Tag Archives: technology

Eliminating Usernames and Passwords

PayPal exec aims to “obliterate passwords from the face of the planet” | Ars Technica: “Phones could also authenticate a user with voice biometrics, eye scans, or facial recognition, he said. On PCs, there would be a browser plugin which could recognize the authentication methods that the system is capable of. A USB stick loaded with FIDO software could also work, allowing users to authenticate to computers they don’t own. Google is reportedly working on similar ways to eliminate the password.”

(Via ars technica.)

I’ve made it clear on at least one occasion how much I think user names and passwords are futile. This FIDO concept has me very excited, indeed. 

Not Using Computers is the Hack

John Siracusa is right about electronic voting. People have been trained for years to be skeptical about computers replacing our ancient paper ballot systems. It’s sad for me to hear otherwise intelligent people spew out all the various rote reasons why we could never vote via the Internet from our own laptops or phones.

“It’ll be the end of democracy!” “Hackers will steal elections with a single click!” “Paper systems are so much harder to manipulate!” 

Nonsense, plain and simple. Like fears of Terminator style artificially intelligent machines taking over the human race and enslaving us, fears of electronic voting are just plain illogical. 

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that computers are already involved in tabulating ballots. (You don’t think we add up all the votes from all the counties in all the states with an abacus, do you?) In fact, computers are involved with every part of the vote counting except the part where we actually vote. Eventually, all the numbers from all the little polling places everywhere get fed into a computer, which then is just as easy to “hack” as any other computer. So what we’re really talking about here is the one piece of the process that isn’t already electronic.

But what about those electronic voting machines? Another argument I often hear is “Every electronic voting machine we’ve ever deployed is a piece of crap and easily hackable.” True, but that doesn’t mean a good machine couldn’t be invented. It doesn’t mean that if we put the top computer scientists into a room for a week they couldn’t come up with something a billion times better.

We invented the Atom Bomb. I think we could figure this out.

I may not understand computer security nearly as well as John Siracusa, but I don’t need that knowledge to reason that if we wanted to, we could of course invent a system that was equal to or better than our current paper voting systems in security. A system that was fully transparent, verifiable by disinterested parties, and much harder to hack than the current system. A system where, as he said, individuals could actually log in and verify that their votes were indeed counted. The technology is there. We just need the will and some time.

But will the public ever trust what they don’t understand? 

Let me ask you this: Do you understand the technology behind securing your credit card number on Amazon?

If we trust computers with our money, we can trust computers with our voting. We can cry “democracy” all we want, talk about our inalienable rights until we’re blue in the face, but at the end of the day, nothing is more sacred to people than their money. And we’re doing our banking online, with systems that are frankly subpar when it comes to security and modern standards of transparency. So getting people to trust an electronic voting system is not going to be an obstacle for long. People will distrust, then they’ll talk to friends who had great experiences with it, and then they’ll realize it’s just a hell of a lot more convenient to vote from home than to wait in line for seven hours. Game over. Give it four or five election cycles, and most of the country will come around.

Now, Siracusa rightfully wanted to avoid being political in his discussion, but there is one obvious side effect of a fully-electronic, cryptographically secure system, at least here in the United States: Increased participation. If voting were as easy as ordering something on Amazon, we’d have much higher voter turnout in this country. And much higher voter turnout is definitely not in the best interest of the people in power (and one political party in particular, though I suspect both major parties would fear it). Thus, keeping people scared of electronic voting is paramount to the continuation of the status quo. 

Ironically, many of my smart friends who are most afraid that an electronic system would be “hacked” are in fact making it easier for those they want to keep out of office stay in office longer. Keeping computers out of our electoral process is the hack. It’s a clever form of voter suppression. 

It’ll probably be a few more generations before we see any real reform in this area. That’s unfortunate, because increased convenience in voting, which would cause increased participation, would ultimately make our elected representatives more accountable. Contrary to popular belief, electronic voting would very likely boost our democratic freedoms, and thus ensure a better future for democracy. Because democracy only works when people show up. And with the current system, very few are showing up. 

Nice infographic from Tech Hive on LTE speeds

Infographic: 4G LTE speeds, Verizon vs. AT&T:

The infographic below shows each carrier’s average LTE speed in the cities we tested where both LTE services are offered. The cities are ranked according to a composite score of AT&T and Verizon LTE download speed.

(Via Tech Hive)

The problem with average speeds in tests like this is that they mean almost nothing compared to your real-world performance. Now that I’m carrying an AT&T phone and a Verizon iPad, I have to say, Verizon is hands-down the better choice for me personally. And I’m very often getting faster speeds than this average on LTE with my iPad.

More importantly, I’m getting extremely fast speeds in places where I get zero signal on AT&T. And many of them are places I frequent.

But that’s me. I know other people who live in other places where AT&T is absolutely the right choice. I know people who live in San Francisco for whom AT&T is a better choice. Cell coverage is still a very touch and go thing.

So, as always, your mileage may vary. You have to take that into consideration before charts like this sway your decision-making, interesting as they are.

4G, 3G, 3.5G. Does any of this Make Sense to the Average Person?

Sweden may also investigate Apple over iPad 4G/LTE marketing:

Just a day after the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission filed a complaint over Apple’s 4G/LTE marketing in the new iPad, Sweden is considering an investigation of its own. The Swedish Consumer Agency says it has received a number of complaints from iPad buyers about the device’s LTE capabilities—LTS is only available in the US—and is now weighing whether it wants to open its own investigation into Apple’s marketing practices.

(Via Ars Technica)

Apple’s going to keep running into this problem with other nations. And rightfully so. The carriers, particularly in the US, have been throwing terms around and redefining words (like unlimited) for so long that none of us knows what the heck is going on. And Apple is playing into their marketing terminology soup.

For some reason, the blatant deception flies in the US, but other countries are a little more consumer friendly in their regulations.

But why expose yourself to the legal repercussions? Does anyone really care about the difference between LTE, HDSPA+, etc.? Just keep making it faster every year. And more importantly, improve your coverage area.

Usually, Apple’s approach to geeky tech specs like this is to ignore them. Take them out of the marketing completely. They learned this lesson in the late 90s, when they realized that competing on specs is a slow race to the bottom. That’s why they won’t even tell you how much RAM an iPad has, even if you’re a journalist asking them point blank. (It’s 1GB in the new iPad, by the way.)

I imagine Apple will eventually want to use this approach for cellular technologies. Just stop mentioning the specific terms. The iPad has WiFi, Bluetooth, and Cellular connectivity. Done. No one but a geek cares if it’s 802.111n, Bluetooth 4.0, and 4G LTE. And he or she can always look up the specifics on the web site.

I realize that “4G” is a selling point right now. It’s a buzz word that people look for when shopping for phones and such. But it’s a meaningless term. And that’s the carrier’s game. Don’t play their game, Apple. Make your own rules, like you do for everything else.

Rovio worth 1.2 Billion?

Rovio Entertainment, the created of the popular “Angry Birds” game, is in talks with an interested investor to receive funding that would see the company valued at $1.2 billion, according to a new report.

I love Angry Birds as much as the next guy, but anyone who doesn’t see this as an obvious sign that another bubble is about to burst here in the Silicon Valley Tech world is crazy.

After all, what has Rovio done SINCE Angry Birds? More and more Angry Birds. No new ideas. No second hit game. All that money, simply reinvested into more marketing, more ways to milk the same product.

They are a company without new ideas. And they’re looking to others for money, despite their incredible revenues.

I thought a company’s worth, whether or not it would make a good investment, was a reflection of the company’s potential for FUTURE greatness. I’m not seeing that from Rovio at this point. Unless they have some other brilliant new game up their sleeve that no one knows about, and it’s costing them a ton of money to develop.

I think it more likely that they have no new good idea, so they’re making a push to sell off what’s left of their one hit. One last big cash in.

But what do I know?