Today’s I’m-Feeling-Old Moment: Kids react to a Walkman.

I should really stop following TheFineBros‘ YouTube channel. All it ever does is remind me how old and decrepit I’ve become.

Kids these days don’t know how good they got it with their “em-pee-three” doohickeys and their smartass phones. Why in MY day we had to get up to change the damned channel on the TV and we had only three major networks and a couple of minor UHF channels to choose from!

And now here is today’s “feeling old” moment.

I’ve already shared this one on Google+ so if you’ve already seen it there I apologize for the repetition, but I know my mother would get a kick out of this so I’m sharing it here too.

I’m old enough now that snot nosed kids can make me feel old pretty easily. Especially when it comes to stuff I grew up with. Stuff like dealing with a rotary phone:

Even though touch tone phones were introduced well before I was born, it took awhile before they were ubiquitous. Growing up we mostly had touch tone phones in the house, but we had a couple of the old rotary ones around too. I don’t recall when I learned how to use one though I’m sure I had to be taught. These days I don’t even have a landline anymore. It’s just an added expense that doesn’t make much sense when I carry my cellphone with me everywhere. That doesn’t stop this video from making me feel really old.

Public Alerts on my Google Maps? YES PLEASE!

This could prove to be mindbogglingly useful for a lot of people. Not the least of them myself. #seb #Google #Neato #Technology

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Google adding Public Alerts to Maps, keeps you in the loop in times of worry
You can’t deny that Google often hands out marvelous tools for the masses to utilize (yes, some can be a miss), and today the King of Search is launching a fresh virtual apparatus as part of its Crisis Response project. Dubbed “Public Alerts,” the feature is accessible from within Google Maps, keeping you in the loop during times of high alert. Your search query will trigger things like weather relevant to your area, public safety and earthquake alerts — all of which are provided by the NOAA…

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RAM: You’ve come a long way, baby!

My gaming desktop at home has 8 Gigabytes of RAM. If I had to use these 4KB modules instead of the two 4 GB sticks I have in my system it would take 2,097,152 of them to do it. Hell, the SDHC memory card — a single card the size of a postage stamp — that I put into my new digital camera is 8 Gigabytes of room and that’s not even the most spacious such card available. SDXC cards can range from 32GB to 2 Terabytes of storage for your camera/phone/MP3 player. #seb #computing #history #technology #RAM

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This Giant Chunk of Metal Is 4 Kilobytes of Memory [Past Perfect]

What’s this gent holding? A toaster? Farm equipment? Part of an engine? Wreckage from a destroyed tank? Nope—that’s 4KB of ol’ fashioned IBM memory. That’s enough to hold 12% of my Facebook profile picture!
Editor-in-Chief of CNET Reviews Lindsey Turrentine discovered the rugged computer antique in her grandfather’s barn. Not a bad catch! Turrentine pointed out the wonderful irony that the image itself is 692 KB—meaning she’d only need to find 172 more of these memory modules and a tractor tr…

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The autonomous cars are coming and will be a problem until laws are changed

There’s going to be some nasty legal fights before the laws are modified/created to deal with cars that drive themselves, but in the long run I think it’ll be worth it. #seb #automobiles #technology #laws

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How Do You Police Cars That Drive Themselves? [Cars]
Google is already testing its autonomous cars on the roads of California, and plenty of other manufacturers are starting to muscle in on the act, too. But when they hit the roads, how do you go about policing a city full of self-driven cars?
The New York Times reports that that very question is causing lawyers and government officials to break out in a cold sweat. It’s not just working out how the police could pull such a car over, either. How well would those cars interact with normal ones? …

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Own an iPhone or iPad? It’s been tracking everywhere you go for the past year.

Pic of output from iPhone Tracker app.

A sample of the output. The bigger the dot the more times you've been recorded as being there.

Here’s something you probably didn’t know about your iPhone/iPad: It appears to be keeping a record of everyplace you’ve ever been both the device itself and on your computer if you use iTunes to back up your phone. The folks over at AresTechnica.com have the details:

Researchers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden revealed their findings on Wednesday ahead of their presentation at the Where 2.0 conference taking place in San Francisco. The two discovered that the iPhone or 3G iPad—anything with 3G data access, so no iPod touch—are logging location data to a file called consolidated.db with latitude and longitude coodinates and a timestamp. The data collection appears to be associated with the launch of iOS 4 last June, meaning that many users (us at Ars included) have nearly a year’s worth of stalking data collected.

In order to drive the point home, the two developed an open source application called iPhone Tracker that lets anyone with access to your computer see where you’ve been.

Now some of you might be thinking this isn’t anything new as these products have long had GPS features that will tell you where you are and they often notify you that they’re doing so when you use them. Yeah, but this is slightly different. This tracking isn’t being done using the GPS, but by triangulating your position relative to cell phone towers:

Users don’t get to decide whether their locations are tracked via cell towers or not—unlike GPS, there is no setting that lets users turn it off, there’s no explicit consent every time it happens, and there’s no way to block the logging. (Nitpickers will point out that you do give your consent to iTunes when you download and install iOS 4, but this is not treated the same way as the consent given to the iPhone every time an app wants to use GPS.) So, whether or not you’re using GPS, if you’re using your iPhone as a cell phone, you are being tracked and logged constantly without your knowledge.

The only way to avoid this tracking is to turn off the cellphone part of the device. Now the problem here isn’t so much that your devices are tracking your every move, but that you’re not being told about it. The good news is that, as near as the researchers can determine, this data is not being sent back to Apple or any other third party. The bad news is that it’s not at all difficult to get access to which means that if you lose your phone or your computer is compromised then anyone with the iPhone Tracker app can call up everywhere you’ve ever been with it. You can bet your ass that law enforcement absolutely loves this “feature” so if you’ve ever been anywhere you don’t want someone to know about, well, hope you didn’t have an iPhone with you.

Of course, this only really matters if you give a shit about people knowing your comings and goings. Something which more and more people seem to have stopped worrying about. In fact, the folks at Gawker are reporting that this discovery has spawned a hot new trend:

When it comes to technology today, there is barely any distance between outrageous privacy violation and cool new feature. When news broke yesterday that Apple has been secretly spying on iPhone users, many people immediately broadcasted the illicit data to everyone.

[…] Holy crap, Apple has been secretly logging our every move for months? Let’s… broadcast it to everyone on the internet! Many techies are now showing off their iSpy maps: “I find myself fascinated staring at this automatically generated record of where I’ve been,” wrote tech blogger Alexis Madrigal. Tumblr and Twitter arefull of them. “I don’t get out of West LA enough,” user aboycommemoi observed.

For its part, Apple hasn’t said shit about this discovery, but there is some indication that this may not have been an intentional breach of user trust. More likely it’s a bug or an oversight in the program. The folks at Gizmodo explain:

As Gruber’s been informed, consolidated.db—the tin-foil-hat-inducing log in question—is a cache for location data. (As Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan’s FAQ about their project implies.) What’s supposed to happen with the cache is that the “historical data should be getting culled but isn’t”—because of said bug or oversight. In Gruber’s words:

I.e. someone wrote the code to cache location data but never wrote code to cull non-recent entries from the cache, so that a database that’s meant to serve as a cache of your recent location data is instead a persistent log of your location history. I’d wager this gets fixed in the next iOS update.

So how freaked out should you be? If you don’t own an iPhone or iPad then this isn’t really an issue for you. If you do then it depends on how much you give a shit if someone could potentially get hold of that data. The chances that you’ll be hacked and have it stolen for some nefarious, but unknown purpose is probably minimal. However that data is something that could potentially be used against you by law enforcement if they should happen to have reason to acquire it.

Given the recent hoopla here in Michigan where the State Police have been accused of extracting data from cell phones during routine traffic stops, that may be something to consider. (Note, the MSP put out a response to the ACLU’s assertions saying that they do not collect cell phone data during routine traffic stops and only do so with a court issued warrant.) And while you may say that you’ve nothing to hide from the police, it’s not like there aren’t cases where circumstantial and coincidental evidence got an innocent person convicted.

Just the same, forewarned is forearmed and it’s better to know what is being collected about you — intentionally or not — than not know.

Kevin Costner’s water cleaning machine works well enough for BP.

So here’s a bit of good news in the morass of bad news coming out of the BP Oil Disaster in the Gulf. Turns out that BP did test Kevin Costner’s machine that separates oil from water and it appears to work:

BP says Kevin Costner’s water cleaning machine can ‘make a real difference’ | NewsWatch: Energy | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle.

BP’s COO of Exploration and Production, Doug Suttles, said that within the first few hours of testing the machine, the company decided to order 32 of them.

“We tested it in some of the toughest environments we could find and actually what it’s done — it’s quite robust,” Suttle said. “This is real technology with real science behind it and it’s passed all of those tests.”

Suttles said BP has committed to building four deepwater systems. Two of the systems will be barges that have machines on them and two of the systems will be a new design using 280-foot offshore supply vessels.

In total, the systems BP is rigging up will have a processing capacity of 128,000 barrels a day.

“That’s a substantial amount of capacity and can make a real difference to our spill response efforts,” Suttles said.

There’s already a lot of damage done, but better late than never in getting something like this out there where they can prove themselves in a real-world worst-case situation. If they end up helping to any decent degree then they should be made a mandatory part of every oil company’s oil spill response plan.

Which shouldn’t be too difficult considering that they all had the exact same photocopy of the piss-poor BP response plan anyway.

The security chip in that fancy new U.S. Passport? It’s made in Thailand.

The U.S. Government has been pushing what they consider a better passport since August 2007. It contains a contactless smart card in the back cover that contains the same data about you as what is printed in the passport itself. The idea is that this is supposed to make passport forgery impossible for the evil-doers of the world. The official website lists off several potential attacks which the cards are supposedly protected against including skimming, eavesdropping, tracking, and cloning.

Which all sounds really good except that since the cards were introduced a number of hackers and researches have demonstrated that almost of the protections in place can be successfully attacked and compromised with very minimal resources. The Wikipedia entry for biometric passports has the details and links about the attacks if you’re interested. It doesn’t help that not all of the security measures are mandated with things such as Active Authentication and Extended Access Control being optional.

In short, cloning data on a passport is not difficult at all nor is burning it to a blank passport, something that was done back in 2006 before they were even being issued regularly. More difficult is modifying the data as there is a cryptographic hash used to verify the data, but that relies on the scanner reading the passport making use of it (not all do).

You’d think, given all of the above, that the government would at least take steps to make sure the chips aren’t compromised before they’re ever issued. Perhaps, say, ensuring that they’re produced in a highly secure facility someplace within the United States?

Don’t be silly. The chips are currently being made in Thailand and have been for years:

Security of U.S. Passports Called Into Question – ABC News

The U.S. government agency that prints passports has for years failed to resolve persistent concerns about the security risks involved in outsourcing production to foreign factories, a joint investigation by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity has found.

“On a number of levels this is extremely troubling,” said Clark Kent Ervin, a former inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security . “Something like that ought to be produced only in the United States, under only the most rigorous security standards.” A report on the outsourcing of U.S. passports to high-risk countries can be seen on World News with Diane Sawyer tonight.

Despite repeated assurances they would move production to the U.S., a key government contractor has continued to assemble an electronic component of the nation’s new, more sophisticated passport in Thailand.

The factory is near the same Bangkok suburb where a notorious terrorist extremist was captured in 2003. There have been bursts of violence in the industrial city, Ayutthaya, as recently as last month.

Both the inspector general at the Government Printing Office and the agency’s own security chief have warned specifically against producing the computer chip assembly in the Thai facility. One internal report obtained by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity warned of a “potential long term risk to the [U.S. government’s] interests.”

All this bullshit talk by the Powers That Be about making things More Secure™ and not only are the chips being used easily cloned for a couple hundred bucks, but the factory that’s producing them is in an unstable area of a foreign country where terrorists are known to operate. The reason this is such a concern is because the U.S. Government, in its infinite wisdom, has made owning one of their fancy e-passports a shortcut past some of the more stringent security procedures  — one official describes it as an EZ-pass — that would otherwise apply to people entering the United States.

Oh, but that’s not the best part. No, the cherry-on-top that I just know you’re going to love is the fact that there is absolutely nothing in place to make sure blanks don’t fall into bad guy’s hands:

GPO’s inspector general has warned that the agency lacks even the most basic security plan for ensuring that blank e-Passports — and their highly sought technologies – aren’t stolen by terrorists, foreign spies, counterfeiters and other bad actors as they wind through an unwieldy manufacturing process that spans the globe and includes 60 different suppliers.

This disturbs Rep. John D. Dingell, D.-Mich., who wrote letters to the agency two years ago raising questions about passport production.

“Regrettably, since then, our fears have been realized because the inspector general and other people in charge of security at the government printing office have pointed out that the security is not there,” Dingell told ABC News. “There is no real assurance that the e-passports are safe or secure or are not in danger of being counterfeited or corrupted or used for some nefarious purposes by terrorists or others.”

Feel safer yet? Oh, and there are stolen blanks out there from several different countries including a big heist of U.K. blanks in 2008.

Supposedly, most of the production of the chip has already been moved out of Thailand and officials are pledging to have the last bits moved out by the end of July. Also, as far as anyone is aware, no one has successfully made a forgery of a biometric passport using cloned data and a stolen blank chip. Given the number of vulnerabilities that have already been demonstrated it’s probably only a matter of time before someone figures out how to clone and modify a passport that’ll pass as real.

Sadly, all of the concerns and problems with this system were known by the U.S. back in 2004 having been raised by numerous security and privacy experts. Rather than take the time to address the issues raised they decided to just ignore them instead and pressure everyone else to adopt our flawed standard. That is, after all, the American way.

CNN.com looks at why the web benefits liberals more than conservatives.

Here’s an interesting article I stumbled across today:

Opinion: Why the web benefits liberals more than conservatives – CNN.com

(CNN) — From the micro-donation platform first popularized by Howard Dean in 2003 to the million-strong Barack Obama Facebook page to the huge audience of the Huffington Post, liberals have been the dominant political force on the internet since the digital revolution began.

Now, research out of Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society suggests that the reason behind this imbalance may be the liberal belief system itself.

Liberals, the research finds, are oriented toward community activism, employing technology to encourage debate and feature user-generated content. Conservatives, on the other hand, are more comfortable with a commanding leadership and use restrictive policies to combat disorderly speech in online forums.

All of this suggests that the internet may benefit liberals more often than conservatives — at least for now.

Gregory Ferenstein, who wrote the article for CNN.com, goes on to compare The Huffington Post (liberal) blog to Hot Air (conservative). Both are the most popular sites for their target demographics, but the Post’s audience absolutely dwarfs that of Hot Air:

A leading right-wing blog, Hot Air was founded by Michelle Malkin, an author who is known for her support of wartime loyalty oaths and racial profiling as a defense against terrorism. In criticizing Obama’s 2009 address to the United Nations, she said, “he solidified his place in the international view as the great appeaser and the groveler in chief.”

Indeed, Malkin’s hard-line national security views are matched by Hotair’s unusually restrictive comment policy. The site permits comments only by registered users; currently, registration is closed to any new users. The site states, “We may allow as much or as little opportunity for registration as we choose, in our absolute discretion, and we may close particular comment threads or discontinue our general policy of allowing comments at any time.”

By contrast, the left-leaning Huffington Post, the most visited blog on the Internet, has thousands of bloggers and invites active users to become featured authors and comment facilitators.

This makes a lot of sense when you think about it. How many Conservative blogs can you think of that have ridiculously restrictive commenting policies? If you show up and voice a Liberal opinion you’re lucky if it ever gets out of the moderation queue, assuming you can even leave a comment without registering and waiting to be approved beforehand. Now how many Liberal blogs do you know that have a similar policy?

I can’t speak for all Liberal blogs, obviously, but part of the reason I set up SEB was to get my liberal ideas out there where they could potentially change minds and where they could be refined by criticism. I’m willing to have my ideas challenged and I have been known to change my mind after a good debate on a topic. The few Conservative blogs I check in on from time to time seem to want nothing more for their ideas to be accepted without criticism by the people following them.

Of course that’s just my subjective personal experience which is why it’s nice to see someone doing some research to see if it’s true:

Harvard professor Yochai Benkler finds that these differences are representative of the broader political web.

“The left not only chooses more participatory technology, but also uses the available technological tools to maintain more fluid relations between secondary or user-contributed materials and those of primary contributors,” he writes. “The left is more egalitarian in opportunities for speech, more discursive, and more collaborative in managing the sites.”

By contrast, Hot Air’s prohibitive policies, and Malkin’s support of strong leadership, seem consistent with Benkler’s conclusion that the right is more “hierarchical” in its approach.

[…] Republicans tend to see a “limited participatory role” for citizens, Dalton writes in his book “The Good Citizen: How a Younger Generation Is Reshaping American Politics.”

One of the things that always amuses me when Conservatives criticize Liberals is how often they accuse us of doing what they tend to do themselves. We’re trying to “restrict freedoms” and “dictate to others” and “force things down the American public’s throats” which is all stuff the Conservatives like to do.

Take the Public Option that used to be in the Health Care Reform package that was passed awhile back. Conservatives accused the Obama administration of a “government takeover of healthcare” when what was being offered was the freedom to choose something other than a private insurance company driven by profits. There was nothing in the legislation that said the private companies couldn’t go on offering insurance. It wasn’t the fabled “single payer system” the Republicans kept trying to claim it was. Didn’t matter, it was an unAmerican thing, as far as the Conservatives were concerned, to offer a government backed plan that would provide coverage to everyone who needed it. What could be more egalitarian than providing health care to everyone? Who didn’t want that kind of freedom and fairness? The Conservatives.

The article goes on to point out that the surprise victory of Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate Race happened in part because Brown pretty much emulated everything Obama did on the Web. While that worked once, it goes on to say that it’s unlikely that Conservatives will suddenly adopt that approach:

The conservative philosophy of ironclad loyalty to a singular message does have decided advantages. In Congress, strong party loyalty has allowed Republicans to vote as a bloc, giving them formidable strength despite their minority status.

However, the internet is less predictable. And, from what we have observed from the short life of the web, opening one’s site to the capricious innovations of grass-roots users can be enormously beneficial but hard to control.

Conservatives may one day embrace the participatory web en masse. However, the very structure of the internet as a decentralized grouping of communities may never appeal to the large portion of right-wingers who prefer military-style hierarchies and commanding leaders.

And, as years go by without a conservative social-media pioneer or a top-ranked website, it looks as though the internet has already chosen a side.

In short, the web benefits Liberals more than Conservatives because the web is Liberal by its very nature and just look how successful that approach has been for it. Had it been more Conservative in nature I doubt it would ever have been the phenomena it has turned out to be.

At the very least you can be damn sure that a site like SEB would never have been allowed on a Conservative internet.

Wired’s Mathew Honan experiments with Location-Aware software.

One of the features of the newer iPhone’s and Google Android based cellphones allow the phone, and any applications you’re running on it, to determine where you are to varying degrees of precision. Using a combination of cell towers (500 meters), Wi-Fi (30 meters), and GPS (10 meters) and various software packages that make use of that info you can literally broadcast your whereabouts to the whole world pretty much continuously. 

This opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities, both good and bad, and has attracted a growing group of people practicing a Location-Aware Lifestyle. Wired magazine’s Mathew Honan decided to try spending a few weeks living the lifestyle to see what it was like:

The location-aware future—good, bad, and sleazy—is here. Thanks to the iPhone 3G and, to a lesser extent, Google’s Android phone, millions of people are now walking around with a gizmo in their pocket that not only knows where they are but also plugs into the Internet to share that info, merge it with online databases, and find out what—and who—is in the immediate vicinity. That old saw about how someday you’ll walk past a Starbucks and your phone will receive a digital coupon for half off on a Frappuccino? Yeah, that can happen now.

Simply put, location changes everything. This one input—our coordinates—has the potential to change all the outputs. Where we shop, who we talk to, what we read, what we search for, where we go—they all change once we merge location and the Web.

I wanted to know more about this new frontier, so I became a geo-guinea pig. My plan: Load every cool and interesting location-aware program I could find onto my iPhone and use them as often as possible. For a few weeks, whenever I arrived at a new place, I would announce it through multiple social geoapps. When going for a run, bike ride, or drive, I would record my trajectory and publish it online. I would let digital applications help me decide where to work, play, and eat. And I would seek out new people based on nothing but their proximity to me at any given moment. I would be totally open, exposing my location to the world just to see where it took me. I even added an Eye-Fi Wi-Fi card to my PowerShot digital camera so that all my photos could be geotagged and uploaded to the Web. I would become the most location-aware person on the Internets!

People, particularly younger folks, already put out a lot of information about themselves on the Internet. I’m guilty of this myself with this blog. Not only do I have my real name on it, but there’s a fairly detailed history of the major ups and downs of my life over the past seven years in the archives. Everything from my best friend being needlessly killed by a traffic cop and how I dealt with the loss to my eventual downsizing from Ford Motor Company and the long struggle to get back on my feet. My politics and religious outlook are extensively documented as is the general area that I live in. SEB is the number one search result on Google when you type in “Les Jenkins” followed by some poor bastard who shares my name that works at Colorado One Mortgage.

For all that I put on SEB there are some folks who put me to shame particularly on sites like Facebook and MySpace. You may recall a few months back an entry I wrote about a woman who had been emailing me about her “psychic visions” of my future. I mentioned in a comment that I was able to track down where she lives (to a specific street address), how big a house she owns, how much she bought it for, how many pets she has, what musical instrument she’s trying to teach herself to play, what books shes been reading, her daughter and son-in-law’s name, where they lived, when their wedding was supposed to happen, and a whole host of other personal info with nothing more than her email and IP address. That’s pretty impressive, but even that pales to what some folks make available and then when you add location-awareness into the mix you make it all that much more immediate. Which could have its downside:

The trouble started right away. While my wife and I were sipping stouts at our neighborhood pub in San Francisco (37.770401 °N, 122.445154 °W), I casually mentioned my plan. Her eyes narrowed. “You’re not going to announce to everyone that you’re leaving town without me, are you? A lot of weirdos follow you online.”

Sorry, weirdos—I love you, but she has a point. Because of my work, many people—most of them strangers—track my various Flickr, Twitter, Tumblr, and blog feeds. And it’s true; I was going to be gone for a week on business. Did I really want to tell the world that I was out of town? It wasn’t just leaving my wife home alone that concerned me. Because the card in my camera automatically added location data to my photos, anyone who cared to look at my Flickr page could see my computers, my spendy bicycle, and my large flatscreen TV all pinpointed on an online photo map. Hell, with a few clicks you could get driving directions right to my place—and with a few more you could get black gloves and a lock pick delivered to your home.

To test whether I was being paranoid, I ran a little experiment. On a sunny Saturday, I spotted a woman in Golden Gate Park taking a photo with a 3G iPhone. Because iPhones embed geodata into photos that users upload to Flickr or Picasa, iPhone shots can be automatically placed on a map. At home I searched the Flickr map, and score—a shot from today. I clicked through to the user’s photostream and determined it was the woman I had seen earlier. After adjusting the settings so that only her shots appeared on the map, I saw a cluster of images in one location. Clicking on them revealed photos of an apartment interior—a bedroom, a kitchen, a filthy living room. Now I know where she lives.

Think about that for a moment. Her being in an apartment would make any attempts at larceny a bit more difficult, but what if she lived in a single family home in a suburb? Take the geo-location data on the pictures and look it up in Google Maps—yes you can use latitude and longitude in Google Maps—drop down to Street View and you could even see what the house looks like so long as Google has been through that neighborhood.  Above and beyond simply showing folks where to go to score a nice flat screen TV, this could also potentially be used to allow people to find you anywhere you happen to be making it a boon for potential rapists, stalkers, and plain old crazy people. Those, of course, are worst-case scenarios so let’s not dwell on them too much. Instead just consider how creepy it is that Honan was able to pick a perfect stranger out in a park and with just a little effort peer at the filthy living room in her apartment.

The technology is not without its upside though. Honan talks in the article about how it actually made him more social as friends who had seen he’d be in their area would turn up to hang out for a few minutes and touch base. Additionally some of the tools he was using allowed him to learn more about the area he was in, find the cheapest gas prices, and discover new places to eat he’d never realized were there before. And it’s not as though you have to make use of the tools that expose your precise location every second of the day. The whole article is worth a read if for no other reason than to educate yourself on what’s possible. Right now you have to put some work into setting yourself up to be so exposed, but developers are working to make doing stuff like that easier all the time so it may not be too long before you could set yourself up to broadcast your location constantly without realizing it.

It never hurts to be well-informed.