My Love/Hate Relationship with "Read it Later" Apps

I read a lot. Not many books (though more than I used to), but a ton of articles and blog posts.

Actually, let me rephrase that: I have a lot of articles in my reading queue. I do, in fact, read plenty of things on a daily basis, but the majority of interesting posts I come across get sent to Pocket, so I can read them later that day when I have some down time. It makes sense: I stand a much better chance of thoroughly reading, understanding and enjoying something when I can give it my undivided attention, rather than skimming it for thirty seconds while I'm standing in the checkout line at the grocery store. What an awesome idea! I can pick and choose the stuff I really care about, and consume it when I'm ready. In practice, however, it doesn't quite work out that way.

The problem is two-fold: first, I encounter a ton of good stuff that I want to read. If I had to guess, I'd say I find between 30 and 50 posts on a daily basis I think are deserving of my time. About half of those I open immediately, skim through the first paragraph or so, and decide whether to continue on/add them to Pocket. The other half end up going straight to Pocket without any vetting. It's fantastic that there are so many smart people sharing worthwhile ideas that are readily available for consumption. You can have too much of a good thing though, so moderation is important. But when I've come across something neat that I want to hang on to, I just want to save it and worry about moderating my consumption later.

Which brings me to the other problem. Pocket and its ilk encourage procrastination, which begets further procrastination. If I've put myself in the mindset that it's acceptable - beneficial, even - to put off reading something until later, then I've given myself permission to put it off indefinitely. That's exactly what has happened to me with Pocket, as my queue is now over 100 items. What good is that doing me? I'm never going to sit down and read all those articles, and the idea of sifting through the ones I really want to read, and ones that just looked neat at the time, is daunting. Now I've come full circle, and turned a tool that's supposed to let me better manage my time into another thing on my to-do list.

I certainly deserve most of the blame for my packrat usage of Pocket, but I can't imagine I'm alone in this. I love Pocket; it's a great solution for a self-curated reading list. It's my Pocket queue that frustrates me.

Tags: pocket, read it later

MH370 and the "Radar Shadow" Theory

Keith Ledgerwood published a post earlier today outlining a theory he's developed about Malaysian Airlines flight 370. I won't go into great detail about his theory because you can read it yourself, and you should if you want to understand the rest of this post. The tl;dr is that he used available data about air traffic about the time and area MH370 was known, and later suspected, to be in the air, and has proposed that the plane's alleged hijackers managed to disable the transponder and fly in the "radar shadow" of Singapore Airlines flight 68.

Before I go any further, let me make clear that I know very little about aviation and cannot speak directly to his evidence regarding the aviation data. I have been reluctant to write anything about this case, mainly due to my aforementioned lack of knowledge, and to avoid adding to the deafening roar of speculation and rumors that have been blasting out across the Internet since the plane's disappearance. Now that we have that out of the way, let's get to it.

First off, not all radar systems rely on ADS-B transmissions to filter out noise. I would expect that the resolution of the radar systems along the proposed route would vary, so perhaps there's at least one radar that picked up SIA68 and would also pick up a separate contact in very close proximity to SIA68 that had no beacon? At the time radar operators, had they seen this, may have written it off as noise, but that depends on the radar in question and the SOP for that radar station. If the radar was seeing two distinct contacts that provided consistent returns and whose position was consistent relative to each other, that should have raised suspicion for the operator. Whenever I'm underway, if I get a contact on the radar that I can't positively identify as another vessel or object, and can't determine with certainty that it's sea clutter or other noise, I assume it's a legitimate contact and convey that information to my superior, who in turn takes steps appropriate to the situation.

The route proposed in Keith's theory takes the aircraft through areas where you'd expect a significant military presence, and a higher degree of likelihood that there were radar with sufficient resolution to distinguish between the two planes. It could very well be that, assuming his theory is accurate, MH370's hijackers were able to fly at the right bearing and close enough range to SIA68 to appear to be a single contact, but there are a lot of variables at play that make it tough to say that definitively.

For the sake of argument, let's say his theory is accurate and the plane was landed somewhere. Now what? The investigation is currently looking at the pilots as the perpetrators. If they were, and the plane was landed somewhere other than the middle of the ocean as a suicide, then they'll likely turn out to have ties to a terrorist organization or radical political group. The investigators will determine to which group(s) they are connected, and may be able to use that to help narrow down the search area. Kidnapping for ransom seems increasingly unlikely, since it's been 10 days and nobody has claimed to be responsible for this, nor made any demands.

If they plan to fly the plane to another destination at a later date, the idea that they'll successfully use Keith's method to hide it is a little hard to swallow. When they took the plane, nobody had started looking for it until it had landed, or was near its destination. Now, everyone in the eastern hemisphere is looking for it, and a 777 showing up in the air that isn't squawking proper codes, or taking off from and traveling through an unusual area, is going to raise a lot of red flags. Considering that investigators believe the disappearance was deliberate, I'm sure they are considering any possible outcomes resulting from a successful hijacking and landing, and are more closely monitoring any air routes around the locations a 777 could land. A sizeable array of military assets have been moved into the area, with a more sensitive and capable collection of radar and other sensors that could arguably detect MH370 even if they attempt to use the same stunt again. The perpetrators have to know all this, so what are they going to do now?

Perhaps they wait it out until the search dies down and assets are moved away from their temporary locations and resume their normal duties. Given the rarity with which aviation accidents occur, the strangeness of this particular event, and the aviation industry's unwillingness to accept "it's just gone and we'll never know what happened" as an answer, that could be months or even years. It took two years before the FDR and CVR were recovered from Air France 447, and the wreckage from that plane was located within days of the crash, and preliminary answers to what caused the crash available within weeks. Yet for two years France and the other interested parties persisted and eventually recovered the black box from the ocean floor. How long can they hide a 777 before somebody finds it? WNYC's Data Project mapped out that there are 634 airstrips within the largest search area that could accommodate a 777. How long do you think it will take authorities to visit every one of those airstrips looking for the plane? You can't hide a 200 ton jetliner in the hangar attic.

The good news is that, if Keith's theory is correct, there's still a possibility that some or all of the passengers are still alive. With every passing day, and the increasing likelihood that the plane was intentionally disappeared, their safe return home seems less likely.

This is all speculation on my part, and I'd welcome anyone with expertise in any of the topics I touched on to poke holes in my argument. Keith makes a compelling argument for his theory, but when you continue down the path of logic there seem to be some major holes.

Tags: boeing 777, mh370

Cosmos, and an Unfortunate Byproduct of Cord-Cutting

Last summer I canceled my cable TV subscription, and went 100% Internet. In fact, I'd been using Internet services nearly exclusively for my content consumption for many months up to that point, but other circumstances required keeping my cable TV. Despite pretty much entirely ignoring cable programming I still had the mentality that, if something came along on TV that I really wanted to watch, I still could. Once I dropped cable that option went away.

I signed up for the Aereo beta for Baltimore when it became available, which conveniently was right in the heart of football season. It immediately provided benefit to me, since I realized that most of the TV shows I followed were on broadcast networks, so I wasn't missing much. Yet, I still thought of network TV shows as largely outside the scope of things I had access to, since broadcast only covers a fraction of the programming available. I adopted a mentality of "unavailable until proven otherwise" about television.

So when Cosmos was announced I didn't pay it much mind. It sounded intriguing, but I assumed it would be on a network I couldn't watch. It was only after the series premiere aired and received massive attention across the Internet that I bothered to check whether I could get it, and only then discovered that it was, in fact, on broadcast television. Fantastic! A pleasant, unexpected surprise.

I'm not complaining that everything ever made isn't available at my fingertips whenever & wherever. I'm enough of a realist to understand this will probably never happen, and I know that cord-cutting means compromising on what's available to you. Yet the trend seems to be moving toward ditching cable and satellite TV subscriptions, and the entertainment industry seems to be (slowly and begrudgingly) moving to accommodate this shift. In the mean time, those of us who have given up on paying for cable TV will be left assuming that the new stuff is out of our reach, and ignore it - until it shows up on Netflix.

Tags: aereo, cord-cutting, cosmos