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I honestly have no idea what a Canadian Mountie is thinking at any time

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Back in 2010, I was traveling internationally a couple times a year and I decided to go through the process of getting a Global Entry card from the TSA. It’s like a magic pass that lets you run through customs in almost any country in just a few minutes, skipping lines and inspections. It’s a long tedious process of applying, giving the government the a-ok to do a deep background check on you, then you wait for months for one quick 10 minute long appointment to speak to an agent face to face. Mine took about six months to complete, and it required that I run up to Seattle’s little Boeing airport where a TSA agent met me for an interview.

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At the time I did it, since we were a stone’s throw from the Canadian border, they asked if I wanted to talk to a mountie for a couple minutes and pay $5 extra on top of the $150 for the Global Entry pass. I said sure. Both agent interviews were quick and consisted of them holding a stack of papers ostensibly about me while posing the question “Do you have any prior felonies or interactions with the law?” and me saying “not really, no” and them nodding and saying “yes, yes that tracks” before stamping some papers on the desk.

That sweet Nexus/Global Entry life

Once I had my card, going through airports was a breeze, saving about 45 minutes of time skipping the giant customs line of whatever country I was landing in. The times I flew into Canada weren’t much different, even with the Nexus pass, but after a few years of owning it, I decided to take a drive up to sightsee randomly for a couple days in Vancouver, BC, which is a six hour drive from my house (about the same time to drive between LA and SF, something I was used to doing as a spur-of-the-moment road trip).

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Driving across the Canadian border with a Nexus pass is absolutely fantastic. Even if you pull up to the border during rush hour, you can skip the line of cars stretching to the horizon and jump in the carpool-like NEXUS ONLY lane. When you get to the front, a mountie asks for your card, inspects it quickly, then lets you through.

It was so incredibly efficient that one time I timed it on a stopwatch to check and from the time I stopped my car at the kiosk to driving away from it into Canada, it took only 30 seconds.

Time lapses

A Global Entry account is active for five years and when I got the opportunity in 2015 to re-up it, I did. But by the time it came up for renewal in summer of 2020, I knew I had no plans for international travel and the Canadian border was effectively closed to all Americans, so I let my membership lapse. Had I known today it takes anywhere from six to fourteen months to get a Global Entry/Nexus pass, I would have renewed when I could.

My very first Canadian custom official interaction

Back in fall of 2003, almost 20 years ago to the day, I flew into Vancouver airport to meet my wife at a conference, who had driven her car up a few days before from Oregon. I’d get to crash in her conference hotel and take day trips while she was at the event, then we’d spend the following weekend exploring the city together once the conference was over.

My trip began by me forgetting my passport on my desk at home, which I learned when I landed in Canada and it wasn’t anywhere in my packed bag. I’m kind of amazed I even got to board the flight in Portland in 2003 because the TSA was recently formed and constantly implementing new harsher requirements to travel.

When I landed in Canada, a perplexed customs official greeted me at the airport and eventually said my US driver’s license was enough for him to let me into the country even though he legally shouldn’t and added “good luck getting back into the USA”. I knew we were driving back and I was going to be a passenger, so I figured I’d take the risk.

In the end, it was no big deal, the US border patrol didn’t ask me any questions and just let my wife through as the driver after checking her passport that she didn’t forget to bring.

This first interaction probably skewed my view of Canada’s authorities in a grossly positive light, as everyone I interacted with was thoughtful, helpful, and supportive back in 2003.

Things go south

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My first weird Canadian official interaction was in 2017, when I flew to Vancouver on a quick 12-hour trip to record video interviews for a project at work. I had my Nexus pass, I was working for a company with offices in Vancouver, and it was a same-day in and out business trip. Since my time was short on the ground, I hired a freelance videographer friend from Portland to help me capture the interviews in a multi-camera setup.

For some reason, this did not sit well with the Canadian customs authorities at the airport. I expected a quick rubber stamp entry, but the official came back with “Why didn’t you hire a Canadian filmmaker to assist you? Why bring an American freelancer all this way?” and we argued for a few minutes about the short schedule, how we’d be heading back to the US that very night and how this was done for the sake of speed to get a project done quickly.

Eventually they let us pass.

My next weird interaction was a year ago, in November of 2022. I’d just bought a new plugin-hybrid Jeep and only one shop on the west coast had figured out how to improve its suspension and they were outside Vancouver. I remembered my previous weird interaction about American freelancers, so when crossing the border (this time without a Nexus pass) I was 100% honest and said I was there to get some car work done by a special shop in Canada and I was happy to exchange my American money for Canadian goods and services.

This did not sit well with the official at the border crossing. He asked why I couldn’t find an American shop to do the work. Was my jeep so unique I just had to get into BC to get it fixed and upgraded? I think the customs guy was trying to figure out if I was saving money by abusing the Canadian/US dollar exchange rate, which was in my favor at the time, but I assured him it was only to get specific work done I could only get in Vancouver.

Eventually, they let me pass, but it was far from a pleasant experience.

I know what I’ll try: lying

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After nearly a year of hard trails and battering my jeep, I needed to fix some things and beef up my suspension further, so I called up the same shop that worked on it before and they ordered some new coils to upgrade my Jeep. Knowing the border officials would be weird about me spending money in Canada, I decided to not state it as my reason for being there, instead I would say I’m there to meet friends and do some sightseeing.

This turned into 5-10 minutes of questioning. Where was I headed? Why didn’t I already have a hotel room booked? Am I really going on a spur-of-the-moment trip? Is that a thing Americans do? Where do I work? Oh just freelancing for now—why?

I was asked to roll down all my windows so he could look around, then he asked me point blank: you need to tell me if there’s a gun inside your car.

I understand the Venn diagram of Jeep owners and gun owners in the US has a large overlap, but I didn’t know how to tell the guy that I would vote to repeal the 2nd amendment tomorrow if I could. Sure, I had guns as a kid from my gun nut dad, but I have never (and will never) own a gun as an adult.

Eventually, they let me in.

Good luck in the future

At this point, I don’t know how to interact with Canadian border guards. When I’m exceedingly honest they’re skeptical and pepper me with questions for minutes on end. When I lie, they get weird and the questions continue.

I know I’ll cross the border more times in the future as I keenly want to explore the region (and do some mountain biking in Whistler someday!) but honestly at this point, I don’t know what to expect in any of these interactions.

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4 days ago
They’re not Mounties at the border. They are CBSA agents. Otherwise, cool story bro.
West Coast
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Dog autism? 37% of US dog owners buy into anti-vaccine nonsense

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A very good boy gets a check-up with a veterinarian.

Enlarge / A very good boy gets a check-up with a veterinarian. (credit: Getty | Arne Dedert)

The anti-vaccine rhetoric that dogged COVID-19 responses has now gone to the dogs, literally.

A little more than half of surveyed dog owners—53 percent—questioned the safety, efficacy, and/or necessity of vaccinating their beloved four-legged family members. The study, published recently in the journal Vaccine, involved a nationally representative group of 2,200 American adults, of which 42 percent (924) made up the analyzed subgroup of dog owners. Overall, the findings add to concern that the anti-vaccine sentiments that flared amid the pandemic have fanned out broadly, undermining even routine childhood vaccinations.

That concern was supported by the new study, which found that the dog owners who espoused "canine vaccine hesitancy," or CVH, were more likely to embrace misinformation and falsehoods linked to human vaccines. And those anti-vaccine beliefs were potent. Responses from the CVH dog owners suggested that 56 percent opposed mandatory vaccination against rabies, a 100 percent fatal condition.

In a particularly striking finding, the study found that 37 percent of all dog owners believed vaccines could cause their pets to develop cognitive problems, such as "canine/feline autism."

To be clear, vaccines do not cause autism. This falsehood has been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked for years; the plethora of data on vaccine safety shows absolutely no link between vaccination and autism. Further, "canine autism" (aka "canine dysfunctional behavior" on the Internet) is not a real condition. A veterinarian who was not involved with the new study confirmed to Ars that it is not an established diagnosis, though dogs can suffer behavioral and cognitive disorders unrelated to human autism.

Nevertheless, anti-vaccine bunkum has clearly metastasized to our furry companions. The lead author of the study, Matthew Motta, told Ars over email that he and his co-authors expected some vaccine hesitancy among pet owners but still found the results "pretty surprising."

“We were shocked”

Motta, a professor of Health Law, Policy, & Management at Boston University's School of Public Health, conducted the study with his sister, Gabriella Motta, a veterinarian at Glenolden Animal Hospital in Pennsylvania, and Dominik Stecula, a political scientist at Colorado State University.

The team set out to "put numbers to the anecdotal stories we'd become familiar with over the years," Motta told Ars. But, they were surprised by the findings on two levels: first, "We were shocked to uncover just how prevalent canine vaccine hesitancy is," and second, "to observe just how powerful CVH can be in explaining why some people might choose to not vaccinate their pets, and hold positions that undermine universal rabies vaccine coverage."

Motta was also taken aback by the responses related to "canine autism," which he, too, noted was not a valid diagnosis.

"On the one hand, perhaps this shouldn't be so surprising—these numbers match up fairly well with our previous research, as well as other public opinion polling, benchmarking the number of Americans who believe the same about the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella vaccine," he said. "Still, to see that so many dog owners misapply concerns about a human diagnosis to their pets was, in my view, pretty surprising."

Motta and his co-authors wrote that the findings raise worrisome questions about the health of pets who may not receive life-saving vaccinations, like those against parvovirus. It also raises concerns about the potential that rabies vaccination coverage in the US could dip below the 70 percent level needed to prevent the deadly disease from spreading to humans from dogs, which are responsible for 99 percent of human rabies cases globally. Last, they also worry about additional stress and disease risks to veterinarians and their staff.

For now, the study is just the beginning of the work to quantify and understand vaccine hesitancy among pet owners. Motta says he and his co-authors had for years seen anecdotal evidence that Americans were becoming hesitant to vaccinate their animals, but, he said, "To our knowledge, no one had made an effort to attempt to quantify this phenomenon."

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23 days ago
This makes me sad.
West Coast
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The ‘X’ Stands for Bullshit

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Jay Peters and Emma Roth, for The Verge:

xAI, Elon Musk’s newly formed AI company, has revealed itself with a new website detailing its mission and team at Musk tweeted the company’s intent is to “understand reality” without any other details or explanation.

“The goal of xAI is to understand the true nature of the universe,” according to the website. The team is headed up by Elon Musk and includes team members that have worked at other big names in AI, including OpenAI, Google Research, Microsoft Research, and DeepMind (which was recently folded into Google).

I’ll go out on a limb and say this whole thing is bullshit, and he’s announcing it this week in a futile attempt to distract attention from Threads killing Twitter. The website contains no more information than the vapid statement quoted by the Verge, and the names for each of the dozen men listed on the team are just links to their Twitter accounts.

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81 days ago
Notable that there are no women listed.
West Coast
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★ Proposed Name for GM’s Upcoming In-House Software Platform (You Know, the One That Isn’t Going to Support CarPlay): Edsel

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Michael Wayland, reporting last week for CNBC:

General Motors has hired former Apple executive Mike Abbott to lead a newly created software unit for the Detroit automaker. Abbott, former vice president of engineering for Apple’s cloud services division, will join GM as executive vice president of software, effective May 22. He will report to GM CEO Mary Barra.

Abbott’s newly created role will bring together three separate functions within the company: software-defined vehicle and operating systems; information and digital technology; and the company’s digital business. [...]

GM has a target to grow profit margins and double its revenue to about $280 billion by the end of this decade. That includes significant growth in new business units and software.

I’m not familiar with Mike Abbott, but it sounds like his expertise is entirely in cloud services, not user-facing software design and engineering. So I don’t think Barra was thinking “Apple makes great software that people love, so we should hire someone from Apple who knows how to lead such a team”,1 but instead more like “Apple has built an $80 billion per year services division that continues to grow each quarter, so we should hire someone who knows how to lead such a team”. Barra is looking at Apple’s services revenue, not the quality of Apple’s CarPlay.

That’s fine, and maybe someone like Abbott is exactly who GM needs. But I don’t look at this hire and think that GM is any more likely to come up with a CarPlay-quality interface for its own platform. Some back-of-the-envelope math on Barra’s services revenue goals for GM makes it sound to me like Mike Abbott is being tasked with designing an in-dash slot machine.

When GM announced they were dropping CarPlay from their EVs last month, Reuters reported that “Barra is aiming for $20 billion to $25 billion in annual revenue from subscriptions by 2030.”

That seems very ambitious.

Let’s look at GM’s current subscription services revenue. Here’s Larry Printz, writing for Motley Fool last July:

According to company officials, GM generated nearly $2 billion in subscription services revenue and EBIT margins north of 70% in fiscal 2021. The automaker currently has more than 4 million subscribers. For 2021, GM’s global revenue was $127 billion, meaning that if forecast proved true, OnStar accounted for 1.6% of GM’s worldwide revenue. While that may seem like a minimal contribution to the bottom line, that figure should grow thanks to recent additions to OnStar.

GM recently announced a subscription plan for its SuperCruise self-driving feature, which is free for the first three years on new vehicles. It also opened OnStar to owners of non-GM vehicles through a smartphone app, which should bring additional subscribers — and income.

To grow from $2 billion to $20 billion (the low end of Barra’s stated goal) by 2030, it seems safe to assume she’s expecting this growth to come from future car sales, not GM vehicles that are already on the road today.

GM sells about 6 million vehicles per year — but that number has been declining since a peak of 10 million in 2016. Presumably, these future services will require vehicles equipped with GM’s new software platform. Right now they’re claiming this system will only be going into EVs, and in 2022, only 1.7 percent of GM vehicles sold were all-electric.

So let’s be generous and say that by 2030, GM has sold 30 million vehicles eligible for and subscribed to the company’s new services. I think 30 million is very generous — if not outlandish — and would require them to put the new software platform in their gas and hybrid vehicles, too. Keep in mind they only had 4 million subscribers in 2021 and their vehicle sales are in decline.

$20 billion in revenue from 30 million subscribers = $666/year/vehicle = $55/month/vehicle. That’s in line with their current average of $500/year per services subscriber ($2 billion in revenue from 4 million subscribers, per Motley Fool above), but it’s a lot of money per subscriber. I just don’t see how they grow from 4 million subscribers today to 30 million or more by 2030.

What services could they offer that new car buyers would pay north of $50/month for? Maps and navigation? Everyone has that on their phones already. Music and podcasts? Everyone has that on their phones already. Crash detection? By 2030 everyone will have that on their phones already (or at least they will if they have iPhones, but I bet that will soon become a standard feature on Android phones too). GM wants to sell “behavior based insurance” (translation: tracking/surveillance), but according to Reuters, their goal for insurance is just $6 billion/year by 2030. I find it hard to see where the rest of the money will come from.

GM executives might be dreaming that car buyers will pay GM for services they already get on their phones by not supporting CarPlay and Android Auto, but today’s reality shows that people will just buy $5 mounts to attach their phones to their vehicles’ dashboards. And if every other automaker continues to support CarPlay and Android Auto, it just seems like this entire endeavor will turn into an expensive boondoggle that steers would-be GM buyers to other brands.

One idea that occurred to me is the equivalent of Apple’s services revenue dark matter: payments from Google for default placement as Safari’s search engine. Neither Apple nor Google has ever disclosed those numbers, but one recent estimate pegs it at $20 billion per year. At a minimum, it’s $10 billion per year. Those payments from Google go into “Services” in Apple’s quarterly results. Apple now reports $20 billion in services revenue per quarter — so most of that is coming from the App Store, and then customer subscriptions to things like iCloud Plus, Apple Music, etc., but somewhere around 20-25 percent of it comes from Google paying to be the default search engine in Safari. With GM’s upcoming in-house software system not supporting CarPlay or Android Auto, but made in partnership with Google (based on Google’s confusingly-named Android Automotive platform) presumably Google Maps (and/or Waze?) will be the one and only choice for mapping and navigation, and perhaps Google will pay GM for that privilege? And for default placement for other services like music? Even if that’s the deal, though, I don’t see how it gets GM close to $20 billion in services revenue per year. Apple gets $15-20 billion from Google for default search engine placement in Safari on over one billion iPhones, iPads, and Macs. Even my kindest, most optimistic estimate pegs eligible GM vehicles at just 30 million by 2030. Would Google pay GM 30–40 times more per car to provide the default mapping app than they pay Apple per iPhone/iPad/Mac? That doesn’t make sense to me, but I suppose it’s theoretically possible that mapping surveillance data is that valuable to Google. I really fucking doubt it, though.

The one and only thing I can think of that GM can charge a subscription for that drivers can’t get via their phones is semi-autonomous driving. GM calls this Super Cruise and currently charges $25/month for it, or $15/month for drivers who also subscribe to OnStar. (OnStar offers roadside assistance and crash detection — which, again, everyone will have for free with their phones by 2030.) But Super Cruise could exist as a standalone subscription feature alongside support for CarPlay and Android Auto — and in fact does today. Charging a subscription fee for Super Cruise doesn’t require GM to drop support for CarPlay and Android Auto integration.

I can’t see how these ballpark numbers make any sense. It’s an enormous bet against the primacy of the phone in people’s lives, with no one yet, in any industry, ever having won a bet against the phone. GM’s $20–25 billion target for services revenue by 2030 feels like a Kendall Roy number — plucked out of thin air by someone just making up figures in an Excel spreadsheet until they get the SUM() result they’re looking for.

  1. I don’t think there’s any chance whatsoever this could have happened, but imagine if GM had hired Scott Forstall to lead their software division. That would have been interesting. ↩︎

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138 days ago
How do I short GM stock? Asking for myself.
West Coast
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Reducing Gaia GPS Battery Drain

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Gaia GPS has worked well for me for years, but recently iOS has been reporting it as the reason my phone’s battery has been draining quickly. Of course, this is somewhat expected when I’m actively using the app, but the high battery use continues for days after I’ve stopped recording a track. The first set of battery tips that I found was not relevant. I need to have the iOS location permissions set for it to always be able to access my location because, when recording, I want it to keep updating even when I switch to another app such as Camera or Messages. Eventually, I found that the solution is to hide the compass.

With the compass enabled, I guess Gaia GPS is constantly asking iOS for location information so that it can update the live display on the map, even though I haven’t actually looked at the app in days. I wonder whether something has changed in iOS or in Gaia GPS because this never seemed to be an issue before. But, with iOS 16.4, it’s essential if I want to get through even half a day with my aging iPhone 12 mini.


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149 days ago
I just followed the advice to turn off the compass. We’ll see if it helps with battery drain.
West Coast
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The Downfall of Brydge

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Chance Miller, reporting for 9to5Mac:0

Brydge, a once thriving startup making popular keyboard accessories for iPad, Mac, and Microsoft Surface products, is ceasing operations. According to nearly a dozen former Brydge employees who spoke to 9to5Mac , Brydge has gone through multiple rounds of layoffs within the past year after at least two failed acquisitions.

As it stands today, Brydge employees have not been paid salaries since January. Customers who pre-ordered the company’s most recent product have been left in the dark since then as well. Its website went completely offline earlier this year, and its social media accounts have been silent since then as well.

The whole report is a hell of a read. Impressive original reporting from Miller and his colleagues at 9to5Mac. Here’s just one gut punch among many in the story:

In December, Brydge held its annual Christmas party at a local restaurant. [Co-CEOs] Mander-Jones and Smith had set a budget for the party, the people said, and they stuck to that budget. At the end of the night, one of the CEOs put his card down for the bill. His card was declined, and a Brydge employee paid the bill instead, the people said.

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149 days ago
This quote too: “Brydge banked with Silicon Valley Bank, which crashed in March. The crash had no effect on Brydge because they had no cash in the bank to lose, the people said.”
West Coast
149 days ago
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