The Secure Origins of Zcash

Radiolab featured an interesting story on the origin of Zcash, a cryptocurrency focused on providing secure and private transactions. I was more than a little amused at the lengths to which the creators went to secure the original cryptographic key. While their steps seemed completely over-the-top, developments in the story suggest otherwise. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not actually out to get you.

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Self, Mirror

Developing the Selfie

The Cyber Effect by Mary Aiken is an engaging—though at times frightening—study of the effects of technology and Internet culture on persons. She addresses issues such as raising children in a digital environment, the addictive qualities of certain technologies, romance, “cyberchondria,” and the ethics of anonymity. I’ve found it thorough and current. She hits the mark. Aiken writes a challenging and sobering book without resorting to condescension. I encountered this thoughtful section this morning:

Humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers’s work is valuable in terms of illustrating how a young person develops identity. He described self-concept as having three components:

  1. The view you have of yourself—or “self-image.”
  2. How much value you place on your worth—or “self-esteem.”
  3. What you wish you were like—or the “ideal self.”

I think we should consider adding a fourth aspect of “self” to Rogers’s list. In the age of technology, identity appears to be increasingly developed through the gateway of a different self, a less tangible one, a digital creation.

Let’s call this the “cyber self”—or who you are in a digital context. This is the idealized self, the person you wish to be, and therefore an important aspect of self-concept. It is a potential new you that now manifests in a new environment, cyberspace. To an increasing extent, it is the virtual self that today’s teenager is busy assembling, creating, and experimenting with. Each year, as technology becomes a more dominant fact in the lives of teens, the cyber self is what interacts with others, needs a bigger time investment, and has the promise of becoming an overnight viral celebrity. The selfie is the frontline cyber self, a highly manipulated artifact that has been created and curated for public consumption.

But how do we explain that weird, vacant, unmistakable expression on the faces of many selfie subjects? They eyes look out but the mind is elsewhere.

The virtual mirror could be socially isolating, except for one thing. The selfie can’t exist in a vacuum. The selfie needs feedback. A cyber-psychologist might say that’s the whole point of a selfie.

Selfies ask a question of their audience: Like me like this? (Aiken, The Cyber Effect, pp. 171–172)

Sven Birkerts, Changing the Subject

The Terms of the Game

In his book Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet AgeSven Birkerts shares an astute observation,

The explosion of cell phone use changed the terms of the game. That more people were able to call while not tethered to the landline meant more calls, and more calls meant a growing likelihood that those who had not gone portable would be missing calls. Along with this—again, by degrees—emerged the expectation of reachability. Responses that before could have waited for the receipt of the call or message acquired a new urgency factor. The margin of acceptable time for response began to shrink and it has not stopped shrinking—for if there is a reluctance about making an actual voice call, there is no excuse for not texting a reply. There has followed a profound (and ongoing) revision of etiquette assumptions. I am the same person in 2015 as I was in 2000—at least in terms of my calling habits—but in that interval i have grown a devil’s horns. The same hours-later or day-later response that had been perfectly acceptable is now often seen as rude. And, in a neat inversion of the former situation, the delay is now seen as a kind of preening, an assumption of exceptionality (pp. 33–34).

2016-03-22 Garmin run

Data Mania

I recently found a used-like new Garmin Fenix 3 watch. This amazing device is logging all sorts of crazy data. Along with my external sensors, such as the heart rate monitor and speed/cadence sensor on my bike, it logs data from a built-in altimeter, barometer, and temperature sensor. I haven’t tested it out yet, but I’m looking forward to using the Garmin HRM-TRI heart rate monitor, which will be able to log underwater heart measurements along with advanced running metrics.

A Sunlit House

I wonder if anyone has created a mirror system for lighting their house with sunlight. Imagine a channel in your roof that brought in sunlight. It would be somewhat like a normal skylight, but it would divert the light throughout the entire house through a series of mirrors that bounced the light down into each room like a “light vent.”

I’ve seen various heliostats, such as the Wikoda Sunflower that can automatically track the sun in order to deflect its light to a particular location. It seems you could put one of those on your roof to maximize the amount of sunlight that would enter your main lightway.

Update: It looks like researchers at the University of Cincinnati have been working on this for several years.

Self-Operating Napkin

Running in Sync

I’m a stat junkie. I’ve always been interested in baseball stats, college football rankings, and metrics of all sorts. When I started running regularly a couple of years ago, I wanted a way to measure my progress and have at least some detailed history of my performance.

I’ve been using the Runkeeper app on my iPhone for a long time. I’ll either keep my phone in a pocket or an arm strap. Since I listen to podcasts and music from my phone while I run, I’m already carrying it with me. Using the phone’s GPS to track my run was a no-brainer. It gets the job done. But after a while, I realized some things could be improved. Starting and pausing my run tracking from my arm was less than ideal. Handling interval training was complicated. And just checking my current pace was nearly impossible without affecting my form. To resolve these issues I purchased a Polar M400 running watch. It pairs with my Polar H7 heart rate monitor. As a watch, it’s great. As part of a larger ecosystem of fitness tracking, it leaves something to be desired.

The list of services that track fitness seems to be growing by the minute. Runkeeper, Garmin, Strava, Polar Flow, MapMyRun (to name a few) each have strengths and weaknesses. Some play nicer with others. To make matters worse, I have friends spread among these services. I’d like to connect to all of them. I like seeing what they’re doing, and I also appreciate the encouragement and motivation that comes from knowing people are keeping an eye on my training. To reach my active friends in all of these places, I needed a way to sync my data to different services.

Several months ago, I found Tapiriik, a service that can sync training data among these services. It seems to work well—at least as well as it can. Tapiriik is limited to the APIs each of the services expose. It just so happens that Polar isn’t doing us any favors in terms of interoperability.

Here’s how I currently track my training. It’s laughable. I track my runs with the Polar M400. I sync my run data from my watch to the Polar Flow app, which then syncs to the Polar Flow website. Because Polar Flow doesn’t seem to have a decent API, I have to go to the website and download the training file. I then move that file to Dropbox. From there Tapiriik picks up the file and syncs with Runkeeper, Garmin, and Strava. I then visit Shoe Tracker, which connects to Runkeeper, in order to track the mileage of my shoes. This is my tortured version of a Rube Goldberg device.

Recording Better Podcasts

Cast looks like a promising service for recording podcast multi-enders. When recording podcasts with remote guests I’ll usually record my mic directly and then record Skype from the computer—either feeding the computer’s output to a mixer or using a program like Audio Hijack. Either way, the audio I’m recording of my conversation partner has been compressed and sent through the Internet. There will be artifacts and other glitches. Simply put, it’s not the best.

To get around this issue, I could have the other person record his or her audio locally and then send it to me later. I would then drop that audio into my audio editing software and line it up with my track. This is a chore, because most people aren’t adept at recording. More than that, uploading a ~500MB file can be a pain. And lining the audio up can be laborious—especially if there are any sampling issues and audio drift.

That’s why Cast could be so useful. They look to simplify that process by cutting out all the steps in favor of an easy in-browser solution. I’ve requested an invitation to the private beta. I’ll let you know if it works out.

Colossians 1:28–29

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.


No Uncertain Sound
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