Friday, April 24, 2015

A look back at 25 years of the Hubble Space Telescope

The Verge takes A look back at 25 years of the Hubble Space Telescope

The Eruption of Chile's Calbuco Volcano

In Focus shows The Eruption of Chile's Calbuco Volcano "Chile's Calbuco volcano erupted on Wednesday, spewing a giant funnel of ash high into the sky over a sparsely populated, mountainous area, triggering a red alert. Authorities ordered an evacuation for a 10-kilometer (six-mile) radius around the volcano. Calbuco is the second volcano in southern Chile to have a substantial eruption since March 3, when the Villarrica volcano emitted a brief but fiery burst of ash and lava." Just amazing.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Movie Review: The End of the Tour

The Independent Film Festival of Boston started off last night with The End of the Tour. This is a drama based on the book by reporter David Lipsky telling of his five day road trip interview with writer David Foster Wallace for Rolling Stone. I haven't read Wallace though I did watch his This is Water speech. Lipsky is played by Jesse Eisenberg and Wallace by Jason Segel, both were very solid. Segel might not be an obvious choice but during the Q&A director James Ponsoldt said that based on Freaks and Geeks he thought Segel would be great in the role and he was right. The filmmakers had access to the original recordings that Lipsky made of the interview and they obviously were very helpful.

A few of us were reminded of My Dinner with Andrew and that's not a small complement. The conversations here weren't as deep but there was a lot to them. Wallace had a history of depression and substance abuse. At the time he had also recently achieved about as much fame as writer could hope to. Wallace was a private person and hence there were even more rumors about him and yet he agreed to the interview, by someone he didn't know and therefore couldn't trust. Lipsky was interviewing an idol yet was tasked to find a story suitable for Rolling Stone. They're both aware of these conflicting goals. They're also both writers, knowing that the goal is to craft an interesting story. They don't speak in post-modernist meta language but there's a good amount of nuance in what's not said, what is said and how it's said.

I'm sure the filmmakers had to dive into the source material to determine hidden goals. I'm happy that they seem to have done the work for me. There's plenty of text and subtext in the film, but it all felt apparent. In the second half of the film there were a few quiet moments between some scenes. it didn't drag but it felt like space to let the audience contemplate what had been shown, and I didn't feel I needed that time. I really enjoyed the film, it made me want to read some Wallace, but not so much Lipsky.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The 2015 Pulitzer Prizes

The 2015 Pulitzer Prizes have been announced. While I don't recognize much from the list I've heard of The Pope and Mussolini (I think from The Daily Show) and The Sixth Extinction (from general surfing). My local paper won for Editorial Writing. I don't know the name Kathleen Kingsbury, but I did read her series on restaurant workers.

Make This Mini Star Wars BB-8 Ball Droid with a Hacked Sphero

Can't wait for new Star Wars toys? Make This Mini Star Wars BB-8 Ball Droid with a Hacked Sphero.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

This viral math problem shows what American schools could learn from Singapore

Vox writes This viral math problem shows what American schools could learn from Singapore. 1. There's a viral math problem. 2. It's reasonably entertaining.

Albert and Bernard just became friends with Cheryl, and they want to know when her birthday is. Cheryl marks 10 possible dates: May 15, May 16, May 19, June 17, June 18, July 14, July 16, August 14, August 15, or August 17.

Then Cheryl tells Albert the month of her birthday, but not the day. She tells Bernard the day of her birthday, but not the month. Then she asked if they can figure it out.

Albert: I don't know when Cheryl's birthday is, but I know Bernard doesn't know either.

Bernard: At first I didn't know when Cheryl's birthday is, but now I know.

Albert: If you know, then I know too!

When is Cheryl's birthday?

Elizabeth Warren Democrats should cheer Hillary Clinton's latest big hire

Matthew Yglesias writes Elizabeth Warren Democrats should cheer Hillary Clinton's latest big hire "On Thursday, Hillary Clinton wrote a love letter in Time magazine to Elizabeth Warren. But what she did next is even more important for the faction of the Democratic Party that's passionate about tightening the screws on Wall Street: she hired Gary Gensler as her campaign's chief financial officer. Gensler is a former banker at Goldman Sachs who became an unlikely hero of the financial reform movement during his stint as chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission."

"Except the Obama-Gensler relationship was so bad, Obama can't point to Gensler as an example of anything. By rebuilding the relationship, Clinton now can. He's simultaneously outreach to Wall Street haters and cover to work with Wall Street veterans. It's a very shrewd move, and a reminder that whatever her limitations as a charismatic public figure, Clinton is a profoundly skilled practitioner of other aspects of the political game."

The anti-Obamacare movement is making red states sicker and poorer

Ezra Klein writes The anti-Obamacare movement is making red states sicker and poorer.

"Arizona just passed a bizarre new anti-Obamacare law that, in effect, promises to let the Supreme Court wreck the state's health-care system. It's a microcosm of the strange strategy Republicans have adopted against the law: a strategy that's leaving red states poorer and sicker."

"The irony of all this is that Republicans warned that Obamacare would wreck health insurance markets, do little to help the uninsured, and leave everyone else paying hefty taxes to fund a rolling disaster. In fact, Obamacare has covered millions of people at a much lower cost than expected. But as a byproduct of their tactics against Obamacare, Republicans are making their predictions come true, at least for their own residents."

Friday, April 17, 2015

To End the Anguish, Drop the Death Penalty

The Richard's were directly affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. Today in The Boston Globe they write To end the anguish, drop the death penalty.

But now that the tireless and committed prosecution team has ensured that justice will be served, we urge the Department of Justice to bring the case to a close. We are in favor of and would support the Department of Justice in taking the death penalty off the table in exchange for the defendant spending the rest of his life in prison without any possibility of release and waiving all of his rights to appeal.

We hope our two remaining children do not have to grow up with the lingering, painful reminder of what the defendant took from them, which years of appeals would undoubtedly bring.

As an otherwise unabashed liberal, I'm a little squishy on the death penalty. I don't completely oppose it. I know that is it misused and that's tragic and needs to be corrected. Maybe it can't be and needs to be abolished, that might be reality. But I think there are cases and maybe it's only a handful, where guilt is not merely beyond a reasonable doubt but a certainty. Maybe it should only apply for those caught in the act or with a preponderance of physical and video evidence. I believe though I'm not certain that Oswald killed Kennedy. I am certain that John Hinkley attempted to kill Reagan.

I'm mostly certain that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev carried out the Boston Marathon bombings. I only say mostly because I haven't followed the trial, but as far as I know the evidence is overwhelming and the defense admitted it. While I don't now feel competent to say he did it with certainty, I believe the jury can make this decision (and has).

And now the hard part. Should the government have the power to take a life when it isn't necessary? We do empower the police to kill for our general protection. I have no problem with the fact that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed by the state. I obviously have issues with the many recent police killings that don't seem be necessary (Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott), but this isn't about that. Is killing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev better for society than imprisoning him for what could be 50 or more years?

The Richards make a fine point but it's mostly about the legal process, they want him to waive his right to appeals. The death penalty involves a very long process with possible appeals. The arguments against it point out that the way we currently do it is inefficient and possibly cruel. It's more expensive than life in prison, the drugs we use can fail, it drags out the process and it doesn't act as a deterrent. While that's all true and makes a compelling case against it, it doesn't have to be that way.

So you get to the moral question. Does killing Tsarnaev, after a fair trial, make us evil? Maybe it is just vengeance and maybe we could be better, but it doesn't feel that way to me. If we empower police to kill to protect us, having to make split-second decisions that could be wrong, is it wrong to have that power when careful consideration can be applied? Or is the power only necessary when careful consideration can't be applied, that is when there's no other option?

As I said, I'm squishy on it. I'm absolutely opposed to it in cases where it could be misapplied. I suspect that's most in use today. But I believe there are cases where it could be applied and at least in this case, I wouldn't lose any sleep over it. I do feel for the victims and agree with the Richards that they should have an opportunity to get closure and not have their pain dredged up for years or decades to come. A speedy execution would do that too.

The Golden Ratio: Design's Biggest Myth

Co.Design on The Golden Ratio: Design's Biggest Myth "It's bullshit. The golden ratio's aesthetic bona fides are an urban legend, a myth, a design unicorn. Many designers don't use it, and if they do, they vastly discount its importance. There's also no science to really back it up. Those who believe the golden ratio is the hidden math behind beauty are falling for a 150-year-old scam."

"Devlin says the idea that the golden ratio has any relationship to aesthetics at all comes primarily from two people, one of whom was misquoted, and the other of whom was just making shit up."

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Sopranos Ending

Long time readers will remember that I didn't like the ending to The Sopranos and last August after Revisiting the end of The Sopranos I still didn't like it. Now, in This Magic Moment, Eight years after it aired, the finale of The Sopranos continues to be hotly debated. David Chase explains how he created the excruciating tension of the last scene. What he won't say is what happened at the end." It doesn't change my opinion but it offers some interesting inside bits about the technical achievement of the tension in the scene.

You Didn't Check The 'Presidential Election Campaign' Box On Your Taxes, Did You?

NPR scolds You Didn't Check The 'Presidential Election Campaign' Box On Your Taxes, Did You?. I didn't and now I feel kinda guilty. I did misunderstand the checkbox and it turns out the system it funds is getting less and less relevant.

Man Shoots at Armadillo, Bullet Hits Mother-In-Law

WALB reports Man shoots at armadillo, bullet hits mother-in-law "Lee County Sheriff's deputies said 54-year-old Larry McElroy was outside when he fired his 9 mm pistol at the armadillo. The bullet killed the animal, but also ricocheted off of it, hit a fence, went through the back door of his mother-in-law's mobile home, through a recliner she was sitting in, and into her back...McElroy's mother-in-law, 74-year-old Carol Johnson was fortunately not severely injured."

Amazingly, this didn't happen in Florida, but in Georgia (which borders Florida so I guess it's ok)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

How to Turn on Voice & Data on Verizon iPhone 6

This is six months old, but I just did it, How to Turn on Voice & Data on Verizon iPhone 6 "The Verizon iPhone 6 and Verizon iPhone 6 Plus finally support simultaneous voice and data, which is a fancy way of saying you can talk and use the Internet at the same time. The only catch is that you need to turn on voice and data on the Verizon iPhone 6 before you can use it."

Monday, April 13, 2015

Apple Stuff

I stopped in the Apple Store to look at the watch and new MacBook. Nice stuff.

I did really like the new MacBook. The new keyboard felt good to me, I would need no time to adjust to it. I don't get people complaining about the new layout of the arrow keys. The up/down keys are the same and the left/right keys are twice as big. They just removed dead space from the old keyboard. The function key row is a bit shorter and this includes the esc key if you need to use that a lot. The new trackpad was really nice too. It does fell like you're pushing it even though you're not. I usually have Tap to Click enabled on my mac so I'm not pushing the trackpad all the time anyway. Trying things in the store took a little fiddling to get it to behave how I normally have it and being able to try to the new things. A force touch to bring up definitions and etc worked nicely. I'm not sure what else the new track pad would give me.

The MacBook is tiny. Closed it feels like an iPad. Open it feels like a laptop. It's odd trying it in the store while you're standing and it's on a table, rather than sitting with it on your lap. The screen was great. I tried it at native resolution and at the default scaling and could read text fine. Given I have an iMac it would be a nice second computer though this first generation seems a little under powered. I'd rather get a 13" Air but I think I'd rather have a retina display. I'd definitely get the MacBook over the 11" Air. I suspect the MacBook Pro and Air will merge a bit when they incorporate the new MacBook technology.

I made an appointment and tried on the watch. I liked it more than I expected to. The 42mm seemed the right size for me, though the 38mm wasn't that much smaller. My favorite of the bands was the leather loop. It felt nice and easily resized to fit. The Milanese is similar though it's a metal mesh; not quite my thing. I thought I'd really like the metal band but it didn't wow me. He didn't resize it to fit and it was really light. I might like it, but not enough for the extra cost. The classic and modern buckles on leather were nice. Oddly I liked the classic one and though the leather on the modern buckle seemed thin, but I think it's the same leather in the two models so it must have just been me. The Sport Bands felts really good. It's a normal buckle but the band tucks through a hold into the inside of the band rather than on the outside in a normal strap.

When trying them on there's a demo loop that plays. It goes through a few apps, a watch face, messages, maps, etc. You feel a few vibrations which worked very well. Each time through they change the watch face a little. Someone thought through the process of trying on several bands at once to make it more interesting. Off to the side there are some watch on display you can interact with. First the text in messages was pretty good. Even though I'm using reading glasses now I could make out the text in a message. I didn't find anyway to resize the text, though the settings have an accessibility option to make it bold (though I couldn't enable it).

Watch face customization was easy. There are several base faces and you can choose options like colors or detail or complications. I thought you could just save a default for each face, but it seems each watch you save (and can scroll through) can be any combination of face and setting. So if you want 4 of the same simple face but in different colors, you can save those. Nice.

The crown worked fine to scroll and I was surprised that I could easily click on things and hit the right thing (though I do have smallish fingers). There are a few different ways to interact with it and few visible clues so that's a little confusing. You can push the crown and the button and double press them too. You can click, force click and swipe in the various directions. I don't think there's a long press which is odd. So while looking at a watch face I think it was a tap to bring up a customize button or maybe it was a force touch. When in an app it seems you swipe right to go back. If you push the crown it goes back to apps. I suspect after a day it becomes second nature.

So for now, it was nice but I can wait. The fact that everything is on back order makes that easy. My understanding is that third party apps aren't doing anything great with it yet but that's sure to change. I think I can wait til 2.0 but we'll see. At this point my pick would be the 42mm stainless steel with black leather loop, so that's just $700.

If you go and try things on, I have one tip. Get the Sizing Guide and measure your wrist in mm. Some bands are only available for one size watch or the other and each seems to have it's own sizes. E.g., the modern buckle is only for the 38mm and comes in S, M and L. The leather loop is only for 42mm and comes in M and L. The sport band is for both sizes but come in S/M and M/L though the ones for the 42mm are slightly larger than for the 38mm. Know your wrist size and the band sizes you want to try.

Update: Here are some great picks of the watch and the trying on experience. Here's what the Apple Watch Sport looks like with a Milanese Loop

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Winter Isn't Coming

I took the snow shovel and ice scrappers out of the car so I declare winter over. Here's how this winter stacked up against previous Boston Winters:

Screen Shot 2015 04 12 at 12 48 43 PM

Saturday, April 11, 2015

New Photos App in OS X 10.10.3

Apple released OS X 10.10.3 this week and with came a new Photos.app to replace iPhoto.app. It's more closely related to the current Photos app on iOS and I suspect it will be easier for them to add features that show up on all platforms.

So far so good. When you start it, it imports all your photos from iPhoto. It leaves iPhoto untouched so you can go back to it if you want. I turned on the Sidebar from the View menu. Photos adopts the iOS version's Years, Collections and Moments and gets rid of iPhoto's Events. Your old events are imported as Albums in a folder called iPhotos Events. There are still Albums and Smart Albums and (Shared) Photostreams.

Smart Albums are not as capable and several of mine got changed on import with "(modified)" appended to their name. There are no longer star ratings, they're changed to keywords like "1 Star" "2 Star" etc. That's fine, but Smart Albums now have limited boolean logic. You can list a few rules and choose if Any or All of them apply, but you can't add sublevels and nest (yes I tried holding down Option which is how you did it in iPhoto). So there's no way to convert what was "Keyword is Space and rating is greater than 3 stars" because you can't say (Space AND (4 Star OR 5 Star)). Fortunately that was my only Album that did that. Also Smart Albums can't have Key Photos, which is kind of ugly.

When Steve Jobs announced iPhoto Events he described them as a great automatic organizing tool. It collected photos from roughly a day together and I found it mostly worked (though the monthly photostream event was a little weird). So I named events and merged them when needed and it worked pretty well. Well now there aren't quite Events. If the idea is to edit them over time to get rid of them Apple didn't make it easy. For example. I went to a John Cleese talk and book signing and took several photos. I had just named the event John Cleese and in iPhoto I could search for that and find them. But if I don't want an Album (and Albums still seem a little more heavy weight than Events) then I need to rename the photos. While I can open the imported Event Album and select the seven photos, there doesn't seem to be a way to batch rename them. Or even to add the same description to each of them without doing it one by one. You can at least select several photos, bring up the Keywords panel and add/remove Keywords to all of them at once.

Also editing metadata is done via an Info popup panel, I'd prefer a side panel. And there doesn't seem to be an easy way to switch between the panel and the main window. So editing several photos not only involves a lot of repetition, it involves a lot of clicking between windows.

I did come up with one good productivity tip. Open the Keywords panel and assign number key shortcuts to the imported 1 Star, 2 Star, etc. keywords. So now you can bring up the Keywords panel and go through photos adding "stars" to them with one key.

I am not using iCloud for photos, I just store them locally on my iMac. My Photostream does bring recent photos to each device quickly, but I use iTunes to sync photos several albums onto my iPad and iPhone. The new iTunes only seems to support the new Photos app, you can't sync from iPhoto any more, so that's incentive to move. **Update:** Maybe that's not true, opening up iTunes again shows iPhoto as an option.

There is a nice map view that for me, shows wear and what I've eaten :)

Map of Mostly Food Photos

Friday, April 10, 2015

Google let root certificate for Gmail expire, causing e-mail hiccups

Sorry I've been quiet this week. IFFBoston is coming up and I've been helping with their internal website. I finally have a project to play with some python code.

I've fallen behind on my Internet reading and there's taxes to do and Apple updates to install. But I wanted to comment on this story that Ars Technica reported last Monday, Google let root certificate for Gmail expire, causing e-mail hiccups "On Saturday morning, one of Google's root certificates expired, causing millions of users' mail clients to suddenly protest. The certificate for Google's intermediate certificate authority (Google Internet Authority G2) was used to issue Gmail's certificate for SMTP, and the expiration at 11:55am EDT caused many e-mail clients to stop receiving Gmail messages. While the problem affected most Gmail users using PC and mobile mail clients, Web access to Gmail was unaffected."

Seriously? People are supposed to keep their Internet passwords up-to-date and their software patched and deal with a new two-factor authentication system every six months (the new 1Password now has support for it) and Google, the company that wants to make all the world's information accessible and that has email and calendaring products used by millions, can't set a reminder that their certificate is expiring? That's pathetic.

Monday, April 06, 2015

John Oliver: Convincing People to Care About the Snowden Revelations

John Oliver last night did an extra long show. It turns out it was because he went to Russia and interviewed Edward Snowden. He starts talking about the Patriot Act and then talks about the Snowden releases. He interviews people in the street and they either don't know who Snowden is or mistake him for something to do with Wikileaks. He ends his interview with a very NSFW (language only) way to deliver the message so that people care. The whole thing is a half hour and very funny and worthwhile.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Battlestar Galactica and Outlander's Ron Moore tells us why his shows all feature politics

Vox has a nice interview with Ron Moore, Battlestar Galactica and Outlander's Ron Moore tells us why his shows all feature politics

I've enjoyed Outlander but even if you haven't watched it, the interview is short and worth a look for insights on kilts, politics and time travel.

Obamacare Doomsday Cult Struggles to Adapt

Jonathan Chiait describes how the Obamacare Doomsday Cult Struggles to Adapt.

"As Obamacare continues to operate successfully, conservative elites have renewed their pleas for the party to develop an alternative beyond demanding the law’s repeal. The trouble is that anti-Obamacare dogma sits so deeply at the GOP’s core that any discussion of health care must pay fealty to their belief that the law has failed utterly. The Republican Party in the Obamacare era is a doomsday cult after the world failed to end. Its entire analysis of the issue is built upon a foundation of falsehoods."

He then goes through 8 GOP talking points and debunks them. He concludes:

"It is telling that, having lost every substantive argument about the law’s operation, their sole remaining refuge is an argument about its perception. It’s true: Their lies got halfway around the world before the truth could get its pants on. Indeed, if you google most of the factual disputes I discuss above, you’ll get a lot more hits from conservatives making hysterical and false predictions than you will find from reports showing those predictions failed to come true. Those myths still hold enormous sway over public opinion. Far more Americans believe Obamacare has death panels, which is false, than believe its costs have come in under projections, which is true. Conservatives have won the propaganda war over Obamacare. The trouble is that they think this is an indictment of Obamacare, when in fact it’s an indictment of them."

Friday, April 03, 2015

Photos of the Week: 3/28-4/3

This week's Atlantic's Photos of the Week: 3/28-4/3 are pretty impressive. "This week we have images of a fuel tank fire in Sao Paulo, Brazil, a massive live-in sculpture of a woman in Tijuana, Mexico, the recapturing of Tikrit, Iraq, from ISIS fighters, Holy Week in Spain, election celebrations in Nigeria, Typhoon Maysak seen from orbit, a wooden car in India, flooding in Chile, the troubled tunnel-boring machine Bertha in Seattle, and much more."

Typhoon Maysak photographed from the Space Station:

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In Hungary, "Locals celebrate Easter with the traditional 'watering of the girls'" WTF?

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While I've heard of and seen many pictures of India's Holi, this might be the best:

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You Should Enable Two-Factor Authentication

A friend apparently had her Gmail account hijacked. It's not completely clear what happened but the best guess is they got in via a password and then they changed the password and enabled two-factor authentication to their phone. Now she can't login and the Google process to regain her account is more arduous because she has to prove she's the real owner even though she doesn't have the password or the phone used for two-factor authentication (there is a process, you provide a lot of info but in this case it's not quite working and there's a 3-5 day waiting period).

So it's a good opportunity to remind people to enable two-factor authentication for accounts where you can. This is from December 2013 but they say they're keeping it updated, Here's Everywhere You Should Enable Two-Factor Authentication Right Now. Also here's a more comprehensive Two Factor Auth List.

So where I've enabled two-factor auth (apparently abbreviated 2FA), I given my cell phone number and receive text messages with a code to enter. This is usually just the first time I login from a device or perhaps after an upgrade so it's not all the time and isn't annoying at all. There is the problem, What Happens If I Use Two-Factor Authentication and Lose My Phone?. Usually sites when you enable 2FA give you backup codes that are good one time only to login just for these cases. Save them, and keep them someplace you can remember where they are and you can access even if you can't access all or parts of your computing environment.

If you upgrade phones but keep your number there isn't a problem, text messages will go to the new number. If you change numbers (I guess even when traveling if you get a new SIM card) you need to update your 2FA accounts with the new number before you change.

To make managing some of this stuff easier there are now apps that act as the second factor instead of a cell phone number. Google has Google Authenticator for its services and I've heard a lot about Authy which works across many 2FA services but haven't used it.

Question: If you've used Authy, let me know how it works for you.

So if you haven't already, enable two factor authentication on your services, before someone else does it for you.

Also, if you can, backup your online data. For mail accounts, if you're using a local Mail program with IMAP, configure it to keep local copies of your mail and keep backups (so if you loose mail and sync and it all goes away you still have backups).

Thursday, April 02, 2015

The American West Dries Up

In Focus shows how The American West Dries Up "Yesterday, California Governor Jerry Brown stood on a dry, bare hillside in the Sierra Nevada mountains, which would normally be deep under snow at this time of year, and announced an executive order aimed at dramatically reducing water usage statewide. The severity of the drought, now entering its fourth year, has already reached record levels in many places in California and across the West. Lake Powell, a reservoir on the Utah-Arizona border, is currently at 45 percent of capacity and is at risk of reaching the lowest level on record by September. California's snowpack, which generally provides about a third of the state's water, is already at its lowest level on record. Getty Images photographer Justin Sullivan traveled to lakes and reservoirs in California, Utah, and Arizona to capture the following scenes of an increasingly waterless West."

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Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Verizon Wireless Customers Can Now Opt Out of 'Supercookies'

The NY Times reports Verizon Wireless Customers Can Now Opt Out of 'Supercookies' "Verizon Wireless customers now have the ability to completely opt out of the phone carrier’s controversial ad-targeting program that tagged users with undeletable tracking codes, which critics called ‘supercookies.’"

To disable the header tracking, users can opt out of the program called Relevant Mobile Advertising. When that happens, Verizon stops inserting the header, according to the company. Users can unsubscribe from the program on Verizon’s website or by calling 1-866-211-0874.