Apple May Have a Problem With That HealthKit Name

Photo: Apple

Photo: Apple

HealthKit already exists, and it doesn’t belong to Apple.

The HealthKit website and Twitter handle both belong to an Australian startup of the same name. It’s a global health platform connecting doctors and patients that’s ostensibly very similar to Apple’s planned iOS 8 platform. And while based in Australia, it has users in a variety of English-speaking countries, including the U.S.

The company isn’t too pleased with Apple’s name choice for its own health-focused services. “Feeling annoyed #Apple is using our #HealthKit name for their new health product! @tim_cook r u aware of this?,” @HealthKit tweeted just after midnight Pacific on Monday. The company followed that by tweeting “Apple likes our #HealthKit name and so do we!” and a retweet from another account saying that this HealthKit has been around far longer than iOS 8.

“It is very flattering that they like our name, but I’m a little let down because how hard would it have been to spend five seconds to put into their browser and find us?” Alison Hardacre, co-founder and managing director of HealthKit told WIRED. “Everybody worries that Google or Apple will come into their space and their business will die, but no one thinks that company will come into that space and use the same name!”

HealthKit bought its corresponding domain name, which Hardacre says is “too important to let go,” in early 2012. Apple hasn’t been in touch with the the company yet.

Prior to its Monday debut, HealthKit was referred to as HealthBook. Prolific breaker of Apple news Mark Gurman believes Apple switched the name from HealthBook to HealthKit at the last minute, in response to his early leaks. This sort of evidence does suggest he could be right. The fact that the domain, Twitter handle, and IP for the name don’t belong to Apple is unusual for the company, which often trademarks a slew of possible names to cover its bases (for the California names of OS X, Apple trademarked everything from Big Sur and Redwood to Yosemite. Apple has also trademarked “iWatch” in a number of countries).

The ownership of the HomeKit name is less clear. While the current website is basically a collection of “fresh gift ideas,” the site is owned by a California-based company called “Arch Holdings, Inc.” Apple will often buy websites and IP under the guise of another business name to avoid drawing attention to itself. The Twitter account of the same name is taken, but unused., by contrast, is owned by Lachlan Wheeler, the other cofounder of the Melbourne health company.

Hardacre says their website is seeing a huge surge of traffic since Apple’s announcement Monday, which, under other circumstances, would be a good thing. “It’s been so intensely hard to build this business,” Hardacre says. “We dont want to be trampled on by a big company like Apple.”

We reached out to Apple for comment but did not receive a reply in time for publication.

Google Renews Battle With the NSA by Open Sourcing Email Encryption Tool

Illustration: WIRED

Illustration: WIRED

Google is taking another step towards an internet that can stand up to snooping from the NSA.

Today, the company released the source code for a new web browser plugin that encrypts your email messages before they’re sent across the net. Dubbed End-to-End, the plugin aims prevent interlopers from reading messages even if they gain access to the computer servers that drive your web email service of choice. So, if you’re using Googles’s Gmail, it could thwart the NSA and other snoopers even if they have access to Google’s network.

The plugin isn’t yet available to the general public. The idea is for security researchers to heavily test the code before Google releases a completed version of the plugin that’s available to everyone. “The End-To-End team takes its responsibility to provide solid crypto very seriously, and we don’t want at-risk groups that may not be technically sophisticated–journalists, human-rights workers, et al–to rely on End-To-End until we feel it’s ready,” the company said in releasing the code. “Prematurely making End-To-End available could have very serious real world ramifications.”

Several other companies and independent open source projects are working on similar encryption tools, but this one has added heft because Google is behind it. Once it’s finished, End-to-End could be a big step forward for email privacy, but there are some big limitations, and critics say the tool could end up doing more harm than good.

A Google First

As Venture Beat first reported in April, the plugin will be based on the venerable encryption standard PGP, short for Pretty Good Privacy. Specifically, it will be based on OpenPGP, the same standard used by other open source implementations of PGP, such as GPG.

Using PGP, all messages are scrambled in such a way that, in theory, only the sender and intended recipient can open them. That means that even if the NSA intercepts your PGP encrypted messages from Google’s servers, they won’t be able to read it without the use your private key.

It’s already possible to use PGP with Gmail and other webmail services through a third-party plugin called Mailvelope, and Samsung’s Android phones have long included PGP encryption as an option with its stock email program. But this the first time Google has officially supported encrypting email.

The Limitations

This makes for good security, but it can also be inconvenient. For example, the End-to-End plugin will store your private keys on your local machine. That means if you want to use someone’s else’s computer, or a public machine, you’ll either need to import your keys or simply not use the service. Also, the keys will not be backed up or store on Google servers, according to the company’s online FAQ. That means that if you lose your key, or forget your passphrase, it’s gone forever.

What’s more, if you use End-to-End, any emails you encrypt won’t be instantly searchable. That’s a big problem with encryption in general. Though a new technique called homomorphic encryption could eventually solve this problem, it’s not something that’s built into OpenPGP today.

Plus, Google won’t be able to scan encrypted email messages in order to target advertising. Security expert Eleanor Saitta believes this may lead to Google to discourage most users from actively using encryption. She worries that the End-to-End may simply be a publicity stunt designed to keep Google’s engineers happy while scoring points with privacy advocates.

She also points out Google has history of abandoning projects that don’t make the company money, such as iGoogle and Google Reader. If activists come to rely on Google’s encryption tools, but those tools are discontinued, they will be left without crucial protections. “People live and die by the long-term success and failure of communication platforms — I mean that in a very literal sense,” she says. “You cannot put people in a position where they are depending on a software platform for life safety issues and then simply terminate it.”

The Competition

Her other worry is that the existence of Google’s own plugin may discourage people from building other alternatives, or make it harder for open source encryption projects to raise funds. For example, Mailpile raised over $100,000 last year to build a new open source email client that works with any email provider, including Gmail, and has PGP encryption baked in from the beginning. But it will need more funding eventually, and Saitta worries that potential backers may not be as motivated to contribute.

What’s more, she says, we need more than just this kind of message encryption. Although it’s possible to encrypt the contents of an email, it’s not possible to conceal who you’ve been sending email to or who you’ve received email from. That has led to the creation of many alternative messaging schemes, such as the chat encryption system Off The Record. Saitta has been working on another email alternative called Briar which does away with intermediary servers altogether, passing encrypted messages directly from device to device. Meanwhile, PGP creator Phil Zimmermann has teamed up with Ladar Levison of Lavabit–the email service Edward Snowden used–and other security researchers to create a new email protocol called Darkmail, but haven’t yet released any code publicly.

In short, there’s nothing that can replace email quite yet, and using email privately, for now, means using encryption. Google is a unique position to make it easier for people to use PGP, but we need more than just encrypted email if we want to keep our communications private. We also need clients like Mailpile and Thunderbird, as well as new ideas like Briar and Darkmail. And we still need people fighting for political change to stop the NSA and other government agencies to stop spying on civilians. Ultimately, we need as many people as possible working to protect our privacy. The new Google encryption is a welcome addition to the tool kit, and let’s hope there are more to come.

U.S. Marshals Seize Surveillance Records to Keep Them From ACLU


A routine request in Florida for public records regarding the use of a surveillance tool known as stingray took an extraordinary turn Tuesday when federal authorities seized the documents before police could release them.

The surprise move by the U.S. Marshals Service stunned the ACLU, which earlier this year filed a routine public records request with the Sarasota, Florida, police department for information detailing its use of the controversial surveillance tool.

The ACLU had an appointment Tuesday morning to review documents pertaining to a case investigated by a Sarasota police detective. But marshals swooped in at the last minute to grab the records, claiming they belong to the U.S. Marshals Service and barring the police from releasing them.

ACLU staff attorney Nathan Freed Wessler called the move “truly extraordinary and beyond the worst transparency violations” the group has seen regarding documents detailing police use of the technology.

“This is consistent with what we’ve seen around the country with federal agencies trying to meddle with public requests for stingray information,” Wessler said, noting that federal authorities have in other cases invoked the Homeland Security Act to prevent the release of such records. “The feds are working very hard to block any release of this information to the public.”

Stingrays, also known as IMSI catchers, simulate a cellphone tower and trick nearby mobile devices into connecting with them, thereby revealing their location. A stingray can see and record a device’s unique ID number and traffic data, as well as information that points to its location. By moving a stingray around, authorities can triangulate a device’s location with greater precision than is possible using data obtained from a carrier’s fixed tower location.

The records sought by the ACLU are important because the organization has learned that a Florida police detective obtained permission to use a stingray simply by filing an application with the court under Florida’s “trap and trace” statute instead of obtaining a probable-cause warrant. Trap and trace orders generally are used to collect information from phone companies about telephone numbers received and called by a specific account. A stingray, however, can track the location of cell phones, including inside private spaces.

The government has long asserted it doesn’t need a probable-cause warrant to use stingrays because the device doesn’t collect the content of phone calls and text messages, but instead operates like pen-registers and trap-and-traces, collecting the equivalent of header information. The ACLU and others argue that the devices are more invasive than a trap-and-trace.

Recently, the Sarasota police department revealed it had used stingrays at least 200 times since 2010 without telling a judge because the device’s manufacturer made it sign a non-disclosure agreement that police claim prevented them from telling the courts.

The U.S. Marshals Service claimed it owned the records Sarasota police offered to the ACLU because it had deputized the detective in the case, making all documentation in the case federal property. The agency dispatched a marshal from its office in Tampa to seize the records and move them to an undisclosed location.

The U.S. Marshals Service declined to comment, saying it “does not discuss pending litigation.”

Florida public records law requires that even if a dispute over records occurs, the Sarasota Police Department were legally obligated to hold onto the records for at least 30 days once they had received the ACLU’s request. That period would have given the ACLU a chance to argue their case in court to obtain the records.

“We’ve seen our fair share of federal government attempts to keep records about stingrays secret, but we’ve never seen an actual physical raid on state records in order to conceal them from public view,” the ACLU wrote in a blog post Tuesday morning.

The ACLU filed an emergency motion seeking a temporary injunction preventing the police department from releasing additional files to the marshals. The motion also asks the court to find the department in violation of state law for allowing the U.S. Marshals Service to seize the documents. The ACLU wants the court to order the police department to retrieve the documents. Because the ACLU filed the motion in a state court, the judge cannot directly order the U.S. Marshal Service to return the documents.

Preservation of wine without sulphite addition

A good glass of wine is a byword for quality of life -- and not just for connoisseurs. In order to avoid wine spoilage, wineries mostly add sulphur dioxide during the winemaking process. However, the sulphites that dissolve in wine can cause allergic reactions -- including asthma. Within the EU they must therefore be declared as an ingredient on the label and the limits for sulphites in wine have been reduced. Sulphites unfold their preservative action in two ways. On the one hand they inactivate microorganisms, such as unwanted yeasts, acetic acid bacteria and lactic acid bacteria, thus protecting wine from spoilage. Secondly, they act as antioxidants and protect delicate flavours against oxidation. Both effects ensure that wine is preserved and can be stored for ageing. Conventional alternative physical preservation methods such as filtration are suited for wine only to a limited extent, because they also remove colour and valuable flavours. Other methods operating at high temperatures, such as pasteurization, are unsuited as they destroy heat-sensitive ingredients.

A new method for preservation of liquid foods, working at moderate temperatures and therefore referred to as "cold pasteurization," is the so-called pressure change technology, which has been developed and patented by the Dresden company Edecto for fruit juice within the framework of a nationally funded project[1]. "The physical process has effects similar to those of sulphurization of the wine: growth of microorganisms is prevented because the cells are mechanically disrupted. In addition, the protective atmosphere of an inert gas decreases oxidation reactions, so drinks are stabilized," explains Edith Klingner, a physicist at Edecto, who coordinates the EU-funded project "PreserveWine-DEMO."

In the initial PreserveWine project, international partners including Edecto investigated whether the new method can also be applied to wine. At the Fraunhofer IGB a batch plant was modified and on the basis of initial results a continuous plant was developed and built. The TÜV-approved pilot plant can treat up to 120 litres of wine per hour at a pressure of 250 to 500 bar and at temperatures below 40°C. The results are promising for the treatment of white wine as well as red wine. "Unwanted oxidizing enzymes are inactivated, while neither temperature-sensitive ingredients nor colour and taste are altered by the treatment," confirms Dr. Ana Lucía Vásquez-Caicedo, food technologist and group manager at the Fraunhofer IGB.

In the pressure change technology a chemically inert gas, such as nitrogen or argon, is dissolved at high pressure in the liquid to be preserved. When the liquid is exposed to a high pressure of up to 500 bar, the solubility of the gas increases in the liquid. As a result, the dissolved gas also diffuses into the microbial cells. When the pressure is finally abruptly decreased, the gas expands -- even within the cells -- and causes these to burst. The previously dissolved gas then goes back into the gas phase and is recovered for reuse.

"In studies at the Fraunhofer IGB and our partner institute ADERA we have shown that the colour of the wine is maintained over time during storage in barrels or bottles. In wine tastings, we found that the taste is not affected," says Vásquez-Caicedo. The new preservation method can be used in different stages of wine production: after vinification (wine pressing) of white wine, after the alcoholic fermentation, after the malolactic fermentation employed mainly in red wine for acid degradation as well as when racking and filling.

In the follow-up project "PreserveWine-DEMO" the process will be transferred as a winery process to industrial scale. To this end, the researchers want to build a mobile plant that can be tested on site in various wineries. In parallel, the consortium aims to ensure product quality and process feasibility and wants to examine consumer acceptance of the new technology.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Bacterium causing U.S. catfish deaths has Asian roots

A bacterium causing an epidemic among catfish farms in the southeastern United States is closely related to organisms found in diseased grass carp in China, according to researchers at Auburn University in Alabama and three other institutions. The study, published this week in mBio®, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology, suggests that the virulent U.S. fish epidemic emerged from an Asian source.

Since 2009, catfish farming in Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas has been seriously impacted by an emerging strain of Aeromonas hydrophila, which causes Aeromonas septicemia in catfish. A serious infection that can cause death in as little as 12 hours, Aeromonas septicemia's clinical signs include skin lesions and blood loss.

Normally A. hydrophila, which can be found in both fresh and brackish water, only affects fish that are stressed or injured. But the newer strain has affected even apparently healthy fish with no obvious signs of duress, says senior study author Mark Liles, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Auburn. When initial tests of the diseased fish showed A. hydrophila was responsible, says Liles, scientists "didn't believe it at first, because the signs didn't match the more typical opportunistic infections in stressed fish that we associate with A. hydrophila." To date, disease outbreaks have been responsible for an estimated loss of more than $12 million in catfish aquaculture operations in the southeastern United States, he says.

Liles and colleagues studied the molecular epidemiology of the epidemic-causing A. hydrophila to try to trace its evolution. They compared samples of the bacteria to 264 known Aeromonas strains in an international database. Only one virulent strain came close to matching the one sampled from Alabama: ZC1, isolated from a diseased grass carp in China's Guangdong Province. ZC1 was isolated from fish that had experienced an epidemic outbreak atypical of Aeromonas infections.

Researchers also identified a less aggressive related A. hydrophila strain called S04-690, taken in 2004 from a diseased catfish in a commercial aquaculture pond in Mississippi. That strain caused a serious Aeromonas septicemia outbreak that killed thousands of catfish but did not result in an epidemic on neighboring farms.

Next, the scientists evaluated the evolutionary relationships of additional Chinese carp bacteria samples from epidemics in the Hubei Province in China. This revealed that all of the Chinese carp bacteria samples, including ZC1, group together with the recent U.S. epidemic samples of bacteria in catfish, suggesting that a common ancestor is responsible for the virulent A. hydrophila strains causing fish disease in both China and the United States. S04-690, from the Mississippi fish, also was found to be in the same group, related to both the U.S. catfish and Asian carp bacteria. However, it was genetically distinct from the other two strains. By contrast, A. hydrophila strains that do not cause epidemics are more heterogeneous.

Additional experiments found that isolated bacteria from diseased catfish in America and diseased carp in China shared alternate forms of 10 key 'housekeeping' genes required for basic cellular function.

It's not clear how the bacterium was introduced in America, Liles says. It could be from importing Asian carp to America for aquatic weed control, or from transporting ornamental fish or contaminated processed seafood products from Asia. The spread of disease among farms also is not fully understood but could result from birds that move from pond to pond eating catfish, or from harvesting equipment that may be insufficiently sanitized between uses.

Liles and other researchers are investigating means to control the spread of illness, including developing vaccines against the bacteria, and using medicated feed and/or probiotics. Meanwhile, he says, U.S. farmed catfish are safe to eat and pose no disease threat to humans due to strict standards regarding harvesting and processing of sick animals.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Society for Microbiology . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Facebook Embarks on Cross-Country Tour to Woo Small Businesses

Photo:Jon Snyder/WIRED

Photo: Jon Snyder/WIRED

One of the world’s biggest businesses is counting on small businesses for growth.

On Tuesday, Facebook kicked off a series of events for small business owners in the hopes of convincing more of them to start advertising and marketing on its popular social networking service. At the first so-called Facebook Fit event in New York City, Facebook’s small business director Dan Levy announced that there are now 30 million small businesses with active Facebook pages–that’s 5 million more than there were in the fourth quarter of 2013–but even as the number of pages has grown, only about 1 million of those small businesses are actually advertising on Facebook. That gap poses a big business opportunity for the tech giant.

At the same time, however, many businesses have been outraged by the fact that Facebook has been limiting their organic reach, meaning fewer people who “Like” a brand on Facebook actually see its posts. Valleywag recently reported that the tech giant could be cutting that reach to just 1 or 2 percent in an attempt to force more people to pay for ads in order to get exposure.

By hosting a road show like this, Facebook can simultaneously placate entrepreneurs by educating them on how to improve their reach without ads, while simultaneously leading those audiences of entrepreneurs to their paid products. “With organic reach we understand people’s frustration, and we understand people built businesses this way,” Levy told WIRED after the presentation. “We’re trying to explain what we did, so Facebook becomes a predictable place people can use to grow their business.”

The most predictable way, of course, is with advertising. Levy told the audience full of entrepreneurs story after story of how people have used Facebook’s advertising tools to grow their businesses. He told them about new products, like the custom audience feature, which allows businesses to import their lists of existing customers and send targeted Facebook ads to those people. The lookalike audience feature, another relatively new one, takes that one step further, allowing business owners to target ads to their existing customers as well as other customers who Facebook says are just like them.

Levy also touted Facebook’s Page Manager App, which gives businesses a way to track metrics on their pages for free. If a post is performing especially well, the app will suggest that the business owner pay to turn it into a promoted post, which gets more exposure. According to Levy, that’s the gateway to advertising for 70 percent of Facebook’s new advertisers.

Self-serving as this boot camp may seem for Facebook, though, it does has obvious benefits for small business owners, too. For starters, it’s a networking event, which includes panel discussions with business owners and marketing professionals who have built successful brands Facebook. Facebook–which is taking the event to Miami, Chicago, Austin, and the Bay Area next–is also hosting training sessions on how business owners can use the platform to increase sales online and in-stores. That, Levy says, was inspired by the ad hoc training sessions already being taught by business owners in meet-up groups around the country. “We realized we need to be out helping them more, because it’s what small businesses need to succeed,” he says, admitting, “It’s probably something we should have reaized a lot earlier.”

This Is The Best Mario Kart 8 Video Ever

With New Overnight Delivery, Google Confirms It Wants to Be Amazon

Image: Google

Image: Google

Less than a year after launching its Shopping Express service in Silicon Valley and San Francisco–delivering retail products straight to homes on the same day they’re ordered online–Google is muscling even farther into Amazon’s territory, offering overnight delivery across Northern California.

The search-giant-turned-internet-retailer announced the move on Tuesday. As with its same-day delivery service, which recently expanded to include parts of Los Angeles and New York, Google isn’t building Amazon-style warehouses to fill with its own inventory. Instead, orders will be filled by chain stores such as Target, Walgreens, Staples, and Whole Foods.

When Google started offering same-day delivery to the public last September, it felt more like a curiosity: With all its algorithmic, artificially intelligent might, what could Google possibly pull off in the physical world? But in expanding its range regionally and promising Amazon Prime-like delivery speeds, Google seems to be moving toward becoming a more conventional e-commerce competitor to Amazon. It’s a move that’s about money. If Google can actually deliver goods, maybe it can give shoppers a better reason to start product searches on its site instead of Amazon’s. The more shoppers Google attracts, the more incentive its advertisers have to keep buying ads.


The overnight service is available today in cities on the other side of the bay from San Francisco, including Oakland and Berkeley. Google says the service will expand over the next few months as far north as Crescent City along the Oregon border and south to Fresno and California’s Central Valley. In its blog post, Google calls out Big Sur and Yosemite as two prized wilderness destinations that will also be within the reach of company couriers. The company promises that any orders placed by 7:00 p.m. the night before will be delivered the next day.

By spreading its reach out beyond cities, Google is putting its point-to-point version of delivery to a much broader test. Amazon has perfected the art of shipping orders quickly from massive, centralized facilities. Logistics experts have questioned whether a decentralized model that uses retail stores designed for shopping can really work as substitutes for warehouses designed for shipping. But ultimately logistics is a math problem, and math is something Google is really good at.

Google is also likely continuing to seek ways to test out its growing fleet of self-driving cars. In an interview with The New York Times’ John Markoff, Google co-founder Sergey Brin didn’t rule out the possibility of using its new pod-shaped prototype vehicles for deliveries. But there’s a mundane problem, Brin conceded, that neither Google nor anyone else is close to solving: “The problem with the Google Express stuff,” he said, “is there is still the dude who gets out and puts stuff on the porch.”

An Amazingly Designed Kid’s App That Feels Alive

Presented by KIA

Protesters in Thailand Adopt Hunger Games Salute

Protesters use the Hunger Games salute during a protest this weekend in Bangkok.Photo: Sakchai Lalit/AP

Protesters use the Hunger Games salute during a protest last weekend in Bangkok.

Photo: Sakchai Lalit/AP

Fans of the popular book and film franchise The Hunger Games will recognize the hand signal instantly: the middle three fingers of the hand, raised to the sky. A gesture of resistance against the repressive government in the fictional world of Panem, it has now become a very real symbol of protest in Thailand at demonstrations against the junta that took power after the May 22 coup d’etat.

Crowds making the gesture have been pulled off the streets, according to reports, and a lone protestor was dragged into a taxi and arrested after making the hand signal.

“If it is an obvious form of resistance, then we have to control it so it doesn’t cause any disorder in the country,” military spokesperson Colonel Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak told the Associated Press. Although he said individuals would not be arrested for making the hand signal, “if it is a political gathering of five people or more, then we will have to take some action.”

Strava’s Cycling App Is Helping Cities Build Better Bike Lanes

Image: Strava

Image: Strava

Oregon wants to make its roads safer and more convenient for cyclists, but has a problem—it has very little data on where people ride and what influences their choices. So it turned to an outfit that has loads of data on that: Strava.

The Oregon DOT is poring through reams of data provided by the popular app, used by cyclists to track, among other things, where and when they ride. The information could be used to help shape transportation projects.

“We were really deficient on the cycling and walking side of data,” said Margi Bradway, the active transportation lead at the Oregon DOT. State officials could build bike lanes where they seemed logical, but they didn’t really know where they were most needed or if those that were built were popular. With the hard data from Strava, educated guesses become informed decisions.

The idea to tap the power of Strava came to Bradway in the summer of 2013. She was on a ride and noticed everyone tapping away at Strava during a break.

Strava jumped at the chance to sell the data and finalized the deal in September. That’s led to similar partnerships with London, Glasgow, Orlando, Florida and other cities. and other cities, creating an unexpected new revenue stream for an app designed to help cyclists and runners connect online, share their progress and encourage each other.

For $20,000 a year, transportation planners and others can access Strava Metro, which provides an unprecedented look at where and how people are biking. It can tell them where they speed up and slow down, for example, or where they might stay in the street or ride on a crosswalk. That information can reveal where bike lanes or traffic calming measures would be useful, and if those already installed are effective.

“Without better data, they can’t ask those questions,” Strava co-founder Michael Horvath said. “Strava Metro has the potential to provide the answers.”

Current methods of counting cyclists take a ton of time or a ton of money. The DOT can videotape traffic and have someone sit at a monitor and count cyclists, or it can send someone to sit on the sidewalk and watch them go by in real time. Neither method is terribly efficient.

Bike counters—bulky devices embedded in the ground—are less tedious and time-intensive, but cost as much as $20,000 and provide data for one specific location. That makes spending $20,000 a year for everything Strava knows look like a bargain. It was an easy sell for the DOT brass, Bradway said, especially when they saw the data they’d be getting.

The Strava data has been “fairly eye-opening,” Bradway said, since “we don’t have a good understanding of why people ride when they do.”

At one intersection, for example, transportation planners discovered cyclists coming from the south would slow down before crossing, while those coming from the north would come to a stop and then walk their bikes or ride slowly. It was the first time planners could see that, and they realized the intersection posed a risk to cyclists.

In another case, the DOT installed rumble strips on Highway 26 near Mount Hood. The strips are a great way to help drivers avoid running off the road, particularly at night, but they’re a nightmare for cyclists. Strava data revealed where cyclists were getting off the highway and where they were getting back on, possibly to avoid the rumble strips. At those spots, planners could consider alternative, more cyclist-friendly safety options, like signs and lights.

The data is far from perfect, or even complete. Its data for Hawthorne Bridge, a major bike commute corridor in downtown Portland, represents just 2.5 percent of total cyclists, Bradway said.

Obviously, Strava only track riders who have a smartphone and use the app. The company won’t say how many users it has, but claims users worldwide upload 2.5 million activities—which include rides and runs—are uploaded each week.

Strava is used by recreational riders more than commuters, so you could argue a lot of its data isn’t relevant to urban commuters. But Horvath argues that even a San Francisco cyclist headed to the far side of the Golden Gate Bridge to ride in Marin County will move through the city using the same routes a commuter would.

Users with privacy concerns may not be thrilled to know Strava is selling data, but Strava scrubs personal information before it goes out. What’s more, once cyclist is, from a computing standpoint, indistinguishable from another, once he’s on the street, so you can’t follow a specific person for the duration of a ride.

Horvath says Strava Metro will be an important revenue source for the company, but it doesn’t change the company’s underlying goal: Making life better for cyclists, Horvath said. If it can help cities change for the better, it’s still doing that.

The Oregon DOT considers the Strava deal a pilot project, and it’s still using its more traditional methods of tracking cyclists. But it is first time Bradway and her colleagues have been able to see not just where cyclists are, but “how people ride and how they make decisions.”

Instagram Finally Unveils New and Improved Photo Filters

Today, Instagram is releasing the first big upgrade to its photo filters since the app was launched. But this doesn’t mean new filter’s: Rather, it’s a two-pronged improvement: First, users can tap again after selecting a filter and use a slider to determine just how much of its effect they want to apply. Then, for those who want more control, there are now 8 photo adjustments, which roughly map to the major features you’d find in a photo-editing program: brightness, contrast, warmth, saturation, highlights, shadows, sharpen, and vignette, which darkens a photo’s corners for an antique-y effect.

“The community had wanted new filters for while,” says to Peter Deng, Instagram’s director of product. But the team wanted to keep the new features simple enough not to require much learning. They also wanted to control the app’s sprawl. Hence better tools, not more filters. The update is a welcome addition, but the real craft of it lies in the details. Here’s how Instagram kept the app intuitive despite the increase in functionality:

Slider Behavior

It seems like a small thing, but the sliders are a new UI paradigm for Instagram—and the team sweated its fine nuances. One thing the designers realized very quickly was that it was both tricky and annoying to aim for the slider button itself. If you missed it, you accidentally dragged the slider further than you intended: a common UX failure in many touch apps.

For users to stay engaged, there has to be a continuing sense of surprise.

Instead, Instagram’s coders made the sliders record only relative motion—not your finger’s pinpoint location. So no matter where you touch around the slider button, it’s only going to move in accordance to how much your finger has moved.

Well-Tuned Algorithms

Another common failure with any parameter controlled by a slider is that the extremes are terrible. That does two things: First, it makes the functional range of the slider much smaller. In turn, that makes hard to hit the sweet spot you’re looking for. To work out that problem, Instagram’s engineers tuned the algorithms that determine the slider behavior so that the full range actually results in photos that people might like. There are no dead parts in the spectrum, and spectrum isn’t just a linearly growing application of the effect.

Meanwhile, they also studied atmospheric, analog photographs to mine their exact effects. To perfect the Vignette tool, which shadows the corners of a photo, Instagram’s engineers actually studied how the effect actually works in medium-format cameras, and then carefully mapped those to the effects in the product

Direct Manipulation

People familiar with Instagram will know the pain of cropping a photo then adjusting its tilt, only to realize the new photo isn’t big enough to fill out the frame. With the new Instagram, tilt and crop are placed into one simple interfaces. “We realized that in the user’s mental model, these were the same step,” says Deng. So they created a new UI that does both, through intuitive, direct manipulation of an image.


Where’s Instagram Going Next?

For the coming versions of Instagram, you wonder if the company won’t be accelerating improvements to the whole experience. Instagram may be huge, but the very fact that photo filters are so easy-to-use makes it easy for a competitor to rise quickly, should they figure out a better way to let people express themselves in pictures. For Instagram to keep its users active and obsessed, they’ll need to lead the race to make photos look as good as possible, as fast as possible. That’s the big challenge that this update addresses.

Today, it’s all too easy to find yourself in an Instagram ghetto.

But there is another big improvement that we’ve yet to see: A truly useful evolution in the app’s discovery tools. For now, the service seems irreproachably simple. But many Instagram users have probably noticed how quickly their followers level off—and how quickly their own rates of finding new people to follow level off as well. You could argue that’s a benefit: Instagram is a social experience, but not so social that it swells beyond usability.

But for users to stay engaged, there has to be a continuing sense of surprise. That’s hard to create if people aren’t finding lots of new users or looking at tons of pictures. Today, it’s all too easy to find yourself in an Instagram ghetto with no great new discoveries on the horizon, or to miss the best photos in your own network. There is no simple mechanism to see which photos are being liked the most among your friends, or to filter your own feed based on how long you’ve been away from the service. Miss a day, and you would never know about the epic concert that everyone was at. Like Twitter, it’s an experience that’s far better for power users than for sporadic ones.

Here’s to hoping that Instagram solves those problems in the next rev.

How the NSA Could Bug Your Powered-Off iPhone, and How to Stop Them

Photo: Josh Valcarcel/WIRED

Photo: Josh Valcarcel/WIRED

Just because you turned off your phone doesn’t mean the NSA isn’t using it to spy on you.

Edward Snowden’s latest revelation about the NSA’s snooping inspired an extra dose of shock and disbelief when he said the agency’s hackers can use a mobile phone as a bug even after it’s been turned off. The whistleblower made that eye-opening claim when Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News, holding his iPhone aloft during last Wednesday’s interview, asked, “What can the NSA do with this device if they want to get into my life? Can anyone turn it on remotely if it’s off? Can they turn on apps?

“They can absolutely turn them on with the power turned off to the device,” Snowden replied.

Snowden didn’t offer any details on this seemingly magical feat. But a group of particularly cunning iPhone hackers say it’s possible. They also say you can totally and completely turn off your iPhone so no one—not even the NSA—can use it to spy on you.

Your Phone Is Playing Dead

Like any magic trick, the most plausible method of eavesdropping through a switched-off phone starts with an illusion. Security researchers posit that if an attacker has a chance to install malware before you shut down your phone, that software could make the phone look like it’s shutting down—complete with a fake “slide to power off” screen. Instead of powering down, it enters a low-power mode that leaves its baseband chip—which controls communication with the carrier—on.

This “playing dead” state would allow the phone to receive commands, including one to activate its microphone, says Eric McDonald, a hardware engineer in Los Angeles. McDonald is also a member of the Evad3rs, a team of iPhone hackers who created jailbreaks for the two previous iPhone operating systems. If the NSA used an exploit like those McDonald’s worked on to infect phone with malware that fakes a shutdown, “the screen would look black and nothing would happen if you pressed buttons,” he says. “But it’s conceivable that the baseband is still on, or turns on periodically. And it would be very difficult to know whether the phone has been compromised.”

“If you’re going to be paranoid, you might as well be super-paranoid.”

After Snowden told Williams his powered-down phone could be used as an eavesdropping tool, security consultant Robert David Graham immediately responded with a blog post arguing the trick is impossible. He soon amended the post to concede the NSA could, in fact, alter a phone ahead of time to enable that ultra-sneaky bugging. Its methods could range from a web exploit, like the 2011 Jailbreakme hack that disassembled the iPhone’s security restrictions when users visited a carefully crafted webpage, to actually intercepting shipped phones before they reach users. That latter possibility might have sounded apocryphal until journalist Glenn Greenwald published photos last month showing the NSA opening boxes of Cisco routers to insert backdoors into the gear. “With physical access, they could change the chips, the memory, the ROMs, the power system, anything they want,” Graham says.

But paranoid users seeking temporary privacy from NSA uber-hackers needn’t resort to Snowden’s famous precaution of putting phones in the fridge. Instead, McDonald suggests users turn off their iPhones by putting them into device firmware upgrade (DFU) mode, a kind of “panic” state designed to let the phone reinstall its firmware or recover from repeated operating system crashes. In DFU mode, says McDonald, all elements of the phone are entirely shut down except its USB port, which is designed to wait for a signal from iTunes to install new firmware. “It’s like an innocent little kid in kindergarten,” says McDonald. “It doesn’t know how to turn on the lights or the sound, it only knows how to turn on the USB port.”

Don’t worry: It’s easy to get your phone out of that state with no ill effects.

Total Radio Silence

To enter DFU mode, plug your iPhone in any power outlet or computer USB port. Then hold the power button. After three seconds, start holding the home button, too. Keep both buttons pressed for 10 seconds, then release the power button while continuing to hold the home button for another ten to fifteen seconds.

That intermediate step of holding the power button and the home button together, McDonald says, sends a “hardware reset” to the phone’s power management unit that overrides any running software, including any malware designed to fake a shutdown. “It’s a feature burned into the hardware,” says David Wang, another iPhone hacker and member of the Evad3rs. “As far as I know, there’s nothing that can stop that hard power-off.”

If you’ve successfully entered DFU mode, the phone won’t turn on when someone holds the power button, nor will it power up when the phone is plugged into a power source. With your phone in this temporary undead state, you can go about your private conversation with the closest thing possible to full assurance that your phone isn’t listening. To power the phone back on, hold the the power button and home button together until the Apple logo appears.

Here’s a video tutorial on putting your iPhone into DFU mode:

From Google, a Virtual Cube That Plays Video on All 6 Sides

From interactive music videos to YouTube symphonies, the artists and designers at Google Creative Lab are known for pushing the capabilities of the web. Their latest project pushes boundaries in a very literal sense. It’s a crazy, non-linear video player: Instead of putting clips in a rectangular frame, it stretches a single narrative across all six faces of an interactive cube.

The project debuted last week at the creative festival Semi-Permanent, in Sydney. There, a massive virtual version of the cube was projected on a wall, with scenes from an experimental short film playing out simultaneously on all six sides. By twisting and turning a handheld cork cube, viewers could decide for themselves when and how to move from side to side and scene to scene. In a sense, they become the editors of the three-dimensional story.

The task of creating that story fell on Steve Ayson and Damien Shatford, the directors that Semi-Permanent and Google tapped for the job. In terms of filmmaking, it was a challenge as unique as the canvas itself. “The main challenge is that you’re not just telling one story. You’re telling six stories,” Ayson says. Ultimately, they settled on a loosely connected series of sequences based on the seven main story types–comedy, tragedy, rags-to-riches and so on–with characters moving seamlessly between the different scenes of the cube’s faces.

The idea for the project was born last year at the Google Creative Lab in Sydney. From the start, the team saw it as an experiment in both technology and storytelling. “At Google, what’s exciting to us about the cube is that it’s really exploring different ways of approaching film,” says Jonathan Richards, a creative lead at the studio. “We’ve been quite accustomed to film being a little rectangle on the web which you could play and experience the director’s vision. But what would it be like if you handed the editing experience over to the audience and said, ‘You’re going to create the path through this film. You’re going to decide the narrative structure.’”

The ultimate aim is to make the cube available as a sort of sandbox for creators. In coming months, Google plans to release an embeddable version of the player, in addition to a smartphone app which would let viewers prod the cube as scenes played out. Tom Uglow, a creative director at Google’s Sydney studio, hopes that the experimental canvas might be of interest not just to artists but perhaps to people like educators and journalists, too.

“There are so many places you can go,” he says. “We show it to creative people, and they all want to take it to their own place.”

How to Teach Heartless Computers to Really Get What We’re Feeling

The leaderboard for Opposite Worlds. Screenshot via SyFy

The leaderboard for Opposite Worlds. Screenshot via SyFy

For its flagship new reality show Opposite Worlds the Syfy channel wanted to let the audience “remote control” the show via social media. I worked with Syfy to create what ultimately became its real-time “Twitter Popularity Index.”

The Index combines the intensity of conversation around each character, the number of unique discussants, and the emotion of that discussion using a new sentiment engine powered by over 1.6 million words, phrases and common misspellings and colloquial expressions. Using our Index, Opposite Worlds records across the board in Twitter engagement for a cable television series.

Sentiment mining is a hot emerging field, yet the underlying technology has changed little from the first computerized sentiment mining system created in 1961, the General Inquirer. It still treats emotion measurement as merely a technical problem. This has yielded a stream of pioneering technical achievements that have focused on algorithms rather than the actual outcome of how to better measure tone online.

Kalev Leetaru

Kalev Leetaru is the Yahoo! Fellow in Residence of International Values, Communications Technology & the Global Internet at Georgetown University. His work centers on the application of high performance computing and “big data” to grand challenge problems.

To build the first sentiment engine that could actually understand real-time tweets, we had to start from scratch, asking the question: how can big data combine with human insight to change the way we interact with our world? In the process, we identified 16 limitations to current sentiment mining approaches. Here’s how we got around them:

Letter Expansions: Social media has popularized the use of repeated letters within words. Instead of saying “I love SyFy” it is common to see “I loooooooooooove SyFy” or “I looooooovvvvvveeeeeeee SyFy.” Current systems compile a list of the most common expansions, such as “looove” or “cooool,” but this misses the vast majority of expressions. Instead, our system collapses down each word so that any letter expansion of any word matches into the dictionary properly.

Misspellings: One of the hallmarks of social media posts are that they are authored quickly, often from mobile devices with small keyboards, and are rarely spell checked. Typographical errors abound on Twitter and few algorithms attempt to correct for them other than to use a list of the most frequent errors. Our system uses a set of algorithms based on models of human typing to encode most conceivable misspellings of each word in the tonal dictionary, resulting in a final database of over 1.6 million entries that capture the majority of recognizable misspellings.

Hashtags: Emotion is increasingly expressed through hashtags such as “john #ilovehim” or even just “#ilovejohn.” Current sentiment systems handle hashtags by compiling a list of the most common hashtags and assigning a tonal score to each. This catches “#ilovehim” but misses the less common “#ilovejohn.” To accurately score hashtags they need to be unpacked and expanded into the sequence of words they encode, an area of natural language processing known as “compound word expansion.” We created an optimized algorithm based on Twitter language use that does this in real time.

Phrases: Current sentiment systems largely assign tonal scores to single words, but many words rely heavily on context to assess their emotional context. Our system supports matching both words and phrases up to four words in length allowing it to recognize “ace up his sleeve” or “go break a leg” as having a positive connotation.

Many common phrases like “thumbs up,” “red faced,” or “jumped the shark” have no surface emotional meaning (a thumb pointing up, a flushed face, hopping over an aquatic animal), but have widespread emotional connotation.

Colloquial Expressions: Day-to-day speech revolves heavily around colloquial expressions that ultimately find their way into social media. Few systems today can distinguish between “his life is on the line” and “he is on the level with us” or “go to hell” and “hell yeah.” At the same time, many common phrases like “thumbs up,” “red faced,” or “jumped the shark” have no surface emotional meaning (a thumb pointing up, a flushed face, hopping over an aquatic animal), but have widespread emotional connotation. We assembled a significant dictionary of the most common phrases.

Alternative Social Usage: Social media often uses words in very different ways from formal speech that changes their emotional connotation. The phrases “too hot,” “a killer” or “blowing up” would likely be used negatively in formal writing. Online, however, these phrases appear as “he is way too hot for words,” “she has a killer smile,” or “the song has been blowing up the charts.”

Entity Separation: Tweets can sometimes mention multiple characters, such as “I like X, hate Y, and love love Z.” Many systems will just score the sentence as a whole and assign it to all three characters, but ours can pick out the three different characters and assign tone respectively.

Vocabulary: While the word “obsequious” is quite rare on Twitter, it does show up several times a day and is missed by many systems. Surprisingly, even words like “unhappy,” “saddened,” and “miserable,” which do make quite an appearance on Twitter, are absent from many systems. To create the tone dictionaries we used, a human scorer examined the entire English dictionary four times in randomized order and tagged each word, and then went back over words appearing semi-frequently in books, news, and social media, and scored them again. Finally, this complete list was then scored based on context to catch words whose connotation varies by its surroundings. While no list could ever exhaustively chronicle the emotional connotations of the entire English language, the underlying dictionaries here are among the most extensive ever created.

While no list could ever exhaustively chronicle the emotional connotations of the entire English language, the underlying dictionaries here are among the most extensive ever created.

Creative Social-Only Words: Social media has led to the creation of many new words not found in any dictionary, particularly when it comes to profanity and vulgar terms, but also positive words like “awesomenessly.”

Extensive Conjugations: Many tonal words are verbs and can have multiple, potentially irregular, conjugations. Tonal dictionaries usually record only the root word and a few common conjugations, which misses many mentions. For our system, each tonal word was cross-referenced against all accepted and common alternative conjugations to ensure maximal coverage.

Model Expansion: Many words and phrases do not exist outside of social media. A series of automated models were used to automatically construct a collection of different tonal dictionaries using a diverse array of starting points, which were then merged and manually reviewed in a sequence of passes to identify novel social media uses and connotations.

Negation: Surprisingly, few systems understand the concept of negation (“not liked” versus “liked”) and those that do use a small dictionary of “negation terms” like “don’t” and “not” and simply invert the tone of the following word. Instead, our system actually assigns a preliminary score to each word and then reads the entire tweet in reading order to understand the flow of the text, examining sequences of positive and negative words such that “a spectacular waste of time” is coded correctly, while the colloquial engine, described above, ensures that it also correctly codes “he is a horrible flirt.”

Booster Words: Some words don’t have their own emotional connotation, but they do boost that of the following word. Saying you “really love” a show means more than you “loved” it, while a “spectacular screwup” is likely worse than a mere “screwup.” Once again, the tweet is processed in reading order to understand its underlying narrative flow, with emotions boosted as needed.

Robust Grammar: A number of recent sentiment systems have incorporated part of speech tagging and complex grammatical parsing. However, they require pristine English text that is correctly spelled and grammatically perfect, with a single misplaced comma, misspelled word, or inverted clause wreaking havoc. One system correctly codes “I hate john, but I love kate,” but fails when presented with “I hate john and I love kate,” making this approach unsuitable for the informal speech of social media.

Language Evolution: Many systems still use tonal dictionaries built decades ago when “cool” meant cold and emoticons had yet to be invented. Language is in a state of constant change and tonal dictionaries must be constantly updated and calibrated to today’s connotations.

Human Oversight: Automated generation of tonal dictionaries is increasingly popular, using large batches of tweets containing :-) and :-( emoticons as training data for machine learning algorithms that can achieve 70-percent accuracy out of the box. However, they are often right for the wrong reasons. One system scores “dumb” as positive and “so” as very negative meaning that “you so dumb” is coded as negative, but “you are dumb” is coded positively and “you are so beautiful” is coded negatively. Person names like “Michael” and “Emily” frequently have predefined emotional scores. The words “Monday,” “treadmills,” “airports,” “economists,” “hospitals,” “orthodontists,” “doctors” and “dentists” are all highly negative in many tools, which makes sense until “Monday night football” receives a strongly negative score. You don’t want to bias the very thing you are measuring. For our system, we applied such algorithms to expand our dictionaries, but then manually reviewed their entire output.

These 16 insights reflect one of the deeper truths of big data that is largely absent from today’s breathless marketing hype: that the underlying algorithms that power big data analysis have largely been built by computer scientists emphasizing technological prowess over a deeper understanding of how complex human behavior really is.

To create the “Opposite Worlds” sentiment mining system, we made extensive use of highly sophisticated language models, filtering tools, natural language processing algorithms, and machine learning systems. Yet, these computer science approaches were combined with laborious human review, manual compilation of tens of thousands of terms, and a deep background in human emotion. We brought with us no preconceived notions of how emotion “should” be expressed online, focusing instead on what we learned from pouring over how Twitter is actually being used today. The increasing use of hashtags to express emotion, the heavy reliance on emotionally laden colloquial expressions, and the critical importance of tolerance towards typographical errors required combining automated computer-assisted compilation with extensive manual labor. In the end, this marriage of human and machine yielded what we believe is one of the most sophisticated sentiment analysis systems ever built for social media.

Whether you are measuring views towards a television show, or charting changing consumer views towards a brand of running shoes, the technology-centric approach of current sentiment systems will greatly impede the accuracy and comprehensiveness of your results. By blending human and machine, the system that ultimately powered “Opposite Worlds” uncovered a deeper need within the sentiment analysis field to engage more closely with disciplinary scholars and to focus less on algorithms and more on outcomes. For big data to mature beyond marketing hype towards truly transformative solutions, it must “grow up” out of the computer science labs that gave birth to it and spend more time on understanding the domain-specific algorithms and data it is applied to than on the computing algorithms that operationalize them.

“Opposite Worlds” represented the first time sentiment technology had been used as an integral part of a television series to actually impact events on the screen in realtime. This combination of social media and sentiment mining places a show’s fans in the driver’s seat for the first time since the creation of television over three quarters of a century ago.