Tag Archives: 2018

Quoth the Raven: “It’s a Match!”

Years ago, when I first heard about online DNA match ser­vices, my reac­tion was some­thing to the effect of, “Stuff you put online lives for­ev­er, you no longer have con­trol of it, so what hap­pens when pri­va­cy breach­es hap­pen?”

 The recent high-pro­file US case of the alleged Gold­en State Killer was one exam­ple of the off-label use of DNA match­ing ser­vices that’s cap­tured the nation’s imag­i­na­tion.

While many peo­ple have a pre­con­ceived notion of DNA being unique, deci­sive, and absolute­ly air­tight, the real­i­ty is a touch more hum­bling, as mul­ti­ple news out­lets and law enforce­ment offi­cials have warned of the per­ils, error rates, and num­bers of false pos­i­tives involved in fam­i­ly match­ing. If any­thing, it rein­forces a need to fol­low the usu­al rules of inves­ti­ga­tion: strive to be more thor­ough, and always tread care­ful­ly.

While this par­tic­u­lar legal case has raised a lot of eye­brows, to me it seems to be more about the unmask­ing of a killer than the means by which the lat­est set of leads was gen­er­at­ed. This isn’t a new tech­nol­o­gy, it’s been around for quite some time. Police have used these ser­vices before, but those instances haven’t grabbed head­lines in the same way as the case of the Gold­en State Killer.

To the offi­cers involved, I salute your cre­ativ­i­ty and per­se­ver­ance. Hope­ful­ly, once jus­tice has tak­en its course and the case has been tried, you’ll have been able to give some much-need­ed clo­sure to the fam­i­lies of the vic­tims.

But that’s not why I’m writ­ing.

What’s prob­lem­at­ic about the main­stream­ing of genet­ic sequenc­ing and the sub­se­quent break­down of taboos sur­round­ing our most sen­si­tive per­son­al pos­ses­sion — the DNA code — is not the risk of false pos­i­tives or acci­den­tal misiden­ti­fi­ca­tion in a police inves­ti­ga­tion. It’s the line of oppor­tunists who are eager to acquire that data and bend it to their will for all man­ner of com­mer­cial, insur­ance, med­ical, and oth­er mis­us­es as peo­ple relax their guard and invite more and more strangers to the par­ty to play gate­keep­er to this extreme­ly sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion.

If you’ve ever been a vic­tim of iden­ti­ty theft, or if you’ve ever had some­one run up a bunch of unau­tho­rized charges on your cred­it card, you already have a glimpse of how it feels.

Your bank can issue a new cred­it card num­ber, but you don’t get a mul­li­gan once your DNA code makes it into the wild.

Con­tin­ue read­ing

Video Platform Go Boom: Perspectives on the Adpocalypse

As it becomes increas­ing­ly obvi­ous a sea change is occur­ring at YouTube with respect to how the com­pa­ny con­ducts busi­ness and gov­erns its user base, it’s time we had a mean­ing­ful con­ver­sa­tion about the use of third-par­ty con­tent aggre­ga­tion plat­forms and the long-term effects of putting too many eggs into the same bas­ket.

Only a few gen­er­a­tions have been lucky enough to wit­ness the birth of the World Wide Web (and mass com­mer­cial­iza­tion of the Inter­net prop­er) and still have the priv­i­lege of liv­ing a rea­son­able num­ber of years on both sides of that flash­bulb moment in his­to­ry. Mine is one of them: togeth­er, we’ve grown with it, nur­tured it, aug­ment­ed our lives with it, watched it evolve — and we’ve drawn incred­i­ble ben­e­fit from the tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion that fol­lowed. Today all man­ner of com­put­er sys­tems cross paths with our lives hun­dreds of times on a dai­ly basis, and most times, it rarely elic­its a thought.

We’ve become so inti­mate­ly tied to our tech­nol­o­gy that invis­i­ble design has become an exquis­ite­ly refined, and gen­er­al­ly expect­ed, norm. Where once the shar­ing of con­tent on the Web was an intel­lec­tu­al­ly expen­sive and fair­ly time-con­sum­ing under­tak­ing — often requir­ing an indi­vid­ual to learn var­i­ous back-end tech­nolo­gies and pro­gram­ming lan­guages as well as visu­al design and its atten­dant soft­ware — nowa­days, most peo­ple rely on a mul­ti­tude of turn-key solu­tions that do much of the think­ing and heavy lift­ing for us, offer­ing decent inte­gra­tion with very lit­tle down­time.

Well, at least until that ser­vice changes the rules, lim­its its fea­tures, crash­es, or liq­ui­dates its assets.

Then we have a prob­lem.

Con­tin­ue read­ing

SpaceX: There’s a Starman Waiting in the Sky

Yes­ter­day was the maid­en voy­age of the Fal­con Heavy and true to its nature, SpaceX didn’t dis­ap­point. Whether we’re look­ing at the tech­ni­cal exe­cu­tion of land­ing two boost­ers ver­ti­cal­ly after flight at the same time on tan­dem pads (we’ll ignore that pesky cen­tral core), or the inspi­ra­tion of real-life ‘Star­man’ enter­ing orbit to the tune of David Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars,’ there’s a lot to be excit­ed about.

What made this launch so mem­o­rable was the gut­sy aspi­ra­tion, the heart, the because-we-can’ ethos. Why launch a bor­ing reg­u­lar test pay­load when instead, they can test a new space suit and do it in one of the most endear­ing ways pos­si­ble? That cre­ativ­i­ty is a tal­ent in its own right. It doesn’t mere­ly make news, it cap­tures the love and imag­i­na­tion of gen­er­a­tions and reminds us exact­ly why space trav­el is fuck­ing awe­some.

And yes, there are times when we need exact­ly this kind of boot to the head to wake us from our earth­bound prob­lems and inspire us to dream of what humankind can accom­plish next — among the stars.

Keep being awe­some, SpaceX.

As for the tech­ni­cal side of things, the drone ship video feed was lost after the cen­tral core boost­er hit the ocean at 300 miles per hour, about 300 feet (100 meters) from the drone ship. The rock­et was able to restart only one of its three engines dur­ing re-entry before it ran out of the TEA-TEB com­pound required to ignite the fuel mix­ture.

Elon Musk’s com­men­tary and atti­tude on this are inter­est­ing: in a world where many CEOs tend not to engage active­ly with the pub­lic, he bucks the trend by being casu­al and upfront, often dis­cussing a lot of the learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties, suc­cess­es, and fail­ures his com­pa­ny has had over the years.

And yes, there have been some spec­tac­u­lar fire­works at past launch­es and land­ings.