Silver Swans

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Facebook Just Changed Your Email Without Asking

Hey, here's something really stupid and annoying:

Facebook abruptly switched everyone's default email address to the account you've never used. [...] If you go to your profile (or anyone else's), you'll see the email account listed -- which just forwards to your Facebook messages inbox -- and none of your others. They've all been hidden in a ham-handed attempt to make the Facebook inbox relevant.

Apparently Google Plus also changed something in the last week or so. I started getting mail telling me that people were "sharing" things with me, but apparently their definition of "sharing" is, "someone you don't know added you to a 'circle' so we're going to mail you several times a day telling you that they made a public post."

Thus continuing my longstanding tradition of only ever logging in to Google Plus when I need to play whack-a-mole and un-check another new checkbox to get them to stop mailing me.

I'm sure every time I do that, they count me as an "active user".

Tags: , , , We Delete User Logs After Two Weeks. Your ISP Should, Too. We Delete User Logs After Two Weeks. Your ISP Should, Too.

Comcast or AT&T or Verizon typically keep their logs for 18 to 36 months.

What we saw was a shift towards customers being made part of a business model that involved -- I don't know if extortion is the right word -- but embarassment for gain. [...] But they would pay the settlement anyway. Because no one wants to be named in the public record in a case from So-And-So Productions vs. 1,600 names including Bob Smith for downloading a film called "Don't Tell My Wife I B---F----- The Babysitter." [...]

We saw a big uptake in this problem early last year. The "Don't Tell My Wife" one was the first, and we laughed about it. But then we saw more and more coming in. So I looked at this, and it was a cynical, awful business.

I met with my system team, and I said, why are we keeping these logs? The primary reasons were law enforcement and spam, so we looked at our law enforcement subpoenas, and the spam processing. In the case of spam, someone is infected and becomes part of a botnet, somebody kicks off a spam job and the customer dumps 20,000 emails in a day. We get complaints, and they're all about the last day. My systems team also only needed logs for a day.

So then I looked at law enforcement subpoenas and tried to balance an ability to help law enforcement when it's morally right to do so with an inability to help anybody beyond a certain window. In the civil copyright cases, we'd get a subpoena from them anywhere from 30-90 days later, sometimes longer after the alleged act of piracy has occurred.

We were concerned about cases where there's a kidnapping, a threat to the human life, and the FBI is trying to find the kidnapper who sent a demand email yesterday or a week ago. We felt like two weeks was a good window that would allow us to address some things -- both our own needs in the long term and the law enforcement's dire needs in the mid-term -- while omitting any ability to assist in what we felt was like an extortion racket. has been my ISP for years, and I've been very happy with them. Besides things like the above, they've been incredibly reliable and their support staff know what they're talking about.

The only downside is that installation can take a while, because they use AT&T copper. Since AT&T has no incentive to help a competitor, that tends to add 2+ weeks to any installation.

If you're in the Bay Area and using AT&T or Comcast, I'm pretty sure you have no rational reason to continue to do so.

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XScreenSaver 5.17

XScreenSaver 5.17 is out now. I fixed some compilation problems, and have made a bunch of tweaks to the iOS port.

I've just submitted this version to the app store, so cross your fingers.

Even though I'm still pissed that Apple makes me pay a hundred bucks for the privilege of running software that I wrote on hardware that I own, I've uploaded it as a free app, because even if you have the knee-jerk reaction of "Hey, I want my hundred bucks back", you're still shopping at the Company Store.

Let's say you charge $0.99 for the download to try and recoup that insignificant-yet-enraging $99. Since Apple takes a 30% cut, you break even after 143 downloads. In that case, you've got your $99 back and are out $0, but Apple is already ahead by $99 from you, plus $42 from your users for a total of $141.

The break-even point (where you have actually made more money on the deal than Apple did) is 500 downloads. At that point, both you and Apple are ahead by $247.50, and from there on you are in the lead.

So is it worth $99 to me for Apple to not make an additional $42 off of me and my users?

Yes. Yes it is.

And you're welcome.


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DNA Lounge: Wherein the construction continues.

Work has begun on the new second floor door. We've cut away the wall on the DNA Pizza side, and the header for the new door frame is installed. We also had to relocate a bunch of cabling on the DNA Lounge side that was running across the wall we're going to cut away. As you can see, the top of the door is higher than DNA's roof, so the next step is to build a dog-house to raise the roof over where the new stairs will be. After that's done, we can actually saw through the concrete of the DNA Lounge wall. That's a few weeks away, though. They've drilled a few exploratory holes so far to make sure that everything's lined up where we think it is.

This will soon be a hole.

The new door frame.

The view from outside.

It looks like there's a bunch of conduit and plumbing and possibly a gas line inside the downstairs wall where that door's going to go, too, so that's going to be a pain in the ass to relocate.

The structural engineer decided that he didn't like the wall that was holding up the floor where the new bar on the second floor is going and wanted us to anchor it to the building's foundation. I swear, every time we let that guy walk into the building, my money just evaporates. This latest notion of his sounded like it was going to be another enormous clusterfuck, but they found a way to do it without it being too much of a nightmare. They took some of the posters off the wall downstairs in the restaurant and opened up that wall; used a five foot long drill bit to drill into the foundation; and epoxied a piece of threaded steel into it. That's going to be screwed in to a twelve foot piece of threaded steel coming down from above, and the whole floor will sit on that.

Tomorrow is the second night of one of our new Friday events, The Launch. The first one was fun. You should come! The crew putting it on put a lot of effort into coordinating their uniforms: I have never seen so many NASA hotpants before. They also have this crazy art-car they park outside that has a space ship on a scissor lift. Here's a video from last month:


Taken for a Ride: The taxi medallion system in New York and other cities raises fares, impoverishes drivers, and hurts passengers. So why can't we get rid of it?

Taxi Medallions: How New York's terrible taxi system makes fares higher and drivers poorer

When New York City first issued taxi medallions in 1937, they were just licenses, worth $150 in today's terms. In the years after, life was pretty good for cabbies, as it was for many low-skill employees in postwar America. Some drivers owned their cabs. The rest were unionized employees who worked on commission and received a full slate of employee benefits.

Crucially, the owners were in the taxi business and took on the risk that entailed. If gas prices went up, that came out of the owners' pockets. If drivers had a bad shift, the owners did too.

All that began to change in 1979. That year, New York's Taxi and Limousine Commission changed its rules to allow medallions to be leased out for 12-hour shifts, making cabdrivers "independent contractors" under federal labor laws. The move cost such drivers their benefits, but the real fallout was far more profound. Even for medallion owners who operated their own taxi fleets, the economic value of the right to pick up fares was now severed from the value of actually doing so.

It turns out that the former business is a hell of a lot better than the latter.

Under a medallion lease, the medallion owner has a constant stream of income. Drivers are the ones who suffer when gas prices rise or a cab gets stuck in traffic--they've still got to make their daily lease payments. More importantly, New York's tight limits on the number of medallions in circulation has suppressed the supply of cabs. There are 13,237 medallions now outstanding, a few hundred fewer than in 1937, but a huge supply of drivers competing to lease them.

It's amazing that NYC has the same number of medallions now as in 1937, but apparently SF has only 1,500! Which is more than I thought, I'd have guessed 60.


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Hacker uses malware built-in chat to toy with researchers

This is awesome. I assume there is a rollerblading date in their future.

Malware researchers investigating a Trojan linked in a gaming forum as a how-to video for Diablo III got a surprise when the hacker started chatting with them -- through a feature in the malware. Franklin Zhao & Jason Zhou of antivirus company AVG were looking for keylogging code in the malware with a debugger after downloading it to a virtual machine when a chat box popped up. The hacker asked, in Chinese, "What are you doing? Why are you researching my Trojan?"

The malware gave the hacker the ability to monitor the victim's screen, mouse, and keyboard input. It also provided access to other devices. The hacker apparently was online when the two researchers started poking around his code, and he decided to intervene. "I would like to see your face, but what a pity you don't have a camera," he typed to the researchers, as they tried to engage him in conversation. Eventually, he tired of the cat-and-mouse game and remotely shut down their virtual machine.

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Time Warner Cable patents method for disabling ffwd on DVRs

US Patent 8,180,200.

If I'm reading this right, the idea is that when the MPEG stream comes down the cable line, they will strip out any keyframes inside commercials. So instead of your keyframe interval being under a second, it would be several minutes long. I guess the assumption here is that DVRs implement fast-forward by scanning ahead to the next keyframe, rather than by decoding the whole stream and just not displaying some decoded frames, and the lack of keyframes at regular intervals would screw it up. But wouldn't this have exactly the opposite effect to what's intended? Wouldn't it make ffwd immediately skip the entire commercial block while scanning for the next keyframe, instead of showing the commercial in high speed as it does now?

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Drink up! Your new liver is almost ready.

Researchers Grow Functioning Human Liver Tissue from Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells

The team's liver was grown from human skin cells reprogrammed to an embryo-like state and placed atop growth plates in a specially designed medium. Nine days later, the cells were expressing biomarkers indicative of maturing liver cells known as hepatocytes. With careful timing (informed by hundreds of trials) the team then introduced two more cell types that help recreate organ-like functions, including endothelial cells that line blood vessels.

Two days after that, the cells had assembled themselves into a 3-D, 5-millimeter-long tissue that mimicked early stage liver development. Though lacking bile ducts and not organized in exactly the same neat way natural hepatocytes organize themselves, the tissue did possess functional blood vessels that worked when the tissue was placed under the skin of a mouse. It was also able to metabolize some drugs that mouse livers cannot process but that human livers can.

By this measure, the team calls their tissue the first reported creation of a functioning human organ with working vasculature from pluripotent stem cells.

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

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NYCLU releases Android app for recording cops

Stop-and-Frisk Watch App

RECORD: This allows the user to film an incident with audio by simply pushing a trigger on the phone's frame. Shaking the phone stops the filming. When filming stops, the user immediately receives a brief survey allowing them to provide details about the incident. The video and survey will go to the NYCLU, which will use the information to shed light on the NYPD's stop-and-frisk practices and hold the Department accountable for its actions.

LISTEN: This function alerts the user when people in their vicinity are being stopped by the police. When other app users in the area trigger Stop and Frisk Watch, the user receives a message reporting where the police stop is happening. This feature is especially useful for community groups who monitor police activity.

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