Cyrus in The Economist: A mobile payment system: That will do nicely, sir

The Economist, December 9 2009:

Street traders can now accept credit cards—so long as you trust them

THE economy might be cashless but people still use the stuff, if only to reimburse a colleague who bought their lunch or pay for a newspaper from a street vendor. Now a new device called Square that was launched on December 4th will enable individuals and small businesses to accept electronic payments by turning any device with an audio-input jack—such as a computer or a mobile phone—into a credit-card terminal.

Square consists of a small plastic cube, slightly larger than a sugar lump, with an audio plug attached. The cube has a slot through which the magnetic stripe of a credit card can be slid. When the cube is plugged into an iPhone, it reads the card number and sends it (in the form of an audio signal) to a piece of software on the phone that then encrypts it and authorises the payment over the internet. (If the phone has no internet connection, the data can be stored until one can be established later.) The customer signs for the transaction using a fingertip on the phone’s touch-screen.

Once the transaction has been approved, the funds are transferred into the bank account of the phone’s owner. The customer can chose to receive a receipt by e-mail or text message. If he chooses e-mail, the receipt will include an electronic map showing where the purchase was made, along with a facsimile of the signature. Customers can even take a photo of the product to remind themselves what it was they bought.

America lags behind East Asia, where people commonly use mobile payment systems to buy items at train stations and convenience stores with the swipe of a mobile phone. But Americans are accustomed to using PayPal to make secure online payments, and some people use Obopay to transfer money via text message. Square is trying to simplify the process and tap into this new market.

Currently, only 100 Squares exist. They are being tested by small retailers, including clothing and coffee shops, in San Francisco, St Louis, Los Angeles and New York. But Square could, in principle, be used by almost anyone (including consumers) to make and receive secure payments easily. For now, the device only works on the iPhone. But because it uses the audio jack, it should be fairly easy to make it work on other devices, too, such as BlackBerry and Android handsets and desktop and laptop PCs.

Jack Dorsey, one of the co-founders of Twitter, who is also a co-founder of Square, reckons that it will enable new businesses to be set up quickly. He says, “I can buy [an iPod touch] for $200, get the app and I’m in business. I don’t need a contract with AT&T or anything. I’m in business.” He says the Square hardware will be free and the software will probably cost about $1. Square will make money by taking a cut of every transaction processed.

Square can only accept credit cards affiliated with American banks, but that may change over the coming months. Future versions of the software will also support foreign currencies and the ability to include a tip in the payment.

Tech Atlas SF: 40th Anniversary of the Internet

I’m pleased to announce that on October 27, I’m hosting the first of a series of monthly panel discussions called Tech Atlas SF (Facebook, Twitter) — where we’ll tackle global tech issues, many of which I’m probably covering anyway and/or am generally interested in. We’ll invite notable guests from the Bay Area (and sometimes farther afield) to come and chat with me at the Parisoma coworking space in San Francisco (10th/Howard, near Civic Center BART).

You can RSVP via the LIFT Conference website or by email: Seating is very limited!

October 29, 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of the creation of the ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet. On that day, a small unknown laboratory at UCLA unleashed a force that has since spread to every corner of the globe, revolutionizing communications forever. Just two days before the actual anniversary, we will be looking back at the early days of the ARPANET and will explore what its future holds over the next 40 years.

For this first edition October 27 at 7:00 pm, we have the privilege of featuring Katie Hafner and Brewster Kahle and the show will be broadcast live on SF Appeal and VidSF.

“Tech Atlas SF” is a monthly one hour LIVE WEB TV SHOW. Passionate people come and discuss how globally-relevant technology is impacting our lives.

The show is organized by Cyrus Farivar & Danny O’Brien and is hosted by PariSoMa Coworking Space.

RSVP by email ONLY at (15 seats only) with your name and activity.

We’re also looking for sponsors. Emails us at to find out more.

More about the panelists:

katie hafner brewster kahle danny obrien Cyrus Farviar

Katie Hafner, author of “Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet” (Simon & Schuster, 1998), former New York Times reporter.

Brewster Kahle, founder of The Internet Archive.

Danny O’Brien, EFF, international outreach coordinator.

Cyrus Farivar, freelance tech journalist (NPR, PRI’s The World, CBC), author of the forthcoming “The Internet of Elsewhere” (Rutgers University Press, 2011)


What: Tech Atlas SF
Where: Parisoma Coworking Space ; 1436 Howard St. (@ 10th)
When: October 27, 2009 ; 7-9 pm

September 20: Cyrus on Weekend Edition Sunday (NPR)

Dear Friends,

I’ve been informed that my commentary on Park(ing) Day will be on Weekend Edition Sunday (September 20)!

It will be available on any of these stations (and their Internet streams).

New York – 8 to 10 am Eastern – WNYC – 820 AM –
Washington, DC – 8 to 10 am Eastern – WAMU – 88.5 FM –
Los Angeles – 5 to 10 am Pacific – KPCC – 89.3 FM – www.kpcc.opg
Boston – 8 to 11 am Eastern – WGBH – 89.7 FM –
San Francisco – 7 to 10 am Pacific – KQED – 88.5 FM –

It will also be archived at and here if you miss it.

Lemme know if you hear it!

Update: Audio is here!

Thanks for coming to BayFF last night!

Thanks to all who showed up (and participated online!) at BayFF last night to talk tech, Iran and all kinds of other stuff. It was a pleasure to speak with Danny O’Brien again and meet Jacob Appelbaum of Tor for the first time. Thanks also to David Farris, Alex Farivar and Nate Cardozo for coming and supporting me.

Also big ups to Sean Savage (who I’ve written about before, and first met six years ago!) and PariSoMa for organizing this event and making their space available to us.

If I met you last night and I didn’t give you a business card, but you want to contact me, do so here. My email is in the upper right of this page.

Finally, I’m giving away five green wristbands like these:

to the first five people who email me, leave a comment on Facebook, send me a Twitter message or otherwise get in touch with me with the word: #freeiranwrist


Update (8:28 am Pacific): We’re down to four!
Update (10:00 am Pacific): Three left!
Update (12:06 pm Pacific): Two!
Update (10:44 am Pacific, August 5): All gone! Thanks!

Update (10:30 am Pacific): Full video of the event is here and after the jump:

Read more“Thanks for coming to BayFF last night!”

August 3: BayFF in San Francisco: Iranian Protests And Digital Media

I’m speaking at this event in San Francisco on August 3!

August 3, 2009

The recent protests over the elections in Iran have shown that social media can be a force for good — and a target for misinformation and censorship. How can technologists build tools for freedom, and defend Net users across the world?

Monday August 3rd – 7 pm to 9 pm

Danny O’Brien is EFF’s International Outreach Coordinator. He works to help us collaborate with organizations and individuals fighting for liberties across the world. Danny has documented and fought for digital rights in the UK for over a decade, where he also assisted in building tools of open democracy like Fax Your MP. He founded the award-winning NTK newsletter, has written and presented science and travel shows for the BBC, performed a solo show about the Net in the London’s West End, and once successfully lobbied a cockney London pub to join Richard M. Stallman in a spontaneous demonstration of Bulgarian folk dance.

Cyrus Farivar is a freelance technology journalist, a freelance radio reporter/producer, and is a wanderlust geek who lives in the city of Oakland, California. He regularly reports for National Public Radio, The World (WGBH/PRI/BBC), and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He also freelances for The Economist, Foreign Policy, Slate, The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, and Wired. He is currently working on a book, The Internet of Elsewhere, about the history and effects of the Internet on different countries around the world, including Senegal, Iran, Estonia and South Korea. It is due out from Rutgers University Press in 2010.

Austin Heap is an entrepreneur and technologist, whose works centers on developing Internet based technologies for establishing rapid transfer of knowledge between people, groups, and organizations. Building on his past work, he is currently working on designing and developing Internet- based technologies that simultaneously optimize users’ networking and personalization within and between online communities and organizations. He holds a B.S. degree from Bentley College.

PariSoma coworking space
1436 Howard (at 10th) in SF

This event is hosted by PariSoMa a coworking space in San Francisco that provides desks, wifi and coffee to independents and startups. Our goal is to work as a platform for communities to foster innovation, collaboration and collective intelligence.

$20 Admission; no one turned away for lack of funds

Seating is limited. RSVP to

BART to get WiFi!

Hot damn! I reported on WiFi Rail back in July 2008 for NPR. Well done!

From WiFi Rail‘s press release:

Service on BART is scheduled to begin on selected segments during 2009. Four downtown San Francisco stations and some segments of the tunnels are already fully functional, and have been providing premium service free to subscribers for the past year.

“We are thrilled to showcase our technology in the network designed for the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit system, it is a great partnership,” said Cooper Lee, CEO and inventor of the patent pending technology. “This is a unique opportunity to demonstrate what high-speed WiFi access, interconnected by a huge fiber-optic backbone, can mean to a transit system and its passengers.”

The WiFi Rail deployment in the BART system will become the largest high bandwidth mobile Internet LAN in the United States. Completion of network construction is planned for the end of 2010.

[via Dave Winer and Wi-Fi Net News]

SF Chron: New land-use law’s message: build near transit

SF Chronicle:

But [Stephanie Reyes, senior policy advocate with San Francisco’s Greenbelt Alliance] and other advocates acknowledge that the importance of SB375, signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in late September, lies as much in the tone it sets as in what it will accomplish, which remains unclear.

Essentially the law, which will take years to implement, uses incentives and requirements to encourage local governments and builders to concentrate growth in urban areas or close to public transportation hubs in an effort to reduce Californians’ use of cars and lower their greenhouse gas emissions.

The ultimate impact will depend on how the legislation is put into effect, and whether its carrots and sticks will outweigh the cries from people who don’t want big new buildings on their block.

Whatever the law’s accomplishments, proponents hope it sends a clear message that will be reflected in future legislation and policies on the state and local levels: Dense, transit-oriented development is a critical goal for the collective good.

Also, see SPUR‘s “A Midlife Crisis for Regional Rail

Tacos Santana caters Jesse Thorn’s wedding

Man, this guy is my hero.

Why? Not only because he has a great podcast and has interviewed everyone from Ira Glass to Ted Leo. Not only because his podcast was picked up by WNYC and then PRI. Not only because he’s America’s Radio Sweetheart. Not only because his wedding was covered by The Grey Lady herself. But mostly, because his wedding was catered by, yes, a taco truck.

The Times neglected to mention which truck provided the food. Because, as we all know, not all trucks are created equal. A closer look at the above photo reveals it to be Tacos Santana, which appears to be part of the El Tonayense empire. Good pick, Jesse!

AP: Scientists: Big Quake Likely in Calif.

Associated Press:

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California faces an almost certain risk of being rocked by a strong earthquake by 2037, scientists said in the first statewide temblor forecast.

New calculations reveal there is a 99.7 percent chance a magnitude 6.7 quake or larger will strike in the next 30 years. The odds of such an event are higher in Southern California than Northern California, 97 percent versus 93 percent.

”It basically guarantees it’s going to happen,” said Ned Field, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Pasadena and lead author of the report.