Your communications aren’t private, and you shouldn’t be shocked

The Washington Post: The NSA and FBI know everything you do online, except for Twitter:

PRISM was launched from the ashes of President George W. Bush’s secret program of warrantless domestic surveillance in 2007, after news media disclosures, lawsuits and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court forced the president to look for new authority.

Congress obliged with the Protect America Act in 2007 and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which immunized private companies that cooperated voluntarily with U.S. intelligence collection. PRISM recruited its first partner, Microsoft, and began six years of rapidly growing collection beneath the surface of a roiling national debate on surveillance and privacy. Late last year, when critics in Congress sought changes in the FISA Amendments Act, the only lawmakers who knew about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues.

Nine of the largest U.S. internet companies, comprising Silicon Valley’s murderer’s row and the hubs of the vast majority of online communication for the U.S. and the world, are cooperating or have been compelled to work with the NSA and the FBI on widespread surveillance of Americans and ‘foreigners’ in the War on Terror. And that comes on the heels of a report from The Guardian that the NSA has been collecting metadata for every call made through Verizon, and then more revelations that the data collection extends to essentially all telecommunications providers.

So the NSA knows that you call your Mom every other Tuesday. And they probably have a log of that ill-advised Facebook chat you had with your ex-girlfriend three years ago at 2:30 in the morning, even though you hoped that everyone forgot. Apparently this helps catch terrorists.

Hopefully these programs being somewhat out in the open will spark real debate, but the immediate response of top Senate and House officials to the Verizon controversy – full support – does not bode well. And since the Administration’s first response was to announce a hunt for The Guardian‘s source, right in line with the actions that have gotten them in hot water in the past few weeks, it’s doubtful that we’ll see any change to the White House whistleblower policy any time soon.

That President Obama once publicly criticized the executive branch’s monitoring of innocent Americans and then changed his position after gaining access to that power demonstrates an age-old warning of civil libertarians and privacy advocates: once such “temporary” powers are granted or rights taken away, it’s much harder said than done to turn back the clock. In fact, it only makes it easier to erode rights and liberties a little more.

Journalists leaving media to work for start-ups

The Journalist’s New Escape Plan: Start-Ups:

Others, like former Wired editor Evan Hansen, who recently joined Ev Williams’ blogging start-up Medium as an editor, dismiss the idea that the switch has anything to do with job security. “This is not about finding a safe place to keep doing the same old same old, but about inventing something new and having a place at the table with tech innovators who have the capacity to actually build it,” he said.

And then there’s the money. While leaving a traditional newsroom for a younger tech company is still risky, there’s at least the promise of stock options and the lure of a grand exit, which are both exciting as well as rare opportunities in media, a field not known for its exorbitant salaries. In the not-so-distant past, a successful tenure as a reporter or editor could mean a corner office or a cushy columnist job at an elite publication — or perhaps an offer to “sell out” to a more lucrative job at a codependent PR firm. Today, it could very well mean a modest buyout as the company clears room for younger reporters with lower salaries.

I think that in the next five-to-ten years the news media is going to reach some kind of equilibrium, either through the use of paywalls or through better forms of advertising. What I’m hoping – for my own career’s sake – is that once that point is reached, sites will be able to slowly expand and we can go back to the days of stable careers at institutions that aren’t on the verge of failing.

Mostly because freelancing sounds incredibly stressful. 

Snapchat releases major update

Matt Alexander:

Snapchat doesn’t seem to have gained much traction in the core technology community, but, outside of it, I rarely come across a friend who hasn’t used it on a regular basis. From fleeting shots of lunch to videos sharing concert experiences, Snapchat has quickly found its way into my daily life in a truly good  way.

While I disagree with the point about the core technology community not adopting Snapchat – every software engineer my age that I know uses it as does everyone at the Business Insider office – I agree with Matt’s main point: Snapchat is taking the world by storm because it’s just so damn easy to work into your life.

You don’t have to worry about wording your status just right or framing the picture or choosing the right filter because in ten seconds it’ll be gone. Some people don’t like that because they want to be able to look at their chats later. I find it freeing because it lets me stay in the moment.

How Miley Cyrus made drugs uncool

Miley Poppin’ Molly: How Miley Cyrus Officially Made Singing About Drugs Uncool:

Miley Cyrus referring to being at a party where these drugs are in use is much like seeing a kid you used to babysit chugging a 40 at a high school party as you scroll through your Facebook feed. You knew it was going to happen one day, but you’d rather not hear about it or see evidence of it. Naturally, her inferences to the drugs feels a little awkward, as she still struggles to fully gain the type of rebellious and mature pop star status she’s been trying to achieve since she became legal. Now she hangs with rappers! She chopped off her hair! She takes half-naked pictures without her father’s presence! She also no longer sends those pictures to Nick Jonas! Cyrus has been less blatantly self-destructive than Justin Bieber as he tries to catapult his way into “manhood,” but that doesn’t mean it feels any less forced.

If I ever have a kid with any real amount of raw acting or musical talent, they’re going to have to wait until they’re an adult before they start down that career path. Starting as a child doesn’t let you properly figure out what the world is like and what you want your places in it to be.

George Clooney almost played Mexican Mitt Romney on Arrested Development

Asawin Suebsaeng, for Mother Jones:

During a conference call on Wednesday, Arrested Development creator and executive producer Mitchell Hurwitz revealed exactly why he and his creative team focused so much on lampooning Cain in the show’s fourth season. Hurwitz had already planned on mining the Republican presidential field for satire and topicality. One idea was to cast some famous and extremely good-looking actors—including George Clooney—to play a family of “Mexican Romneys” in the new season. That idea was ultimately left unfulfilled, which gave Hurwitz time to turn his attention to Cain.

I could see it. Maybe next season? *crosses fingers*

How to stop procrastinating

How do I get over my bad habit of procrastinating?:

Humans like to think we’re a clever lot. Yet those magnificent, mighty brains that allow us to split the atom and touch the moon are the same stupid brains that can’t start an assignment until the day before it’s due.

We evolved from primitive creatures, but we never quite shed ourselves of their legacy. You know the clever, rational part of your brain you think of as your human consciousness? Let’s call him Albert. He lives in your brain alongside an impulsive baby reptile called Rex:

A fantastic Quora post. Key takeaways:

  • Set time aside each day for your basic needs: eating, sleeping, and having some fun. That way your brain won’t want to do those things instead of getting to work.
  • Build up discipline: easy ways to do this are setting a public goal for yourself (“I’m going to have ten articles up today everybody!”) or work on a team – the fear of embarrassing yourself in front of others is a pretty powerful motivator.
  • Get yourself pumped. If you have music that gets you in the mood to be productive, by all means listen to it. (I recommend almost anything by Hans Zimmer).
  • Make yourself start. If you can get that first line on the page, your brain won’t work as hard against doing more.

You can’t make it as a freelance writer

As someone just getting his journalism career off the ground, this Medium post was a bit of a punch to the gut:

You almost certainly can’t make it as a freelance writer. I’m not trying to be a jerk. I’m saying: you almost certainly can’t make it as a freelance writer. I think the essential thing to understand is that the next level, the really lucrative stuff that you get after you “get your name out there,” doesn’t exist. The little publications can’t pay and the medium publications want to con you into thinking that publishing for them for next to nothing will get you a piece in one of the big ones and the big ones figure just giving you the platform is payment enough. You can’t live on publishing in the New York Times and The Atlantic three times a year. Look: a lot of the supposed freelance writers you know of either come from money or work as shills on the side. Everybody’s gotta eat, I’m not judging. But many or most freelance writers aren’t. Ask other writers, preferably after a couple drinks. They’ll tell you.

Blackberry customer service is the worst

What If Blackberry Customer Service Ran Other Things?:

BLACKBERRY CUSTOMER SERVICE: We send the update to your phone automatically. You just have to be prepared for it. It’s that time of year, so you should know that and make sure your phone doesn’t die.

ME: It didn’t really die. It stalled. It couldn’t process backing up the ‘Social Feeds’ app and then it shut down.

BLACKBERRY CUSTOMER SERVICE: Oh, you should’ve uninstalled that app.

ME: It came with the phone.

BLACKBERRY CUSTOMER SERVICE: I know, it’s bundled with Blackberry Bold but it’s buggy and I’d uninstall it if I were you. Didn’t you have your information backed up?

It’s your fault for not uninstalling that buggy app that we shipped with our phone. Duh.

How to make your blog better for readers

Designing blogs for readers:

I don’t think there’s any reasonable way, or any need, to separate vanity and ego from a personal blog. Writing is inherently about its author, and is a product of their personality and opinions – that’s not something to be shy about, and we shouldn’t try to change it either. So, write for yourself – and hold yourself to an appropriate standard, because you’d better believe that others are judging the person as well as the piece – but as soon as you publish your views, you’re inviting readers to take a look. I think that the needs of the reader and the author are more aligned than many blogging systems seem to believe.

Having had a decade to think about it, I want to share my views on what I think you do and don’t need on a blog today. Your needs may be different, but perhaps you’ll find something to think about. I bet you could simplify your blog in some way without detracting from the reading experience.

Matt Gemmell has some wonderful suggestions for offering a better reading experience for your audience. I think he’d approve of most of the design decisions that have been made for this site.

Why the ITC’s ban on Apple importing the iPhone and iPad doesn’t matter

U.S. agency: Apple infringes Samsung patent on older iPhones, iPads:

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled on Tuesday that the Silicon Valley giant had infringed on a patent owned by Samsung that involves the ability of devices to transmit multiple services simultaneously and correctly through 3G wireless technology.

The independent federal agency slapped a ban on the import or sale of the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPad 3G and iPad 2 3G distributed by AT&T, the biggest seller of Apple devices in the United States when Samsung filed its complaint in 2011. The products are assembled in Asia.

U.S. President Barack Obama has 60 days to review the ruling. If he does not veto the order, it will go into effect.

60 days from now, we’ll probably be about two months away from the release of the next iPhone. Assuming that there isn’t a lower-cost iPhone introduced as well, we can assume that in September or October:

  • The iPhone 5S will become the new $199 flagship model.
  • The iPhone 5 will move down to the mid-range $99 position.
  • The iPhone 4S will become the new “free on contract” model.

So the iPhone 4 is either not going to be a factor or will be $300 or so off-contract. Meanwhile, the iPhone 3GS, iPad 3G, and iPad 2 3G models are already irrelevant. Even without Apple appealing the decision (which it will on principle alone), this ruling will cause *literally* zero damage to Apple’s bottom line. But hey, at least it makes a good headline for news sites:

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