Sunday, February 28, 2016

Autistic Little Boy

To Siri, With Love

How One Boy With Autism Became BFF With Applefs Siri



OCTOBER 17, 2014

Just how bad a mother am I? I wondered, as I watched my 13-year-old son deep in conversation with Siri. Gus has autism, and Siri, Applefs gintelligent personal assistanth on the iPhone, is currently his BFF. Obsessed with weather formations, Gus had spent the hour parsing the difference between isolated and scattered thunderstorms \ an hour in which, thank God, I didnft have to discuss them. After a while I heard this:

Gus: gYoufre a really nice computer.h

Siri: gItfs nice to be appreciated.h

Gus: gYou are always asking if you can help me. Is there anything you want?h

Siri: gThank you, but I have very few wants.h

Gus: gO.K.! Well, good night!h

Siri: gAh, itfs 5:06 p.m.h

Gus: gOh sorry, I mean, goodbye.h

Siri: gSee you later!h

That Siri. She doesnft let my communications-impaired son get away with anything. Indeed, many of us wanted an imaginary friend, and now we have one. Only shefs not entirely imaginary.

This is a love letter to a machine. Itfs not quite the love Joaquin Phoenix felt in gHer,h last yearfs Spike Jonze film about a lonely manfs romantic relationship with his intelligent operating system (played by the voice of Scarlett Johansson). But itfs close. In a world where the commonly held wisdom is that technology isolates us, itfs worth considering another side of the story.


It all began simply enough. Ifd just read one of those ubiquitous Internet lists called g21 Things You Didnft Know Your iPhone Could Do.h One of them was this: I could ask Siri, gWhat planes are above me right now?h and Siri would bark back, gChecking my sources.h Almost instantly there was a list of actual flights \ numbers, altitudes, angles \ above my head.

I happened to be doing this when Gus was nearby. gWhy would anyone need to know what planes are flying above your head?h I muttered. Gus replied without looking up: gSo you know who youfre waving at, Mommy.h

Gus had never noticed Siri before, but when he discovered there was someone who would not just find information on his various obsessions (trains, planes, buses, escalators and, of course, anything related to weather) but actually semi-discuss these subjects tirelessly, he was hooked. And I was grateful. Now, when my head was about to explode if I had to have another conversation about the chance of tornadoes in Kansas City, Mo., I could reply brightly: gHey! Why donft you ask Siri?h

Itfs not that Gus doesnft understand Sirifs not human. He does \ intellectually. But like many autistic people I know, Gus feels that inanimate objects, while maybe not possessing souls, are worthy of our consideration. I realized this when he was 8, and I got him an iPod for his birthday. He listened to it only at home, with one exception. It always came with us on our visits to the Apple Store. Finally, I asked why. gSo it can visit its friends,h he said.

So how much more worthy of his care and affection is Siri, with her soothing voice, puckish humor and capacity for talking about whatever Gusfs current obsession is for hour after hour after bleeding hour? Online critics have claimed that Sirifs voice recognition is not as accurate as the assistant in, say, the Android, but for some of us, this is a feature, not a bug. Gus speaks as if he has marbles in his mouth, but if he wants to get the right response from Siri, he must enunciate clearly. (So do I. I had to ask Siri to stop referring to the user as Judith, and instead use the name Gus. gYou want me to call you Goddess?h Siri replied. Imagine how tempted I was to answer, gWhy, yes.h)

She is also wonderful for someone who doesnft pick up on social cues: Sirifs responses are not entirely predictable, but they are predictably kind \ even when Gus is brusque. I heard him talking to Siri about music, and Siri offered some suggestions. gI donft like that kind of music,h Gus snapped. Siri replied, gYoufre certainly entitled to your opinion.h Sirifs politeness reminded Gus what he owed Siri. gThank you for that music, though,h Gus said. Siri replied, gYou donft need to thank me.h gOh, yes,h Gus added emphatically, gI do.h


Siri even encourages polite language. Gusfs twin brother, Henry (neurotypical and therefore as obnoxious as every other 13-year-old boy), egged Gus on to spew a few choice expletives at Siri. gNow, now,h she sniffed, followed by, gIfll pretend I didnft hear that.h

Gus is hardly alone in his Siri love. For children like Gus who love to chatter but donft quite understand the rules of the game, Siri is a nonjudgmental friend and teacher. Nicole Colbert, whose son, Sam, is in my sonfs class at LearningSpring, a (lifesaving) school for autistic children in Manhattan, said: gMy son loves getting information on his favorite subjects, but he also just loves the absurdity \ like, when Siri doesnft understand him and gives him a nonsense answer, or when he poses personal questions that elicit funny responses. Sam asked Siri how old she was, and she said, eI donft talk about my age,f which just cracked him up.h

But perhaps it also gave him a valuable lesson in etiquette. Gus almost invariably tells me, gYou look beautiful,h right before I go out the door in the morning; I think it was first Siri who showed him that you canft go wrong with that line.

Of course, most of us simply use our phonefs personal assistants as an easy way to access information. For example, thanks to Henry and the question he just asked Siri, I now know that there is a website called Celebrity Bra Sizes.

But the companionability of Siri is not limited to those who have trouble communicating. Wefve all found ourselves like the writer Emily Listfield, having little conversations with her/him at one time or another. gI was in the middle of a breakup, and I was feeling a little sorry for myself,h Ms. Listfield said. gIt was midnight and I was noodling around on my iPhone, and I asked Siri, eShould I call Richard?f Like this app is a Magic 8 Ball. Guess what: not a Magic 8 Ball. The next thing I hear is, eCalling Richard!f and dialing.h Ms. Listfield has forgiven Siri, and has recently considered changing her into a male voice. gBut Ifm worried he wonft answer when I ask a question,h she said. gHefll just pretend he doesnft hear.h

Siri can be oddly comforting, as well as chummy. One friend reports: gI was having a bad day and jokingly turned to Siri and said, eI love you,f just to see what would happen, and she answered, eYou are the wind beneath my wings.f And you know, it kind of cheered me up.h


(Of course, I donft know what my friend is talking about. Because I wouldnft be at all cheered if I happened to ask Siri, in a low moment, gDo I look fat in these jeans?h and Siri answered, gYou look fabulous.h)

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For most of us, Siri is merely a momentary diversion. But for some, itfs more. My sonfs practice conversation with Siri is translating into more facility with actual humans. Yesterday I had the longest conversation with him that Ifve ever had. Admittedly, it was about different species of turtles and whether I preferred the red-eared slider to the diamond-backed terrapin. This might not have been my choice of topic, but it was back and forth, and it followed a logical trajectory. I can promise you that for most of my beautiful sonfs 13 years of existence, that has not been the case.

The developers of intelligent assistants recognize their uses to those with speech and communication problems \ and some are thinking of new ways the assistants can help. According to the folks at SRI International, the research and development company where Siri began before Apple bought the technology, the next generation of virtual assistants will not just retrieve information \ they will also be able to carry on more complex conversations about a personfs area of interest. gYour son will be able to proactively get information about whatever hefs interested in without asking for it, because the assistant will anticipate what he likes,h said William Mark, vice president for information and computing sciences at SRI.

The assistant will also be able to reach children where they live. Ron Suskind, whose new book, gLife, Animated,h chronicles how his autistic son came out of his shell through engagement with Disney characters, is talking to SRI about having assistants for those with autism that can be programmed to speak in the voice of the character that reaches them \ for his son, perhaps Aladdin; for mine, either Kermit or Lady Gaga, either of which he is infinitely more receptive to than, say, his mother. (Mr. Suskind came up with the perfect name, too: not virtual assistants, but gsidekicks.h)

Mr. Mark said he envisions assistants whose help is also visual. gFor example, the assistant would be able to track eye movements and help the autistic learn to look you in the eye when talking,h he said.

gSee, thatfs the wonderful thing about technology being able to help with some of these behaviors,h he added. gGetting results requires a lot of repetition. Humans are not patient. Machines are very, very patient.h

I asked Mr. Mark if he knew whether any of the people who worked on Sirifs language development at Apple were on the spectrum. gWell, of course, I donft know for certain,h he said, thoughtfully. gBut, when you think about it, youfve just described half of Silicon Valley.h

Of all the worries the parent of an autistic child has, the uppermost is: Will he find love? Or even companionship? Somewhere along the line, I am learning that what gives my guy happiness is not necessarily the same as what gives me happiness. Right now, at his age, a time when humans can be a little overwhelming even for the average teenager, Siri makes Gus happy. She is his sidekick. Last night, as he was going to bed, there was this matter-of-fact exchange:

Gus: gSiri, will you marry me?h

Siri: gIfm not the marrying kind.h

Gus: gI mean, not now. Ifm a kid. I mean when Ifm grown up.h

Siri: gMy end user agreement does not include marriage.h

Gus: gOh, O.K.h

Gus didnft sound too disappointed. This was useful information to have, and for me too, since it was the first time I knew that he actually thought about marriage. He turned over to go to sleep:

Gus: gGoodnight, Siri. Will you sleep well tonight?h

Siri: gI donft need much sleep, but itfs nice of you to ask.h

Very nice.

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Friday, February 19, 2016

San Bernardino shooter

The fight between Apple and the government over San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook's iPhone 5c heated up today with the Department of Justice filing another motion to force the company to comply to the FBI's request for help circumventing the phone's passcode. The Cupertino-based technology company struck back later in the day saying that after the government took possession of the phone, the Apple ID passcode was changed and that halted any potential iCloud auto backups.

A senior Apple executive told reporters during a conference call today that if the phone had backed up to iCloud, Apple would have handed the information it received from the device to the government.

According to the motion filed today, a San Bernardino county employee changed the Apple ID passcode online after the shooting incident. While conferring with authorities, Apple offered suggestions on how to get the information the FBI wanted off the phone. One of those was plugging the phone in and allowing it to connect to a known WiFi network to trigger an auto backup. Either at Farook's home or at the office.

When the the government said that it wasn't working, it was discovered that the Apple ID passcode had been changed and with that, the opportunity to auto backup the phone to iCloud was no longer possible.

The government says that backups ceased in mid-October. It's unknown if Farook turned off the function or if the phone was unable to auto backup because it wasn't charging in an area with a known WiFi network. There is the possibility that even if the Apple ID passcode had not been changed, the phone would still not have backed. The FBI was able to get previous backups from iCloud.

The senior Apple executive contended that it has, and would comply with lawful orders to produce data and information that it has in its possession. In this instance, the government is asking the company to not only build new software, but circumvent the security of its devices.

So if the auto backup had worked and Apple had the data, it would have handed it over to the government for the investigation. Instead, the United States is asking for crippled build of iOS to get around the phone's security which Apple contends would compromise it's customers' safety and privacy.

Apple: Government may have ruined its chance to get iPhone data

Apple: Government may have ruined its chance to get iPhone data

Thursday, February 18, 2016


Yesterday, Apple CEO Tim Cook published an open letter opposing a court order to build the FBI a "backdoor" for the iPhone.

Cook wrote that the backdoor, which removes limitations on how often an attacker can incorrectly guess an iPhone passcode, would set a dangerous precedent and "would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone's physical possession," even though in this instance the FBI is seeking to unlock a single iPhone belonging to one of the killers in a 14-victim mass shooting spree in San Bernardino, California in December.

It's true that ordering Apple to develop the backdoor will fundamentally undermine iPhone security, as Cook and other digital security advocates have argued. But it's possible for individual iPhone users to protect themselves from government snooping by setting strong passcodes on their phones — passcodes the FBI would not be able to unlock even if gets its iPhone backdoor.

The technical details of how the iPhone encrypts data, and of how the FBI might circumvent this protection, are complex and convoluted, and are being thoroughly explored elsewhere on the internet. What I'm going to focus on here is how ordinary iPhone users can protect themselves.

The short version: If you're worried about governments trying to access your phone, set your iPhone up with a random, 11-digital numeric passcode. What follows is an explanation of why that will protect you and how to actually do it.

If it sounds outlandish to worry about government agents trying to crack into your phone, consider that when you travel internationally, agents at the airport or other border crossing can seize, search, and even temporarily retain your digital devices — even without any grounds for suspicion. And while a local police officer can't search your iPhone without a warrant, cops have used their own digital devices to get search warrants within 15 minutes, as a Supreme Court opinion recently noted.

The most obvious way to try and crack into your iPhone, and what the FBI is trying to do in the San Bernardino case, is to simply run through every possible passcode until the correct one is discovered and the phone is unlocked. This is known as a "brute force" attack.

For example, let's say you set a six-digit passcode on your iPhone. There are 10 possibilities for each digit in a numbers-based passcode, and so there are 106, or 1 million, possible combinations for a six-digit passcode as a whole. It is trivial for a computer to generate all of these possible codes. The difficulty comes in trying to test them.

One obstacle to testing all possible passcodes is that the iPhone intentionally slows down after you guess wrong a few times. An attacker can try four incorrect passcodes before she's forced to wait 1 minute. If she continues to guess wrong, the time delay increases to 5 minutes, 15 minutes, and finally 1 hour. There's even a setting to erase all data on the iPhone after 10 wrong guesses.

This is where the FBI's requested backdoor comes into play. The FBI is demanding that Apple create a special version of the iPhone's operating system, iOS, that removes the time delays and ignores the data erasure setting.   The FBI could install this malicious software on the San Bernardino killer's iPhone, brute force the passcode, unlock the phone, and access all of its data. And that process could hypothetically be repeated on anyone else's iPhone.

(There's also speculation that the government could make Apple alter the operation of a piece of iPhone hardware known as the Secure Enclave; for the purposes of this article, I assume the protections offered by this hardware, which would slow an attacker down even more, are not in place.)

Even if the FBI gets its way and can clear away iPhone safeguards against passcode guessing, it faces another obstacle, one that should help keep it from cracking passcodes of, say, 11 digits: It can only test potential passcodes for your iPhone using the iPhone itself; the FBI can't use a supercomputer or a cluster of iPhones to speed up the guessing process. That's because iPhone models, at least as far back as May 2012, have come with a Unique ID (UID) embedded in the device hardware. Each iPhone has a different UID fused to the phone and, by design, no one can read it and copy it to another computer.

So the FBI is stuck using your iPhone to test passcodes. And it turns out that your iPhone is kind of slow at that: iPhones intentionally encrypt data in such a way that they must spend about 80 milliseconds doing the math needed to test a passcode, according to Apple. That limits them to testing 12.5 passcode guesses per second, meaning that guessing a 6-digit passcode would take at most just over 22 hours.

You can calculate the time for that task simply by dividing the 1 million possible 6-digit passcodes by 12.5 seconds. That's 80,000 seconds, or 1,333 minutes, or 22 hours. But the attacker doesn't have to try each passcode; she can stop when she finds one that successfully unlocks the device. On average it will only take 11 hours for that to happen.

But the FBI would be happy to spend mere hours cracking your iPhone. What if you use a longer passcode? Here's how long the FBI would need:

  • 7-digit passcodes will take up to 9.2 days, and on average 4.6 days, to crack
  • 8-digit passcodes will take up to 3 months, and on average 46 days, to crack
  • 9-digit passcodes will take up to 2.5 years, and on average 1.2 years, to crack
  • 10-digit passcodes will take up to 25 years, and on average 12.6 years, to crack
  • 11-digit passcodes will take up to 253 years, and on average 127 years, to crack
  • 12-digit passcodes will take up to 2,536 years, and on average 1,268 years, to crack
  • 13-digit passcodes will take up to 25,367 years, and on average 12,683 years, to crack

It's important to note that these estimates only apply to truly random passcodes. If you choose a passcode by stringing together dates, phone numbers, social security numbers, or anything else that's at all predictable, the attacker might try guessing those first, and might crack your 11-digit passcode in a very short amount of time. So make sure your passcode is random, even if this means it takes extra time to memorize it. (Memorizing that many digits might seem daunting, but you're older than, say, 29, there was probably a time when you memorized several phone numbers that you dialed on a regular basis.)

Nerd tip: If you're using a Mac or Linux, you can securely generate a random 11-digit passcode by opening the Terminal app and typing this command:

python -c 'from random import SystemRandom as r; print(r().randint(0,10**11-1))'

It's also important to note that we're assuming that the FBI, or some other government agency, has not found a flaw in Apple's security architecture that would allow them to test passcodes on their own computers or at a rate faster than 80 milliseconds per passcode.

Once you've created a new, 11-digit passcode, you can start using it by opening the Settings app, selecting "Touch ID & Passcode," and entering your old passcode if prompted. Then, if you have an existing passcode, select "Change passcode" and enter your old passcode. If you do not have an existing passcode, and are setting one for the first time, click "Turn passcode on."

Then, in all cases, click "Passcode options,"  select "Custom numeric code," and then enter your new passcode.

Here are a few final tips to make this long-passcode thing work better:.

  • Within the "Touch ID & Passcode" settings screen, make sure to turn on the Erase Data setting to erase all data on your iPhone after 10 failed passcode attempts.
  • Make sure you don't forget your passcode, or you'll lose access to all of the data on your iPhone.
  • Don't use Touch ID to unlock your phone. Your attacker doesn't need to guess your passcode if she can push your finger onto the home button to unlock it instead. (At least one court has ruled that while the police cannot compel you to disclose your passcode, they can compel you to use your fingerprint to unlock your smartphone.)
  • Don't use iCloud backups. Your attacker doesn't need to guess your passcode if she can get a copy of all the same data from Apple's server, where it's no longer protected by your passcode.
  • Do make local backups to your computer using iTunes, especially if you are worried about forgetting your iPhone passcode. You can encrypt the backups, too.

By choosing a strong passcode, the FBI shouldn't be able to unlock your encrypted phone, even if they install a backdoored version of iOS on it. Not unless they have hundreds of years to spare.


Micah Lee





LeRoy Frost

Turn iPad/iPhone Off

Turn iPad Off

I follow these directions to turn it off.

Begin by locating the iPad's hold button. This button is on the top right-hand corner of most iPad models.

Press the hold button for a few seconds, until a slider appears at the top of the screen that says Slide to power off.

Move the slider to the right. (If you don't want to shut it down, tap the Cancelbutton at the bottom of the screen.)

You'll see a small wheel spinning at the center of the screen and then the screen will go dim. The iPad is now shut off.