Why 40-Year-Old Tech Is Still Running America’s Air Traffic Control


ap_faa_1_ff

Valero Doval



On Friday, September 26, 2014, a telecommunications contractor named Brian Howard woke early and headed to Chicago Center, an air traffic control hub in Aurora, Illinois, where he had worked for eight years. He had decided to get stoned and kill himself, and as his final gesture he planned to take a chunk of the US air traffic control system with him.


Court records say Howard entered Chicago Center at 5:06 am and went to the basement, where he set a fire in the electronics bay, sliced cables beneath the floor, and cut his own throat. Paramedics saved Howard's life, but Chicago Center, which controls air traffic above 10,000 feet for 91,000 square miles of the Midwest, went dark. Airlines canceled 6,600 flights; air traffic was interrupted for 17 days. Howard had wanted to cause trouble, but he hadn't anticipated a disruption of this magnitude. He had posted a message to Facebook saying that the sabotage “should not take a large toll on the air space as all comms should be switched to the alt location.” It's not clear what alt location Howard was talking about, because there wasn't one. Howard had worked at the center for nearly a decade, and even he didn't know that.


At any given time, around 7,000 aircraft are flying over the United States. For the past 40 years, the same computer system has controlled all that high-altitude traffic—a relic of the 1970s known as Host. The core system predates the advent of the Global Positioning System, so Host uses point-to-point, ground-based radar. Every day, thousands of travelers switch their GPS-enabled smartphones to airplane mode while their flights are guided by technology that predates the Speak & Spell. If you're reading this at 30,000 feet, relax—Host is still safe, in terms of getting planes from point A to point B. But it's unbelievably inefficient. It can handle a limited amount of traffic, and controllers can't see anything outside of their own airspace—when they hand off a plane to a contiguous airspace, it vanishes from their radar.


The FAA knows all that. For 11 years the agency has been limping toward a collection of upgrades called NextGen. At its core is a new computer system that will replace Host and allow any controller, anywhere, to see any plane in US airspace. In theory, this would enable one air traffic control center to take over for another with the flip of a switch, as Howard seemed to believe was already possible. NextGen isn't vaporware; that core system was live in Chicago and the four adjacent centers when Howard attacked, and this spring it'll go online in all 20 US centers. But implementation has been a mess, with a cascade of delays, revisions, and unforeseen problems. Air traffic control can't do anything as sophisticated as Howard thought, and unless something changes about the way the FAA is managing NextGen, it probably never will.


THE UPGRADED SYSTEM WILL GO ONLINE THIS SPRING, FIVE YEARS LATE AND AT LEAST $500M OVER BUDGET.


This technology is complicated and novel, but that isn't the problem. The problem is that NextGen is a project of the FAA. The agency is primarily a regulatory body, responsible for keeping the national airspace safe, and yet it is also in charge of operating air traffic control, an inherent conflict that causes big issues when it comes to upgrades. Modernization, a struggle for any federal agency, is practically antithetical to the FAA's operational culture, which is risk-averse, methodical, and bureaucratic. Paired with this is the lack of anything approximating market pressure. The FAA is the sole consumer of the product; it's a closed loop.


The first phase of NextGen is to replace Host with the new computer system, the foundation for all future upgrades. The FAA will finish the job this spring, five years late and at least $500 million over budget. Lockheed Martin began developing the software for it in 2002, and the FAA projected that the transition from Host would be complete by late 2010. By 2007, the upgraded system was sailing through internal tests. But once installed, it was frighteningly buggy. It would link planes to flight data for the wrong aircraft, and sometimes planes disappeared from controllers' screens altogether. As timelines slipped and the project budget ballooned, Lockheed churned out new software builds, but unanticipated issues continued to pop up. As recently as April 2014, the system crashed at Los Angeles Center when a military U-2 jet entered its airspace—the spy plane cruises at 60,000 feet, twice the altitude of commercial airliners, and its flight plan caused a software glitch that overloaded the system.


Even when the software works, air traffic control infrastructure is not prepared to use it. Chicago Center and its four adjacent centers all had NextGen upgrades at the time of the fire, so nearby controllers could reconfigure their workstations to see Chicago airspace. But since those controllers weren't FAA-certified to work that airspace, they couldn't do anything. Chicago Center employees had to drive over to direct the planes. And when they arrived, there weren't enough workstations for them to use, so the Chicago controllers could pick up only a portion of the traffic. Meanwhile, the telecommunications systems were still a 1970s-era hardwired setup, so the FAA had to install new phone lines to transfer Chicago Center's workload. The agency doesn't anticipate switching to a digital system (based on the same voice over IP that became mainstream more than a decade ago) until 2018. Even in the best possible scenario, air traffic control will not be able to track every airplane with GPS before 2020. For the foreseeable future, if you purchase Wi-Fi in coach, you're pretty much better off than the pilot.


FOR THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE, IF YOU PURCHASE WI-FI IN COACH, YOU'RE PRETTY MUCH BETTER OFF THAN THE PILOT.


A big, high-risk infrastructure upgrade like NextGen will never move as fast as change associated with consumer technology, but the real hurdles are not technical, they're regulatory. In the private sector, new technologies can be developed freely regardless of whether the law is ready for them. Think of Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb: Outdated regulations slowed them down, but consumer demand is forcing the law to evolve. This back-and-forth is what lets tech companies move fast and break things without risking our safety. But when the government upgrades its technologies, regulations intercede before a single line of code is written. The government procurement process is knotted with rules and standards, and new technology has to conform to those rules whether or not they're efficient or even relevant. These issues screwed up HealthCare.gov and are screwing up the Department of Veterans Affairs and a dozen other agencies that need computers and software that work. The current process stifles innovation from the start and mires infrastructures like NextGen, which need to carry us far into the future, in the rules of today.


The government needs to change its procurement process, and it's got to let go of its stranglehold on air traffic control. Privatization isn't necessarily the answer. Canada, the UK, Germany, Sweden, and Australia operate air traffic control through various separate entities, from semiprivate to nonprofit to government corporations, that help facilitate the necessary push and pull between technological risk-taking, regulatory caution, and pressure from end users.


The first real pressure on the FAA to show results came, ironically, from Howard. He forced what was essentially the first real-time operational test of the new system. When NextGen faltered, the program faced a level of widespread public scrutiny that it had previously evaded, and the FAA had to respond. The agency published a review of its contingency processes, including new plans to enable control centers to assist each other in emergencies. Brian Howard, hell-bent on destruction, was the best thing to happen to our air traffic control system in years.


SARA BRESELOR (@sarabreselor) wrote about the history of maritime dining in issue 23.01.



The Rise and Fall of RedBook, the Site That Sex Workers Couldn’t Live Without


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Victor Cobo



Until last summer, pretty much anyone buying or selling sex in the San Francisco Bay Area used myRedBook.com. For more than a decade, the site commonly referred to as RedBook served as a vast catalog of carnal services, a mashup of Craigslist, Yelp, and Usenet where sex workers and hundreds of thousands of their customers could connect, converse, and make arrangements for commercial sex. RedBook tapped into the persistent, age-old, bottomless appetite for prostitution and made it safer and more civilized. The site was efficient, well stocked, and probably too successful for its own good.


Launched in 1999 by a Mountain View, California, tech entrepreneur named Eric “Red” Omuro, RedBook began as a modest hub for mongers (Internet slang for johns) to discuss the local scene and post reviews of escorts. As it grew, the site expanded beyond the Bay Area, adding sections for Southern California, the Central Coast, Phoenix, Nevada, and the Pacific Northwest. Omuro also added a key functionality—he made it possible for sex workers to advertise their services.


RedBook may have been full of racy talk and the promise of erotic assignations, but the site itself was anything but sexy. Its ugly, bare-bones design was straight out of the early 2000s. It resembled a web page you might use to find a new job or a secondhand bike. If you were careful to stay away from the sections where photos automatically displayed, you could easily browse potential sex partners at work and your coworkers would never suspect a thing.


ff_redbook_1_jux

Victor Cobo



RedBook was made up of three main elements. The site's naughty classifieds section contained the sort of ads that used to be the sole domain of alt weeklies' back pages: “*College Girl Gone Wild* (BUSTY SMART BLONDE),” “Sexy & Sweet Asian Here to Please Your Needs,” and “Morning $pecials Daddy Let Me Blow Your Mind.” While ads were free to post, advertisers could opt to pay for premium placement.


Then there were dozens of message boards. While the site's most popular forums had names like “Escort 411,” “Street Action,” and “Domination Station,” RedBook also hosted conversations on topics ranging from baseball to bondage, music to massage parlors. Bruce Boston, a data scientist who works for one of Silicon Valley's major tech companies, initially came to the site to find out which strip clubs had the best dancers. He ended up sticking around for four years to join what he describes as the intelligent, provocative, and honest conversations on the site's forums. “It was great,” he says. “You could have an open discussion about your beliefs and thoughts.” Boston participated in conversations on RedBook about everything from Libertarian politics to swinger sex parties.


But the most valuable part of the site was its reviews section. You could pay $13 a month for access to the section, where VIP customers shared detailed write-ups of their experiences with escorts, BDSM providers, and erotic masseuses. As part of their reviews, users listed the services they received, as well as details about the provider's physical attributes. Looking for a well-reviewed Latina under 30 who provides full-body sensual massage in Oakland? Just filter to narrow down your search.


Then, on June 25, 2014, visitors to RedBook got a rude shock. Instead of a directory of links to sexy ads, forums, and reviews, they saw a dire-looking alert from the Department of Justice, FBI, and IRS stating that RedBook's domain had been seized. The Feds' message, still up today, asserts that there is probable cause that the site was involved in “money laundering derived from racketeering based on prostitution.”


Federal agents arrested Omuro, 54, along with Annmarie Lanoce, a 41-year-old bespectacled mother from Rocklin, California, a suburb of Sacramento. (Lanoce worked for Omuro, helping to moderate RedBook and manage its operations.) Their homes were raided and their computer equipment confiscated. In July, Omuro was charged with using the Internet to facilitate prostitution and 24 counts of money laundering. Lanoce was charged with using the Internet to facilitate prostitution. Released on bond, they were prohibited from going online or associating with former users of the site.


The United States attorney's indictment against Omuro claims he took in more than $5 million. The site brought in revenue from fees paid by RedBook users for access to the site's enhanced features. It's unclear why the authorities targeted RedBook and not the array of other sites where sex is openly bought and sold. The US attorney's office declined to offer any comment, but its indictment speaks for itself.


Both Omuro and Lanoce initially pleaded not guilty to all charges, but in November Lanoce changed her plea in the hope that it might allow her to avoid a felony sentence in exchange for good behavior. A few weeks later Omuro followed suit and entered his own guilty plea to the charge of using the Internet with the intent to facilitate prostitution, agreeing to forfeit nearly $1.3 million in cash and property. Omuro's guilty plea marked the first-ever federal conviction of a website operator for the crime of facilitating prostitution. Both Omuro and Lanoce are due in court in March for sentencing.


Photographer Victor Cobo has been shooting images of sex workers in San Francisco's Tenderloin district for more than 15 years.

Photographer Victor Cobo has been shooting images of sex workers in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district for more than 15 years. Victor Cobo



San Francisco's gritty Tenderloin district is bordered by touristy Union Square on one side and tony Nob Hill on another. In 2012 Twitter installed its lavish new headquarters in an old art deco building on Market Street, kicking off a surge of corporate moves to the area by the likes of Uber, Spotify, Yammer, and Square. In turn, hundreds of young tech workers have recently relocated to the Tenderloin and are rapidly changing the economics of a neighborhood that has managed to resist gentrification for decades.


That resistance is on full display one afternoon this fall when I take a short walk around the neighborhood. I count five women standing on various corners, some actively waving at cars, others more carefully making low-key eye contact with male drivers as they cruise by. One woman is particularly aggressive. She wears a black tank top with spaghetti straps, mommish jeans, and a San Francisco Giants sweatshirt tied around her waist. You might mistake her for a lady on her way out to buy groceries, except she's wearing cartoonishly thick lipstick and heavy eye makeup, especially striking in the middle of the day.


I stand about 10 feet from her, near a bus stop. A guy on a Harley stops at a red light, and the woman lewdly thrusts her hips in his direction. The biker rides on, and a police truck pulls up alongside us. The cop in the passenger seat calls her over. She walks toward the car and leans her head into his open window. The officer says something quietly to her, and she walks back to her post. A beat later, the cops are gone, and she continues to hail passersby—just a little more subtly now.


The 38-Geary bus pulls up, lets out a dozen passengers, and picks up a few new ones. When I don't get on the bus, the woman knows I'm not there waiting for a ride downtown. She looks over to me. “Hey. My name's Cathy,” she says. “What are you doing today?”



I get flustered and begin to stammer, then manage to blurt out that I'd just come from a meeting and that I'm trying to figure out what to do next.


“You need company?”


I tell her no, I'm good. I step off the curb and quickly cross illegally in the middle of the street. Then I turn back. “Hey,” I say to Cathy. “Can I find you on the Internet?”


“Nah,” she says. “I used to get RedBook reviews, but they took it down.”


Omuro started Redbook so that Bay Area mongers would have a home on the web. It succeeded, ultimately attracting so many users that the site became a full-fledged business, with massive profits. But when RedBook was shut down, the people who were hit the hardest weren't the buyers, but the sellers—sex workers like Cathy for whom the site had made the world's oldest profession significantly less risky.


One of the ways the site reduced danger for workers was by making it easier for them to weed out bad dates, from poor tippers to full-on abusive creeps. Providers could choose to meet only customers who were well known and well liked on RedBook's forums, and some workers even required references from other escorts on the site before taking on a new client. “RedBook provided a space to safely negotiate and screen clients that reduced the likelihood of being victimized by predators or cops,” says Kristina Dolgin of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, a national advocacy group.


RedBook may be gone, but the migration of the sex trade from the streets to the Internet is only accelerating. Some sex workers use social media to advertise (search Twitter for some combination of the city you're in, and #escort, #incall, or whatever kink you're into). Others have their own websites, often built using specialized services like Escort Design—a kind of WordPress for people in the sex industry. But the most common way to connect with clients online is through sites similar to RedBook that have yet to be shut down by the authorities. Scott Cunningham, a Baylor University economics professor who studies prostitution and black markets on the web, says that while exact figures are unknown—no national census has been conducted—he has no doubt that the vast majority of today's paid sex arrangements originate through the Internet. “Sites like these, and the Internet more generally, have taken most of the action off of the street,” he says. “It's likely that these websites have actually expanded the market.”


ff_redbook_1_leg

Victor Cobo



If sex workers simply want to buy an ad, they can still use Cityvibe, Lovings, Backpage, and Eros Guide. RedBook was different, in that its vast network of message boards made it possible for workers to not only advertise but ask questions of one another, find support, and even make friends. This is one of the things that Siouxsie Q, a sex worker in Oakland, misses most about RedBook. “We lost a critical resource for building community,” she says. “And building community is already tough enough when you've been marginalized and your work is criminalized.” Women used RedBook's forums to share everything from jokes to medical and financial tips that were useful to people in the sex industry, she says.


Siouxsie's career in sex work is as diverse as it gets. In addition to seeing a few clients each week for escort and domination services, she writes a sex column for SF Weekly, teaches sex classes for couples looking to add spice to their love lives (one of her recent courses was called Monogamaybe), models for fetish websites, and stars in adult films. She was recently nominated for an AVN—the Oscars of porn.


She also hosts and produces two podcasts. The Whorecast focuses on the people and politics of sex work—a recent episode featured an interview with a marine who says his side gig as a porn performer cost him his pension. (The Whorecast was originally titled This American Whore, but a statement from This American Life's Ira Glass convinced Siouxsie to change the name.) Her other podcast is about Game of Thrones from the perspective of two sex workers. It's called Winter Is Coming … On Your Face.


But escorting remains a primary source of Siouxsie's income. And since RedBook was shut down, her business has taken a substantial hit. “I've had immense trouble connecting with new clients,” she says. “I have only taken on two or three new people since the site closed, which is a huge drop.” She blames the loss of the site's massive traffic and reviews section, which was useful in helping clients find dates. Guys can still get Siouxsie's contact information through her personal website, but all the positive comments that clients wrote about her over the years vanished from the web the moment RedBook was pulled offline. “Imagine you have a restaurant with a ton of great reviews on Yelp, and then Yelp gets shut down,” Siouxsie says. “All that information is gone, and now it's hard for people to find out about your restaurant.”


THE REDBOOK CLIENTS WERE NICE, “NERDY, TO BE HONEST.” NOW RACHEL HAS TO DO MORE CAR DATES. SHE HATES CAR DATES.


By closing down RedBook, law enforcement made it tough for specialty escorts like Siouxsie to set favorable rates for their services. “Five or six years ago, a bunch of women on the site who did erotic massage got together and were like, ‘What if we all raise our rates by $20?’ And it totally worked. That can't happen now.”


Then there's the reality that so much of the sex workers' personal information is now in the hands of the authorities. “It's likely that law enforcement agencies now have people's IP addresses, email addresses that might include their real names, and credit card information,” says Nadia Kayyali, a staff activist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “And one of the trends we've seen lately is that everything they get, they keep. It goes into a database somewhere.” The fear is that the sex workers could be surveilled and possibly arrested at any time.


In the wake of RedBook's shutdown, Kayyali set up a workshop, held in an unpublicized location in San Francisco, to teach sex workers how to anonymize their online communications and transactions. She explained to about 20 women the basics of the Tor browser and offered tips for improving password security. The attendees' questions were smart and informed, and she was impressed by the amount of thoughtfulness in the room. “There are sex workers with PhDs,” she says. “There are sex workers who know how to code.”


Then again, the people who are most likely to be targeted by police are those with the least amount of experience with technology. “They're working on the street and probably operating mostly with phones,” Kayyali says. So at her training session she also talked about the importance of basic security measures like using passcodes and text message encryption. “They're relatively simple things but can provide some measure of security on the street,” she says. “And that's more important than ever—we're seeing more workers out on the streets now because of the closure of RedBook.”


At least in the short term. Cunningham, the Baylor economist, points to a study he coauthored in 2011, which suggests that the Internet may have decreased the number of sex workers age 25 to 40 who work on the street.


Since RedBook closed, "I've had immense trouble connecting with new clients," says Siouxsie Q.

Since RedBook closed, “I’ve had immense trouble connecting with new clients,” says Siouxsie Q. Victor Cobo



One woman who relied on RedBook's free ad listings calls herself Rachel, a 45-year-old sex worker who's been operating in the streets and residential hotels of San Francisco's Tenderloin district for the better part of 20 years. She's a longtime crack addict and often homeless, but today she's neat, clean, and fashionably dressed in a slouchy sweater, leggings, and new cowboy boots. If you walked by her on the street, you'd never guess what she did for money.


After a few minutes of conversation on the corner of Post and Hyde and negotiation of a $60 fee for her time, Rachel is leading me by the hand past a firehouse, a medical weed clinic, and a drag bar. She breaks away to talk to three guys across the street. After a minute, she pockets a small baggie from one of the men, hugs him, and runs back to me. She grabs my hand again and pulls me toward the front step of the America Hotel, one of the dozens of single-room-occupancy hotels that house the Tenderloin's poor. We walk past a gate and up a filthy flight of carpeted steps to meet a man sitting behind a thick plastic wall with a head-sized hole cut out toward the bottom. He nods at Rachel and glares at me.


“Papa, this is my friend,” Rachel says. The clerk is in his early fifties, wearing a black hooded sweatshirt with the YouTube logo embroidered across the front. He asks me for $10 and tells me that I need to leave a photo ID with him while I'm visiting.


Rachel and I climb another two flights of stairs and arrive at her room. There isn't enough stuff inside for it to qualify as a mess. But it does not feel clean. There's a bare twin-size mattress, a sink, and a dresser with an old TV playing an episode of The Big Bang Theory. There are two duffel bags in the corner near the window. Rachel's clothes and toiletries spill out of them.


She tells me that she moved to the Bay Area from the East Coast in the early '90s and quickly got a gig stripping at the now-shuttered Market Street Cinema. “I'd danced in other places before, and let's just say that the Market Street job was ‘stripping plus,’” she laughs.


ff_redbook_1_street

Victor Cobo



Rachel pulls an old Lenovo laptop out of her oversize leopard-print purse and shows me an ad for her services that she placed on Lovings, which caters to escorts, sensual massage therapists, and others providing erotic services in San Francisco. She's a new user on the site and paid $120 for the ad to run for a month. Rachel says one of her customers let her use his credit card to pay for it.


She tells me that while she always had a steady stream of calls from guys on RedBook, she hasn't had many responses to her Lovings ad. I browse around on the site, and it's not hard to see why her post hasn't taken off. Most of the women advertising on Lovings appear to be significantly younger than Rachel. Also, their photos were shot by pros, or at least by friends with decent SLRs and basic Photoshop skills. In contrast, Rachel's photos look like cruddy phone pics taken in a squalid hotel room.


“It's been like starting over,” she says of RedBook's shutdown. For years most of her clients were guys on RedBook who got her phone number through other users in the forums, “guys who knew me and could vouch for me,” she says. Although she did encounter a few jerks over the years, she says, she almost always had good experiences with the men she met through the site. “They were nice and normally kind of shy,” she says. “Nerdy, to be honest.”


Recently Rachel's customers have tended to be men she meets offline, guys just milling about or driving around the neighborhood, looking for action. She doesn't like walking the streets, because it's tiring and scary, and she especially hates doing car dates because they're dangerous. But the reality is that she's had to do more of both since RedBook closed. “I still have a couple friends from the site who get in touch, but not many,” she says. “I hope another RedBook comes around at some point. It made life a lot easier.”


WIRED community director ERIC STEUER (@ericsteuer) interviewed Roman Mars for issue 23.02.


Photography by Victor Cobo



Magic Leap CEO Teases ‘Golden Tickets’ for Its Augmented-Reality Device


Ever since Google, Qualcomm, and others poured $542 million into an augmented reality startup called Magic Leap, the tiny company has been one of the tech world’s most mysterious ventures. But according to Magic Leap CEO and founder Rony Abovitz, Magic Leap will soon pull back the curtain on its creation.


In a conversation on Reddit today, Abovitz told Redditors that Magic Leap is looking for ways to showcase its technology to the public before it launches. “Stay tuned,” Abovitz wrote, “gold tickets coming.”


Just how or when these sneak peeks might take place is still unclear, as are most details about Magic Leap’s technology. What we do know is that Magic Leap is creating what it calls “cinematic reality,” using head-mounted technology that lets users see virtual objects overlaid on the real world.


In this way, it’s a lot like Microsoft’s HoloLens. The difference, Abovitz said on Reddit, is that Magic Leap has come up with a new way to generate those virtual objects. It’s called digital light-field signal technology, and according to Abovitz, it is safer than any other product currently being developed.


“Our philosophy as a company (and my personal view) is to ‘leave no footprints’ in the brain,” he wrote, noting that other 3-D technology has a proven history of side effects, like nausea and headaches. He said that Magic Leap has been testing the safety of its product using many of the same methods he used for Mako Surgical, a surgical robotics company that sold to Stryker for $1.65 billion.


Still, it’s hard to tell whether that argument holds water, given the advancements in stereoscopic 3D technology that have been made over the years, particularly in products like the Oculus Rift. Even so, Abovitz was adamant that he plans to win the AR war with safety, going so far as to say he wouldn’t wear devices that use stereoscopic 3D technology. “The ONLY safe way forward is to make a digital light field that is naturally tuned into your brain and physiology,” he wrote.


Abovitz still declined to discuss when Magic Leap will be available commercially, but he did say that the company plans to open its technology up to developers some time this year, including developers outside the gaming and entertainment world. That’s because, he believes Magic Leap’s technology is more than just an entertainment product, but a replacement for smartphones, and indeed all the screens in our lives.


“We believe that people may want to use this new form of computing as much, if not more than their mobile device,” he wrote. “We are developing a product platform to enable developers of all kinds, as well as a global creative/maker community to build the coolest stuff ever on it.”


Update: 02/24/15 10:00 PM EST A Microsoft spokesperson responded to WIRED regarding Abovitz’s claims about safety saying, “Microsoft products are designed and manufactured to meet or exceed all applicable regulatory and industry safety standards.”



Why 40-Year-Old Tech Is Still Running America’s Air Traffic Control


ap_faa_1_ff

Valero Doval



On Friday, September 26, 2014, a telecommunications contractor named Brian Howard woke early and headed to Chicago Center, an air traffic control hub in Aurora, Illinois, where he had worked for eight years. He had decided to get stoned and kill himself, and as his final gesture he planned to take a chunk of the US air traffic control system with him.


Court records say Howard entered Chicago Center at 5:06 am and went to the basement, where he set a fire in the electronics bay, sliced cables beneath the floor, and cut his own throat. Paramedics saved Howard's life, but Chicago Center, which controls air traffic above 10,000 feet for 91,000 square miles of the Midwest, went dark. Airlines canceled 6,600 flights; air traffic was interrupted for 17 days. Howard had wanted to cause trouble, but he hadn't anticipated a disruption of this magnitude. He had posted a message to Facebook saying that the sabotage “should not take a large toll on the air space as all comms should be switched to the alt location.” It's not clear what alt location Howard was talking about, because there wasn't one. Howard had worked at the center for nearly a decade, and even he didn't know that.


At any given time, around 7,000 aircraft are flying over the United States. For the past 40 years, the same computer system has controlled all that high-altitude traffic—a relic of the 1970s known as Host. The core system predates the advent of the Global Positioning System, so Host uses point-to-point, ground-based radar. Every day, thousands of travelers switch their GPS-enabled smartphones to airplane mode while their flights are guided by technology that predates the Speak & Spell. If you're reading this at 30,000 feet, relax—Host is still safe, in terms of getting planes from point A to point B. But it's unbelievably inefficient. It can handle a limited amount of traffic, and controllers can't see anything outside of their own airspace—when they hand off a plane to a contiguous airspace, it vanishes from their radar.


The FAA knows all that. For 11 years the agency has been limping toward a collection of upgrades called NextGen. At its core is a new computer system that will replace Host and allow any controller, anywhere, to see any plane in US airspace. In theory, this would enable one air traffic control center to take over for another with the flip of a switch, as Howard seemed to believe was already possible. NextGen isn't vaporware; that core system was live in Chicago and the four adjacent centers when Howard attacked, and this spring it'll go online in all 20 US centers. But implementation has been a mess, with a cascade of delays, revisions, and unforeseen problems. Air traffic control can't do anything as sophisticated as Howard thought, and unless something changes about the way the FAA is managing NextGen, it probably never will.


THE UPGRADED SYSTEM WILL GO ONLINE THIS SPRING, FIVE YEARS LATE AND AT LEAST $500M OVER BUDGET.


This technology is complicated and novel, but that isn't the problem. The problem is that NextGen is a project of the FAA. The agency is primarily a regulatory body, responsible for keeping the national airspace safe, and yet it is also in charge of operating air traffic control, an inherent conflict that causes big issues when it comes to upgrades. Modernization, a struggle for any federal agency, is practically antithetical to the FAA's operational culture, which is risk-averse, methodical, and bureaucratic. Paired with this is the lack of anything approximating market pressure. The FAA is the sole consumer of the product; it's a closed loop.


The first phase of NextGen is to replace Host with the new computer system, the foundation for all future upgrades. The FAA will finish the job this spring, five years late and at least $500 million over budget. Lockheed Martin began developing the software for it in 2002, and the FAA projected that the transition from Host would be complete by late 2010. By 2007, the upgraded system was sailing through internal tests. But once installed, it was frighteningly buggy. It would link planes to flight data for the wrong aircraft, and sometimes planes disappeared from controllers' screens altogether. As timelines slipped and the project budget ballooned, Lockheed churned out new software builds, but unanticipated issues continued to pop up. As recently as April 2014, the system crashed at Los Angeles Center when a military U-2 jet entered its airspace—the spy plane cruises at 60,000 feet, twice the altitude of commercial airliners, and its flight plan caused a software glitch that overloaded the system.


Even when the software works, air traffic control infrastructure is not prepared to use it. Chicago Center and its four adjacent centers all had NextGen upgrades at the time of the fire, so nearby controllers could reconfigure their workstations to see Chicago airspace. But since those controllers weren't FAA-certified to work that airspace, they couldn't do anything. Chicago Center employees had to drive over to direct the planes. And when they arrived, there weren't enough workstations for them to use, so the Chicago controllers could pick up only a portion of the traffic. Meanwhile, the telecommunications systems were still a 1970s-era hardwired setup, so the FAA had to install new phone lines to transfer Chicago Center's workload. The agency doesn't anticipate switching to a digital system (based on the same voice over IP that became mainstream more than a decade ago) until 2018. Even in the best possible scenario, air traffic control will not be able to track every airplane with GPS before 2020. For the foreseeable future, if you purchase Wi-Fi in coach, you're pretty much better off than the pilot.


FOR THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE, IF YOU PURCHASE WI-FI IN COACH, YOU'RE PRETTY MUCH BETTER OFF THAN THE PILOT.


A big, high-risk infrastructure upgrade like NextGen will never move as fast as change associated with consumer technology, but the real hurdles are not technical, they're regulatory. In the private sector, new technologies can be developed freely regardless of whether the law is ready for them. Think of Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb: Outdated regulations slowed them down, but consumer demand is forcing the law to evolve. This back-and-forth is what lets tech companies move fast and break things without risking our safety. But when the government upgrades its technologies, regulations intercede before a single line of code is written. The government procurement process is knotted with rules and standards, and new technology has to conform to those rules whether or not they're efficient or even relevant. These issues screwed up HealthCare.gov and are screwing up the Department of Veterans Affairs and a dozen other agencies that need computers and software that work. The current process stifles innovation from the start and mires infrastructures like NextGen, which need to carry us far into the future, in the rules of today.


The government needs to change its procurement process, and it's got to let go of its stranglehold on air traffic control. Privatization isn't necessarily the answer. Canada, the UK, Germany, Sweden, and Australia operate air traffic control through various separate entities, from semiprivate to nonprofit to government corporations, that help facilitate the necessary push and pull between technological risk-taking, regulatory caution, and pressure from end users.


The first real pressure on the FAA to show results came, ironically, from Howard. He forced what was essentially the first real-time operational test of the new system. When NextGen faltered, the program faced a level of widespread public scrutiny that it had previously evaded, and the FAA had to respond. The agency published a review of its contingency processes, including new plans to enable control centers to assist each other in emergencies. Brian Howard, hell-bent on destruction, was the best thing to happen to our air traffic control system in years.


SARA BRESELOR (@sarabreselor) wrote about the history of maritime dining in issue 23.01.



The Rise and Fall of RedBook, the Site That Sex Workers Couldn’t Live Without


ff_redbook_1_f

Victor Cobo



Until last summer, pretty much anyone buying or selling sex in the San Francisco Bay Area used myRedBook.com. For more than a decade, the site commonly referred to as RedBook served as a vast catalog of carnal services, a mashup of Craigslist, Yelp, and Usenet where sex workers and hundreds of thousands of their customers could connect, converse, and make arrangements for commercial sex. RedBook tapped into the persistent, age-old, bottomless appetite for prostitution and made it safer and more civilized. The site was efficient, well stocked, and probably too successful for its own good.


Launched in 1999 by a Mountain View, California, tech entrepreneur named Eric “Red” Omuro, RedBook began as a modest hub for mongers (Internet slang for johns) to discuss the local scene and post reviews of escorts. As it grew, the site expanded beyond the Bay Area, adding sections for Southern California, the Central Coast, Phoenix, Nevada, and the Pacific Northwest. Omuro also added a key functionality—he made it possible for sex workers to advertise their services.


RedBook may have been full of racy talk and the promise of erotic assignations, but the site itself was anything but sexy. Its ugly, bare-bones design was straight out of the early 2000s. It resembled a web page you might use to find a new job or a secondhand bike. If you were careful to stay away from the sections where photos automatically displayed, you could easily browse potential sex partners at work and your coworkers would never suspect a thing.


ff_redbook_1_jux

Victor Cobo



RedBook was made up of three main elements. The site's naughty classifieds section contained the sort of ads that used to be the sole domain of alt weeklies' back pages: “*College Girl Gone Wild* (BUSTY SMART BLONDE),” “Sexy & Sweet Asian Here to Please Your Needs,” and “Morning $pecials Daddy Let Me Blow Your Mind.” While ads were free to post, advertisers could opt to pay for premium placement.


Then there were dozens of message boards. While the site's most popular forums had names like “Escort 411,” “Street Action,” and “Domination Station,” RedBook also hosted conversations on topics ranging from baseball to bondage, music to massage parlors. Bruce Boston, a data scientist who works for one of Silicon Valley's major tech companies, initially came to the site to find out which strip clubs had the best dancers. He ended up sticking around for four years to join what he describes as the intelligent, provocative, and honest conversations on the site's forums. “It was great,” he says. “You could have an open discussion about your beliefs and thoughts.” Boston participated in conversations on RedBook about everything from Libertarian politics to swinger sex parties.


But the most valuable part of the site was its reviews section. You could pay $13 a month for access to the section, where VIP customers shared detailed write-ups of their experiences with escorts, BDSM providers, and erotic masseuses. As part of their reviews, users listed the services they received, as well as details about the provider's physical attributes. Looking for a well-reviewed Latina under 30 who provides full-body sensual massage in Oakland? Just filter to narrow down your search.


Then, on June 25, 2014, visitors to RedBook got a rude shock. Instead of a directory of links to sexy ads, forums, and reviews, they saw a dire-looking alert from the Department of Justice, FBI, and IRS stating that RedBook's domain had been seized. The Feds' message, still up today, asserts that there is probable cause that the site was involved in “money laundering derived from racketeering based on prostitution.”


Federal agents arrested Omuro, 54, along with Annmarie Lanoce, a 41-year-old bespectacled mother from Rocklin, California, a suburb of Sacramento. (Lanoce worked for Omuro, helping to moderate RedBook and manage its operations.) Their homes were raided and their computer equipment confiscated. In July, Omuro was charged with using the Internet to facilitate prostitution and 24 counts of money laundering. Lanoce was charged with using the Internet to facilitate prostitution. Released on bond, they were prohibited from going online or associating with former users of the site.


The United States attorney's indictment against Omuro claims he took in more than $5 million. The site brought in revenue from fees paid by RedBook users for access to the site's enhanced features. It's unclear why the authorities targeted RedBook and not the array of other sites where sex is openly bought and sold. The US attorney's office declined to offer any comment, but its indictment speaks for itself.


Both Omuro and Lanoce initially pleaded not guilty to all charges, but in November Lanoce changed her plea in the hope that it might allow her to avoid a felony sentence in exchange for good behavior. A few weeks later Omuro followed suit and entered his own guilty plea to the charge of using the Internet with the intent to facilitate prostitution, agreeing to forfeit nearly $1.3 million in cash and property. Omuro's guilty plea marked the first-ever federal conviction of a website operator for the crime of facilitating prostitution. Both Omuro and Lanoce are due in court in March for sentencing.


Photographer Victor Cobo has been shooting images of sex workers in San Francisco's Tenderloin district for more than 15 years.

Photographer Victor Cobo has been shooting images of sex workers in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district for more than 15 years. Victor Cobo



San Francisco's gritty Tenderloin district is bordered by touristy Union Square on one side and tony Nob Hill on another. In 2012 Twitter installed its lavish new headquarters in an old art deco building on Market Street, kicking off a surge of corporate moves to the area by the likes of Uber, Spotify, Yammer, and Square. In turn, hundreds of young tech workers have recently relocated to the Tenderloin and are rapidly changing the economics of a neighborhood that has managed to resist gentrification for decades.


That resistance is on full display one afternoon this fall when I take a short walk around the neighborhood. I count five women standing on various corners, some actively waving at cars, others more carefully making low-key eye contact with male drivers as they cruise by. One woman is particularly aggressive. She wears a black tank top with spaghetti straps, mommish jeans, and a San Francisco Giants sweatshirt tied around her waist. You might mistake her for a lady on her way out to buy groceries, except she's wearing cartoonishly thick lipstick and heavy eye makeup, especially striking in the middle of the day.


I stand about 10 feet from her, near a bus stop. A guy on a Harley stops at a red light, and the woman lewdly thrusts her hips in his direction. The biker rides on, and a police truck pulls up alongside us. The cop in the passenger seat calls her over. She walks toward the car and leans her head into his open window. The officer says something quietly to her, and she walks back to her post. A beat later, the cops are gone, and she continues to hail passersby—just a little more subtly now.


The 38-Geary bus pulls up, lets out a dozen passengers, and picks up a few new ones. When I don't get on the bus, the woman knows I'm not there waiting for a ride downtown. She looks over to me. “Hey. My name's Cathy,” she says. “What are you doing today?”



I get flustered and begin to stammer, then manage to blurt out that I'd just come from a meeting and that I'm trying to figure out what to do next.


“You need company?”


I tell her no, I'm good. I step off the curb and quickly cross illegally in the middle of the street. Then I turn back. “Hey,” I say to Cathy. “Can I find you on the Internet?”


“Nah,” she says. “I used to get RedBook reviews, but they took it down.”


Omuro started Redbook so that Bay Area mongers would have a home on the web. It succeeded, ultimately attracting so many users that the site became a full-fledged business, with massive profits. But when RedBook was shut down, the people who were hit the hardest weren't the buyers, but the sellers—sex workers like Cathy for whom the site had made the world's oldest profession significantly less risky.


One of the ways the site reduced danger for workers was by making it easier for them to weed out bad dates, from poor tippers to full-on abusive creeps. Providers could choose to meet only customers who were well known and well liked on RedBook's forums, and some workers even required references from other escorts on the site before taking on a new client. “RedBook provided a space to safely negotiate and screen clients that reduced the likelihood of being victimized by predators or cops,” says Kristina Dolgin of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, a national advocacy group.


RedBook may be gone, but the migration of the sex trade from the streets to the Internet is only accelerating. Some sex workers use social media to advertise (search Twitter for some combination of the city you're in, and #escort, #incall, or whatever kink you're into). Others have their own websites, often built using specialized services like Escort Design—a kind of WordPress for people in the sex industry. But the most common way to connect with clients online is through sites similar to RedBook that have yet to be shut down by the authorities. Scott Cunningham, a Baylor University economics professor who studies prostitution and black markets on the web, says that while exact figures are unknown—no national census has been conducted—he has no doubt that the vast majority of today's paid sex arrangements originate through the Internet. “Sites like these, and the Internet more generally, have taken most of the action off of the street,” he says. “It's likely that these websites have actually expanded the market.”


ff_redbook_1_leg

Victor Cobo



If sex workers simply want to buy an ad, they can still use Cityvibe, Lovings, Backpage, and Eros Guide. RedBook was different, in that its vast network of message boards made it possible for workers to not only advertise but ask questions of one another, find support, and even make friends. This is one of the things that Siouxsie Q, a sex worker in Oakland, misses most about RedBook. “We lost a critical resource for building community,” she says. “And building community is already tough enough when you've been marginalized and your work is criminalized.” Women used RedBook's forums to share everything from jokes to medical and financial tips that were useful to people in the sex industry, she says.


Siouxsie's career in sex work is as diverse as it gets. In addition to seeing a few clients each week for escort and domination services, she writes a sex column for SF Weekly, teaches sex classes for couples looking to add spice to their love lives (one of her recent courses was called Monogamaybe), models for fetish websites, and stars in adult films. She was recently nominated for an AVN—the Oscars of porn.


She also hosts and produces two podcasts. The Whorecast focuses on the people and politics of sex work—a recent episode featured an interview with a marine who says his side gig as a porn performer cost him his pension. (The Whorecast was originally titled This American Whore, but a statement from This American Life's Ira Glass convinced Siouxsie to change the name.) Her other podcast is about Game of Thrones from the perspective of two sex workers. It's called Winter Is Coming … On Your Face.


But escorting remains a primary source of Siouxsie's income. And since RedBook was shut down, her business has taken a substantial hit. “I've had immense trouble connecting with new clients,” she says. “I have only taken on two or three new people since the site closed, which is a huge drop.” She blames the loss of the site's massive traffic and reviews section, which was useful in helping clients find dates. Guys can still get Siouxsie's contact information through her personal website, but all the positive comments that clients wrote about her over the years vanished from the web the moment RedBook was pulled offline. “Imagine you have a restaurant with a ton of great reviews on Yelp, and then Yelp gets shut down,” Siouxsie says. “All that information is gone, and now it's hard for people to find out about your restaurant.”


THE REDBOOK CLIENTS WERE NICE, “NERDY, TO BE HONEST.” NOW RACHEL HAS TO DO MORE CAR DATES. SHE HATES CAR DATES.


By closing down RedBook, law enforcement made it tough for specialty escorts like Siouxsie to set favorable rates for their services. “Five or six years ago, a bunch of women on the site who did erotic massage got together and were like, ‘What if we all raise our rates by $20?’ And it totally worked. That can't happen now.”


Then there's the reality that so much of the sex workers' personal information is now in the hands of the authorities. “It's likely that law enforcement agencies now have people's IP addresses, email addresses that might include their real names, and credit card information,” says Nadia Kayyali, a staff activist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “And one of the trends we've seen lately is that everything they get, they keep. It goes into a database somewhere.” The fear is that the sex workers could be surveilled and possibly arrested at any time.


In the wake of RedBook's shutdown, Kayyali set up a workshop, held in an unpublicized location in San Francisco, to teach sex workers how to anonymize their online communications and transactions. She explained to about 20 women the basics of the Tor browser and offered tips for improving password security. The attendees' questions were smart and informed, and she was impressed by the amount of thoughtfulness in the room. “There are sex workers with PhDs,” she says. “There are sex workers who know how to code.”


Then again, the people who are most likely to be targeted by police are those with the least amount of experience with technology. “They're working on the street and probably operating mostly with phones,” Kayyali says. So at her training session she also talked about the importance of basic security measures like using passcodes and text message encryption. “They're relatively simple things but can provide some measure of security on the street,” she says. “And that's more important than ever—we're seeing more workers out on the streets now because of the closure of RedBook.”


At least in the short term. Cunningham, the Baylor economist, points to a study he coauthored in 2011, which suggests that the Internet may have decreased the number of sex workers age 25 to 40 who work on the street.


Since RedBook closed, "I've had immense trouble connecting with new clients," says Siouxsie Q.

Since RedBook closed, “I’ve had immense trouble connecting with new clients,” says Siouxsie Q. Victor Cobo



One woman who relied on RedBook's free ad listings calls herself Rachel, a 45-year-old sex worker who's been operating in the streets and residential hotels of San Francisco's Tenderloin district for the better part of 20 years. She's a longtime crack addict and often homeless, but today she's neat, clean, and fashionably dressed in a slouchy sweater, leggings, and new cowboy boots. If you walked by her on the street, you'd never guess what she did for money.


After a few minutes of conversation on the corner of Post and Hyde and negotiation of a $60 fee for her time, Rachel is leading me by the hand past a firehouse, a medical weed clinic, and a drag bar. She breaks away to talk to three guys across the street. After a minute, she pockets a small baggie from one of the men, hugs him, and runs back to me. She grabs my hand again and pulls me toward the front step of the America Hotel, one of the dozens of single-room-occupancy hotels that house the Tenderloin's poor. We walk past a gate and up a filthy flight of carpeted steps to meet a man sitting behind a thick plastic wall with a head-sized hole cut out toward the bottom. He nods at Rachel and glares at me.


“Papa, this is my friend,” Rachel says. The clerk is in his early fifties, wearing a black hooded sweatshirt with the YouTube logo embroidered across the front. He asks me for $10 and tells me that I need to leave a photo ID with him while I'm visiting.


Rachel and I climb another two flights of stairs and arrive at her room. There isn't enough stuff inside for it to qualify as a mess. But it does not feel clean. There's a bare twin-size mattress, a sink, and a dresser with an old TV playing an episode of The Big Bang Theory. There are two duffel bags in the corner near the window. Rachel's clothes and toiletries spill out of them.


She tells me that she moved to the Bay Area from the East Coast in the early '90s and quickly got a gig stripping at the now-shuttered Market Street Cinema. “I'd danced in other places before, and let's just say that the Market Street job was ‘stripping plus,’” she laughs.


ff_redbook_1_street

Victor Cobo



Rachel pulls an old Lenovo laptop out of her oversize leopard-print purse and shows me an ad for her services that she placed on Lovings, which caters to escorts, sensual massage therapists, and others providing erotic services in San Francisco. She's a new user on the site and paid $120 for the ad to run for a month. Rachel says one of her customers let her use his credit card to pay for it.


She tells me that while she always had a steady stream of calls from guys on RedBook, she hasn't had many responses to her Lovings ad. I browse around on the site, and it's not hard to see why her post hasn't taken off. Most of the women advertising on Lovings appear to be significantly younger than Rachel. Also, their photos were shot by pros, or at least by friends with decent SLRs and basic Photoshop skills. In contrast, Rachel's photos look like cruddy phone pics taken in a squalid hotel room.


“It's been like starting over,” she says of RedBook's shutdown. For years most of her clients were guys on RedBook who got her phone number through other users in the forums, “guys who knew me and could vouch for me,” she says. Although she did encounter a few jerks over the years, she says, she almost always had good experiences with the men she met through the site. “They were nice and normally kind of shy,” she says. “Nerdy, to be honest.”


Recently Rachel's customers have tended to be men she meets offline, guys just milling about or driving around the neighborhood, looking for action. She doesn't like walking the streets, because it's tiring and scary, and she especially hates doing car dates because they're dangerous. But the reality is that she's had to do more of both since RedBook closed. “I still have a couple friends from the site who get in touch, but not many,” she says. “I hope another RedBook comes around at some point. It made life a lot easier.”


WIRED community director ERIC STEUER (@ericsteuer) interviewed Roman Mars for issue 23.02.


Photography by Victor Cobo



Magic Leap CEO Teases ‘Golden Tickets’ For Its Augmented Reality


Ever since Google, Qualcomm, and others poured $542 million into an augmented reality startup called Magic Leap, the tiny company has been one of the tech world’s most mysterious ventures. But according to Magic Leap CEO and founder Rony Abovitz, Magic Leap will soon pull back the curtain on its creation.


In a conversation on Reddit today, Abovitz told Redditors that Magic Leap is looking for ways to showcase its technology to the public before it launches. “Stay tuned,” Abovitz wrote, “gold tickets coming.”


Just how or when these sneak peeks might take place is still unclear, as are most details about Magic Leap’s technology. What we do know is that Magic Leap is creating what it calls “cinematic reality,” using head-mounted technology that lets users see virtual objects overlaid on the real world.


In this way, it’s a lot like Microsoft’s HoloLens. The difference, Abovitz said on Reddit, is that Magic Leap has come up with a new way to generate those virtual objects. It’s called digital light-field signal technology, and according to Abovitz, it is safer than any other product currently being developed.


“Our philosophy as a company (and my personal view) is to ‘leave no footprints’ in the brain,” he wrote, noting that other 3-D technology has a proven history of side effects, like nausea and headaches. He said that Magic Leap has been testing the safety of its product using many of the same methods he used for Mako Surgical, a surgical robotics company that sold to Stryker for $1.65 billion.


Still, it’s hard to tell whether that argument holds water, given the advancements in stereoscopic 3D technology that have been made over the years, particularly in products like the Oculus Rift. Even so, Abovitz was adamant that he plans to win the AR war with safety, going so far as to say he wouldn’t wear devices that use stereoscopic 3D technology. “The ONLY safe way forward is to make a digital light field that is naturally tuned into your brain and physiology,” he wrote.


Abovitz still declined to discuss when Magic Leap will be available commercially, but he did say that the company plans to open its technology up to developers some time this year, including developers outside the gaming and entertainment world. That’s because, he believes Magic Leap’s technology is more than just an entertainment product, but a replacement for smartphones, and indeed all the screens in our lives.


“We believe that people may want to use this new form of computing as much, if not more than their mobile device,” he wrote. “We are developing a product platform to enable developers of all kinds, as well as a global creative/maker community to build the coolest stuff ever on it.”



In Silicon Valley Gender Bias Trial, Kleiner Perkins Says Ellen Pao Did Not Have the Skills to Succeed’


Ellen Pao is suing Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers over her dismissal from the company, accusing the big-name Silicon Valley venture capital firm of gender discrimination. But the firm’s lawyer says gender wasn’t an issue.


“There is an entirely different explanation for Ellen Pao’s failure to succeed at Kleiner Perkins,” attorney Lynne Hermle said during opening arguments in the Pao-Kleiner trial on Tuesday. “She did not have the necessary skills for the job. She did not come close.”


Pao—now the interim CEO of popular online community Reddit—brought the suit against the firm in 2012, and this week, the case went to trial, closely watched by the rest of Silicon Valley. The outcome could go a long way towards defining how people view gender issues in the land of tech innovation.


It’s unusual that the case has gone to trial. In these types of delicate situations, parties often push for out-of-court settlements, fearing they may risk damaging their reputations in a very public forum. But according to The New York Times, the rift may run so deep that a deal is all but off the table. And at least for the time being, we have a rare peek into the typically cloaked world of gender discrimination in Silicon Valley.


Early in the day, Pao’s attorney, Alan Exelrod, laid out his opening arguments, saying that Kleiner Perkins did not treat Pao like it treated male partners. “Kleiner Perkins used Ellen Pao’s talents for six years,” Exelrod said. “When it came time to choose the next generation of leaders at Kleiner Perkins, Kleiner only chose men.” But Hermle, of global law firm Orrick, painted a very different picture.


She began her arguments by running through the 40-plus year history of Kleiner Perkins, a company that she claims has been very mindful of the tech gender gap and its role in attempting to close it. According to Hermle, the company has given women important jobs at senior levels within the company, and it relies on these women to run critical operations and investments at Kleiner Perkins.


Hermle held a few individuals up as examples: Mary Meeker, a senior partner and longtime executive at Morgan Stanley; Beth Seidenberg, a general manager who joined KPCB around the same time as Pao; Juliet de Baubigny, who has been with the firm since 2001; and Sue Biglieri, who’s served as KPCB’s CFO for 25 years. All of these women, Hermle added, will testify at the trial on behalf of Kleiner Perkins.


She stressed that John Doerr, a central figure in the case as Pao’s boss and longtime mentor (“She was like a surrogate daughter to him,” Hermle said), has been on a mission to increase the number of women in venture capital for many years. According to Hermle, Doerr has personally backed a long list of female executives at the KPCB, and even personally recruited them for high-profile jobs at companies like Amazon and Google, where he serves on the company’s board of directors. Doerr himself recruited Ellen Pao for a job at Kleiner Perkins.


But, Hermle says, Pao was hired not as an investing partner, but to help Doerr personally in a position called “chief of staff.” Contrary to the implied duties of the title, Pao was not in charge of supervising a large staff, according to Hermle. The role was largely a technical aide position: that meant writing speeches, helping with the calendar, and many other high-level tasks meant to aid Doerr. In 2010, Pao transitioned into a role as an investing venture capitalist and, because she was not effective at the job, according to Hermle, some Kleiner Perkins partners wanted her to leave after a year. But Doerr fought for Pao to stay on, and she did—but she continued to have conflicts with her colleagues.


According to Hermle’s argument, Pao was “supremely insistent on getting credit for things,” and she “frequently complained.” She complained when there were group tasks that had to be done, insisting that her coworkers were withholding information from her, Hermle says, and she complained that she was working harder than others—harder than both men and women. “At any moment in time, there was someone not getting along with Ellen,” Hermle said.


She implored the jury to wait for all the facts and evidence before making a decision in the case. “Ellen Pao fails to meet her burden of proof,” Hermle said, “even though she repeatedly and consistently seeks to twist facts, circumstances and events.”



Pebble’s Insane Success Proves That Kickstarter Is Now a Marketing Tool


Pebble_Watch_3QR_Black

Pebble



When Pebble launched a Kickstarter campaign for its original smartwatch, the startup met its $100,000 fundraising goal in just two hours, going on to become the most funded campaign in Kickstarter history at the time.


Three years later, Pebble has broken its own impressive record, raising $500,000 in just 17 minutes for its latest watch, the Pebble Time. When I started writing this story, the campaign had amassed $1.9 million in funding. When I finished, it was up to $4.3 million.


This kind of success should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been following Pebble since its first campaign. Far from the risky bet it once was, Pebble is now a sizable company, with a sought-after product, sold in mainstream stores like Best Buy and Target. Particularly in these frothy days of 10-digit funding rounds, Pebble would likely have had no problem raising venture capital. The question is: Why even take Pebble Time to Kickstarter?


In a campaign video, Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky tells potential backers: “We’re back on Kickstarter to work directly with you, the community that got us here.” And that may well be true. But whether Migicovsky acknowledges it or not, this is also about, well, marketing.


It represents a subtle change in the role of Kickstarter. The crowdfunding service has become a place where companies that are already widely embraced go to market themselves and drum up excitement for new products—excitement that, at times, can overshadow the projects that arguably need Kickstarter’s help most.


The Change


In its earliest days, Kickstarter billed tself as a place where independent artists, filmmakers, tinkerers, and entrepreneurs could raise money for worthwhile ideas. As Kickstarter co-founder and former CEO Perry Chen told The New York Times back in 2009 when the site first launched: “Money has always been a huge barrier to creativity. We all have a lot of ideas we’d like to see get off the ground, but unless you have a rich uncle, you aren’t always able to embrace those random ideas.”


Kickstarter is still a place for embracing those random ideas. But Pebble shows that it’s also a place for something more. In an interview with the online publication Backchannel about the Pebble Time campaign, Kickstarter’s current CEO seemed to underline this subtle shift—albeit without recognizing it as a shift. “The Pebble Time project will show that the real power and utility of our platform is not in money,” he said, “it’s in community and distribution.”


In other words, it’s about marketing. Take that idea to its extreme—where any company, no matter the size, can use Kickstarter to access a community and distribute its products—and Kickstarter becomes a microcosm of the very market dynamics it initially set out to fix.


Kickstarter isn’t the only platform wrestling with this issue. In a recent WIRED op-ed, one crafter accused Etsy of losing its soul, because it now allows Etsy sellers to work with third party manufacturers. That has led to a flood of mass produced products, that make it tough for sellers of handmade goods to compete. The network effect this creates is good for Etsy, just as it is for Kickstarter. For the sellers and creators on these platforms, though, letting in the mass market can make it as difficult as it ever was to get noticed.


The Cost of Freedom


At the same time, it’s hard to blame a company like Pebble for wanting to fundraise this way. After all, Pebble had the quintessential Kickstarter project the first time around. It was a worthy idea from a small and mighty team, that had been rejected by the venture capital community, and rose to popularity on Kickstarter largely on its own merits.


Raising funding on Kickstarter helped Pebble prove market demand and gave the company the creative freedom it might never have had if it had venture capitalists to answer to. That’s one reason why Kickstarter is often credited with, well, kickstarting the hardware revolution. Unlike many traditional tech investors, the crowd has been more willing to back risky hardware projects like Pebble and the Oculus Rift.


So it makes sense that Pebble—a quintessential Kickstarter success story—would want to replicate that success this time around. And yet the question remains: If successful companies like Pebble continue turning to Kickstarter, how many more success stories like Pebble’s will there be?



This Dark and Bloody Power Rangers Fan Film Takes a Shot at Gritty Reboots


The term “gritty reboot” has been bandied about so many times since Batman Begins that it has become a catchall dig at any attempt to revive a familiar pop-culture property. The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers reboot currently slated for summer 2016 is no different, but this fan film shows what could happen if the film went full throttle on the Grit Factor.


Created by veteran music video director Joseph Kahn (Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name,” Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space”), whose feature directing credits include the amazingly terrible Torque and slightly underrated Detention, Power/Rangers is everything the 2016 movie will probably never be. That’s because Kahn thinks the gritty reboot trend is crap, and when he made his entirely unauthorized fan film, he went overboard.


“I think the trick that I really wanted to do with this was to make that dark and gritty version that everybody keeps talking about, but really do it,” Kahn told HitFix. “Really see if I could accomplish it with essentially a really incredible incredibly silly property.”


Described by Kahn as a “deboot,” it’s a star-studded affair, with Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff as Pink Ranger Kimberly Hart, James Van Der Beek, as the second Red Ranger Rocky DeSantos, and Russ Bain (the voice of Rodrik Forrester in Telltale’s Game Of Thrones games) as Blue Ranger Billy Cranston.


People who grew up with the series will recognize the use of the original character lineup from the early seasons, but that’s where the similarities end. It’s vulgar, bloody, and NSFW (the more safe version is above). If you’ve ever wanted to see the Power Rangers snorting drugs, firing guns, and taking on highly choreographed knife fights, this fan film is for you. It’s even more extreme than Kevin Tancharoen’s Mortal Kombat web series, since it takes a cartoonish kung-fu fantasy and turns it into a blood-soaked vengeful conflict.


That’s entirely intentional, Kahn told HitFix, because the box office dominance of adapting established properties into PG-13 movies prevents this kind of boundary-pushing content when constrained by a franchise overprotected for financial viability.


It’s somewhat astounding that the guy behind Torque and the video for Sisqó’s “Thong Song” embodies the voice of reason on the proliferation of the “gritty reboot” business model—one that craves dark realism but also content sanitized enough to reach the widest possible audience. But because he called in a bunch of favors and worked outside the system, Power/Rangers is a glimpse at what kind of crazy ideas would be possible if branding wasn’t so tightly controlled.


UPDATE: Welp, that didn’t last long. Vimeo originally publicized Kahn’s short film as a Staff Pick on its site, but has now removed the video, presumably as the result of a copyright claim. As you can see from his Twitter, Kahn is extremely displeased.




Why Innovation Must Go Beyond Disruption


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“Can you hear me now?” Jason Devaun/Flickr



Henry Ford famously quipped that if he’d asked what people wanted, they’d have said, “faster horses.” There are countless numbers of ideas being funded every day that are aimed at essentially building faster horses. The result is that we have available an enormous embarrassment of riches in technology, information and economy – but how many of them are truly groundbreaking or innovative?


The real breakthroughs happen when we venture outside of convention and learn to look at problems a different way. The real ideas come when we make links where no one else has, a theory put forth by James Webb Young in his little known yet seminal 1939 book, “A Technique for Producing Ideas.”


Young believed that all ideas are simply a new combination of old elements – that by putting together these old elements in a new way, we create new ideas. In other words, ideas don’t just pop into our head. They are the result of a process that, as Webb himself said, “is just as definite as the production of Fords.”


It goes beyond the concept of disruptive innovation made popular by Clayton Christensen. True innovation springs from a combination of a deep understanding of customers’ needs and a willingness to approach a problem from a different angle – connecting the dots where no one else has.


Steve Jobs understood this process intuitively – “creativity is just connecting things” was one of his most often quoted lines – and it’s why he’s frequently held up as the master of innovation.


Jobs and his team at Apple understood the needs and wants of the marketplace. The seamless integration of hardware and OS, the ecosystem of application developers, the emphasis on design and the “attainable exclusivity” and brand cachet (iconic white ear buds?) all served to carve a space for this innovator in a place that was already too full of competitors.


Reed Hastings at Netflix also understood this need. From its streaming media to its all-you-can-watch model, Netflix pioneered online digital delivery of content, enabling users to watch movies anytime, anywhere and on any device they could connect to the Internet. Netflix blurred the lines between content distribution and content creation by offering high quality original programming.


None of this fit into the competitive model that Blockbuster was offering at the time. Unlike that bygone company, Netflix figured out a way to create a richer, easier experience for consumers that consumers had no idea they wanted.


At Cypher, we followed this model to figure out a way to improve cell phone call quality. We have seen our smartphones make enormous advances – year after year, cell phone makers pile on the features, enhance processing time and update media capabilities – yet little has been done to improve sound quality, an important element of phone communication that has been left behind. Given our increasing reliance on our mobile phones and willingness to abandon our landlines, I believe better sound quality is a feature customers both want and need.


Traditional approaches to poor mobile phone sound quality are principally acoustic and focus on the noise – something we knew wasn’t working. We started with a small team of developers and an idea that the real way to address the need in this space was not noise suppression but voice isolation. We believed that the sad state of the art was a result of an obsession to hunt and kill an ever-expanding portfolio of noise types. Essentially, there were too many different noise inputs for anyone to catalog and counter. We needed a way to connect the dots, and thought tracking human speech might be a way to do it. So we set about using this alternative approach to guide our research.


There is a substantial body of pattern-matching and applied math from related fields that we used to examine the problem. We took a very large database of speech and built an artificial intelligence engine to analyze these recordings. By doing this, we developed a set of abstract descriptors to identify human speech. We used these characteristics in our algorithm to “tag” speech elements. We did not really care about anything else, such as background noise.


By using this knowledge, we imbued our software with the ability to recognize the primary speaker and sift it out of any other noise. It was like the old problem of looking for a needle in the haystack. Everyone else’s attempts to build faster hay-sorting machines had met with limited success. But by asking the fundamental question of what makes a needle different from the hay we designed a magnet that pulls the needle out quickly and cleanly.


After two years of turning theory into code, our first deployable software solution blocks out over 99 percent of the background noise while improving the quality of the speaker by an average of 20 percent and improving speech recognition by 25 percent using industry-standard tests.


As phones and people became free to make and take calls from virtually anywhere, the difficulty of controlling the background noise is literally impossible. It’s also impossible to effectively cancel an infinite variety of noise types. That left us with the option of isolating the voice rather than trying to cancel the noise. To paraphrase Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, by eliminating the impossible, the remaining, however improbable, was our path to success.


This was a great lesson to us – and should be to anyone else faced with the challenge of whether to build a faster horse or give consumers something they really need but may not have realized they were missing.


John Walker is co-founder and Chief Operating Office of Cypher.



Facebook Shares Its Design Secrets in the Apple App Store


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Facebook’s Origami Live is a way of prototyping smartphone apps—without writing a single line of computer code. Credit: Facebook



Facebook is releasing a new iPhone app through the Apple App Store, but it’s not for everyone. It’s for the world’s software designers.


This morning, the social networking giant unloaded an app-ified version of Origami, the primary design tool the company used in creating Facebook Paper—the rather impressive news reader it released last year—as well as various other Facebook apps, including Instagram, Messenger, Slingshot, Hyperlapse, and Rooms.


Basically, Origami provides a way for designers to rapidly prototype new mobile apps—without writing a single line of computer code. Based on an old Apple graphics tool called Quartz composer, it lets you piece together hundreds of tiny graphical widgets and animations into something that looks—and behaves—a lot like a real smartphone app. In just a few hours, for instance, Facebook designer Mike Matas used the tool to create a working prototype of Paper’s distinctive “tilt-to-explore” photo viewer.


Others tools offers ways for non-coders to prototype apps, including Balsamiq and Proto.io. But Facebook’s new app, Origami Live for iOS, aims to take this sort of thing to a new level, letting designers like Matas—who doesn’t actually write computer code—build a more complex breed of prototype.


“With Paper, it helped us build things that otherwise would not have been built,” says Brandon Walkin, who created the tool inside Facebook. “It gives designers a way of doing things that are more traditionally in the domain of engineers.”


Facebook previously open sourced a version of Origami, sharing its underlying software code with the world at large. But Origami Live is something different. It’s pre-packaged into a mobile app that designers—as opposed to open-source-savvy developers—can readily use straight from their iPhones and iPads. Previously, designers outside of Facebook could only use the prototyping tool on their desktops or laptops.


With Origami Live, you can view and demonstrate prototypes on your iPhone or iPad, as if they were full-fledged apps. But the tool still dovetails with desktop machines. You can’t use it without plugging your iPhone or iPad into a laptop or desktop (it needs additional processing power). It lets you edit your prototypes from these beefier machines. And as you demo a prototype on your phone, you can mirror its behavior on these machines as well. “You can control your prototype on your phone,” says Walkin, “while presenting it on another screen at the same time.”


According to Walkin, Origami Live also includes a way of automatically converting basic prototypes into raw computer code. With the click of a button, he says, you can transform a prototype into code that can run on iPhones or Android devices or inside web browsers. This code will likely be rather rough, but it gives engineers a starting point as they seek to turn prototypes into complete smartphone apps.


Robert Armstrong, who runs a San Francisco-based mobile development house called Appstem, is at least intrigued by the idea of Origami Live—and believes his firm could make good use of it. “It might make it easier,” he says, “to get prototypes in front of our clients.”


Does it make sense that Facebook would release—and maintain—such an app? Perhaps. The company is intent on sharing so many of its technologies with the world at large, both through open source code and other means. It has even released designs for the computer servers and networking switches it has fashioned for use inside the massive data centers that underpin its online operation. Driven by CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook believes that in sharing its tech expertise, it will expand the internet as a whole—which can only help the further expansion of Facebook itself.


In this case, the company is looking to expand the mobile internet—just as it’s doing with a cloud computing service called Parse. But that’s for engineers. Origami is for designers.



Renewable energy obtained from wastewater

Researchers from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona have devised an efficient way to obtain electrical energy and hydrogen by using a wastewater treatment process. The proposed system, published in Water Research, uses bacteria which consumes the organic material and produces electricity which produces hydrogen, the energetic vector of the future. The results point to further developments of this technology at industrial scale.



Currently, there are treatments in which wastewater can flow out to the river or sea without causing any environmental problems. These technologies however entail high energy costs, mainly in aeration and pumping, and an elevated economic cost in treating the sludge left over from the treatment process.


Wastewater contains an elevated amount of chemical energy in the form of organic contaminants. In order to make use of this energy, researchers from around the world study ways to recover it in the form of hydrogen, a process which efficiently eliminates organic matter from wastewater. It not only reduces the amount of energy needed during the process, it also obtains energy from the produced hydrogen. The key to achieve this is what is known as microbial electrolysis cells (MEC). What is needed is a very special type of bacteria, exoelectrogenic bacteria, capable of oxidising organic material and generating electricity which in turn produces hydrogen. These cells only need a bit of added voltage, much less than what is used for water electrolysis, and which is recovered with the hydrogen, thereby generating clean energy.


Researchers from the Bioelectrochemistry group of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) Department of Chemical Engineering have improved the energetic efficiency of the cells. The experimental results were very positive and demonstrated that these systems would have a market niche at industrial scale. The scientists, coordinated by professors Albert Guisasola and Juan Antonio Baeza, used real wastewater instead of the biodegradable synthetic water used in most experiments, and achieved a biological production of hydrogen and, to a large extent, the recovery of a good part of the energy contained in the residues. To achieve this, researchers selected a set of bacteria capable of transforming complex substrates such as methanol, dairy waste, starch and glycerol, into simpler compounds which could, in turn, be degraded by exoelectrogens.


The results were very positive and high hydrogen production and energy intensity was obtained through the wastewater treatment. In the long term, the MEC fed with dairy wastewater yielded the best results in terms of current intensity (150 amps per cubic metre of reactor), in hydrogen production (0.94 cubic metres of hydrogen per cubic metre of reactor and day), and in recovery of electrons at the cathode (91%); all that with an applied voltage of only 0.8 V. These results are the basis for a potential industrial development of this technology and therefore for the creation of systems capable of producing hydrogen from wastewater treatment.




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The above story is based on materials provided by Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.