Drone Assassination Attempt Foreshadows Future Events

Until this past year, consumer drones carried tiny ultralight cameras, but they just didn’t have the energy or the reserve to carry much else. They certainly could not deliver much of a product or payload. They flew for  15 minutes, lacked the capacity to carry excess weight, and had short range.

But market demand sparks innovation. Amazon and Domino’s Pizza are experimenting with drone delivery. The improvements needed to serve these needs are quickly bubbling down to unlicensed weekend pilots. Hexacopters with 4K cameras, gimbals and retracting landing gear are available for under $400. Tiny foldable drones with 720p cameras are available for $35. Some models don’t even need a pilot on a joystick. You can preprogram the flight path to reach any target using GPS, or you can guide them by making gestures with your hand. The drone actually looks back over its shoulder and responds to your hand-waving commands.

Lance Ulanoff is a cartoonist and robotics fantech expert. But he shares a lot in common with Wild Ducks. He is an eclectic journalist and social media commentator.

This month he began publishing at Medium.com, and I’m glad he did! Lance has a knack for going beyond the Who, What, Why. Even in a short article, he explains the social implications. He provokes us to recognize why it matters.

Lance breaks down the recent attempt to assassinate Venezuela’s president with a drone delivered explosive and raises our social antennae. This news event ushers in a grim technology era. Ulanoff points out that in a short time, it has become inexpensive and fairly easy to send an explosive directly into a national monument like the Statue of Liberty.

Photos: Venezuela President, Nicolás Maduro, reacts to incoming drone. Although the assassination attempt failed, others on the ground were injured.

Uber & Lyft fight drivers over caps NYC

New York legislators are close to deciding an issue driven by Uber and Lyft drivers. They are demonstrating in the streets and demanding a cap on the number of authorized ride-share vehicles.

Mainstream media began covering this dust storm two weeks ago, but the pending decision is putting international attention on the issue of licensing a sector that was credited with eliminating nanny-state legislation. After all, licensing should be confined to the singular issues of transportation safety and not overall commerce.

A cap? What is a cap?! Does this mean that a person with a clean car, a good driving record and no criminal complaints will need a special license or medallion to participate in a ride sharing service? How ironic! Don’t glance in your rear-view mirror, because that is exactly what we used to grant taxi services until…Well, until sometime next year. It’s an old school, anti-free-market concept that we surmounted 10 years ago!

Legacy drivers claim that we need a cap of 80,000 entrepreneur-drivers, ostensibly for two reasons:

  1. They want economic protection. (Duhh!). Drivers who were early to the party are cruising the streets in cars that are empty 42% of the time. They are waiting for their next guest. This quite ironic, because these are the same drivers that disrupted the protections afforded to taxi companies.
  2. They claim that capping ride-share cars will reduce congestion on crowded Manhattan streets, along with pollution and commuter frustration.

But the ride share companies are not backing their drivers. They are lobbying anyone who will listen that we must avoid legislative restrictions.

A Wild Duck Opinion…

Uber and Lyft are absolutely right in championing the fight against a legislative cap and thereby removing free-market economics from the transportation sector. These drivers are owner-operators. There is already effective vetting of safety and criminal records. They are not employees of a municpal service. They are entrepreneurs exploiting a smart-phone app to sell their own services. It is no different than programmer who uses an app to write and distribute his own software.

Putting legislative caps on the number of participants in a new-era, free enterprise service, or limiting hours of operation is antithetical to a democratic and empowered free market constituency. It smacks of a Communist mind set. The armchair economics of protestors (drivers who feel threatened by newer drivers) and even well-researched data of credentialed economists) plays no role in an organic, facts-on-the ground growth industry.

I am not suggesting that an unlicensed or criminal driver should get away without vetting. But attempting to impose restrictions that are unrelated to health, safety or the environment will have unintended consequences, such as:

  • Underground apps that do the same thing with even less restrictions
  • Pushing innovation and profits off shore — or —
  • Ceding the market to foreign countries

Licensing has always been intended to serve the public good and not thwart innovation, growth and individual entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, it is often used to protect early entrepreneurs and exclude newcomers. That’s not how it should work—certainly not in a free country.

If you can’t take the heat of fair market competition, then innovate.

 

Online Privacy: Learn Tor, VPN, VeraCrypt, LasPass

I have a special request. Actually, this is a personal plea to my readers…

Next month, I host two evening privacy workshops near Boston. I could use a teaching assistant to run around and help newbies install software as I present to the class. But what I really need help with—is getting the word out. Please help…

This time, it’s not about Bitcoin or the blockchain. It’s about taking control of your online identity and browsing activities. It’s about privacy and anonymity. It’s about your communications, your personal data and your disk or cloud storage.

All that data belongs to you and not to your ISP, employer, a hacker, the government, or marketers. And it is surprisingly easy to cover your tracks. In fact, with the proper tools, taking control of your identity and privacy is safe, simple and transparent.

In just 3 hours, attendees will learn install and use TOR, VPN, VeraCrypt and LastPass. They will also get an excellent feel for the function and benefits of a virtual machine.

Anyone attending can choose either Aug 8 (Marlboro) or Aug 22 (Natick). Renting a presentation room in the Natick Library is expensive.

Please help me promote an effective and exciting evening of learning. Get the word out. Check out these announcements: [Sign-up page]   [Meetup page]

Bonus Points: Do you recognize the photo on the left? Be the first to leave a comment with the name of the plastic privacy bubble and the 1960s TV series that featured it. The winner gets two free passes to our privacy workshop that can be transferred to anyone.

Building a Bitcoin ATM is easy, but…

…But offering or operating them engulfs the assembler in a regulatory minefield!

A photo of various Bitcoin ATMs appears at the bottom of this article. My employer, Cryptocurrency Standards Association, shared start-up space at a New York incubator with the maker of a small, wall mounted ATM, like the models shown at top left.

What is Inside a Cryptocurrency ATM?

You could cobble together a Bitcoin ATM with just a cheap Android tablet, a camera, an internet connection, and [optional]: a secure cash drawer with a mechanism to count and dispense currency).* A receipt printer that can also generate a QR code is a nice touch, but you don’t really need one. You can use your screen for the coin transfer and email for a receipt.

Of course your programming and user interface will make all the difference in the world. Your ATM must interface with an exchange—your own or a 3rd party.

If your plan is to sell Bitcoin and not exchange it for cash, then you don’t need a currency dispensing component at all. You only need a credit card swipe-reader and an RFI tap reader. Some models are smaller than a cookie and sell for under $30. They can be attractively embedded into your machine. In fact, some bank card processors offer them without cost.

I Have Built a Prototype. Now What?

Desktop ATM. No cash dispensed

Once you have a working prototype, you will need to test it with focus groups (alpha test) and at prospective public sites (beta test). You must also harden the production model against tamper and theft and find paying businesses or property owners, so that you can achieve economies of scale. (A reasonable business model requires that you produce dozens of devices each month).

Parts Cost: Bill of Materials

At scale, you can achieve a unit production cost of less than $200. But that’s for a desktop unit that does not accept or dispense cash. A high-quality and attractive machine that accepts cash and is free standing or ready for outdoor installation into a building exterior might cost you $650. You could sell these for $2,500 plus recurring fees to the property owner, depending on venue, or you might simply lease them, just as Xerox did in the early days of office copiers. (In a hotly competitive market, such as Las Vegas, you may need to pay a portion of your profits to the site, rather than profiting from ‘renting’ the ATM).

A Threat to Your Business

But wait! Before you run off and create an ATM venture of your own, with visions of a 350% profit margin, all is not as easy as it seems!…

Cryptocurrency ATMs intersect with a minefield of regulatory licensing and compliance standards. In many regions, they are not even legal for placement in a public area.

In most countries (including all of USA), you must be a registered Money Transmitter. You will need separate state licensing and—since you are moving cash in or out of the banking system—you must be partnered with a federally chartered bank. You will also need to post a hefty insurance bond—perhaps even for each machine and each municipality in which it is placed! These laws convey liability to both your clinet (the property owner) and to you. Many courts will hold the manufacturer of financial or medical products accountable for ensuring that their customers are licensed and compliant with regulations. That is, you may not be able to legally sell your ATM to organizations that have not demonstrated that they qualify to operate one.

Why is There a Camera in my ATM?

In all cases, you must capture photographs of your user and their state-issued ID, because you are required to know your customer and adhere to a slew of anti-money laundering practices. For example, with transactions larger than $2,000 (from anyone who is not known to you and a regular client), you must generate a Suspicious Activity Report. For transactions larger than $10,000, you must comply with RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act). This requires a camera, interview, and reporting process. You will be generating forms with data supplied by your user and possibly even a real-time verification of the facts they provide.

If you wonder why you needn’t do these things this when buying or selling your own cryptocurrency, it is because: (a) You are trading your own assets and are not the custodian of customer accounts; and (b) You are a consumer. It is likely that the exchange is required to do all of these things.

With Regulations, Can Bitcoin ATMs Generate Profit?

For the reasons described above, the operational cost of deploying and operating an ATM network (or your equipment for sale or rent) is significantly higher than the up front hardware cost. When you add the need to protect your venture from legal claims arising from process glitches or users that claim they lost cash or Bitcoin, you may arrive at an operational cost that makes your business model unworkable.

Of course, Bitcoin ATMs are profitable in some cases. I have consulted with a few start ups that operate them successfully in Las Vegas casinos, a few airports and race tracks, and at large outdoor fairs. But, for everyday use, the heyday of ATMs is most likely 5 or 10 years off. Before this happens, we need a more uniform and functional regulatory & insurance framework, and a higher volume of users per ATM.

Check out various Bitcoin ATM models below. Few manufacturers turn a profit. In the end, it boils down to location (high volume sites with the right people) and location (legal jurisdiction).


* One ATM startup found inexpensive hardware for dispensing currency by recycling mechanisms from bill-change machines used in game arcades or in hotels next to vending machines. These machines are being discarded, because newer vending machines accept credit cards and smart phone payment. But again, if you only plan to accept a credit or debit instrument for Bitcoin, then you don’t need a cash counter or dispenser.


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, hosts the New York Bitcoin Event and is keynote speaker at Cryptocurrency Conferences around the world. Book a presentation or consulting engagement.

Multisig Wallet: Protect Bitcoin in case of death or forgetfulness

UPDATE (April 2018): See footnote regarding Coinbase multisig vaults.* The feature will be retired this month, because it interferes with plans to improve support of Bitcoin forks.

Legacy Method of Inheriting Assets

Many Bitcoin owners choose to use a custodial account, in which the private keys to a wallet are generated and controlled by their exchange—or even a bank or stock broker. In this case, funds are passed to heirs in the usual way. It works like this…

An executor, probate attorney, or someone with a legal claim contacts the organization that controls the assets. They present a death certificate, medical proxy or power-of-attorney. Just as with your bank account or stocks and bonds, you have the option of listing next of kin and the proportion of your assets that should be distributed to each. These custodial services routinely ask you to list individuals younger than you and alternate heirs, along with their street addresses, in the event that someone you list has died before you.

Of course, Bitcoin purists and Libertarians point out that the legacy method contradicts the whole point of owning a cryptocurrency. Fair enough.

Multisig to the Rescue

Using multisig would be far easier, if wallet vendors would conform to standards for compatibility and embed technology into hardware and software products. Unfortunately, they have been slow to do so, and there are not yet widely recognized standards to assure users that an implementation is both effective and secure. But, there is some good news: It’s fairly easy to process your ordinary account passwords and even the security questions with a roll-your-own multisig process. I’ve done it using PGP and also using Veracrypt—two widely recognized, open source encryption platforms.

This short article is not intended as an implementation tutorial, but if the wallet vendors don’t jump up to home plate, I may release a commercial tool for users to more easily add multisig to their wallets. It really is safe, simple and effective. (If readers wish to partner with me on this? I estimate that it will take $260,000 and about six months).

What is Multisig and How Does it Protect your Wealth?

Multisig allows anyone with credentials to an account, wallet or even a locked safe to create their own set of rules concerning which combinations of friends and relatives can access their assets without the original owner. The owner sets conditions concerning who, when, how much and which accounts can be accessed — and the heirs simply offer passwords or proof of identity. If implemented properly, it doesn’t matter if some of the heirs have forgotten passwords or died before the original owner.

This can be illustrated in an example. I am intentionally describing a complex scenario, so that you consider a full-blown implementation. Although the ‘rules’ listed below appear to be complex, the process for creating the associated passwords is trivial.

The last 2 rules listed below do not use Multisig technology, but rather Smart Contracts. It enhances an owner’s ability to dictate terms. Here, then, is the scenario…

I want heirs to have access to my assets
at banks, brokers, exchanges or other ac-
counts–but only under certain conditions:

  • If any 4 of 11 trusted family and friends come together and combine their passwords (or an alternate proof-of-identity), they may access my wealth and transfer it to other accounts
    • But, if one is my husband, Fred, or my daughter, Sue, then only two trusted individuals are needed
    • —But not Fred and Sue together (At least one must be an outsider)
  • If any account has less than $2500, then it goes to my favorite charity, rather than the individuals I have listed
  • None of my accounts can be unlocked by my heirs, until I have not accessed them with my own password for 3 months. Prior to that, the Multisig will fail to gain access.

Again, the decedent’s wishes are complex, but executing and enforcing these rules is trivial. In my presentations, I describe the method on two simple PowerPoint slides. Even that short description is sufficient to show anyone who has used common cryptography apps to weave their own multisig add-on.

Of course, each individual will need to locate their own secret password, but a biometric or other conforming proof-of-identity can be substituted. Even if several survivors cannot recall their credentials, the multisig method allows other combinations of individuals to access the assets across all accounts.

This article may leave you wondering about the legal process—and this is where I agree with the Libertarian viewpoint: Sure! The courts have a process and heirs should document their access and decisions for tax purposes and to assure each other of fair play. But a key benefit of cryptocurrency and the disintermediation offered by the blockchain is the personal empowerment of access with impunity and without waiting for any legal process.

Let the courts to what they do, while you honor the wishes of your dearly departed.

If this article generates sufficient interest, I may prepare a short tutorial on how to split off your own Multisig passwords, regardless of which wallet or hosted services you use. It will work with any vendor, app or gadget —or— Perhaps, I will refine my homespun solution and offer it as an add-on app that can be used with any wallet, bank account or exchange. Simple, ubiquitous and effective multisig should have been available to even traditional banking customers years ago!


* History of Coinbase support for a multisig vault

Oct 29, 2014 — Coinbase adds Multisig Vault
                           Multisig rule: (3) private keys created. 2 are required to access coins:

  1. User Key
  2. Coinbase Key
  3. 2nd Coinbase Key but only user has passsword

Aug 31 2017 — No more NEW Multisig vaults

April 19 2018 — Sunset of Multisig vaults (and announced earlier, on Mar 20)

Sunset on Multisig vaults: They make it difficult to support forks. A new tool will still support withdrawls after multisig vaults are retired.


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSAhosts the Bitcoin Event and presents at Crypto Conferences around the world. Book a presentation or consulting engagement.

Are Online File-Conversion Services Safe?

At Quora, I occasionally play, “Ask the expert”. Hundreds of my Quora answers are linked at the top right. Today, I was asked if it is safe to use free, online services that convert between file formats. For example, many web services allows you to upload a JPEG image and get back a PNG file. Others convert between DOC and PDF, or between popular video or audio formats.

Some of these services include additional processing. For example, stringing separate images together into a single animated GIF file—or rotating pages and adding a password within a PDF file. If you don’t have a locally installed program that does these things, is it safe to use these free, online services?

And what about the apps that you download and install? These present separate risks! But, with a little common sense, you can figure out which ones you can trust…


The short answer: It depends on the file type. A JPEG file that is processed via an online service is safe. SVG is not.*

A More Complete Answer…

There are three factors that relate to the safety of free online file converters:

  1. Is the target file type passive? That is, is it a data-only file that you will open with your own application. But watch out!

    Most—but not all—media formats (files that store pictures, music or video), cannot contain malicious code, unless you are tricked into opening them with the wrong program. Most of these formats simply direct your application to present pictures to your screen or audio signals to the speakers, without launching other apps or executing code that reads or writes to your device. But there are exceptions. Some popular formats support scripts, which are a form of program instructions. And, rarely, you may even be susceptible to execution of a data only file.*

    In my opinion, JPEG files are safe (including .jpg and .jiff file extensions). So are bmp, gif, mp3, avi, and mp4 files. But svg, doc and pdf files are not necessarily safe! These file formats permit javascript or other code which can be activated when you attempt to open the file. Therefore, if you use a service to create SVG, DOC or these other file types, be sure that you use your own applications to open it, and that you have configured your application to restrict execution on files that are downloaded from the Internet.

  2. Is there anything sensitive in your source material? (i.e. is your file confidential or embarrassing?). If so, it will be in the hands of strangers for all time. Do not use an online service to convert the file—nor even to store it, unless it is first encrypted on your device.
  3. Is there possibility of misdirection or error during the process? That is, could you be tricked into uploading the wrong file or revealing more information than you intended? For example, with deceptive tactics, a web service might slip you a routine that fools with your file associations. Now, a file ending with .JPG is no longer interpreted as an image, but contains an active and malicious threat.

Most Important: Never accept options that offers an upload manager, browser plug-in or “assistant”. These are programs over which you have no control! They often contain malware that threatens your data and your entire network. Helper apps and plug-ins should only be installed from rock-solid sources, such as the maker of your operating system or browser (Apple, Microsoft, Google) or from highly reputable, open-source projects.

Disambiguation: That last warning is about apps installed on your device, rather than online services. But, how can a non-techie be secure in their decision to download or install an app? Here is way to think about your options and safety: The maker of your app should fall into one of these two categories:

  • The vendor has a lot to lose if they fail to fully vet the context and security of an executable. This is typically true of large, audited, publicly funded companies like Adobe, Citrix or Google. (Being big does not inherently make them trustworthy, but it makes them very careful to verify their claims against internal practices).
  • —OR— The executable is offered via a reputable open source community with a broad base of technical and critical developers. It helps if developers are rewarded for finding and reporting bugs.

Online file conversion services fail these tests—But they are not locally installed apps. Remember, these last two tests are intended for apps that you plan to install, whereas online file-conversion services simply process data and return it to you. So to protect yourself from file-conversion programs that you download and install, you must ensure that they don’t install or interact with your other applications and data.

One way of ensuring this is to run in a sandbox or protected environment (as if you maintained a separate PC for use only with file conversions). The more practical way is to educate yourself on the vendor’s practices, reputation and history. A dedicated file conversion utility should interact only with files you select—and only to generate passive content that you open with your own applications.


* Even data-only files can be exploited. For example, malware can use a “buffer overrun” weakness to treat some of the music or photo data in your files as executable program code. But don’t worry. Although this might seem impossible to defend, such opportunistic exploits are unlikely if you have good antivirus protection, and if allow your trusted applications to update regularly.

Additional reading about SVG file format:

United Air: Public relations nightmare

Check out the last minute of this Jimmy Kimmel video. It is a spoofed TV commercial for United Airlines. Based on recent events, it seems pretty authentic. Kimmel’s monologue is pretty funny too!

I have heard from a few people who defend United—offering an explanation of overbooking policy—or the rude defiance of the Asian doctor that was dragged out of the plane bloodied and on his back (and apparently, with a broken jaw). But, no matter how you spin this, United was incredibly foolish to issue a patently offensive statement about how clients were unfortunately “reaccommodated”.
Yeah! I’ll agree that it was certainly unfortunate. But, I am not too sure about this being an example of airline accommodation. Check out the Twitter reaction.
Typically, these things blow over and the public searches for the next low fare—even if it is lower by only one dollar. But this time, I think that United may feel the pain. Their methods and the ensuing arrogance of CEO, Oscar Munoz, are tantamount to flipping a middle finger at paying passengers.
Good luck with that, United Airlines!

Blockchain can dramatically reduce pollution, traffic jams

The World Economic Forum has posted an article that hints at something that I have also suggested. (I am not taking credit. Others have suggested the idea too…But advancing tech and credible, continued visibility helps the idea to be taken seriously!)

I am not referring to purchasing and retiring carbon credits. I like that idea too. But here is an idea that can enable fleets of autonomous, shared, electric vehicles. Benefits to individuals and to society are numerous. And the blockchain makes it possible early in the next decade. It is not science fiction.

The future is just around the corner. Non-coin applications of the blockchain will support great things. Goodbye car ownership. Hello clean air! The future of personal transportation is closer than you think.

Read about it at the World Economic Forum.


Ellery Davies co-chairs Crypsa & Bitcoin Event, columnist & board member at Lifeboat, editor
at WildDuck and will deliver the keynote address at Digital Currency Summit in Johannesburg.

 

Getting your first Bitcoin; Choosing a wallet

There are at least four ways to acquire Bitcoin and three ways to store it…


Acquire Bitcoin: You can trade Bitcoin in person, accept it as a vendor, mine it, or buy on an exchange.

Store Bitcoin: You can keep your Bitcoin in an online/cloud service (typically, one that is connected to your exchange account), keep it on your own PC or phone, or even print it out and store it on a piece of paper. Like a physical coin, the piece of paper has value. It can be placed in your lock box or under your mattress.

Let’s look at the market for Bitcoin Wallets (all of these are free), and then we shall talk about Bitcoin exchange services. This includes my personal recommendation for the typical consumer or coin enthusiast…

1. Choosing a Wallet

You can start your search for a wallet on this page at Bitcoin.org. Use the drop down tabs to refine your search by platform: Mobile, Desktop, Hardware gadget or Web. Don’t overlook the web option. For many users, the wallet (and VAULT) included with an online exchange account is all you need.

Each wallet platform is further distinguished by operating system. For example, you can find a smartphone wallet for Android, Apple, Windows Mobile or Blackberry. Some popular apps are listed under more than one OS or platform.

When you click on any of the app logos, you will see a checklist of five key traits, according to reviewers at the Bitcoin Foundation:

  • Control over your money
  • Simplified validation
  • Basic transparency
  • Secure environment
  • Weak privacy

These are not necessarily critical traits/features. It depends on your needs and preferences. For example, everyone wants good privacy and security. But not everyone wants to control their private keys. That places the risk of loss, backup and/or the burden of inheritance issues on you, rather than a standardized recovery process. The feature comparison simply helps you to begin your own comparison and evaluation.

For Android users, my personal recommendation is Bitcoin Wallet by Andreas Schildbach (the logo is a tilted orange ‘B’). It is simple, secure, well maintained and very popular. (iPhone users: See my my suggestion in the recommendations, below).

2. Portable –vs– Online

Despite the simplicity and low cost of spending or sending Bitcoin between individuals and vendors, getting your first Bitcoin can be confusing, complex and even risky. For this reason, I suggest that Newbies open an account at a very established and trustworthy exchange.

In the near future, this will include most big banks. But for now, the safest and most reputable exchange is Coinbase in San Francisco. They are also the one with the highest level of regulatory compliance. Bitstamp of Slovenia and Great Britain is a close second. In my opinion, using either of these organizations as a currency exchange or a secure place to park your digital currency is a safe bet.

Both of these exchanges include a cloud wallet service that—when used properly—is safe and secure. But, because Bitcoin is still in its infancy, you will need to learn about sweeping funds into a ‘vault’ (to better protect against hacking) and you should also learn about portable backups and multi-sig (to protect your assets, in the event of forgetfulness, death or incapacitation).

With either type of wallet—device storage or online with an exchange—I recommend that you install and play with a portable wallet on your phone, just to get the hang of a few basic functions: Display wallet address for incoming money, Send money, Request money (i.e. send an invoice), and Pay with the QR-camera feature. All wallets serve these basic and critical needs.

Recommendations:

  • Coinbase is a most reputable exchange for buying/selling & storing Bitcoin
  • Bitcoin Wallet by Andreas Schildbach is an excellent choice for portable, secure storage. This app is available for Android phones only. Apple iPhone users may wish to try Bitcoin Wallet by Blockchain. I have not reviewed it. It has a slightly less friendly user interface but it is stable and very popular.

Related Reading:

Ellery Davies co-chairs Cryptocurrency Standards Association. He produces The Bitcoin Event, is board mem-
ber at Lifeboat Foundation and will deliver the Keynote Address at Digital Currency Summit in Johannesburg.

Is it Too Late to Get into Bitcoin and Blockchain?

At Quora, I occasionally play, “Ask the expert”. Several hundred of my Quora answers are linked at the top right. Today, I was asked “Is it too late to get into Bitcoin and the Blockchain”.

A few other Bitcoin enthusiasts interpreted the question to mean “Is it too late to invest in Bitcoin”. But, I took to to mean “Is it too late to develop the next big application—or create a successful startup?”. This is my answer. [co-published at Quora]…


The question is a lot like asking if it is too late to get into the television craze—back in the early 1930s. My dad played a small role in this saga. He was an apprentice to Vladamir Zworykin, inventor of the cathode ray tube oscilloscope. (From 1940 until the early 2000s, televisions and computer monitors were based on the oscilloscope). So—for me—there is fun in this very accurate analogy…

John Logie Baird demonstrated his crude mechanical Televisor in 1926. For the next 8 years, hobbyist TV sets were mechanical. Viewers peeked through slots on a spinning cylinder or at an image created from edge-lit spinning platters. The legendary Howdy Doody, Lucille Ball and Ed Sullivan were still decades away.

The Baird Televisor, c.1936

But the Televisor was not quite a TV. Like the oscilloscope and the zoetrope, it was a technology precursor. Philo T. Farnsworth is the Satoshi Nakamoto of television. He is credited with inventing TV [photo below]. Yet, he did not demonstrate the modern ‘cathode ray’ television until 1934.

Farnsworth demonstrates TV

The first broadcast by NBC was in July 1936, ten years years after the original Baird invention. (Compare this to Bitcoin and the blockchain, which are only 7 years old).

Most early TV set brands died during the first 10 years of production: Who remembers Dumont, Andrea and Cossor? No one! These brands are just a footnote to history! Bear in mind that this was all before anyone had heard of Lucille Ball, The Tonight Show or the Honeymooners. In the late 1950s, Rod Serling formed Cayuga Productions to film the Twilight Zone in New York. Hollywood had few studios for dramatic television production, and the west coast lacked an infrastructure for weekly episode distribution.

Through the 1950s (25 years after TV was demonstrated), there was no DVR, DVD or even video tape. Viewers at home watched live broadcasts at the same time as the studio audience.

The short answer to your question: No! It’s not too late to get into Bitcoin and the blockchain. IIn fact, we’re still in the very early era. The ship is just pulling into the dock and seats are mostly empty. The big beneficiaries of blockchain technology (application, consulting, investing or savings) have not yet formed their first ventures. Many of the big players of tomorrow have not yet been born.

At this early stage, the only risk of missing the Bitcoin boat is to assume that it is a house of cards—or passing fad. It is not! It is more real than the California gold rush. But in this case, prospectors are subject to far less risk and chance.


Ellery Davies is co-chair of Cryptocurrency Standards Association. He is also a frequent contributor to Quora and editor at A Wild Duck.

Bitcoin can arbitrage Netflix VPN workaround

I almost overlooked This Forbes article. It was published in June 2016. It is not about Bitcoin. Rather, it discusses the Netflix effort to thwart forbes-logoVirtual Private Networks (VPNs), which had been used to circumvent geographic content restrictions.

The  author describes a fascinating work-around. It probably doesn’t break any government law—although it most certainly violates the Terms of Service which users acknowledge when they sign up or log into their Netflix account.

The workaround begins in paragraph 4, with the title: “The Solution”. It describes a self-balancing market for p2p use of desirable residential IP addresses. For example: USA has the largest number of movie and TV titles. The author proposes an automated process of bidding for temporary remote control of USA Netflix subscriptions, using the subscriber’s internet connection as a gateway, while content is delivered to Beijing, Dubai or Fiji.

Effectively, Bitcoin is used as the backbone of a clever negotiating, bidding and settling mechanism. Since USA IP addresses have a premium value to foreign netflix-logo-01Netflix subscribers, it enales USA members to auction the temporary use of their Internet connections.

Of course, using Bitcoin to arbitrage the disparate value of residential Internet connections doesn’t explain the technical process of relaying movies through remote user gateways. That part is achieved by adding an arbitrage-activated VPN proxy into members who choose to bid or auction regional access. Netflix is looking for the IP addresses of commercial VPN gateways and not the IP addresses of its own individual members. Although, I have not yet tested the work-around described, it should be transparent to both users.

For me, this is a particularly elegant application of capitalist economics. In fact, I recently sold my patent on a similar bid-for-attention mechanism that stops Spam without blocking anything that each individual user would find desirable, even if it is unsolicited, commercial or sent in bulk.

The key information [excerpt from linked article]:

“Basically, the number of users trying to watch U.S. Netflix would vastly outnumber the users trying to watch Australia Netflix so U.S. connections would be oversubscribed. This can be resolved with a balancing mechanism with financial incentives, such as Uber surge pricing,” Yen told Forbes.

Bitcoin pile-s“When U.S. connections become oversubscribed, U.S. users would be able to make money by making their connections available while foreign users would have to pay more to access U.S. connections. Bitcoin could be used to facilitate these payments since it is anonymous, decentralized and has a low transaction cost.”

What makes this proposal so attractive, is that it thumbs a nose at any vendor that thinks that it can control the individual use or application of its product in the field for no good reason. (I consider geographic content restrictions to be  “No good reason”!). Regardless of EULAs and even national laws, in the end, it’s very hard to argue with grassroots phenomena and facts on the ground.

Hey! You’ll get no dog whistles here.

Ellery Davies is a frequent contributor to Quora. He is also co-chair of
Cryptocurrency Standards Association and chief editor at A Wild Duck

Why properly oriented photos jump back to rotated

A year ago, I watched my good friend, George, create a new account at a popular dating service. It wasn’t a hook-up site, but rather a serious forum for like minded, intellectual, Italian Americans.

George Clooney-sSure, Ellery!…I bet that it was you surfing the
dating service—and not your imaginary friend.

No, seriously. That’s him on the right.               »
Anyway, the first photo that George uploaded is the handsome close-up shown here. But to his surprise, the dating service displayed the sideways photo shown below.

George was surprised, because he recalled that the camera displayed it this way when his mom took the photo. He rotated it clockwise even before uploading to a PC. Now, it displays correctly on both his camera and on his computer screen. He thought that the sideways photo problem had been resolved. He even emailed the photo to me, and it looked fine on both my phone and desktop PC.

George Clooney-Couterclockwise« But there it is at ItalianStallions.com. Somehow, the photo had jumped back to sideways orientation. What gives?!

I started to give George a tip about permanently correcting the problem, but he cut me off…“Ellery”, he said—“I just want to meet Sheryl411. She has incredible eyes. I haven’t been so smitten since I met Amal!

With a remarkably low threshold for technology glitches, he decided to leave the sideways photo at ItallianStallions.com. “I can’t imagine that a reasonable girl would care” He said. “After all, women love my mug. They can rotate it after saving it to their drive—Or, they can simply ask my agent to send a signed, 8-by-10 glossy photo”.

I grimaced. In my opinion, the sideways photo broadcasts a not-too-subtle message—It says that the person seeking companionship is a Luddite, rather than America’s premier hunk. George’s character in the film Up in the Air was ruthless, but had so much more common sense.

George and I were still sitting on the back deck sipping Shirley Temples, when the alert appeared on his screen. Even before he reached out to any of the beautiful, eligible women at ItallianStallions.com, he had caught the eye of Sheryl411. What an incredible coincidence! But, sadly, her note to George was an unsolicited rejection letter:

Dear ‘Clooney-Actor-Hunk’,

I am fascinated by your wit and words—and I love your movies. I read about your break-up with Amal, and I just want to hold you to my breast and comfort you.

I wish that I could jet-set to your latest movie set in Casablanca or sail on your 164 foot yacht. But, I’m afraid that it is not meant to be. I could never date you…

If you can’t figure out how to make a sideways pic of yourself upright, then we are not a good match. I’m sorry… Darwin is making me do it.

I tried to sympathize with George. Sheryl411 represented his fantasy and passionate hopes. But Sheryl has a shorter tolerance for techno-averse actors than they do for figuring out how to rotate a photo.

So what is the problem—and how can it be solved?

In response, I am sharing with readers my reply to Sheryl. (I grabbed George’s laptop PC, and wrote this note back to the object of his lust)…

Dear Sheryl411,

I *love* your final comment to my friend George: “If you can’t figure out how to right a sideways pic…Darwin is making me do it”. Hawhh! And to think that I thought this was a problem related to a double-X chromosome!

It is, in fact, a tricky problem, because with some phones & cameras, the rotate-feature does not really rotate the image data. It only adds a tag that tells the display device that it should be rotated (90, 180 or 270 degrees). So, the user may see a properly oriented photo—even after they upload it to a PC. Yet, when they upload to the dating service, it jumps back to sideways. That’s because the dating site uses older rendering software that does not recognize the rotate instruction.

Sheryl411: George’s latest obsession

For this reason, I would give George a break (even though a sideways photo is one my pet peeves too!). Since cameras and PCs are not his thing, it can be tricky to realize that he needed to use the older method of rotating, which actually rotates and re-writes the image, rather than adding a rotate tag.

But wait! Things don’t really get better, because if you use an older process to truly rotate the image, it is likely to leave the embedded tag which tells newer devices to apply an additional rotation. Oy Gevalt! What to do?!

The best solution is to run a free utility, Autororate. It adds a right-click feature to your Explorer/browser. It rotates and re-saves an image file in place. If the file has a rotate tag, it syncs the underlying orientation and then strips the tag, with no loss of image quality.

And so, Sheryl—We have solved the problem. Now, that I have shown you that I know how to avoid sideways head shots, please consider dating  me  instead of George. He may be a hunk, but I have much more going on upstairs, if you know what I mean! 😉 Check out my dating site profile and my upright photos. If Darwin is your thing, visit my Blog, AWildDuck.com. You are sure to be impressed by my intellect, eclectic wit, charm, wry sarcasm and incredible modesty.

Your future date (or mate-?),
~Ellery


Epilogue:

I forgot to create my own dating page and give Sheryl my user name. So, she had no way to answer me. Later that night, she wrote to George asking for my contact information. (she could have used the Contact form here at Wild Duck).

When George saw her request, he went ballistic! He realized that I had put the moves on his girl. I have always thought of this Blog as a family-friendly site, and so I cannot relate the angry note that George sent to me. It drips with venom and profanity.

Today, Sheryl and I are married. George is still with Amal, and he is still angry with me. He refuses to rekindle our friendship, and so we don’t spend time on his Yacht or on set of his Casablanca movie (It is still being filmed). But we always see his films at the local theater and we raise a glass or two in his honor. After all, he introduced us!

No. I don’t really know George Clooney and I am not married to Sheryl411. I wrote this article to
explain JPEG image rotation. Yes, Sheryl411 is real, and she really can’t stand techno-Luddites.

Got Pokémon Go? Not Wesley Crusher!

If your a Trekkie, you remember Wesley Crusher, the young ensign, and son of the ship’s doctor on Star Trek, Next Generation. The character, played by Will Wheaton, appeared regularly for the first four seasons. But beginning with Season five, he made sporadic appearances as a guest star.

tumblr_inline_mqzrxpodNn1qz4rgpIn “The Game” (season 5, episode 6), Wesley locks lips with Ashley Judd, in her first on-screen kiss. It certainly wasn’t Will Wheaton’s first kiss. In “The Dauphin” (season 2, episode 10), he smooches with Salia, a shape-shifting alien with a penchant for morphing between a glowing pile of Jello into the more pleasing form thedauphin1-300x229of teen actress, Jamie Hubbard.

But I digress…

Wesley and his romantic interest hitch a ride on his former ship and discover that a virtual reality game is spreading across the crew like Ecstasy, or more specifically, like Pokémon Go, a Nintendo app that—just 5 tumblr_inline_mqznzssqzs1qz4rgpdays ago—no one had heard of. Now, it runs on one in five smart phones and is spreading like wildfire.

No phenomenon has ever spread across 20% of the population in 5 days. Not in the physical world—and not even in the digital realm. Edison’s gramophone and Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone are indisputably more crave worthy inventions than catching cartoon characters in imaginary balls. Yet, it took these earth shattering inventions twelve years to achieve market penetration.

Kitarian Game on Star Trek Next Generation

A quick pleasure? Use your thoughts to slide the red disks into the funnels.

The Tienanmen Square tank boy and the blue dress (I still claim that it is gold and white) are just bits and pixels. Yet, even these touchstone photographs spread across the country slower than the current Pokémon Go craze.

And just like the eyeglass-mounted game on the Enterprise, Pokémon Go taps directly into the pleasure center causing players to lose sense of where they are and what they had set out to accomplish. How can I be so sure of it’s nefarious capacity for mind control? After just five days, it is implicated in malware scams and armed robberies. It is every bit as addictive as crack cocaine, and possibly as destructive.

Forcibly tapping Wesley’s pleasure center via a game

Forcibly tapping Wesley’s pleasure center via a game

Do you think I’m kidding? When people are addicted to a VR app, bending their will is not difficult. Just ask 1,014 Star Trek crew members who were hypnotized and repuposed by a Ktarian mind control game. If it hadn’t been for the quick thinking of Wesley Crursher and his girlfriend, Ensign Robin Lefler (played by Ashley Judd), we’d all be speaking Ktarian today!


Postscript: This article is more about a Star Trek episode than it is about a new game app. I have always wanted to write a short post about a terrific television franchise that has touched so many people across three generations and all continents. The sudden spread of a new Internet sensation has simply given me the excuse to do so. Just like “Blink of an Eye”, The Game is indelibly written into my psyche. The parallels with an addictive new game that even captivates my AirBnB guest, Javier, and my neighbor, Lois, is eerie and raises questions about the causes, mechanisms and effects of mind control.

Samsung Pay: Advantage over Apple & Google

When I got my new Samsung Galaxy S7 phone, I was lured into trying Samsung Pay. Samsung offered a $30 debit card for trying the wireless payment feature by the end of the month. I bought my phone on March 31 at about 9:30 PM. After driving back to my town, it was already 10:30 PM. Where can I find a place equipped with the latest point-of-sale equipment?

Samsung Pay lets users pay at a register without pulling plastic from a wallet. Just swipe up the app from the bottom of the phone (images of stored credit cards slide across the screen) and wave the phone near a credit card terminal. My authentication is my thumb. The fingerprint scanner built into the phone’s home button is considerably faster than the one on my daughter’s iPhone.

I had assumed that Samsung Pay was essentially identical to Apple Pay and Google Wallet. That is, I assumed that it used the NFC antenna to transmit a short range radio signal into the point-of-sale terminal—or perhaps a Bluetooth or WiFi signal. After all, the three technologies are all built into my new phone. Even my 3 year old Galaxy S4 has these three technologies.

But one thing puzzled me. At a local, all-night pizza shop, the POS system was at least 15 years old. It was an early Veriphone terminal with samsug_galaxy_s7no chip reader, no internet capabilities and an ancient RS-232 cable connecting it to the cash register. It seemed unlikely that NFC or Bluetooth was available for such a relic, even as an aftermaket upgrade. The shop owner agreed that I would have to reach for a real credit card.

Of course, this bothered me, because it was now less than 70 minutes to midnight. I had just purchased a shiny, new phone and the incentive for trying Samsung Pay was about to expire. How many retailers or restaurants are are open on a weekend at midnight? And how many would have a the new payment gear on premises?

Amazingly, when I placed my phone on the old card card reader at the pizza shop, both my phone and the cash register confirmed that I had just paid. I even received an instant message from American Express with a receipt for the pizza! (What?!!). I had seen the TV commercial starring Hannibal Buress even before I bought my new phone, but the main point—that Samsung Pay does not require new equipment nor even a tech savvy merchant—had apparently sailed over my head. 

I thought that this was a fluke. Perhaps someone had installed the new feature into the pizza shop equipment during a maintenance visit. But in the weeks that followed, I used Samsung Pay at even more antiquated cash registers. It even works with a cheap plastic reader plugged into the headphone jack of older phone (see photo). Even more puzzling, many of these merchants had no WiFi and my Bluetooth was turned off. How the heck did it work?!

There is no way that these sellers had NFC or other radio gizmos to accept payment. Yet, there it was! Each time I waived my phone at an ancient cash register, I received an instant receipt from the bank processor over the carrier network. As far as I could tell, it was the only network in the building. No one could explain how my phone had communicated with the old equipment—even with all radios disabled.

Tonight, I came across this article in a Samsung newsletter. It turns out that the ability to communicate with very old equipment really is magic!               [continue below photo]…

Samsung Pay even works with the free Square Reader

Samsung Pay even works with the free Square Reader

Last year, Samsung purchased LoopPay for about $250 million. That company figured out how to create a modulated magnetic field (they call it Magnetic Secure Transmission). A magnetic field emanates from the phone into the mag pickup head within the a card swipe slot (it’s actually a tape-recorder read head tucked into each card reader). The POS terminal thinks that a plastic credit card is being swiped through the payment slot! Amazing!!!

cassette_adapterIt reminds me of the cassette adapters that folks would stuff into car stereos before car makers added audio inputs, USB and Bluetooth. The audio quality is considerably better than using an FM transmitter, because, with the adapter, two polished magnetic tape heads were placed in direct contact with each other. Samsung Pay (formerly LoopPay) figured out how to couple the magnetic data at distance and in any orientation. Cool, guys!…I am really impressed.

Samsung Pay is compatible with almost every pay station in the universe. In theory, you could even use it at an ATM, although I suspect that the software would have to enable it for that purpose. It is the most clever use of backward compatibility and extending the investment of legacy infrastructure that I have encountered.

Is San Bernardino iPhone fully Encrypted?

Here is a question that keeps me up at night…

Is the San Bernardino iPhone just locked or is it properly encrypted?

Isn’t full encryption beyond the reach of forensic investigators? So we come to the real question: If critical data on the San Bernardino iPhone is properly encrypted, and if the Islamic terrorist who shot innocent Americans used a good password, then what is it that the FBI thinks that Apple can do to help crack this phone? Doesn’t good encryption thwart forensic analysis, even by the FBI and the maker of the phone?

iphone-01In the case of Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone, the FBI doesn’t know if the shooter used a long and sufficiently unobvious password. They plan to try a rapid-fire dictionary attack and other predictive algorithms to deduce the password. But the content of the iPhone is protected by a closely coupled hardware feature that will disable the phone and even erase memory, if it detects multiple attempts with the wrong password. The FBI wants Apple to help them defeat this hardware sentry, so that they can launch a brute force hack—trying thousands of passwords each second. Without Apple’s help, the crack detection hardware could automatically erase incriminating evidence, leaving investigators in the dark.

Mitch Vogel is an Apple expert. As both a former police officer and one who has worked with Apple he succinctly explains the current standoff between FBI investigators and Apple.


The iPhone that the FBI has is locked with a passcode and encrypted. It can only be decrypted with the unique code. Not even Apple has that code or can decrypt it. Unlike what you see in the movies, it’s not possible for a really skilled hacker to say “It’s impossible“” and then break through it with enough motivation. Encryption really is that secure and it’s really impossible to break without the passcode.

What the FBI wants to do is brute force the passcode by trying every possible combination until they guess the right one. However, to prevent malicious people from using this exact technique, there is a security feature that erases the iPhone after 10 attempts or locks it for incrementally increasing time periods with each attempt. There is no way for the FBI (or Apple) to know if the feature that erases the iPhone after 10 tries is enabled or not, so they don’t even want to try and risk it.

oceans_of_data-sSo the FBI wants Apple to remove that restriction. That is reasonable. They should, if it is possible to do so without undue burden. The FBI should hand over the iPhone to Apple and Apple should help them to crack it.

However, this isn’t what the court order is asking Apple to do. The FBI wants Apple to create software that disables this security feature on any iPhone and give it to them. Even if it’s possible for this software to exist, it’s not right for the FBI to have it in their possession. They should have to file a court order every single time they use it. The FBI is definitely using this situation as an opportunity to create a precedent and give it carte blanche to get into any iPhone without due process.

So the answer to your question is that yes it is that secure and yes, it’s a ploy by the FBI. Whether it’s actually possible for Apple to help or not is one question and whether they should is another. Either way, the FBI should not have that software.

The New Era of Virtual Reality

A Wild Duck guest editorial

Richelle Ross-sRichelle Ross is a sophomore at the University of Florida, focusing on statistics and data science. As a crypto consultant, she educates far beyond the campus. Her insight on the evolution and future of Bitcoin has been featured in national publications. Richelle writes for CoinDesk, LinkedIn, and Quora, providing analysis on Bitcoin’s evolving economy.


In 2003, I remember going to see my first IMAX 3D film,
Space Station . My family was touring NASA at Cape Canaveral Florida. The film was an inside view into life as an astronaut enters space. As the astronauts tossed M&Ms to each other in their new gravity-free domain, the other children and space_station_1I gleefully reached our hands out to try and touch the candy as it floated towards us. I had never experienced anything so mind-blowing in my 7 year life. The first 3D film was released in 1922. Yet, surprisingly, flat entertainment has dominated screens for in the 9½ decades that followed. Only a handful of films have been released in 3D—most of them are animated. But now, we are gradually seeing a shift in how people experience entertainment. As methods evolve and as market momentum builds, it promises to be one of the most groundbreaking technologies of the decade. I foresee Virtual Reality reaching a point where our perception of virtual and real-life experiences becomes blurred—and eventually—the two become integrated.

Ever since pen was put to paper, and camera to screen, audiences have enjoyed being swept into other worlds. For those of us “dreamers” being able to escape into these stories is one way we live through and expand our understanding of other times and places—even places space_station_2that may not be accessible in our lifetimes. Virtual reality is the logical progression and natural evolution of these experiences.

I caught the VR bug after one of my Facebook contacts was posting about it and sharing 360 degree videos that were of no use to me unless I too had the headset. Having been a Samsung user for the last several years, I purchased the Samsung VR headset to understand what all the hype was. Just as with my childhood experience visiting the space station, the VR Introduction video sent me floating across the universe. But this time, it was much more compelling. I could turn my head in any direction and experience a vast heavenly realm in 3D vision and tied to my own movements. Behind me was a large planet and in front were dozens of asteroids slowly moving by.

Similar to visiting the Grand Canyon, this is one of those novel experiences you really have to experience to appreciate. Within about ten seconds of trying it out, I had become hooked. I realized that I was experiencing something with far greater potential than an amusement park roller coaster, yet I also recognized that any applications I might imagine barely scratch the surface. This unexpected adrenaline rush is what leads tinkerers to the imaginative leaps that push new technologies into the next decades ahead.

Video games are probably the industry everyone thinks of being affected by this new paradigm. I immediately thought about the Star Wars franchise with its ever expanding universe. It will be a pretty exciting day when you can hold a lightsaber hilt that comes to life when you wear a headset and allows you to experience that universe from your living room. You could even wear a sensored body suit that allows you to feel little zaps or vibrations during gameplay. With more connected devices, the possibility of Li-Fi replacing Wi-Fi and so on, video games are just scratching the surface.

I discussed what the future of VR could offer with Collective Learning founder, Dan Barenboym. We explored various difficulties that impede market adoption. Barenboym was an early enthusiast of virtual reality, having worked with a startup that plans to deploy full-body scanners that give online life to gamers. The project began long before the film Avatar. Berenboym suggests ways that this dan_barenboym_5624swould improve online shopping by allowing people to see their avatar with their own personal measurements in various outfits. This doesn’t have to be limited to at-home experiences though. Dan suggests that instead of walking into the boutique changing room, you walk into one with mirrors connected to VR software. Your reflection ‘tries on’ different virtual outfits before you pull your favorite one off the store rack.

We also discussed the current obstacles of VR like the headset itself, which is a hindrance in some respects as it is a bit uncomfortable to wear for prolonged use. The other looming issue is money. There are many ideas similar to the ones we brainstormed, but startups may struggle to get off the ground without sufficient funding. The Oculus Rift is one great example of how crowdfunding can help entrepreneurs launch their ideas. It is easier than ever before to share and fund great ideas through social networking.

Facebook creator, Mark Zuckerberg, shared his own vision in 2014 after acquiring the Oculus Rift. Zuckerberg eloquently summarized the status of where we’re headed:

Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones. The future is coming and we oculus_rifthave a chance to build it together.”

What could this mean for the social networking that Zuckerberg pioneered? I’d venture to say the void of a long distance relationship may be eased with VR immersion that allows you to be with your family at the click of a button. You could be sitting down in your apartment in the U.S., but with the help of a 360 camera, look around at the garden that your mother is tending to in the U.K. The same scenario could be applied to a classroom or business meeting. We already have global and instant communication, so it will serve to add an enriched layer to these interactions.

The concept of reality itself is probably the biggest factor that makes virtual reality so captivating. Reality is not an objective experience. Each of us has a perspective of the world that is colored by our childhood experiences, personality, and culture. Our inner dialogues, fantasies of who we want to become, and areas of intelligence determine so much of what we’re able to accomplish and choose to commit to outside of ourselves. Michael Abrash describes how VR works with our unconscious brain perceptions to make us believe we’re standing on the edge of a building that isn’t really there. At a conscious level, we accept that we are staring at a screen, but our hearts still race—based on an unconscious perception of what is happening. Tapping into this perception-changing part of our brain allows us to experience reality in new ways.

As VR becomes more mainstreamed and incorporated into all areas of our lives such as online shopping, socializing, education, recreation, etc., the degrees of separation from the real world that society applies to it will lessen. Long-term, the goal for VR would be to allow us to use any of our senses and body parts. We should see continued improvements in the graphics and interaction capabilities of VR, allowing for these experiences to feel as real as they possibly can.

One can only imagine the new vistas this powerful technology will open—not just for entertainment, but for education, medicine, working in hazardous environments or controlling machines at a distance. Is every industry planning to incorporate the positive potential of virtual reality? If not, they certainly should think about the potential. As long as we pay attention to present day needs and issues, engineering virtual reality in the Internet of Things promises to be a fantastic venture.

Author’s Note:

Feedback from Wild Ducks is important. I’ll be back from time to time. Drop me a note on the comment form, or better yet, add your comment below. Until then, perhaps we will meet in the virtual world.

— RR

Ex-NSA Boss says FBI is Wrong on Encryption

What happens if the National Park Service fences off scenic lookout points at the Grand Canyon’s south rim near the head of the Bright Angel trail? Would it prevent the occasional suicide jumper? Not a chance. (The National Park Service tried this in the mid 1980s). People will either gore themselves on fences and posts or they will end their lives on the road in a high speed automobile, putting others at risk. Either way, tourists will be stuck with looking at the North Rim and the Colorado River through prison bars.

Let’s move from analogy to reality. What happens if you jam cell phone signals on tunnels and bridges. Will it stop a terrorist from remotely detonating a bomb? No. But it will certainly thwart efforts to get rescue and pursuit underway. And what about personal encryption?…

Gadgets and apps are finally building encryption into their wares by default. Does a locked-down iPhone or the technology that businesses use to secure trade secrets and plan strategy among colleagues enable criminals. Not even close. But if the FBI criminalizes encryption, they cripple the entire American economy. After all, the Genie is already out of the lamp.

Bear with me for just one more analogy (I’m still reaching for the right one): Criminalizing kitchen knives will make cooking impossible and the criminals will still have knives.

A Wild Duck has not previously linked to a media article. I am proud of our all-original content and clear statement of opinions. But in this case, I could not have said it better myself. (Actually, I have said it this all along: End-to-end encryption is a good thing for government, businesses and individuals alike. It is communications and storage empowerment.)

With this article, you will see that the former NSA director gets it. The current FBI director hasn’t a clue. Ah, well…That’s OK. Some concepts are subtle. For some politicians, an understanding of the practical, personal and sociological implications requires decades of exposure and post-facto reflection.

Memo to FBI director, Jim Comey: Get your head out of the sand and surround yourself with advisers who can explain cause and effect.


, Jan 13, 2016)encryption

Encryption protects everyone’s communications, including terrorists. The FBI director wants to undermine that. The ex-NSA director says that’s a terrible idea.

The FBI director wants the keys to your private conversations on your smartphone to keep terrorists from plotting secret attacks.

But on Tuesday, the former head of the U.S. National Security Agency…

Read the full article at CNN Money
http://money.cnn.com/2016/01/13/technology/nsa-michael-hayden-encryption/

Amazon throws perceived threats under the bus

In an incredibly head-scratching move, Amazon has announced that streaming video gadgets that fail to support the full implementation of Amazon Prime will be forbidden for sale at Amazon, even by their partners. This includes Apple TV and Google Chromecast—both of which are more popular than Amazon Fire TV.

amazon-logo-black-sAmazon claims that the withdrawal of streaming devices that don’t fully support their own service will mitigate customer confusion.

Bullsh*t!

No one buying these devices is confused. If this were really about buyer confusion—and not blatant trade suppression—they would simply publish a big, fat comparison checklist on the home page.

Just how dumb does Bezos think his customers are? This is about as smart as Google suppressing any search results that mentions Bing. After all, we don’t want to foster a confused user, right?! But Google recognizes that taking the high ground fosters more trust than blocking your competitors at the door.

What’s next, Jeff? Why don’t you remove apps that stream security footage from private companies, but are not compatible with an upcoming Amazon project? How about de-listing all Android phones and tablets? After all, they might promote confusion with Amazon’s Kindle and Fire products.

amazon bans streaming devicesWhy not suppress all Apple and Microsoft products? After all, Siri and Cortana still have a market edge over Alexa—the persona and research wit of Amazon’s voice controlled speaker.

And what about wireless HDMI? After all, Chromecast is not really a streaming service platform. It’s more of an extension cord that uses web streaming to mimic a video cable.

I suspect that there will be law suits in response to the Amazon decision to de-list hardware vendors who are not licensees and partners. But despite Amazon’s broad and heretofore inclusive offerings, I also suspect that courts will not force them to offer competing products. After all, these products have many outlets. Moreover, Amazon could rightfully point out that Google and Apple don’t sell the Fire TV in their own web stores.

But here’s the thing, Amazon: Selling Chromecast and Apple TV do not constitute promoting competition. Amazon is in many businesses, and one of these businesses is online retailing. In this area, you have deftly scrambled to the top of the heap. You didn’t get there by suppressing competition—you got there through brains, guts and striking innovation.

Amazon Fire TV

Amazon Fire TV: We’re not confused. Please compete on merits and marketing.

Despite the legality of Amazon’s move, it is an incredibly shortsighted blunder. After all, Amazon is not running a storefront for branded merchandise and a few compatible accessories. They are shopping cart to the Earth. The king of retailers. They compete in a rarefied atmospheric aura with only two pretenders to the throne: Aliexpress and Ebay. In fact, they trump everyone else together. They are that significant.

Wise up, friend. Wise up Jeff! It’s healthy to look over your shoulder, but debasing the core mission of selling every legal product makes no sense at all. Suddenly, my go-to place is a competitive censor. For such a bright guy, you have made an incredible blunder. Time to retrench. Time to show a little respect to your customers and your biggest supporters.

…Including me.

The Arrogance of Apps

online_formYesterday, I filled in an online form hosted by a government agency. The PDF form didn’t allow me to save a partially completed form to my drive, but it was easy to do by simply printing it through a PDF driver. But, filling in data was quick and simple with just the free Acrobat Reader that is available on virtually any platform. (It won’t surprise me if Adobe releases of an Acrobat client for the Apple Watch).

I appreciated that I could fill in the form online, but because of my urgent need for a notarized original, I was under the gun to get the form filled, printed, signed, notarized and delivered to a courthouse.

But wait! Perhaps I don’t need to do all those things. I was delighted to find that the government web site would accept my electronic signature during the online session. I could sign the form with a registered Adobe ID and a an image file of my real signature.
I had created an Adobe ID to sign a document in the past and I recalled using the signature feature. With just a bit of digging, I found my ID and password — Acrobat already knew where to find the image of my signature.

But something irking happened after signing the online form. WIth every subsequent boot up of my PC, Adobe Creative Cloud was loaded and running.Adobe Acrobat It placed an icon in the task bar tray; the icon cluster next to the clock with in which a user can select options for running apps.

Since I had previously used the signature feature, there must be other factors that led to new startup behavior. Either Adobe changed their launch policy, or perhaps it was related to my recent upgrade to Windows 10, or perhaps Creative Cloud wasn’t tied to the PDF signature feature in the past. Either way, I figured that I could stop Creative Cloud from launching when I start my PC by simply un-ticking a configuration option.

I was certainly not prepared for what I discovered…

  1. There is no way to disable start-up at boot without signing into an online service.
    (Who owns this PC? Me—or Adobe?)
  2. Since I had never used Adobe Creative Cloud, I had no ID—at least none that I recalled. The ID for my PDF signature was not the correct one.
  3. I could override start-up behavior with MS-Config, a system utility that suppresses startup, but leaves the launch command intact. But this results in a custom boot state intended for analysis and diagnostics. I shouldn’t have to use a system override, simply because Adobe demands that users love their app.

Sure—it’s just a command placed with arrogance by a software vendor. I could suppress it or uninstall the entire application. But still, it raised my blood pressure to know that Adobe thinks they are my mother. They know what’s better for me than I do. In their effort to demonstrate a product ecosystem that rivals Microsoft or Google, they feel supremely entitled to shove a product suite down my throat.

How can a big, reputable vendor be so arrogant and indifferent? In addition to collecting and transmitting data to the mother ship, running unwanted apps steals processor & memory resources and opens up users to new terms and conditions?

Apparently, I am not the only one frustrated by Adobe’s design arrogance. Other users of the Adobe support forum are just as irked as I am.
Of course, this behavior is not unique to Adobe. You see it all the time.

Adobe logo-stResist the Temptation

I was CEO of an email and antispam service for 10 years. We aced expert reviews and were awarded PC Magazine Editor’s Choice for email security. Our service used a local, client app through which mail was filtered. During product-release review, I fought hard to get developers and marketers to back down from demanding that the app be installed without explicit action from the user, loaded without explicit directive and constantly running without the user choosing this behavior explicitly.

Most importantly, I fought to make it quick and simple to disable or uninstall our software. But it was a lonely fight. Software engineers and marketing gurus felt that the need for our product was universal and obvious—on par with any critical OS process. When you consider that we had invested 3 years and millions of dollars in our nifty, little invention, the vociferous justification for arrogance almost seemed to make sense:

  • Why would anyone want to shut down or uninstall our incredibly valuable service?
  • Think of our user’s security. There is danger in failing to launch!
  • Lions, Tiger’s and Bears (Oh, My!)
  • We know better than our users.

In effect, my product team was echoing Danny DeVito’s famous line from Matilda, “I’m smart—You’re dumb! And there’s nothing you can do about it” In the end, it was I who came across as arrogant—at least to my team. Refusing to let the decision be decided by a vote. I vetoed the always on behavior using the executive authority of my office.

IAdobe Creative Cloud had originally titled this article “The Arrogance of Software Engineers”, but after talking with individuals who shared my experience, I realized that it is not necessarily an engineer or marketing manager who pushes for the arrogant decision Often, it is a product manager, a corporate officer or one of the founders.

If I could interdict design arrogance it at my small SAS company, then I am certain Adobe can do a better job. Please guys—You design excellent software and Creative Cloud is a masterpiece of holistic engineering. But check your ego at the door and get over yourselves. The decision of always running is not yours to make. Disabling or uninstalling an app should never require an online account or a password. Please do the right thing. It might even mitigate the frustration of users who rebel against your move to host every utilitarian app in the cloud. [Or this one, or this one]

My rant is not about you, Adobe—It is about the insipid ethos that arises naturally with hard work and pride. If you need a fresh, outside eyeball on your review board for software updates, feel free to contact me. I would be honored to be an acid test for any hidden and lingering arrogance.

Who Runs the HEVC/H.265 Patent Pool?

Summer 2018 Update (3 years later):

HEVC Advance is heeding our advice. And *blush*—this blog has played a role in their new strategy. Three years after we published the criticism below, we noticed that 70% of visitors to this article originate from within the Boston organization or from IP addresses associated with patent pool members. The patent licensing changes have a striking resemblance to our recommendations.


Manufacturers of high-def Blu-ray players, 4K TVs, video streaming devices, cloud media vendors, software developers, and virtually all mobile gadgets are receiving an invoice, and it is a shocker. It’s not just the amount of the bill that is staggering, it’s what is demanded of them—facts and calculations that could be almost as costly to compile.

The question asked in the title is rhetorical, of course. Lawyers run HEVC Advance, which is the licensing consortium for the H.265 patent pool. But according to one industry analyst, the lawyers have not consulted with streaming services, and their licensing model is completely unworkable. I agree.

h_265_hevcH.265 is a new international standard for high-efficiency video compression. Backed by two major standards bodies and a plenitude of brand-name tech companies, the technology also goes by the name x265 or HEVC (high efficiency video encoding). Compared to H.264 (the standard for DVDs and streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube,[1] it reduces file size and mobile bandwidth by 35~50% depending on content. Adherents claim that this the coding efficiency will have a floor of at least 50% once the full feature set is baked into codecs.

H.265 is open source, but it is not free. It is the product of slew of inventors and other intellectual talent. Therefore, software developers and gadget manufacturers (especially companies that make TVs and video streaming devices) have been awaiting word on the royalty fee and licensing terms.

HEVC-EncodeThere are four recognized players in the market to supersede H.264, but most of manufacturers are backing either HEVC or a free encoder from Google called VP9. Ever since HEVC Advance published their licensing requirements last week, VP9 is looking a lot more attractive.

This past week, HEVC Advance published the royalty structure for anyone that wants to bake the growing market for HEVC into their products and services. The problem is that instead of sending their bill to the device manufacturer, they want a piece of every single film, game, video or graphic that is sold. They want 0.5%, and they want this royalty backdated to the first use of a standard that was ratified 2 years ago.

0.5% may not sound like much, but here’s the rub: They want it on content rather than technology.

First, it is a staggering amount when you consider that the market is set to explode—even more than it did for the previous standard H.264. That’s because few people plan to purchase video on DVDs. They want it streamed, much of it wireless, and with the very smallest bandwidth possible. The market is measured in the billions of dollars, even within the US alone.

But the structure of their licensing demands is worse than the land grab. Rather than attach to the device or user application, they seek to tax content hosts, forcing them to determine the fraction of video sales, rental or streaming services that use the new encoding technology. And they want a share of every video that is processed or streamed with a consumer standard. They fail to realize that taxing the flow rather than the vendor or pipe layer is not the way to ignite the adoption of a universally accepted consumer standard. In fact, it is stifling.

Dan Rayburn at streamingmedia.com discusses the nuances and futility of imposing an attorney-crafted bureaucracy on a burgeoning pivot point for consumer technology. His damning observations are clear and articulate. But ultimately, it boils down to a simple children’s story. If you kill a goose that lays golden eggs, you cannot harvest eggs. Lawyers fill a vital role. I am not against lawyers. But they are incapable of thinking in simple terms.                                               [continue below image]…

hevc-sIf the HEVC licensing authority holds its position, it will be a pity for everyone: artists & content owners, streamers & other content providers, hardware manufacturers and consumers. H.265 is a great standard backed by an outstanding collaborative effort. Just a week ago, there was terrific potential for market unification, bandwidth reduction, storage savings, and an array of high-quality video services. BD-BR measurements give HEVC the edge in coding efficiency and the playback load is very light.

Although I could live with a half-percent delivery tax (or consumption tax, depending upon your view), it would result in a fragmented market. It hints at a bureaucracy that rivals the IRS. Ultimately the inventors will collect a tiny fraction of the potential. But the deal stopper is the effort to collect with a requisite fractional-calculation of the sales, rental and share-allocated revenue.

The market for next-generation video encoding is just starting to approach that critical adoption knee in which a 2-sided network floats all boats. We are on the precipice of a multi-billion dollar market. But now, Google—the visionary in this gambit—has the upper hand. If I could talk with lawyers at HEVC Advance, I would help them to navigate deployment dynamics and fundamental network economics…

But like Dan Rayburn, I would prefer a conversation directly with the technology stakeholders. They stand to enjoy a stunning return with a more reasonable model (reasonable on the Laffer curve and reasonable in implementation architecture). My suggestion: Take a royalty from the sales of hardware and application codecs, but not content volume. A fair model that rewards innovation while freeing explosive growth would be crafted like this:

Wild Duck Royalty Proposal

• 0.1% of software codecs within revenue-software applications or processes
• 0.15% of playback codecs built into hardware devices, [2]
• $2 or 0.15% for each encoding process or hardware device, whichever is higher [3]
(#2 and #3 are additive, for any device that encodes)

• 0.1% of paid apps that are extensible (those that support plug-ins or open source codecs) [4]

• Free – Personal reference app (published by patent consortium). It supports stand-alone video playback
Passport-s-T• Free – Hosting or distribution Content encoded with H.265

I challenge HEVC Advance to run the numbers for any believable growth curve. This formula is not only more palatable, auditable, enforceable, and reasonable, it also delivers higher lifetime revenue to patent stakeholders. More importantly, it makes them the good guys.

Hey, HEVC Advance! I want you to succeed. Reach out to me. Use the contact link at the top of this page.

[Ellery Davies is editor of AWildDuck.com. He is also CEO &
Co-Chair of CRYPSA, a recognized standards organization]


[1] Until recently, most YouTube content was encoded in FLV. Currently, YouTube plans to support it’s own open-source VP9, but is leaving open the possibility of supporting H.265 which is licensed by HEVC Advance.

[2] The proposed royalty applies to any hardware device or app that advises or suggests the download of HEVC plug-in or compatible routine.

[3] $2 or 0.15% of sales, whichever is higher, but the fixed fee is reduced to no more than 6% of the hardware value. Up to 16 cores in a single gadget, PC, or device less than 1 cu feet not including external display.

This stacks on top of playback royalty. So, for example, if an video player application can open an x264 video and save as x265, it would pay a royalty of 0.1 or 0.15% (for the playback codec) and $2 or 0.15% for the encoding feature, whichever is more.

[4] For apps that do not include HEVC, it would be difficult to collect a royalty, of course. But developers of x265 plug-ins and helper apps would be liable.