On Apple and the FBI

If you pay attention to tech/policy stories, then surely you know about the Apple/FBI situation. Though this story has been broadly covered, I don’t think we’re having the right debate. And the right debate is, of course, very subtle. So here goes my attempt to nail that subtlety. What’s Going On? The FBI wants access to a particular criminal/terrorist’s iPhone. They have a warrant. The iPhone is locked, and if the FBI tries a few bad PIN codes, the phone will erase its data as a defense mechanism. Also, iPhones are programmed to slow down password attempts after a few … Continue reading On Apple and the FBI

Letter to My Two Sons – November 13th, 2015

[this is a little bit raw… on purpose.] My sons, You are just 6 and 3, and so you don’t know what happened tonight. A group of suicide bombers killed 150 people in Paris, your father’s hometown. The feeling in my gut today is much like the one I felt on that Tuesday in September 2001, as I tried to get to my office in TriBeCa, shell-shocked people on the street walking past me, thousands of dead in the rubble. Profound sadness, deep anger, frustration, and powerlessness. And this nagging feeling that one of the victims could, under slightly different circumstances, … Continue reading Letter to My Two Sons – November 13th, 2015

the responsibility we have as software engineers

I had the chance to chat this week with the very awesome Kate Heddleston who mentioned that she’s been thinking a lot about the ethics of being a software engineer, something she just spoke about at PyCon Sweden. It brought me back to a post I wrote a few years ago, where I said: There’s this continued and surprisingly widespread delusion that technology is somehow neutral, that moral decisions are for other people to make. But that’s just not true. Lessig taught me (and a generation of other technologists) that Code is Law […] In 2008, the world turned against bankers, … Continue reading the responsibility we have as software engineers

ben@clever

This week, I joined Clever as VP Engineering. Clever makes K-12 education software vastly more efficient and effective by simplifying how students and teachers log in. It’s this simple: imagine if you could give teachers and students 10-15 minutes back in every single class. That’s 30-40% more time for actual teaching and learning. That’s what Clever does today, with much more in the works. I’m incredibly excited about this new adventure, and I want to gush a bit. Priorities My priorities in work are: people mission product People – strong contributors who know how to work in teams that accomplish … Continue reading ben@clever

(your) information wants to be free – obamacare edition

My friends over at EFF just revealed that Healthcare.gov is sending personal data to dozens of tracking sites: It’s especially troubling that the U.S. government is sending personal information to commercial companies on a website that’s touted as the place for people to obtain health care coverage. Even more troubling is the potential for companies like Doubleclick, Google, Twitter, Yahoo, and others to associate this data with a person’s actual identity. The referenced AP story uses even more damning language: The government’s health insurance website is quietly sending consumers’ personal data to private companies that specialize in advertising and analyzing … Continue reading (your) information wants to be free – obamacare edition

managing photos and videos

This holiday, I finally spent time digging into how I manage photos and videos. With 2 young kids and some remote family and friends, this requires a good bit of thinking and planning. I know I’m not the only one, so I figured documenting where I landed might be useful to others. I started with Dave Liggat’s Robust Photo Workflow, and found much of it resonates with my needs. Here’s where I landed: I take photos with a DSLR and two phones. My wife takes photos with her phone. We both take videos with our phones. We use Dropbox/Carousel auto-upload, which works … Continue reading managing photos and videos

Power & Accountability

So there’s this hot new app called Secret. The app is really clever: it prompts you to share secrets, and it sends those secrets to your social circle. It doesn’t identify you directly to your friends. Instead, it tells readers that this secret was written by one of their friends without identifying which one. The popularity of the app appears to be off the charts, with significant venture-capital investment in a short period of time. There are amazing stories of people seeking out emotional support on Secret, and awful stories of bullying that have caused significant uproar. Secret has recently … Continue reading Power & Accountability

where the system eats itself

Larry Lessig just launched MayOne.us, the SuperPAC to end all SuperPACs. The idea is disarmingly simple: since SuperPACs funded by billionaires are corrupting politics, let’s crowd-source a SuperPAC funded by individuals, which will then work to put in power officials who answer to the people, maybe by undoing the whole SuperPAC insanity. Use a SuperPAC to kill all SuperPACs. This is a fascinating pattern that we’ve actually seen before. And it makes me very, very happy, because it is the ultimate policy hack. Take the GPL or the Apache License, two significant software licenses that make possible open-source and thus much of … Continue reading where the system eats itself

Obama lets NTSB exploit widespread tire vulnerabilities

Stepping into a heated debate within the nation’s transportation safety agencies, President Obama has decided that when the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) discovers major flaws in transportation equipment, it should — in most circumstances — reveal them to assure that they will be fixed, rather than keep mum so that the flaws can be used in espionage, senior administration officials said Saturday. But Mr. Obama carved a broad exception for “a clear national security or law enforcement need,” the officials said, a loophole that is likely to allow the NTSB to continue to exploit safety flaws to apprehend terrorist suspects … Continue reading Obama lets NTSB exploit widespread tire vulnerabilities

to Brendan and Mozilla

I was in the middle of writing a blog post about the controversy surrounding Mozilla when my Twitter feed exploded with the news that Brendan Eich stepped down from his new appointment as Mozilla CEO. So this is a different post. Also, this is not a post about Prop8 (which I abhored) or gay marriage (which I consider a basic civil right.) to Brendan There is little love lost between me and Brendan. We have different styles, and I butted heads with him in tech discussions on a regular basis while I was at Mozilla. He was, at times, infuriating. To be honest, he … Continue reading to Brendan and Mozilla