Criminal Minds and Government Digital Surveillance

08:40 PDT - June 6th, 2016

Look, I’ve watched a lot Criminal Minds. It’s a police procedural with a host of misfit characters that make up a family of choice. It bounces from extremely dark crimes to cheesy character moments and it does earn some genuine moments at times.

The show’s premise is that they’re a crack team of FBI profilers chasing serial killers. They get a case, they draw upon their vast knowledge of behavioral analysis to come up with a profile (white, male, 40s, divorced, etc.) and then use super tech analyst Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) to narrow it down to a list of a single suspect and usually get to them right before they commit their next murder.

What’s interesting is that the show started in 2005 and is still on the air now and a lot has changed in the world, especially with how we view digital surveillance and the authority of the police.

This show does not care about the Fourth Amendment (except the one time they waited for a search warrant on a house), especially in the digital realm. Garcia will use every database, phone, GPS, and computer to find out everything about the victims and their attackers. They always narrow it down to one person and it’s always the right person and it’s always justified. Sometimes they will kill the suspect and it’s always justified.

The show basically presents the ideal world of the Patriot Act. The cops are always the good guys who always make the right decisions. The bad guys live right next door, ready to perform unimaginable cruelty.

Garcia even explicitly invokes Edward Snowden at some point (I think it was the 10th season?) but they never question if it’s right that the government is capable of such omnipotent digital surveillance.

I’m doubtful as to whether the show is even able to say anything against the surveillance. It’s so firmly rooted in how they wrap up every episode. The best they could do is maybe catch someone else who is abusing their power but they wouldn’t be able to question their own authority.

Compare and contrast to Person of Interest, a show from 2011 that I just started watching. It’s about two vigilante heroes, basically a super genius and a CIA-type working to stop murders every week. The genius built a government surveillance system that listens to everything and identifies terrorist threats but there’s a catch, it also identifies smaller violent threats that it has to ignore because the government is only interested in the bigger fish. So these guys take it upon themselves to prevent these lesser crimes.

It’s a less violent show but you could argue that it’s more cynical. Or maybe just more realistic. They acknowledge that the system is broken, so they work outside it but the show also acknowledges that our heroes aren’t moral authorities either.

Perhaps it’s not fair to compare the two shows, Criminal Minds is more monster-of-the-week police procedural. I’ve only seen a little about Person of Interest but it more of a genuine crime drama with some cat-and-mouse between our heroes and the One Good Cop in the city, Detective Joss Carter (Taraji P. Henson). But I’m curious to see how, a nation obsessed with cop shows will evolve in response to the growing concern about digital surveillance and privacy.

Back to New York

11:55 PDT - May 5th, 2016

It’s been six years since I was last in New York and it shouldn’t be surprising that a city of 8.5 million people feels so different.

Last time I was staying with a group of Australians in a spacious apartment in Korea-town, the Empire State Building loomed outside my window. We were starstruck tourists determined to visit every landmark and live the fantasy of living in the Big Apple.

Now I’m staying at an upscale hotel a block away from Central Park. I’m sharing the room with an American, we’re both quietly poking at our laptops, taking time during the slow parts of the afternoon to gather energy for nights of going out. We’re accessing a different part of the city, more of the expensive shows and bars.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve lived for so long in America now. Or, more likely, it’s because we’ve gotten so comfortable with our money and access that we’ve earned throughout our twenties. New York feels like it will always be here and there’s no urgency to try and understand it or live out its promises in the span of a day.

Thirty-One Years Old

11:59 PDT - January 3rd, 2016

This time last year I was still in Hong Kong, hiking the city streets and visiting temples. Meeting relatives that I have long forgotten from my childhood, from my time living in Australia.

Man Mo Temple

I look at this photo of me and mother and I want to ask, “Who was that boy then?” I still have this need to see myself as a child. Maybe it excuses certain things that I expected to have by the time I was thirty. I was supposed to be married and living in a house now. First child on the way or already here.

I don’t need those things right now, I don’t ache for them. But I expected them. I feel entitled to them. I feel everyone else expects them.

But I’m actually great. 2015 is the year I started coloring my hair. Which doesn’t mean anything and also means everything. Whatever it’s just hair. But it’s grown more personal to me over time. It stands as a symbol for the part of me that I want to show off. It represents the change that’s happened to me in my transition to my thirties and it serves as inspiration to come out of my shell more.

I’m afraid to hope for anything in 2016. Outwardly, I want that steady relationship and I want safety and I want the good stuff to stay the same (and the bad stuff to stay silent). Inwardly, I probably yearn for a lot of things I didn’t know I wanted or I’m too afraid to even think aloud. I want exercise. I want to feel healthy and vital. I want this year to feel better than all the others before it, with no qualifying language. I want a change at work and be surrounded with coworkers that I love and work that I’m fired up about. I want to be terrified to give my heart to someone. I want an apology from my dad. I want to wake up somewhere else and cry about how far I’ve come.

My iPhone 6 Turns Off While The Battery is Still Green

07:16 PDT - December 2nd, 2015

How do I fix this?

Here’s the quick summary. I’ll expand on this more below.

  1. Backup everything (ideally, an encrypted back up in iTunes)
  2. Put your phone into DFU mode
  3. Re-install iOS (as of writing, this is iOS 9.1)
  4. Restore your backup

WARNING: This means deleting everything off your phone and copying it back. If you don’t feel safe doing this, go to the Genius Bar at your local Apple store and ask for some real help instead of getting free advice off the internet.

Why does my iPhone shut down at 30% battery?

Short answer: I don’t know.

My theory is that the iPhone is confused about where 0% battery is and where 100% battery is. It thinks it has 30% left and then boom, out of juice. It thinks its fully charged when it really isn’t because it’s battery measuring is all off.

What causes this to happen? I can only speak anecdotally to this and I’m not an electrical engineer or anything. I went on a week long road trip that totally threw off my iPhone charging routine. During the day, it would be plugged into the USB port of the car and stuck at 100% for long hours. During the night, it would drain or charge off an external battery. It was also subjected to freezing temperatures while we camped out. All through this, we’d go in and out of really poor reception.

Detailed steps to fix it

You will need:

  1. Your Apple ID and password, memorized or written down
  2. Your iPhone that is hopefully in good working order
  3. A computer with enough hard drive space to store your phone backup
  4. A lightning cable
  5. Good wifi network for your newly-restored iPhone to download from
  6. Some spare time during which you don’t need your phone

Backup everything

Follow these steps to make an encrypted back up in iTunes. While it’s doing that, think long and hard about what things on your phone you would hate to lose and make sure to get a copy of them. For extra protection, do an iCloud backup as well.

Put your phone into DFU mode

Device Firmware Upgrade mode is a special mode on the phone that allows some low-level system software to be updated. I suggest restoring in this mode just to wipe the slate as clean as possible and clear out any inaccurate software assumptions about your iPhone battery.

To do this:

  1. Plug in your iPhone to your computer and have iTunes open
  2. Power off your iPhone (hold down the Power button and slide on the “power off” slider)
  3. Wait for it to be completely off
  4. Hold the Home and Power button for 10 seconds
  5. Keep holding the Home button but release the Power button
  6. Wait for iTunes to say that it’s detected a device

Re-install iOS

Don’t touch the phone, just follow the instructions in iTunes to restore the operating system.

Restore your backup

Soon you’ll see your iPhone load up the “Hello” screen. iTunes should prompt you to restore the backup you made earlier. Let iTunes do its thing and when it’s finally done, you can start using your phone. Check that all your settings are intact and hopefully your apps will all be downloaded shortly.

Everything should be fixed now! Use your phone as normal and you should be able to drain the phone to 0% battery again. If not, go to your local Genius Bar.

How do I prevent this from happening again?

Who knows? The future is unwritten. My suggestions:

  • Don’t subject your phone to extreme temperatures
  • Use only USB chargers, cables and batteries that are either directly from Apple or have the Made for iPhone logo (I prefer cables/batteries from Anker)
  • Make regular backups

#RealDiversityNumbers by @EricaJoy →

I was tired of the “we hired this many” and “we gave this many dollars to girls coding initiatives.” None of those numbers accurately portray what the inside of a company looks like. When people are making decisions about where they might want to work and the type of culture they’d like to land in, those numbers aren’t helpful. I want companies to share the stuff that matters. So I started tweeting about it…

Examples include “How many harassment cases have you settled out of court?” and “What’s your retention rate for women? For [women of color]?”

These are great questions that drive at the systemic bias in the industry. For real diversity to happen in your company, you have to ask yourself these very hard questions.