Protecting Personal Information

Do you know what personal information it is important to protect? Have you ever thought about what could happen if people manage to piece together the various bits of information about you that are stored in various databases or filing cabinets to create a more complete picture?

More specifically, most people in the US know not to share their Social Security Number with people at random. How about your driver’s license number, or state ID card number? Your passport number?

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Mojave

Fujitsu S1500M

I’ll admit, I am typically slow to update to the new versions of Mac OS X, mostly out of fear of what peripherals I have that might stop working completely, or require me to jump through hoops to get working again. In the case of Mojave, the risk was my venerable Fujitsu document scanner, an S1500M, which I love and since it is still working perfectly I am loath to even consider replacing (even more so since I’ve been told that newer ScanSnap devices have a faulty license manager on the software that causes headaches at every update). Back to Mojave… I checked the interwebs for information, and on the Fujitsu site I found this statement:

ScanSnap S1500/S1500M does not support macOS Mojave. There are no plans for adding support in the future since the support for ScanSnap S1500/S1500M has already ended.

Fujitsu Global Support

Not promising, and right now we enter the craziness of tax season here in the US, the scanner gets more use than at any other time of the year.

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Clippercard Brainstorm

On the way home tonight on the ferry discussion turned to Clippercard, the SF Bay Area’s NFC-based transit payment card, and some of the strange limitations it has. What followed was a collection of ideas for how to improve it, some quite practical and others less so.

Here’s a few of my favorite’s, and while I don’t expect the folks at Clippercard to implement any of these, it is fun to think about what could be done with a card like this.

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Personal Information

Despite increasing coverage of cases where personal information is stolen, often en masse from large companies, as well as new legislation attempting to limit how much personally identifying information (PII) companies collect to just what they actually need, I am still encountering places that are clearly asking more than they need, and providing no information about how they will protect the information they collect.

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What’s a Platform To Do?

I’ve written a few threaded tweets on this subject this week, the first prior to reading about the special event Facebook held to tell journalists all about the actions they are taking to limit the spread of fake news, or, as I prefer to call it, lies, conspiracy theories and propaganda. That event turned into a PR disaster, but it has revealed a lot more about their thinking and apparent lack of either understanding or commitment to fixing the problem. Tweets, even threaded ones, are not a great place to write detailed thoughts on a subject as complex and important as this, so I am writing it here.

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Smarthome / Insteon Customer Support

A week ago today, I was up at 6:30am as normal making lunch for my youngest to take to her pre-school. Typically, when I get to the cooking phase I ask Alexa to turn on the “counter” lights, allowing me to see the stove top without using the high wattage incandescent lights in the hood (aside: I must see if I can get LED replacements for those yet). Somewhat surprisingly, she sat for a few seconds and then said that the Insteon hub the lights were connected to wasn’t responding. That happens sometimes, and I get the Alexa app to search for new devices again and it sorts itself out. Only my phone was still upstairs, so I walked over, switched the lights on myself and forgot about it. Continue reading

Smartmeters: Radiation & Other FUD

Our local, city owned, electricity utility has been working on a project to upgrade all our electricity meters to smart meters. For those that have not heard of these before, a smart meter is essentially the same as a modern digital electricity meter (so none of the moving parts of the classic electricity meter) with the addition of a radio that allows it to send data back to the utility periodically.

In most cases, they record the meter’s value every 15 minutes and then upload blocks of data to the utility periodically.

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Thoughts: Internet of Things

Much of the IoT hype is really just the final arrival of the promised connected devices – something that was being touted as imminent while I was at Wind River, but which really needed Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to come of age first. Today, connected devices are everywhere. Even cars are connected.

Now we live in a world where devices can be connected to a home or office network without requiring cabling. And we can wear lightweight devices that can take advantage of the more powerful computer in our pockets (aka a smartphone) for Internet connectivity using just low power Bluetooth connections. In some cases, even permanent devices, like smart door locks, can be battery-powered and use Bluetooth to connect to a local "bridge" device.

In addition to that always on connectivity, these devices needed simpler controls. Whether touch screens that can adapt, or, more recently, voice control, without more natural controls, many IoT devices would be too complex.

Finally, the arrival of meaningful AI is helping make many of these devices at least seem smarter, and be easier to interact with. Often with natural language, or by having the device simply observe & learn.

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Comcast: Back to the House

Amazingly, despite overwhelming amounts of data from myself, and data from people in Oakland, San Francisco and Santa Clara all commenting that their network sees the same issues around the same time of day (late evenings), once again I get a call from Comcast saying they want to come out to my house and attach things to the network here. They truly are fixated with the modem & the cable part of their network. And yet they cannot explain how something in my house could:

  1. Affect me only for bursts of time in the late evening, but be fine most of the rest of the time
  2. Affect other people here, and in various other cities in the bay area

Apparently, they just cannot see that this is probably impacting many of their customers. I have spoken to many here who see the issue but don’t have the patience to deal with Comcast’s totally abysmal customer support system. Even when it gets escalated, it appears they cannot get past it being localized to one house.

If they don’t want to look at the data in their routers, perhaps they should try calling some of their customers in the bay area and asking whether they use the network in the late evening regularly, and whether they have seen any issues with it.

Here’s the latest data I sent them:

January 16, 2017 (averaging 37% packet loss in the test):

January 17, 2017 (averaging 18% packet loss in the test):

Also from January 17, the trace showing losses at Sunnyvale again, and from nodes beyond it (likely dropped at Sunnyvale too – something they’ve always said was not happening):

I get it that their network can get loaded; I work in an industry that sees how much data traffic increases month on month as people use more and more high bandwidth services. But Comcast’s only role here is to provide the pipe to the Internet and keep it from being overloaded. I get it that there are huge swings in traffic volume across a 24 hour period; I don’t necessarily expect to see the full bandwidth during peak hours (right now, at 11am on a weekday, for reference, I am seeing about 30Mbps), but dropping to under 1Mbps is unacceptable. And the times when the packet losses are so great that my router decides the Internet is inaccessible are completely unacceptable. Personally, I would say once it drops below 50% of the bandwidth I’m paying for, that is a problem; I suspect they have a lower percentage in mind, but I doubt it is as low as 1%. If they do consider 1% of the contract bandwidth to be acceptable, perhaps the FCC should take a closer look at the service Comcast provides.