Retail and payment intermediaries

In recent months there have been multiple instances where a major retailer has had their data infrastructure breached. This has resulted in millions of customer’s credit card information being compromised and stolen by some variety of criminal organization. It’s likely that the organization used skilled computer experts to hack into the system in some fashion. I also would not be surprised if some type of social engineering was used to ease their access to the data systems. Furthermore, if their Point of Sales devices were not fully secure that information could be gathered using a credit card that could also read information from the system.

This is the problem that applications like Google Wallet and Paypal are trying to solve. They are trying to position themselves as an intermediary between the customer and the retailer to protect the consumer and provide a common transaction method for many platforms including in person point of sales. I think the fact that I’m just now thinking about this has really shown that companies like Google and Starbucks have failed at showing where the true value in their product is.

I didn’t come to this conclusion without help though. Truthfully, it’s because of PalPal ads that I’ve been seeing on Huluplus. This ad walks through how unsafe we are using our credit cards with online retailers and that they protect your creditcard and bank account information from ever being seen by the retailer. Which, is a really powerful argument to use their services. Of course, that’s if you trust PayPal as an organization.

Personally, I’m concerned about using PayPal as they’ve had their own networks hacked with some account information stolen. They aren’t perfect, and honestly it’s likely going to be impossible to maintain and prevent any data breaches, but a company like PayPal should have that as their goal.

With that in mind, it’s kind of helped me think of the true value of both cash and a BitCoin like solution. At this point, it’s pretty clear that BitCoin has been compromised at least on some level. It’s not truly anonymous any more. Cash is still though. It’s the best way to buy anything from a store. It also reduces the rate that you spend your money compared to buying everything with a card. As you actually see the money disappear. Although, some times it doesn’t feel that way, especially when you’re out drinking at a bar.

I’m not sure I truly trust any of the large companies that offer these intermediary services. PayPal, Google, Apple, Samsung, Starbucks, and etc… all have their own version and all of these companies make money by locking you into their services. Google, Apple, and Samsung have the most incentive and potentially access, as they are selling you the only other thing you’ll have with you besides your cards, your phone. Locking you into not just their device but payment methodology is powerful. Not because it keeps you on their network, but also because it provides them with a huge amount of information about the rest of your life. Google likely will already have a lot of it based on your search history, but they don’t know what you’re actually buying. At this point they don’t have the full data to connect search results to purchases. Using Google Wallet closed that gap and provides a really valuable set of data for their customers.

Intermediaries are going to be really important moving forward because they will help reduce customer risk. It’s going to be important to figure out how to balance the risk of not using an intermediary with using one and providing them with massive amounts of data as well as extremely personal data that if all your eggs in one basket could be devastating.


As a country we’ve been at war for the past 13 years. Despite that fact we’ve begun bombing yet another terrorist organization. Based on what we’ve heard, seen, and read, it truly is a horrific organization. They’ve beheaded journalists, innocent civilians, and their own people. These are truly horrific acts that snuff out any potential that person had to impact other’s lives. The great things they could or would have done has been destroyed because of a fanatic religious belief. To me, there’s nothing more abhorrent than this.

However, our country has little leverage to enact change in the Middle East. We’ve continually upset our Arab allies and have had contradictory policies depending on the country around intervening in any given civil war or revolution. This has caused some serious issues in the US’s considered reliability in any given conflict. Furthermore, it’s unclear who will win a given conflict and if they will possibly be an ally of ours once the conflict is over. ISIS likely has elements of some of those Syrian rebels that we helped.

Engaging with ISIS is basically confirmation that we will bomb any country that has any elements of an organization that has been deemed a terrorist organization by the executive branch. This is an expansion of what Bush claimed and was able to gain Congressional support through the Authorization of Military Force, however, it’s not entirely clear that it’s applicable in this situation.

The bombing further revealed, that while in this case we do have support of our Arab allies, our alliance with Israel has prevented them from acting in the manner that they would have to protect the Gaza strip. The US shouldn’t be involved in these land wars. We will only continue to lose our credibility in these parts of the world and will likely to continue creating new extremists, as according to the blow back theory. I don’t believe we should be bombing another country. We need to end this war and work through other means to address these issues. We’ve been at work for 13 years, without a true declaration of war.

Grants to build out networks rules change

Recently there have been a serious debate between the FCC and major telecoms about the minimum rate for broadband. It’s pretty obvious that there’s a strong disagreement between most customers and their ISPs. For the most part rural ISPs are pretty terrible. If you live outside of a major city it’s unlikely that you’ll have a very fast internet service. For a country of our size and population, we have an extremely large portion of our population that does have access to the internet, however we don’t have the deepest penetration of the internet in the world. Which for a country of our wealth that is something of a shame. We’ve been investing, through governmental grants since the middle of the 90’s and we haven’t seen the expected return on investment that we’d expected as investors. We paid for companies like Verizon and Comcast to invest in our network, and I mean we, as in the tax payers. We’re paying for them to get rich off of grants.

Internet Population and Penetration

Smaller countries like the Netherlands and the UK have significantly greater penetration. Sure they have smaller populations than we do, but they also have significantly faster internet speeds than we do across the board including rural areas. Korea has speeds an order of magnitude higher than we do, despite the fact that we’re a significantly richer country than South Korea.

One of the first moves in a long time that the FCC has done that is a positive move in a really long time. As of today, the FCC has decided that the minimum speed for broadband must be 10mbps which is a huge step in the right direction. This will change the minimum threshold for any investment by a company to earn a grant to increase from 4mbps to 10mbps. This is the right direction for our country and I’m really excited about the possibilities. It means that the FCC is starting to really understand that the telecoms don’t fully have our best interests in mind when they make their arguments. We’ll see what happens in the upcoming months.

Time Travel could it work?

Apparently some folks thinks they figured out how you could go back in time kill your dear old grampappy and everything would work out alright. It’s a highly convoluted thing and I’m not really sure I understand any of it. But that’s ok, because it’s quantum physics. Quantum physics is one of the complicated types of physics we have discovered (discovered because it was always there, but never applied or understood).

The general idea is that because of gravity, something called a “Closed Time-like Curve” can exist. From what I understand these represent a likelihood of something occurring in like and/or particles. These are the likely ways that light might split into multiple particles (only to recombine later in most cases) or be consumed and re-emitted by another particle. Effectively, it creates a probability distribution that says one of these options might happen. In the case about your granddad surviving, you have to have a 50% chance of survival for everything to work as expected. If the likelihood of an event falls below that, then it wouldn’t happen. Essentially, you would need to create a scenario where your grandfather would survive as often as he died. That sounds like you’d have to do some pretty elaborate planning to be sure he might survive or he might die.

Feynman Diagram

This would work because of that recombination effect that I mentioned earlier. When light moves from point A to B it doesn’t have to go directly there. Richard Feynman created his famous (for math people) diagrams that were able to explain how these particles moved and emitted particles.

In some cases the light would move around and eventually recombine, but it would always end up at the point it was expected to based on the other attributes of that light. Because of these features, the physicist was able to do some experiments with light to actually create a “killing your own grand dad” situation. This allowed them to offer empirical evidence not just theoretical.

That being said, it’s really unclear if anything at that size would ever work in actuality at sizes we can actually interact with on a daily basis. We can stop light and we can teleport light too. That doesn’t mean we’ll be having Scotty beaming us up soon though. Likely this discovery will find it’s way into quantum computing or cryptography as mentioned in the article. Unfortunately it’s not really practical and will probably be discredited in a few years like the whole faster than light fiasco from a few years ago.

More than two sides, the complexity of a story

In a lot of my writing, I typically focus on one aspect of the story. For example, with my writing about Ferguson I really focused on the wrong that I believed the police were doing. I didn’t really touch on the violence that the protesters were doing to the community (contained to the first few days) or the violence they were committing on the police. I didn’t ignore it personally, or as I was thinking about the articles, I just didn’t want to discuss it because it didn’t fit with the story I was trying to outline. That’s perfectly fine. You can’t fit everything into any given story. However, that doesn’t mean that omission was support of the actions of the protesters. I abhor their behavior and I think that it really negatively impacted their message. 

The past few days, we’ve had some pretty serious leaks. Over 100 celebrities have had their nude images leaked. The suspected culprit is iCloud. The iPhone, like most Android phones have the option to automatically backup your photos to a storage unit online. Apparently, there was a vulnerability in an application called Find My Phone, which allowed a person to try as many times as they wanted to access an account. What this meant was that brute force methods for cracking a login for an account would work eventually. It might have taken days or longer for whatever algorithm was used to crack the logins, but eventually it would have worked. There’s no way for it not. Essentially, the approach would run through as many permutations as possible for the login. furthermore, it could have actually been run concurrently on multiple different systems to test in parallel. It’s pretty horrible that someone was able to sneak into iCloud and steal these pictures, however, it’s also incumbent on the users of these systems and the owners of the systems to ensure that these simple lapses don’t happen. 

The users of these services bare a responsibility for understanding what is happening to their data once it leaves their phones. This is a requirement for any user, not just the famous. The famous likely should have someone help them with their security features, as it’s unlikely that many of them have the desire or knowledge to do it on their own. Not that this is any different for much of the rest of the population. They are as vulnerable as the famous, but aren’t a target simply by being uninteresting. 

In both cases, it’s fully acceptable to be upset by both sides of the story. It’s not impossible to say that police violence and militarization is bad and that the criminal element of the Ferguson protests is bad too. It’s also fine to say that you shouldn’t hack and that the people that develop the systems and use the systems are accountable as well. In most of our stories, there are complexities that are withheld or ignored because there is an angle the writer is going for, the story would take too long, or the writer has a low opinion of the readers. In my case, I was going for a specific angle with the Ferguson stories, because I assumed that it was obvious to the reader that the violence committed by the protesters was both known and understood to be a terrible wrong. Not mentioning it did make the police seem less rational than they were behaving though.

In the case of the leaks, most of the attention has been put on the leaker and the people enjoying the leaks, however, it’s important that we keep in mind that there’s a responsibility of the companies to keep that data safe.