iOS 7 Locks Stolen iPhones to Prevent Resale

Glenn Fleishman at TidBits:

In the June 2013 announcement of iOS 7, Apple emphasized changes in the Find My iPhone app and service. With good reason: the new version makes any iOS device far less attractive to steal, erase, and resell, plus it provides more location-tracking data. These improvements should reduce thieves’ interest in iOS devices because they won’t be easy to sell or fence, and might help law enforcement track down less-wary criminals more often.

Apple added this feature because mobile carriers (at least in the United States and several other countries) have shown little interest in helping their customers recover stolen mobile phones or eliminate the value of those phones at resale. Both GSM and CDMA phones have unique, burned-in hardware identifiers — the IMEI and MEID, respectively — and carriers know which ID is associated with your account. If you report a phone as stolen, the carrier could prevent that ID from being reactivated, provide you with information about its location, notify law enforcement, seize it when brought into a store, and so forth. Carriers do essentially none of that.

As a result, expensive smartphones with high resale value, like the iPhone, have become desirable targets for thieves, and account for a significant percentage of serious crimes in many cities. For instance, cellphone-related thefts accounted for 41 percent of serious crimes for six months earlier this year in San Francisco, 40 percent of robberies in Washington, D.C., and over 50 percent of all street crime in New York City.

With iOS 7 and Find My iPhone, Apple now has the technology to stop iOS device theft in its tracks, although the company couches these capabilities in terms of “lost” iPhones, not stolen ones. No one wants to think about theft, but we all misplace things. 

The Myth and Reality of Terminator Seeds

Farmers have historically been glad to buy seeds from seed companies. Seed companies specialize in making seeds, not making food. Farmers specialize in growing food, not seeds. Seed companies can grow plants/seeds to maturity, harvest at the right time, process and store the seed, then perform quality control to guarantee the best product for the farmer.

University of Florida plant scientist Kevin Folta recently posted a very concise puncturing of a favorite myth of the anti-GMO activists: 

The topic of ‘suicide seeds’ or ‘terminator technology’ is a deeply engrained in the fabric of the anti-GMO movement.Suchominouslanguage is the basis of many websites thatconjure fear spanning from farmer manipulation to the death of every plant on the planet. That would be one heck of a frankenfood!

 Sticking a loaded gun in the ear is a sure way to develop vivid misinformation.

However, the reality is not nearly so scary. In 1998 Delta and Pine Land, one of America’s largest cotton seed company, recieved wide patent protection for a series of traits, one that was called’technology protection system’. Through a ratherclever process a self-fertilizing plant cannot produce germinating seeds. The molecular basis is a gene that encodes a protein called a Ribosome Interferring Protein. You might recall that ribosomes are the cellular sites for protein synthesis, so ifthis interferring protein is expressed, the plant can’t make otherproteins (which comprise enzymes and structural feature) so the plant would die before germination.

The gene was placednext to a promoterfrom an LEA gene. Think of promoters as on-off switches. LEA stands for ‘Late Embryogenesis Abundant’. So this promoter switcheson the protein that interrupts protein synthesis during late embroygenesis. Anembryo that can’t synthesize protein is pretty much DOA.

All of this was regulated through a clever but complex process that activated this mechanism upon self-pollination. If you’d like to know more send me an email. I could go into detail here, but a picture is worth 1000 words. Probably more.

Why do they callit ‘terminator technology’? This term actuallywas devised from a Canadia NGO called theRural AdvancementFoundation International. They were not so excited about the technology.

But to your point, how does this technology help farmers? It doesn’t. It doesn’t hurt them either.Why? Because it was never used in a crop beyond the greenhouse. The technology was never commercially deployed. Why not? Probably because itbecame a PR nightmare coupled tothe fact that Delta Pine’s products had a long, expensive road to deregulation ahead.


There is much more detail at Kevin’s blog.

San Francisco Bay: no rescue capability for near-shore sinking vehicle

Matthew Sessions of Mill Valley wrote the following letter to Sailing Scuttlebutt expressing similar puzzlement as we had regarding the lack of ready rescue divers. Apparently neither on-water agencies like USCG nor on-shore 911 agencies have any rescue diver rapid-deployment capability. 

I was witness to the sinking vehicle near Golden Gate Yacht Club on Friday (Scuttlebutt 3866), and to the valiant effort made by the American Youth Sailing Force in the cold SF Bay; their heroics should be commended. 

Witnesses to the accident said the vehicle was afloat for ‘a few’ minutes and still at the surface when the first police/fire arrived.  What followed in the minutes ahead was very sobering.  Dozens of civic first responders poured in with millions of dollars in resources including SFPD and SFFD boats.  Yet they did not / could not instantly respond to what was needed most – a rescue diver.

It took at least 3-5 minutes from the time the vehicle went below the surface until two rescue swimmers jumped off the seawall.  Neither swimmer had a diving mask and only one had fins for a harbor of 20-30 ft of depth and near zero visibility.  After 10-15 minutes of free diving search, the two rescue swimmers got out of the water and onto one of the numerous rescue boats.  Within two minutes of my arrival, I saw first responders with SCUBA equipment yet it was at least 35-40 minutes before the first diver was below the surface. 

As the drama unfolded just 25 yards offshore, I witnessed the situation with two prominent local sailors and we all bemoaned why emergency responders were not deploying a rescue diver faster.  I asked my friends at nearby GGYC or St Francis YC if they had a compressed air solution on the ready.  To our collective knowledge, we could not think of any yacht club that has emergency equipment to respond to this situation.

I learned Friday that our sailing community is deep with Good Samaritans but relying on 911 Emergency Services may be perilous.  In no way am I implying the SFPD, SFFD, USCG, and all other first responders failed in Friday’s tragic accident.  There are certainly many facts and protocol about the emergency response that I am not aware.  However, it’s clear we in the boating community may need to think beyond dockside fire extinguishers, swim ladders, throw rings, and basic first aid kits.

Does your yacht club have a solution to rescue someone trapped under water?

Matt Yglesias: Bitcoin Will Spiral Up and Down Forever

Matt Yglesias explains why the scheme will prove useless:

Tim Lee makes what is I think the strongest case for Bitcoin, arguing that it’s not just a fad, it’s a disruptive technology that can serve as a platform


But where I think the analogy breaks down is with deflation. As computers started looking more and more useful and demand for computers grew, the world started building more computers. Bitcoins are deliberately designed to represent a finite supply. So if over time more and more people want to use Bitcoins to conduct transactions of various kinds, then the price of bitcoins is going to have to rise and rise. The problem is that if the price of a bitcoin is on a steady upward trajectory, then nobody’s actually going to want to spend a Bitcoin on anything. And if everyone’s hoarding their Bitcoins, then the network is actually useless. Then, since it turns out to be useless, you get a crash. The funny thing is that once the upward spiral comes to an end, then the technological virtues of the Bitcoin platform come to the fore again. If nobody wants to hoard Bitcoins, then Bitcoin-as-platform looks like an attractive alternative to elements of the payment system. But when Bitcoin starts looking attractive again, you should get a renewed hoarding cycle.

To put it in more jargony terms, expectations about the price level will be ‘unanchored’ instead of rapidly mean-reverting, so its going to be very difficult to ever have a platform that attracts a steady user base rather than a boom-and-bust cycle.

Tim Lee: Why bitcoin is a bubble

 As I just posted, Felix Salmon says “bitcoin is a bubble…”. Tim Lee writes “Why bitcoin is a bubble“, guest-posted at Megan McArdle:

My friend Tim Lee says that critics of Bitcoin need to do a better job of explaining why bitcoins–the virtual currency that has been soaring to impressive heights–are in a bubble.  Tim writes:

When people dismiss Bitcoins because they can’t think of how they’d use it, they’re missing the fact that Bitcoin is a platform, not a product in its own right. When ordinary users started buying computers, it wasn’t because they thought it would be cool to own a computer. They did it because they wanted to do spreadsheets or word processing or email. Similarly, ordinary users aren’t going to start using Bitcoins just because it’s a cool technology. If normal users start using Bitcoin, it will be because they’re interested in gambling, or cheap international money transfers, or some other applications that hasn’t been invented yet. And Bitcoin’s intermediary-free architecture means that many more people can try their hand at building the platform’s killer app.

I haven’t written about bitcoin before, but here’s my stab at why it’s fair to say that bitcoins are frothy: eventually, the novelty will wear off, the state will get involved, and the costs will be found to outweigh the advantages.

The problem isn’t that I can’t imagine how I’d used bitcoins.  I can imagine exactly how I’d use them: to evade government surveillance of my financial transactions.  This potential use seems to have tickled the imaginations of many, many bitcoin fanciers. The problem is, the government also has an imagination. 

The reason I think that bitcoins will ultimately go away is that I think they will, like other virtual currencies before them, ultimately prove to be too illiquid.  A dollar is one of the world’s most liquid assets: it can be turned into virtually anything I want, at least if I put enough of them together.  

But bitcoins are not so liquid.  Mostly, to buy things, I need to trade them for dollars or another currency.  And that is the fatal weakness of bitcoins: at some point, to compete with dollars, it needs to enter the real economy.  And if bitcoins become a good way to avoid government surveillance of your financial transactions, then governments will find a way to choke off those entry points so that bitcoins become very illiquid indeed.  (…) 

Some of those ‘technologies’ are pretty low tech. Bitcoins are essentially electronic bearer bonds.  Readers of 1930s-era thrillers will remember that these often figured heavily in the plot: bonds which paid out to whoever happened to be physically holding the bond.  These were very useful for refugees, tax dodgers, and criminals, and anyone else who wanted to keep the government’s eyes off their finances.

But the usefulness of bearer bonds became a problem.  If your bearer bond was destroyed, you had no recourse. They also turned out to be very useful to steal, since the original owner had no way to prove their property rights.  And indeed, one source alleges that about 10% of bitcoins have been stolen at some point.

Even worse, governments found a way to shut down the issuance.  In fact, this proved surprisingly easy: the US government simply announced that interest payments on bearer bonds would no longer be tax deductible.  And voila, no one wanted to issue bearer bonds any more.

 (…) In other words, I think that governments can make it so difficult to translate your bitcoins into the real economy that most people simply won’t bother.  And the more successful that bitcoins are–the better they become established as an alternate currency–the more likely it is that rich-world governments will swoop in and make it prohibitively difficult to use bitcoins to procure real-world goods in developed countries.  At that point you’ve essentially got a novelty currency like greenstamps, which can be exchanged for only a limited supply of goods, and maybe some developing-world travel.

Given that, bitcoins seem overvalued to me.  People are betting on bitcoins as an actual substitute for money, not a novelty currency.  And while I wish the bettors luck, I think they’re facing some pretty long odds.

More Tim Lee at Megan McArdle.

On the bitcoin-as-platform concept, my friend Charles writes “Bitcoin is really a template for a whole family of shared distributed ledger systems that can potentially solve all kinds of problems without any central authority being involved.” Personally I think Charles has the best perspective on the future utility of this machinery. The “Killer App” of bitcoin may not involve bitcoin as medium of exchange.

Chuck Norris beats Wolfgang Schäuble

Here's excerpts from a recent post by market monetarist Lars Christensen:

So far it is has been a remarkable week in the global financial markets. The ’deposit grab’ in Cyprus undoubtedly has shocked international investors and confidence in the ability of euro zone policy makers has dropped to an all-time low.

Despite of the ‘Cyprus shock’ global stock markets continue to climb higher – yes, yes we have seen a little more volatility, but the overall picture is that of a continued global stock market rally. That is surely remarkable when one takes into account the scale of the policy blunder committed by the EU in Cyprus and the likely long-lasting damage done to the confidence in EU policy makers.

I therefore think it is fair to conclude that so far Chuck Norris has beaten German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Or said, in another way the Chuck Norris effect has been at work all week and that has clearly been a key reason why we have not (yet?) seen global-wide or even European-wide contagion from the disaster in Cyprus.

Just to remind my readers – the Chuck Norris effect of course is the effect that monetary policy not only works through expanding the money base, but also through guiding expectations.

When I early this week expressed my worries (or rather mostly my anger) over the EU’s handling of the situation in Cyprus a fixed income trader who is a colleague of mine comforted me by saying “Lars, you have now for half a year been saying that the Fed and the Bank of Japan are more or less doing the right thing so shouldn’t we expect the Fed and BoJ to offset any shock from the euro zone?” (I am paraphrasing a little – after all we were talking on a trading floor)

The message from the trader was clear. Yes, the EU is making a mess of things, but with the Bernanke-Evans rule in place and the Bank of Japan’s newfound commitment to a 2% inflation target we should expect that any shock from the euro zone to the US and Japanese economies would be ‘offset’ by the Fed and the BoJ by stepping up quantitative easing.

Read more


A United Kingdom spending update

I had no idea that UK public spending had risen from 36.6% in 2000 to the 50% range until this post by Tyler Cowen

Remarkably, public spending actually went up last year as a share of our national income, according to a devastating analysis by the OECD.

In a spreadsheet buried deep on its website and annexed to its latest Economic Outlook, it says that public spending hit 49pc of UK GDP last year, a shocking increase on the 48.6pc of GDP spent by the state in 2011.

You should note that differing figures from the UK government show somewhat of a decline in spending in real terms, unlike this estimate.  It would be interesting to read a detailed explanation of why the OECD figures differ.

I would also note that, according to these estimates, UK public spending was 36.6% of gdp in 2000, and had edged up over 50% by 2009 and 2010 and now is still in the range of 49% or so.  Most of the run-up came over the bubbly years of 2000-2006.  Let’s start by calling that an unsustainable mistake.  I would say that, looking back, they didn’t get very much for this spending boost, did they?  That’s fact #1 that should start off any analysis of British fiscal policy looking forward.


Still, these numbers should be put on the table.  Instead, I very often see these numbers being swept under the proverbial rug.  Perhaps it is believed they might confuse people.

(Via Marginal Revolution.)

Mark Lynas and the GMO Debate

Mark Tercek is the president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. You can follow Mark on Twitter @MarkTercek and find more of his writing on The Huffington Post.  Here’s Mark’s comments on the wonderful address that Mark Lynas gave at the recent Oxford farming conference.

Until a few days ago, the name Mark Lynas was little known outside the environmental community. An effective campaigner, Lynas has also written several well-received books, including Six Degrees and The God Species. He also has a knack for the dramatic, such as throwing a pie in the face of Danish political scientist and environmental skeptic Bjorn Lomborg.Through all this, Lynas had achieved some success but was far from a household name. That may be about to change.Last Thursday, Lynas gave a speech at a conference on farming at Oxford University. The response was immediate and overwhelming. Bloggers blogged, tweeters tweeted and Lynas’s own website crashed under the onslaught.Had Lynas revealed some dramatic discovery, or unveiled a path-breaking new campaign? No, he simply stated, in measured and scientific terms, that he had changed his mind.Lynas had been a leading voice against using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in farming. He was also sounding the alarm over climate change, and had immersed himself in climate science. When he belatedly did the same with GMOs, he found that a careful reading of the scientific evidence revealed that his previous opposition was untenable. At Oxford Lynas said he was, in a word, sorry.It is a measure of the sorry state of many environmental debates that such a calm statement before a polite audience of academics would cause such a ruckus. This is not the place to debate the merits of Lynas’s new position on GMOs, though I largely but not entirely agree with it. Lynas says at the end of his speech that “the GM debate is over.” That may overstate the case; the real importance of Lynas’s speech is that it in fact allows the debate to begin.

(…) Since I have become CEO of The Nature Conservancy I have learned that it is our passion and the passion of our supporters that make us effective. But sometimes that passion can be our undoing. So many of us, and others who are not associated with The Nature Conservancy or conservation want the same thing—we want healthy lands, water and air, and we want wild places in which we can find inspiration. But we come to this vision of what we want with different values and beliefs. GMOs are one of those issues that expose the differences in our beliefs. Some of us are inherently optimistic about technology, and others distrust technology. GMOs embody that debate.


Moving the Jobless to the Jobs: Crucial for Economic Growth

We know that external immigration is almost always a winner. Businessweek finds that internal immigration has similar benefits, but in the US seems to slowed almost to a stop because of high housing costs in the high growth cities. The high costs are often caused by local housing policies. But costs nationally are amplified by the home mortgage interest tax deduction. It is past time to end that subsidy.

(…) But more recent analysis by Peter Ganong and Daniel Shoag of Harvard finds that the rate of convergence across U.S. states has slowed dramatically over the past 30 years—. (…)

Ganong and Shoag note that the slowdown in migration has been particularly severe for low-income workers. They suggest that rapidly rising house prices in wealthy areas help account for that. As house prices rise, the benefits of living in productive areas erodes for low-skilled households. And the researchers note that the impact of housing regulation measured through land-use court cases is a big factor behind rising house prices. More regulation leads to higher house prices at a given income level—pricing poor people out of the housing market. Rich areas haven’t needed a passport system to keep poor people out of their communities; they’ve just regulated land use so much that there’s no cheap housing available.

Of course, that’s not necessarily easy for Washington to fix. Most of the regulations involved are made at the state and local level. But one thing Congress could do to help reduce the cost of housing and help deal with the fiscal cliff: Dump the home mortgage interest tax deduction.The $100 billion the U.S. government provides each year in home mortgage interest tax relief makes housing more expensive. Three-quarters of the tax relief on home mortgage interest goes to the top 20 percent of earners, according to the Tax Policy Center—and hardly any people at the other end of the income distribution benefit from the credit. The credit encourages richer Americans to borrow more, bid up prices, and buy bigger houses on bigger plots. All that squeezes out the affordable rental housing that poor migrants need if they are going to get to where the jobs are.

Republican and Democrats agree that we should focus on equality of opportunity. But one of the best opportunities we can give people is to move from areas of little economic potential to areas with jobs and quality education. Getting rid of the home mortgage interest tax deduction is one way both to raise revenue and to help poor people help themselves. Of course, it’s also an idea with no political traction at the moment—but we’ve seen such things change before.


When Genetic Engineering Came Of Age

Henry Miller was there at the beginning. Here is his recounting – when in 1982 a new product of bioengineering could be approved in 5 months. Now the average is 15 years for a new drug. Is this progress?

When Genetic Engineering Came Of Age

“Photo courtesy of Eli Lilly and Company”

Today marks the 30th anniversary of an event that kicked off an important new era in drug therapies – the approval by the FDA of human insulin synthesized in genetically engineered bacteria. The saga is remarkable in several ways, not least of which is that although both the drugmakers and regulators were exploring unknown territory, the development of the drug and its regulatory review progressed smoothly and rapidly.

Insulin in crude form was first produced in 1922 by Canadian researchers Frederick Banting and Charles Best, lifting the death sentence that had previously been imposed on diabetics. By the end of that year drug company Eli Lilly and Company had devised a method for much higher purification. Over the next half century or so, the purified insulins obtained from pig or cow pancreases were constantly improved in purity and formulated in ways that refined their performance.

During the early 1970′s, as the supply of animal pancreases declined and the prevalence of insulin-requiring diabetes grew, there were widespread fears of possible future shortages of insulin. But around the same time, a new and powerful tool – recombinant DNA technology, “genetic engineering,” or “gene-splicing” – became available and offered the promise of unlimited amounts of insulin.

The seminal experiment was reported in a 1973 research article by academic scientists Stanley Cohen, Herbert Boyer and their collaborators. First, they isolated a ringlet of DNA called a “plasmid” from a bacterium, used certain natural enzymes to splice a gene from another bacterium into that plasmid, and then introduced the resulting “recombinant,” or chimeric, DNA into E. coli bacteria.

When these now “recombinant” bacteria reproduced, the plasmids containing the foreign DNA were likewise propagated and produced amplified amounts of the functional recombinant DNA. And because DNA holds the genetic code that directs the synthesis of proteins, this new methodology promised the ability to direct genetically modified bacteria (or other cells) to synthesize desired proteins in large amounts.

The “new biotechnology” was born.

Lilly saw immediately the promise of this technology for the production of unlimited quantities of human insulin in bacteria. After obtaining from Genentech, Inc. the recombinant E. coli bacteria that contained the genetic blueprint for and that synthesized human insulin, they developed processes for the large-scale cultivation of the organism (in huge fermenters similar to those that make wine or beer) and for the purification and formulation of the insulin.

Insulins had long been Lilly’s flagship product, and the company’s expertise was evident in the purification, laboratory testing and clinical trials of human insulin. The company’s scientists painstakingly verified that their product was identical to pancreatic human insulin (which differs slightly in chemical composition from beef or pork insulin) and that it was exquisitely pure.

Lilly began clinical trials of its human insulin in July 1980. The product performed superbly. There were no systematic problems with treating “naive” patients (who had never before received injections of insulin) or those switched from animal to human insulin. A small number of patients who had had adverse reactions of some kind to the animal insulins tolerated the human insulin well.

The dossier which provided evidence of safety and efficacy was submitted in May 1982 to the FDA, where I was the medical reviewer and head of the evaluation team. Over many years the FDA had had prodigious experience with insulins and with drugs derived from various microorganisms, so it was decided that no fundamentally new regulatory paradigms were necessary to evaluate the recombinant human insulin.

In other words, recombinant DNA techniques were viewed as an extension, or refinement, of long-used and familiar methods for making drugs. That proved to be an historic, precedent-setting decision.

Based on a thorough review of data submitted by Lilly that was obtained from pre-clinical testing in animals and clinical trials in thousands of diabetics, FDA granted marketing approval for human insulin in October 1982. The review and approval took only five months at a time when the agency’s average for new drugs was 30.5 months. In retrospect, that timing was particularly remarkable for a drug that was produced with a revolutionary new technology, and that after approval would be available in pharmacies nationwide to millions of American diabetics.

An article on the front page of the New York Times (Oct 30, 1982) contained my prediction that the speedy approval was a major step forward in the “scientific and commercial viability” of’ recombinant DNA technology. “We have now come of age,” I was quoted as saying, and potential investors and entrepreneurs agreed: Seeing that biopharmaceuticals would compete with other medicines on a level playing field, the “biotechnology industry” was on the fast track.

During the past three decades, untold numbers of drugs and diagnostic tests based on recombinant DNA technology have been tested and hundreds have been approved for marketing. Sales are over $100 billion annually, and dedicated biotechnology companies employ more than 100,000 people. The big pharma companies also make and market biopharmaceuticals.

Some of the most important members in this class of drugs include tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA, to minimize the damage from heart attacks; erythropoietin (EPO), to stimulate red blood cell production in various anemias; granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF), to boost bone marrow production of certain blood cells; interferons, used to treat certain cancers and serious viral infections; various vaccines; and enzymes used to treat life-threatening genetic diseases. A related manifestation of biotechnology called “monoclonal antibody technology” has produced other medical miracles.

Not surprisingly, advances in recombinant DNA technology continue. Besides obtaining therapeutic amounts of “natural” substances such as human insulin, it is now possible to create “designer” molecules with unique capabilities. In June 2011, for example, Lilly announced a multimillion-dollar investment in “multi-specific” therapeutics — molecules that combine two mechanisms of action into one, with the hope that this will provide increased efficacy and reduced side effects.

Regrettably, the early salubrious regulatory climate has changed. Even with a toolbox of improved technologies and greater knowledge of pharmacogenetics, bringing a new drug to market on average now takes 10-15 years and costs over $1.4 billion. Regulators have adopted a highly risk-averse and even adversarial mindset, few new drugs are approved without convening extramural advisory committees, and decisions are sometimes hijacked by political forces outside the FDA. Approval of a drug or other FDA-regulated product made with a brand new technology now would probably be further delayed by navel-gazing at a series of government-sponsored, “consensus-building” conferences.

The result is that fewer drugs enter the development pipeline and become available for patients who would benefit from them. Over the years government regulation hasn’t aged as gracefully as recombinant DNA technology itself.

Henry Miller, a physician, is the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at Stanford University‘s Hoover Institution. He was the founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology. His most recent book is “The Frankenfood Myth.”


(via Mr. Reader)

Cheers, Steve & Dorothy
Sent from my iPad