Are We Too Connected? 

​You descend the steps of the metro station, dodging fellow commuters to reach turnstiles that grant access to the platform. As you make your way to the spot where you need to wait for the train, you spy countless people connected to technology by their usual gaze and folded neck, the glow of screens reflected on their faces, the tapping and shaking of their wrists to glean the time and weather. Our world has invariably changed in less time than it took for Google to become a verb. All this new technology and what have we gained? We have access to a wealth of knowledge, but do we really know any more? Our pursuits of the tangible have waned, replaced with consumption of the virtual. I used to count the ratio of iPhones to Androids flaunted by their owners in a given place, but now such a task is daunting, and it’s much simpler to only count the people abstaining from the use of a smart device. 
We seek to automate our homes and connect the facets of our digital lives from wrist watches and wearables to virtual and augmented reality spectacles. It dominates us. Mundane tasks like typing is no more as we make the shift to speak it or gesture it. Suddenly UPS and FedEx seem obsolete–they were replaced by drone delivery services from Amazon. We’re more angered at the time it takes Netflix or our phones to start than the delay between getting a text message, yet another soon-to-be-obsolete reference to the past. So much has changed, but has it been for the better, the worse, or is it just different?
For me, the jarring affect of seeing so many heads planted in the downward stare has prompted me to look inwardly. Are we addicted, am I addicted to these devices? This examination of my reliance on tech has enabled me to take a step back to analyze the pros and cons with the myriad of services and networks in which we subscribe. As I Swype this article from my Nexus 5 smartphone and save it to the cloud via Google keep, I immediately acknowledge certain benefits. 
One can now monitor their pets, their children, their home, and soon enough each other, all from within a device, which most themselves carry. There’s a line in there somewhere that we haven’t yet crossed, but I believe we’re toeing the line. The line between freedom, privacy and omnipotence is extremely blurred.
But still, there are those holdouts, relics from the previous era, that clench to their books and their newspapers, their conversations, and their beloved analog everything. I believe I’m not so far from that age myself. I come from a time where answering machines, actual devices that automatically answered calls (mostly over landlines, what?) and left messages from callers, were new; almost immediately made into obsolete technology. I nearly forgot they were most certainly never called voicemails. I believe at most they were referred to as voice messages or just messages. Being of this age where the rise of the internet has ushered in waves of new technologies, smartphones included, I also have a great deal of appreciation for those relics, now anachronistic of their cause. It provides a certain nostalgia. 
Recently I began using a time monitoring app called quality time. This app sits in the background and quietly monitors your device usage; that is, it tracks how long you use each application. It also tracks how many times you unlock your device, whether to check the time, a text, or whatever notification it is that prompted you to swipe or enter you pass code, or face unlock, or nfc unlock, or biometric unlock. The app has allowed me to take a granular look at what applications I use, how frequently, and how long. 
[Picture of app screenshot]
I’m not sure if it was my subconscious, but after seeing the time I was spending on such banal activities, it appears to have altered my phone usage habits. I rationalized the use of certain apps or activities and disavowed others. The time spent on applications dramatically changed. In fact it became more a state of flux from one set of priorities to the next.
[Another picture showing changes]
Applications such as these are nice to allow for self-auditing, but it doesn’t solve any problems as it merely displays usage timing. The greater issue is technology’s pervasiveness in our current world, whether it is an issue at all. 
One of the recent benefits of technology’s growing reach include surveillance, accountability, connectivity, precision, and general omnipotence. We see cameras everywhere, not only attached to buildings and cars and helmets but or portable devices also allow recording at anytime. Whether you are a proponent of mass surveillance or not, it has in recent days exposed misbehaving police, caught criminals in the act, monitored our enemies and neighbors, and enabled us to spy on our own babies, nannies, and friends. It also has the inevitable drawback of privacy loss, which is one of the key targets exposed by the whistleblower, Edward Snowden. Not only do we have to worry about our own government removing our liberties into their own, but we have to deal with hackers and compromised security, claims of airplanes and space stations being breached. 
The bigger question is, how do we deal with all this new tech? How does it make us feel, and how do we move forward? I imagine it goes a lot like how the folks that found or fashioned a tool for the first time, or like those who discovered the wheel, the car, the airplane. Planes and ships changed warfare, a staple of human domination, like computers, hacking, and unmanned aerial systems will invariably shape our immediate future. The best thing we can do is continually adjust perception, constantly shape its use, and temper the ubiquity. Are you neophobic or are you neophylic.

E-commerce Considerations

Things to consider [when developing for an e-commerce site]

  • Know when your site proper assets are served as well.
  • Always use ssl
  • kind of cart system
  • kind of user/customer management
  • kind of user/admin management
  • kind of fulfillment
  • kind of subscription
  • kind of checkout
  • includes discounting/coupon management
  • supports transactional email
  • has inventory and product detail management
  • includes or directly processes types of payment processors

Secure Chrome Profile

I finally decided to use Chrome as a usual browser about a year ago today. One of Chrome’s short-comings is security, not from websites or remote intrusions, but from local users. If you want to have the convenience of syncing bookmarks and history and chrome app shortcuts between devices and computers, you have virtually no security. You must either always sign out of Chrome or chose not to sign on in the first place. It’s easy for a local user, guest, or friend to simply switch to your profile (or open Chrome if you only have a default profile) and view all your history, bookmarks, saved passwords, etc. Currently the only method for protecting your setup is to install, IMHO, insecure, unstable, and unreliable extensions like “secure chrome profile,” claims to password protect your chrome profile. I’ve since seen it fail to block loading the chrome profiles on more than one occasion.

My solution is Mac/Linux-specific and involves creating a default basic profile without signing in, and then create a second profile that is a symbolic link to an encrypted disk image. In Mac this is quite easy and seems to work flawlessly. This method works in conjunction with Chrome’s multiple profiles as well as using an encrypted virtual disk.

Open Chrome and navigate to the settings page.

Screen Shot 2014-01-03 at 12.22.43 AM

You will see that I have two user profiles setup. The first is a vanilla (default) chrome profile. The second is the profile I intend to use for myself. You can customize the icons and names of these profiles however you wish. Do not log in to either of these accounts with your google account information. Now that the profiles are setup, we will create a virtual encrypted disk image for the corresponding profile directory.

In Mac, your could follow directions from here to create the encrypted disk image, but that image is fixed in size and would not allow the profile directory to expand as needed when new bookmarks and chrome apps are added. Instead use a dynamic-sized virtual encrypted disk, which will ensure the profile directory never runs out of space. I actually created a dynamic disk by following the directions outlined here. There must be a way to create a sparse disk image of a target directory in one go, but I created an encrypted sparse disk image. Ubuntu users can create a dynamic virtual disk using TrueCrypt. The target directory to encrypt will be the second user profile, or the one you intend to password protect. In Mac the path to my actual second profile is:

~/Library/Application\ Support/Google/Chrome/Profile\ 2/

When naming the disk image, be sure to give it a name that matches its directory. In this case, my disk image and directory are named “Profile 2.” This should now mount to:

/Volumes/Profile\ 2/

If the image does not for some reason mount to that path, you will need to manually mount it to that path as we will create a symbolic link using that path. Now that you have your disk image, simply mount the encrypted image and copy all the files from the actual directory to the mounted image. You can do this by just dragging all the files in the actual second profile directory to the root of the disk image. Once the disk has fully copied the actual profile contents, you can begin the linking process.

Make sure Chrome is closed. Delete the actual profile second profile directory. Be sure to empty the trash. Also make sure the encrypted disk image is mounted at the approprate location. Now you need to create a symbolic link to the disk image in terminal:

ln -s /Volumes/Profile\ 2/ ~/Library/Application\ Support/Google/Chrome/Profile\ 2

Notice the syntax of running this command. You are creating a symbolic link to the encrypted volume and placing that link in the Chrome directory so that Chrome finds the second profile in the mounted directory. If you have problems with running the command make sure your paths are correct and make sure you have permissions (or sudo for permissions). If you now open chrome, you can switch to your encrypted profile. If you close chrome and eject the encrypted disk, your profile is secure. You can try opening chrome again and switching to your profile, but chrome will not switch because the path to the profile directory is not mounted; it will instead use the default profile that isn’t logged into chrome. You will also experience issues with switching to your profile if the profile is not mounted in the same place you put in the symbolic link.

There you have it folks, secure chrome.

The linear web

The internet is vast. It encompasses so many realms that were once only reachable via tangible items and places. That of course is no longer the case. We can purchase physical goods with the click of a button—gone are the markets of old. Social interactions are personified by the posting of pictures and sharing of other web places—gatherings are now rare. Perhaps these are a bit exaggerated, but there is a certain sentiment about the change itself. Our mirror to the world so to speak is this connected web of digital things. We view the web in various ways and forms, starting with the desktop computer, capable of so many things yet relegated to simple tasks such as communications and entertainment. One of the most integral parts of the desktop computing experience is the web browser, the vehicle which we use to navigate the murky internet waters.

The web browser is ancient. Web pages are old scrolls. While vast, the internet is slow and stupid of the future. A web page consists of bits of information arranged like a document; it flows like a book, each of its pages like chapters; and to some degree the presentation changes—a novel to a picture book or an encyclopedia to a three-dimensional popup coffee table book. The linear web shows this information in a linear way. The information is contained to these websites and cannot easily be displayed or traversed without these troublesome references to books—bookmarks, favorite pages, back, forward, history.

I propose a new web, one that is not linear. It utilizes the same data, it’s stored and accessed the same way via a browser, but it is interfaced in a webbed-fashion. It behaves like a hive mind, accessing the billion bits of information ahead and those trillion bits before. Imagine a living web that can be circumnavigated like a globe, new nodes appear and disappear within the sphere and you can traverse it however you please. This web is truly its namesake.

View an example of this new web, aptly named sphere web.