On COVID Contact Tracing Apps

I’ve heard some friends express concerns about these being used for government surveillance. As a civil libertarian, I share your reservations.

I’ve also been a mobile developer for nearly a decade and have done a good deal of professional work around the location-tracking and proximity detection technologies that these rely on, so know firsthand what these apps can do.

My short take: if an app asks for access to your location data or contact list, granting that will give more info than you want to share. If it instead asks to use the privacy-preserving contact-tracing capabilities Apple and Google built into the latest versions of their operating systems, it cannot be used to track your location or any personally-identifiable information, and you can use it with confidence.

None of these have been released in the US yet, but they should be coming soon. I’ll share further info on them when they are.

Clarity as Kindness

Every time we speak, we ask something of the people with whom we’re talking. We ask for their attention, for space in the conversation, for them to think about what we have to say. For most of us, the cost to attend to someone is fairly small. For some — the hard of hearing, individuals with learning disabilities, the extremely introverted — the price of attention is higher. But in no case does it cost our listeners nothing.

In addition, we often make choices that are obstacles to effective communication. Our diction isn’t clear. We don’t think out what we are saying before we say it. We speak too softly. We don’t provide our listeners with the context they need. Our words are poorly chosen or don’t mean what we are trying to say. In these cases, the person to whom we’re speaking must ask us to repeat ourselves, to clarify a point, or to elaborate. None of these are inherently bad things. But all of them do increase the cost of communication.

Thus, taking the time to consider and craft one’s words is an act of generosity. Speaking clearly and well is a way to say “I value your time and attention and want to use them well.” Thinking before we speak puts a little more of the work of communication back on us. And all of these are ways of giving, of tacitly caring for the person with whom we speak.

In addition, putting this care into our talk has another benefit: our words are ultimately more likely to be heard. We all know people who speak much but say little. And we also know those who are often quiet, but when they do choose to share it is with just the right word. Knowing this, we often attend more closely to the speaker whose utterances are more consistently valuable.

Think before you speak. Be clear in meaning and diction. Consider what background your listeners need. While the process of good communication doesn’t rest solely on your shoulders, it can’t happen without you.

Starting at Handsome

I’m delighted to share the news that I’ve started at Handsome this week! Handsome is an Austin-based Holistic Experience Design Agency that conceives and develops beautiful, integrated, thoughtful brand experiences, services, mobile apps, websites, VR experiences, and more.

I’m particularly excited about the Technical Director role I’ve taken on because it will allow me to straddle the discipline of creating software, which I love, and building and supporting a team, which I enjoy and feels valuable to me. I’ll also be building support for a more distributed talent team, allowing the company to benefit not only from the brilliant designers and developers that Austin enjoys, but others from around the country and the world.

The people at Handsome are thinkers, dreamers, capable, diverse, interesting, and gracious human beings. (And a few are folks I know from previous roles and already think very highly of.) The offices are beautiful. And the work is satisfying, both creatively and as an opportunity to do something meaningful.

I’m excited about this next chapter of my professional life, and as time goes on, look forward to sharing more of the things we build together.

Hero Revisited

A while back, I wrote a bit about Two Heroes of mine. Now, the San Marcos paper has a story about Thrine Soto, one of the people I wrote about. She’s a 93 year old woman who volunteers regularly at the food bank, and has been doing so for 30 years. Enjoy!

Family Update: February 2012

My friend Jason is continually after me to update my weblog. Acting on the assumption that a sample size of one is statistically valid, I’m going to assume that the rest of the world is just as interested and post a family update, cribbing liberally from a recent letter to my dear sister-in-law. (Martha, you are excused from reading this post.)

Kathy has begun an internship at Criss Cole rehab center for the blind up in Austin, and is enjoying it quite a bit (aside from the commute). Her first two weeks there were spent with a blindfold on as she went through many of the experiences that the clients there would have, including wood shop. (I’ll pause for a moment while you connect the dots and make the requisite astonished face.) She came home with some nice pieces of work and all of her fingers, so I count it a success.

I’m well into my new job at Mutual Mobile, a company that makes apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android phones. It’s a lot of fun. I’m surrounded by a ton of super-smart, very engaged folks there, and am learning a ton. Taking the bus up to Austin daily has been an interesting experience. Although the on-board Internet seems to work only about 60% of the time, I’m still generally able to make good use of the time reading books, listening to podcasts, or catching up on some reading and writing.

Emily has recently started a couple of college classes at Austin Community College, and seems to be both enjoying them and doing really well. She’s continuing to work at Rue 21 at the nearby outlet mall, as well as exercising her formidable art skills on her own time. Though we don’t see as much of her since she moved out to the garage apartment, she’s still a help around the house, and we’re glad to still have her close.

Abigail recently performed for her first open mic night, and did a great job. She sang and played guitar for Hey Jude (Beatles), On and On (Stephen Bishop), and a song she wrote herself. She’s keen to try another one soon. She’s also in a production of The Crucible at her High School, with the first performance tonight. It’s great fun to see her exploring these various artistic avenues and enjoying them so much!

Liam is doing a bang-up job in band, where he plays French Horn, following in his mother, aunt’s, and sister’s footsteps. Though he’s in 7th grade, he also gets to play with the 8th grade band, and sits first chair in his section. In addition, he’s been playing tennis this year, and is enjoying it a fair bit, though I’ve had no luck getting him out on the court with me lately. (I may be too little challenge for him these days.) He recently turned 13, and has been enjoying the increased freedom that comes with that advanced age.

Maggie is a particular favorite of her teachers, and has developed a good deal of enthusiasm for reading. She enjoys dabbling in all kinds of creative pursuits, including cooking, drawing, writing stories, playing pennywhistle, and building fairy houses. She’s a particular friend to animals, built an impressive fort out of scrap from our old deck in the backyard the other day, and is almost always the first to offer help when someone needs it.

While Kathy’s internship schedule has made it tough for her and I to have as much time together as we prefer, I’ve really been enjoying the evenings I have with the kiddos, and am struck again by what a joy it is to watch them growing into distinct, fascinating human beings. I love being around these folks. If families were chosen, rather than determined by a fascinating mix of genetics, mine would look no different.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-11-16

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-11-09

  • Listening to the soundtrack from The Mission & sewing goofy creatures with Liam and Abi. Nice evening! #fb #
  • Liam Abi and I sewed tonight. This is what happened. http://twitpic.com/349ssh #
  • Airsoft morning with Liam and Cheesy Steve! http://twitpic.com/34fm3d #
  • Annoyed with E*Trade. Have been waiting a month for them to give me *any* info on a suspicious transaction in my account. Grr. #

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-10-26

  • There's a girl in the theater with a very musical laugh. Unfortunately, the music is that of Metallica. #fb #
  • Dear Steve: Maybe utilizing the slimming power of black isn't a good idea when you're already at 0.2% body fat. Just a thought. #
  • Still baffled as to why Apple has two video conferencing technologies (iChat and Facetime) that don't talk to each other. #
  • Those are actually string basses, not cellos. (The one on the wall is, though.) Check this one out! http://blitl.us/cello #

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-09-14

  • The great thing about the cheap theater in San Marcos: you can enjoy refreshing summer rain. While inside. #fb #
  • Today Liam bought himself a bullwhip. I can't think of a single thing that could possibly go wrong with that purchase. #fb #
  • Dear American Culture: it actually is OK to be out of sight of a TV and without background music occassionally. Sincerely, Sean #fb #
  • Just spoke to the doc, and all went well with Kathy's surgery today. I should get to see her for myself in about an hour. #fb #
  • For those who want to visit, Kathy is in room 108 in the women's center at CTMC in San Marcos. Visiting hours are over at 8:30. #fb #

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