and optimistic and spends a great deal of his online efforts helping other aspiring video production hopefuls. That says a lot about someone who is so young. No matter your age, video production beginners could learn a lot from this guy.

Zach King

 

 

Ashley Madison user data dump goes online

Ashley Madison dump
The online directory Ashley Madison hackers used to distribute their dump of the user information for millions who use the marital/relationship cheating web site.

Judgment Day has arrived for many Ashley Madison users:

HACKERS WHO STOLE sensitive customer information from the cheating site AshleyMadison.com appear to have made good on their threat to post the data online.

A data dump, 9.7 gigabytes in size, was posted on Tuesday to the dark web using an Onion address accessible only through the Tor browser. The files appear to include account details and log-ins for some 32 million users of the social networking site, touted as the premier site for married individuals seeking partners for affairs. Seven years worth of credit card and other payment transaction details are also part of the dump, going back to 2007.

The data, which amounts to millions of payment transactions, includes names, street address, email address and amount paid, but not credit card numbers; instead it includes four digits for each transaction that may be the last four digits of the credit card or simply a transaction ID unique to each charge.

AshleyMadison.com claimed to have nearly 40 million users at the time of the breach about a month ago, all apparently in the market for clandestine hookups.“Ashley Madison is the most famous name in infidelity and married dating,” the site asserts on its homepage.

“Have an Affair today on Ashley Madison. Thousands of cheating wives and cheating husbands signup everyday looking for an affair…. With Our affair guarantee package we guarantee you will find the perfect affair partner.”

The data released by the hackers includes names, addresses and phone numbers submitted by users of the site, though it’s unclear if members provided legitimate details.

A sampling of the data indicates that users likely provided random numbers and addresses, but files containing credit card transactions will yield real names and addresses, unless members of the site used anonymous pre-paid cards. One analysis of email addresses found in the data dump also shows that some 15,000 are .mil. or .gov addresses.

Those .mil and .gov email addresses could represent a lot of lost jobs and scandals if even a fraction of them turn out to be legit. You might think that any person who works in the government or the military, especially elected officials or those with high-profile jobs, would be smart enough to not use a work account to sign up for such a site.

You’d be wrong. Our newspaper covered over the years so many people who work in politics doing so many astoundingly risky things that nothing would surprise me.

There must be a great many reporters and bloggers out there who can’t wait to get their hands on this information. You may need a secure browser, such as Tor, to get ahold of the Ashley Madison info as of this writing — a dark web technological barrier that is not difficult to overcome but would still be confusing and insurmountable for many everyday web users — but the data will turn up not secured in places all over the internet, probably by the time I finish writing this post.

It is also worth noting that Ashley Madison, unlike so many other holders of confidential information online, used high-level security precautions, to little avail. It will all come out eventually.

Passwords released in the data dump appear to have been hashed using the bcrypt algorithm for PHP, but Robert Graham, CEO of Erratasec, says that despite this being one of the most secure ways to store passwords, “hackers are still likely to be able to ‘crack’ many of these hashes in order to discover the account holder’s original password.” If the accounts are still online, this means hackers will be able to grab any private correspondence associated with the account.

I laugh at, or become annoyed by, “discreet” people on online dating sites who refuse to post personal pics of themselves or other identifying information, and want instead for you to give them an email address to send that information. After this data breach at Ashley Madison, it appears those people may be onto something. Even advanced encryption techniques don’t seem to be much of a barrier.

My life is an open book, but for many people who work in high-profile or sensitive jobs this is a valid concern.

Anyway, back to cheating, lying and all forms of subterfuge. 

This is part of the message the hackers used in releasing the Ashley Madison data:

“Avid Life Media has failed to take down Ashley Madison and Established Men. We have explained the fraud, deceit, and stupidity of ALM and their members. Now everyone gets to see their data.

Find someone you know in here? Keep in mind the site is a scam with thousands of fake female profiles. See ashley madison fake profile lawsuit; 90-95% of actual users are male. Chances are your man signed up on the world’s biggest affair site, but never had one. He just tried to. If that distinction matters.

Find yourself in here? It was ALM that failed you and lied to you. Prosecute them and claim damages. Then move on with your life. Learn your lesson and make amends. Embarrassing now, but you’ll get over it.”

How do I feel about this?

It seems like meddling in private affairs by hackers acting as judge, jury and executioner for wayward spouses and partners.

However, I am not a straight woman (or man) who is in a relationship where I have professed fidelity to my partner. Being the target of lying and cheating would likely make me feel a bit differently about all this.

In any case, one suspects this information will lead to much heartache and not a few job losses and even suicides. 

I decided to check into how difficult it is to delete an Ashley Madison account because some online hook-up sites allow you to do this, but finding the link to do so can take quite a few click-throughs. You can find out more information about how to delete your account by clicking here, but be warned: Ashley Madison has already been under fire long before the data dump by giving users the impression they deleted account data when they really did not.

Because even if you weren’t able to avoid the user info data dump, deleting your account might (emphasize the word “might”) allow you to prevent further intrusion when your soon-to-to-be ex-wife hires someone to decrypt your password in search of more damning evidence for the divorce proceedings.

Source: Hackers Finally Post Stolen Ashley Madison Data | WIRED

Ashley Madison dump of user names by hackers
This is the text message the Ashley Madison hackers used to announce their dump of the user information for millions who use the marital/relationship cheating web site.

Battle of the wifi SSID

You have that neighbor. Yeah, that one. The loud one. Or the one who complains all the time. 

There was a time when you’d pound walls or yell through ceilings.

Now things are handled the way the tech age demands. You’ll make your point with your SSID.

SSID