Let's make biking to work for everyone

I live in the city and generally take public transit to work.  But commuting via bicycle is always an option.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the bikes on the market aren't suitable for commuting.  They  require that you dress in "biking clothes" and take on a life style called Urban Biker.  No other form of commuting requires special garb.  It is one of the tremendous failures of every single US-based bike manufacturer:  Sales are paltry.  And so manufacturers focus on "cool fragility" and not the "useful".

Unacceptable bikes do the following:
  • Spray mud on your butt and back
  • Get grease on your pants
  • Are too fragile to leave outdoors
That's garbage, and the Europeans know it.  They have tons of city bikes, which are much like the bikes we used to have here in the states.  They are designed to help anyone of any age get around the city - to work, the grocery, or the library.

So in this article I list out what I want from a NOT FAKE Commuting City Bike.  Bike manufactures, do your best!  You're almost there.  There is money in this stuff if you can think and act like Steve Jobs did.

So that I can dress for work and not get slopped up
  • Step through frame
  • Effective fenders
  • Skirt guards
  • Sealed drivetrain (such as a full chain case)
  • Upright seating
So that I don't have to worry about my bike
  • Weatherproof for leaving outdoors (no rust, please)
  • Built-in security locks or locking points
  • Reasonably priced - should be much cheaper than a fair used car
  • Small enough to lug indoors
So that I can carry stuff
  • Reasonable baskets
  • Luggage racks
So that I can ride safely
  • Built-in, automatic lights
  • Reflective surfaces
  • Built-in bell
So that I can pedal
  • Some gearing for some minor hills, erring towards granny
  • Platform pedals
  • Reasonable weight
  • Low rolling-resistance tires
So that I can minimize maintenance
  • Puncture-resistant tires
  • Sealed drivetrain
  • Designed to be left in the rain/snow/sun
  • Appropriately robust
These are just good ideas, but some great ideas may obviate the need for some of my line items.

OK folks, tell me what fits the bill in the comments, or tell me what else YOU would like to see in a great commuting city bike.

Your Privacy Quotient

We all have the expectation of privacy, right?  But how private of a person are you?

Here's how to calculate your privacy quotient!

Add up the following "points" as for each item below.  The resulting number will be used to calculate your personal Privacy Quotient:

Card Usage - Tracking your purchases

  • 1 - Do you use store "rewards cards"?
  • 5 - Do you use a credit or debit card for most purchases?
  • 5 - Do you shop for and buy goods on-line?

Banking - Tracking your income and spending

  • 1- Do you have direct deposit?
  • 1- Do you have a bank account?
  • 1- Do you have a mortgage or loan?

Internet - Tracking your relationships and opinions
  • 5- Do you use an internet service provider?
  • 5- Do you use Web Mail, such as gmail?
  • 5- Do you use a social web sites such as Facebook?
  • 5- Do you use Google to search the Internet?
Telephone - Tracking your location

  • 5- Do you have and use a mobile phone?
  • 1- Do you have a landline?
  • 1- Do you have a home security system?

Transportation - Tracking your travels

  • 1- Do you drive a car?
  • 1- Do you have a toll transponder?
  • 1- Do you use a train/bus/subway pass?

Now, here is YOUR privacy quotient:

Wow!  You are a private person.

Good, respectable privacy.  Corporations only know you a little bit.

Ouch, you're being tracked pretty heavily.

You're looking for trouble, as your data is all over the place.  Corporations know where you are and who you are most of the time.

Big Brother is your Big Brother.  Your life is well known to millions of corporations.  They almost always know exactly where you are (± 3 meters).  They know almost exactly how much money you make and where you spend it.  They also know your political views, your likes, and your dislikes.  They know your favorite food, and your dog's name (if you have one).


Privacy theft via "free" apps

I'm a privacy advocate.  And so I get very tired of the myriad of companies that try to make a buck by selling my "profile" to the highest bidder.

Many (but not all) of the "free" apps available for your smartphone are simple privacy sieves.  Their primary purpose is to provide you with a little bit of value in exchange for a huge amount of your private data.

My case in point are 3rd party smartphone email and GPS apps.  There are hundreds available, almost all for free.  They provide a little bit of value, such as "a new way to use gestures to archive your email".  But these free 3rd party apps often take all kinds of data about you, such as:

  • All of your email
  • Your basic information (your name, home address, phone number, etc)
  • Your location at all times, via your phone's GPS capability
  • Your calendar
  • Your entire address book

Of course, the companies state that they can do this in their "privacy policy".

And within that policy they promise that they will anonymize your data as they sell it to their partners.

Truly anonymizing data is nearly impossible.  As seen in the Netflix case, it is quite simple for a high school student to take large data sets to de-anonymize the data.  That's a very scary proposition, particularly given that there are thousands of large data sets available for purchase through many suppliers.

These app developers let you know that your data may be held off-shore, in a foreign country.  Now I'm a big fan of foreign countries, so why should this matter?  And why would they want to hold the data in a far-off land?  After all, American data centers are less expensive than data centers anywhere else in the world.

The short answer to this question is that by holding your personal data outside of the country, app developers hold the data in a place where you have limited (or no) legal standing, and where the laws of this country simply do not apply.   They are simply kidnaping your data and bringing it overseas where to a place where you cannot win.

Finally, these privacy policies clearly state that they can be changed at any time, without your consent or knowledge.  So if they decide to sell your private data outright, they may change their policy and do so immediately.

What we need is a blog.  A blog that covers those apps with that guarantee to protect the privacy of their users in perpetuity. Let me know when you find apps that do protect privacy.


iPhone 6 Release Party: Friday, September 26th, 2014

There are a lot of rumors out there in terms of when the iPhone 6 will be released.

Let's just cut to the chase, as evidence points to:

Friday, September 19th, 2014

Here is the evidence:
  • Apple will want the iPhone 6 to be released out of the gate as boldly as possible - with iOS 8.
  • Apple explicitly says that iOS 8 will not be available until Fall 2014.
  • Apple will likely want to make the iPhone 6 readily available to all customers by the Christmas Shopping Season - mid-November.  They'd want to eliminate any waiting lists by then.
  • Recent prior releases of iPhones have been between September 20th and October 15th.
Therefore, I predict that Apple will release the iPhone 6 sometime very near early fall.  This year fall begins on Tuesday, September 23th, 2014.

But wait, there's more!  Over the past few years Apple has put their device on sale starting on a Friday.

So given that additional fact, I refine my prediction to include only the following dates:
  • Friday, September 19th
  • Friday, September 26th
  • Friday, October 3rd
  • Friday, October 10th
  • Friday, October 17th
If I were a serious wagering man (I am not), I would wager on the earlier side of things to better align with last year.  And so, in conclusion, I find that the iPhone 6 will most likely be released on Friday, September 19th.

Of course, certain types of events could influence that date, including but not limited to:
  • Component supply line issues
  • Manufacturing issues
  • Unexpected design issues
  • iOS 8 availability/completion
  • External factors (Geo-political issue, major natural disaster, etc)
Manufacturing must have started!

There are a lot of iPhones to be made.  Last year Apple sold 9 million iPhones on its first weekend.   And so I assume that manufacturing is ramping up now, as to hit that mark starting today, Apple needs to make nearly a million iPhone 6's a week.

See you in line on September 19th!


My iPhone is being remotely controlled by a hacker! (and how to fix it)

Who is remotely controlling my iPhone???

This is a personal story that scared the hell out of me.

On Monday I was awoken by my iPhone alarm telling me that it was time to get up to go to work.   I picked up the phone and looked at the day's calendar.  Ug.  I put it back down in its dock for a couple more Z's.

Seconds later, I heard it clicking.

I looked at my phone, and it looked like someone was typing on it!  Click.  Then a swipe.  And then more clicks.  One of my business apps was being operated, but NO ONE was touching my iPhone!  I was sure that a Hacker was remotely operating my iPhone, digging around for my private data!

This was shocking.  My phone stores a lot of good stuff - my email, photos, finances, passwords and all sorts of other goodies.  If someone compromised my phone they could know where I am.  They could operate the cameras, the microphones - in short, they could know almost everything about me.

It looked like the hacker didn't know what he was doing - he was just bopping around.  Maybe he was just a kid in some far-off land searching for anything of value.  And in the end, I figured out EXACTLY who was to blame.

I quickly decided that immediate action was necessary.

First step: power it down

After taking a quick video of my phone being operated remotely (as evidence), I decided that I should prevent any further damage to my privacy.  I picked up the device and turned on airplane mode.  Then I powered it down.

Second step: wipe

I hooked my iPhone up to iTunes and chose "Backup" to ensure that evidence of the compromise was captured and that any of my remaining data was saved.  Then I performed an iPhone reset via iTunes - which wipes the device and re-installs a brand new copy of the operating system downloaded from Apple.  And then I chose to do a restore, using the logic that my data was OK, it was just a software compromise.

Third step: rebuild

During the restore I had the iPhone restore the apps from the iTunes store - over the air - again using the logic that my apps may have been compromised and there is nothing like getting the latest from iTunes.  I plugged my phone into my iPhone dock and let it pull down the apps wirelessly over WIFI.

Fourth step: passwords!

My phone was compromised, so someone could have got their hands on my passwords as I typed them (keyboard compromise) or by stealing them from poorly behaving app data stores.  So I hopped on my computer and proceeded to change dozens of key passwords (email accounts, Facebook, banking accounts, etc).

Fifth step: WTF!!!

So I was on my computer, in the midst of making my password changes, when I heard my phone clicking on its keyboard again. WTF???  My phone was STILL compromised!  Maybe the low-level firmware was compromised, and even wiping off iOS and all the apps wasn't good enough.  I picked up the phone, and whomever was remotely controlling it stopped!  Undoubtedly the hacker sensed my presence via the motion detector or the camera! VERY SCARY.

Sixth step: Eh?

Then I got to thinking, maybe it was NOBODY.  Maybe my screen was going bad, detecting false touches and swipes.  Hmmm.  I downloaded and installed a "finger paint" program to see what was happening.  Nothing interesting appeared on the screen.  And then I docked it my iPhone, and within in a few minutes, some crazy dots and lines started to appear all on their own, as shown below:
Crazy lines from Paint program

Seventh step: Dang

So I figured my iPhone was dying.  "Dang, out of warranty, still under contract" - this was not great timing.  Then I noticed that the phone was quite warm.  A little more investigation found the power adapter to be rather HOT.  I was running a cheap knockoff USB adapter for the past year - and a little test with a voltmeter showed the knock-off adapter to be providing chaotic power, from 3v to 9v.  Very far away from the 5 volts (±0.55) of the USB standard.

Dangerous knock-off power adapter was the problem all along!

Eighth step: The fix!

So I try all this on another AC adapter, and my "remotely controlled screen" problem completely goes away.  My phone wasn't compromised - it was a very bad (but very official looking) AC Power Adapter.  I chucked the crappy adapter and now I'm back in action.   Yay!

Lesson Learned!

It was all my fault - I bought and used a crappy 3rd party adapter.  It failed in a way that I could never see, and in a way that could have damaged your phone.  Always get a name brand adapter - at least you can go back to them if it damages your phone.  Luckily for me, I suffered no damage*** other than a few hours of paranoia and work.

*** UPDATE: Zapped volume buttons

Soon after this I noticed that my volume buttons stopped working.  I took the iPhone to the shop for repair.  Despite numerous attempts of a repair with new parts, the volume buttons couldn't be fixed.  It was a fault inside the logic board.  I blame the adapter for zapping my iPhone.  A sad story indeed.

Getting your dishwasher to last longer

I love my dishwasher and I want it to last forever.    Here is my non-obvious advice for getting a dishwasher to live a long life: Leave...