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Why Some Cops Are Worried About the Waze App

Friday, January 30th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

waze-logo

Are you familiar with Waze? It’s a smartphone app, which my wife turned me on to a year or two ago, which crowdsources traffic information. There’s not much use for it here in Monument, Colorado (“Teeming city of tens!”), but I keep it installed for shopping & drinking excursions to Denver, or for road trips to anywhere. It’s well designed, it works in realtime, and I’ve avoided some serious snarls with small kids in car — which by itself elevates Waze to “priceless.” Google, which is pretty smart about these kinds of products, bought the company in 2013 — but it’s handy enough that I don’t mind occasionally letting Google data-mine me about my driving habits.

Of course, users can and do crowdsource information about speed traps, and that has some cops up in arms:

Sheriffs are campaigning to pressure Google Inc. to turn off a feature on its Waze traffic software that warns drivers when police are nearby. They say one of the technology industry’s most popular mobile apps could put officers’ lives in danger from would-be police killers who can find where their targets are parked.

Waze, which Google purchased for $966 million in 2013, is a combination of GPS navigation and social networking. Fifty million users in 200 countries turn to the free service for real-time traffic guidance and warnings about nearby congestion, car accidents, speed traps or traffic cameras, construction zones, potholes, stalled vehicles or unsafe weather conditions.

To Sergio Kopelev, a reserve deputy sheriff in Southern California, Waze is also a stalking app for law enforcement.

There are no known connections between any attack on police and Waze, but law enforcers such as Kopelev are concerned it’s only a matter of time.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Would Your Life Be Better Without Facebook?

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 - by David Solway

After long and determined resistance, I was recently persuaded to open a Facebook account. I did so for two reasons: to see what the fuss was all about; and as a means of publicizing my books, articles and music. I have been on Facebook for a month or so and have come to regret my decision. It is a snare and a delusion, a pseudo-world we mistake for an actual community, and, for the most part, a waste of time. What’s more, for a brief period, it became a source of nuptial contention.

I rarely quarrel with my wife, but the other evening found us embroiled in a heated donnybrook about the value of Facebook. I had watched her growing increasingly more absorbed in an exchange with a shadowy and irritating figure by the name of Michael over the war between the West and an insurgent Islam. Neither could persuade the other. Janice’s argument was logical, evidence-based, and limpidly expressed, demonstrating that Islam was the scourge of the contemporary world. “Michael” fell back on the usual pabulum regarding Western colonial depredations and “root causes,” to the utter exclusion of historical fact and theological compulsion. There was nothing to be gained by this collision of intractables, but I could see post leading to counter-post leading to counter-counter-post ad vomitatum while the clock ticked on and evening darkened into night.

Janice is a scholar, teacher and writer with far more serious desiderata to attend to than devoting time to the fruitless commerce of incompatible ideas, while a host of flitting cyber-migrants weigh in with approvals and disapprovals. After yet another burst of keyboard clatter, I told her so. Why was she allowing an unknown acquaintance to invade our evening? What was he to us that he should monopolize our time with his all-too predictable blather? She contended that Facebook offered certain advantages, enabling one to connect with others in often useful relationships; and besides, she was honing her rhetorical skills—skills, be it said, which she already owned in abundance. (Some PJM readers may recall her lucid articles on the state of modern education.)

I responded that she was behaving like an Avon lady trying to justify a cosmetic lotion as a spiritual balm and could surely use her time more productively. Worse than that, Facebook involved an actual cheapening of discourse, a vulgarizing of the notion of debate or conversation that was detrimental both intellectually and personally. She thought my rhetoric inflated; I thought her incomprehension disconcerting. After some bickering that threatened to get out of hand, I eventually conceded, like an imperial but benevolent phallocrat, that she might spend a maximum of 15 minutes a day facing that benthic leviathan and matrimonial rival called Facebook. Sensibly, she agreed and domestic spats over Facebook are now a thing of the past. Let us not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment.

In the course of our dispute, I was forced to articulate my objections. The following three seemed to me comprehensive:

First, Facebook is essentially a marketing instrument masking as a communal network. It is especially useful to authors and others who wish to promote their work to an ever-growing population of subscribers; in this function it clearly excels. But it does not comprise a genuine fellowship of individuals in a socially intimate relationship. It flatters us with the shared illusion of being part of an extended family, of keeping in touch with humanity at large, of participating in a great conversation with our fellow man. In reality, genuine intimacy is rare, occurring in personal encounters and privileged correspondence, and generally on a modest scale.

Facebook consists of a colony of lay pietists who exchange, in many if not most cases, mere trifles and ephemerae—photos of self or pets, jokes and videos, transient notions prior to evaporation, bulletins of recent events, plans for the future, and so on—in short, items of negligible significance. At a somewhat more elevated level, postulants engage in debate over the critical issues of the day or post articles or meditations dealing with cherished themes, on the assumption that a series of desultory posts will effect positive change in the world. In fact, though, Facebook’s community is not even skin deep and is far less influential than its communicants seem to think.

Facebook is an indulgence, the higher ham radio. Apart from klatching with acquaintances, for which email, texting and phone serve more discreetly, we come away with the conviction that something of importance has happened, bosom contact with a stranger, leaving us with the consoling impression that we are now members of a viable community when, in truth, we know next to nothing of each other. With every post, the concentric circle of confidential strangers ripples outward in Facebook-space, forming a society of interlopers and ghostly outriders relieving themselves of their infatuations and riding their hobby-horses. It operates rather in the manner of anonymous sex, with much excited congress yielding no abiding or meaningful bond.

Which brings me to my second reason for disliking Facebook. The hours poured into a spectral traffic of largely reciprocal inanities—or, at best, an open correspondence in which we insert ourselves into one another’s phantom lives as semiotic pseudopods and screenal projections—could be far more profitably invested in elaborating our ideas, to quote Milton’s Areopagitica, “in the still and quiet air of delightful studies,” that is, in real thought and disciplined practice with a view to their propagation in reputable outlets. Nor should we delude ourselves into believing that Facebook is only a pleasant diversion, a form of relaxation or entertainment requiring only a few minutes a day between household tasks and intellectual demands. Far from it. The hours accumulate like bad debts. Facebook resembles a giant kraken or monstrous squid out of Jules Verne, rising from the murky depths to grapple, crush and devour an unsuspecting frigate with somewhere else to go.

The third reason for my skepticism is the Facebook lexicon. Where is the “face” in Facebook, since an immediate affinity of persons is face to face and not to be found in fleeting affectations of proximity, of “faceness”? And where is the “book” in a concatenation of volatile posts? Again, to cite the Areopagitca, “A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on a purpose to a life beyond life.” A good book, to be sure, but a book nevertheless, for books “contain a potency of life in them [preserving] the living intellect that bred them.” Facebook’s book, however, is mainly a diary of expendable observations or, say, a Moleskine jotter that does not, tant pis, transform a tourist into a Hemingway or Chatwin.

Moreover, Facebook is literally crawling with “friends” who “like” one another, “like” various posts and utterances, and even invite one another to “like” their pages or organizations. This use of language is absurd, irresponsible and, indeed, misleading. In my experience, friends don’t come cheaply or often, and I use the word with great circumspection. Of course, one can employ the word as a phatic interjection, as when one writes “friend” or “my friend” in a line of text or a song, but this is intended as rhetorical packing to fill out a beat or cadence, or to convey a sense of poetic, discursive or ironic address. And turning the noun into a verb—“to friend” or “to unfriend”—is certainly an interesting quirk of grammar to which the English language is flexibly prone, which poet e.e. cummings famously exploited in developing his trademark syntax and diction. But to bandy the word about as if it meant something that it doesn’t, reminiscent of the character Jack Hodgins in the TV series Bones who enthusiastically celebrated his 500th “friend,” is both ludicrous and demeaning. “Friend” is a word we should use sparingly, just as a friend is someone we should honor.

Something similar applies to the word “like.” Obviously, as a conjunction or preposition, it runs through caverns measureless to man, in particular punctuating the speech of functional illiterates. But as a verb, it betokens an affection or considered endorsement or mark of esteem; as a mere click on a key to indicate reception of a message or an empty gesture of pro forma recognition, it is just plain silly. Indeed, social media on the whole trade in vacuous phraseology. What self-respecting person would want to be part of Twitter—is that where twits hang out?—  hunt for hashtags and chirp truncated “tweets” into the world, as if one were a pea-brained chickadee pecking at the feeder rather than a reflective human being in possession of a mind? (No offence intended to the chickadees on my deck, who are quite friendly and likeable.)

In summation, I dislike Facebook because it trades in false intimacy, is chronophagous, and is a serial perverter of language. Even 15 minutes a day can be excessive, leading by increments to a dangerous addiction. Its sporadic use for the purpose of cyber-marketing in a worthy cause cannot be entirely faulted, but on the whole: caveat internettor.

admiral_ackbar_obama_parody

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How Many iPhones Did Apple Sell Last Quarter?

Monday, January 26th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

iphone-ipad-iphab-phablet

Best estimate is “lots.” Read:

Expectations for the iPhone on Wall Street are high, as hardly a day goes by without another sign that Tim Cook made the right call when he decided to go after the oversized phone market that Samsung once owned.

On Wednesday, for example, Counterpoint Research reported that Apple’s market share in November grew to 12% in China, 51% in Japan and 33% in Korea — Samsung’s home turf.

“No foreign brand has gone beyond the 20% market share mark in the history of Korea’s smartphone industry,” said Counterpoint’s Tom Kang in the company blog.

So it really is true that everybody loves the big phones other than me. But not once when I was slipping my phone into my pocket did I think, “You know what? This could be bigger, maybe even lots bigger.” And don’t get me started on phablets, which seem like either buying a Subaru Brat when you need a full-size pickup truck, or like strapping a grandfather clock on your wrist to tell the time.

What’s the appeal of these beasts?

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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The Surprising Place Where Apple Is Succeeding

Thursday, January 15th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

AIR

There’s one place where Apple is kinda-sorta-nearly competing somewhere adjacent to the low end, and that’s in the market for sub-$1000 laptops. The company’s 11″ MacBook Air got a price cut last year to “just” $899 retail, and that seems to be paying off:

Apple sold a record 5.75 million Macs in the quarter that ended Dec. 31, an increase of 19% that beat the overall industry by a wide margin, IDC said Monday.

In a preliminary estimate, IDC pegged Apple’s sales for 2014′s fourth quarter at 5.75 million, a record for a three-month period. According to IDC, Apple sold 4% more Macs than the previous quarter, currently the record.

If U.S. retail sales are any guide, the Mac’s jump came primarily from its lower-priced laptop, the MacBook Air. “Apple had about a third of all notebook sales below $1,000 in the 14 weeks of the fourth quarter,” said Stephen Baker, analyst with the NPD Group, another research firm. “That number was only 8% in 2013.”

When a company can swoop into the highest-price segment of the low-price market and immediately grab a third of it, then they must be doing something right.

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cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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The Next Microsoft Is…

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

GOOGLE

…Google? Let’s read what Katie Benner has to say about that:

For all of its innovation, best captured by Eric Schmidt’s “How Google Works,” Google is a 55,000-person behemoth, and it’s nearly impossible for any company to move quickly and creatively at that size. Among tech giants, only Apple has managed to innovate after becoming so big. Hewlett Packard? Nope. IBM? No way.

Despite all the talk about Google’s much vaunted moonshots – self-driving cars and Google Glass, internet-connected balloons and drone deliveries – the company is still basically a purveyor of cheap online ads that it sells at massive volume against the things that we search for online. Advertising accounted for $51 billion of the company’s $56 billion in revenue last year.

The most valuable thing that the official moonshot incubator, Google X, has produced isn’t innovative products that will maintain Google’s search dominance. It’s good PR. It codified the idea that Google is always trying new stuff and failing because that’s what true, crazy, bountiful innovation looks like.

There’s much more to Benner’s argument, so you might just want to read the whole thing.

I’d argue that’s what Benner describes at Google is exactly what innovation doesn’t look like. Successful innovators imagine and iterate new products with exactly one thing in mind: Pleasing their customers with something new which they might not have even known they wanted. It’s a focused approach to creativity.

Wireless communications are one example. It turns out, hardly anybody really wanted a large and expensive satellite phone which could only be used outdoors, and which required a constellation of multimillion dollar satellites in orbit in order to function. It also turns out that almost everybody wants a touchscreen computer which they can fit in their pocket and access most any kind of data from most anywhere. Iridium is still around, focused on a very few, very special customers — but its parent company Motorola has since been twice orphaned. Meanwhile, perhaps more than 1.5 billion-with-a-b people own an iPhone or an Android lookalike.

Google’s approach might very well produce a gem — someday. But the way they go about “innovating” makes the next Iridium much more likely than the next iPhone, and worst of all, doesn’t allow Google to tell the difference in advance.

See: Google Glass.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Why Samsung’s Profits Fell Last Year

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

S5

Via Ibtimes.com:

The Samsung Group announced Thursday that its yearly profit fell for the first time since 2011. The electronics giant still beat analysts’ expectations as its slowing smartphone sales were buoyed by demand for its computer chips.

Sales of Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones made up two-thirds of its profit for the last two years, but they will be eclipsed by its semiconductor business in 2015, according to analyst Lee Sei-cheol from Woori Investment & Securities. The company announced that its 2014 operating profits were expected to reach 24.9 trillion won, or $22.6 billion, down 32 percent from a year earlier.

Samsung is feeling the squeeze from Apple on the high end, especially now that the iPhone comes in two new sizes — “Extra Large” and “Waffle Iron.” (I know, I know — everybody loves the big smartphones but me.) Worse for Samsung is that they’re having the floor eaten out of their massive low-end sales by even lower-cost copycats like China’s Xiaomi. (Somewhere, Jony Ive and the ghost of Steve Jobs are doing the Happy Dance together as they watch their copycat get consumed by copycats.)

The point to remember here is that Samsung was literally — and I’m not abusing that word — literally the only Android phonemaker generating any profits worth mentioning. What Samsung’s troubles mean for Android going forward is anyone’s guess, although it took the Android market a comparatively short time, maybe even a shockingly short time, to become just as commoditized as the Windows PC market. Over the course of decades, Windows generated billions and billions for Microsoft and for PC makers before commoditization (and OS X) sucked all the profits out of the Wintel business model. Android went down that same road in just three or four years.

The key difference is that Android doesn’t have to generate profits for Google — but what happens to the OEMs who at some point are going to have to generate a profit or two?

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Why Amazon’s Fire Phone Failed

Saturday, January 10th, 2015 - by Stephen Green

FIRE

The best tech article I’ve read in weeks is Fast Company’s behind-the-scenes report on the development of Amazon’s Fire Phone — which was thoroughly rejected by consumers and caused an embarrassing $170,000,000 write-down for the retailing giant. So what went so wrong?

The short version might be: Jeff Bezos thought he was Steve Jobs.

Read:

Bezos drove the team hard on one particular feature: Dynamic Perspective, the 3-D effects engine that is perhaps most representative of what went wrong with the Fire Phone. Dynamic Perspective presented the team with a challenge: Create a 3-D display that requires no glasses and is visible from multiple angles. The key would be facial recognition, which would allow the phone’s cameras to track a user’s gaze and adjust the 3-D effect accordingly. After a first set of leaders assigned to the project failed to deliver, their replacements went on a hiring spree. One team even set up a room that they essentially turned into a costume store, filling it with wigs, sunglasses, fake moustaches, and earrings that they donned for the cameras in order to improve facial recognition. “I want this feature,” Bezos said, telling the team he didn’t care how long it took or how much it cost. Eventually, a solution was discovered: Four cameras had to be mounted at the corners of the phone, each capable of identifying facial features, whether in total darkness or obscured by sunglasses. But adding that to the phone created a serious battery drain.

And team members simply could not imagine truly useful applications for Dynamic Perspective.

On the Fire Phone, Bezos forgot all about his laser-like focus on the customer’s needs, to pursue a feature his own design team didn’t know what to do with. Has Bezos reached that point of success where nobody can tell him No anymore? As a happy Amazon customer, I certainly hope not, although Amazon could fiddle around with more failures like the Fire Phone for years before it negatively impacted its retail operations. But here’s the bit which should have investors worried:

Bezos has said that his job is to encourage more “bold bets” and to embrace failure inside the company in pursuit of the big successes that “compensate for dozens and dozens of things that [don’t] work.” That drive and willingness to experiment has made Amazon a formidable competitor; Google chairman Eric Schmidt, for one, has said he considers Amazon to be the search giant’s most dangerous rival. For Apple, too, its ambitions with e-commerce, iCloud, and now, even devices, all run headlong into Amazon’s initiatives. But will all of Bezos’s risk-taking ultimately pay off? “They make no money!” former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer exclaimed in a recent TV interview. “In my world, [that’s] not a real business. I get it if you don’t make money for two or three years, but Amazon is, what, 21 years old?”

You get the feeling the profits just aren’t a part of Amazon’s business model?

UPDATE: An unfair thought just occurred to me. If you want to expand an existing business into profitable new fields, Ballmer is not the person you call on to help. But if you want to squeeze extra billions out of existing products and services, there might not be anyone better than Ballmer. Maybe Bezos should make him an offer he can’t refuse…

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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15 Things Back to the Future II Predicted for 2015

Friday, January 2nd, 2015 - by Paul Cooper

Back in 1989, Americans marveled at what the year 2015 might look like in the popular film Back to the Future II.  The second installment in the time-traveling trilogy focused heavily on Marty McFly and his girlfriend being taken by their pal Doc Brown 30 years into the future and seeing what life was going to be like.

Well, 2015 has arrived. What predictions did the filmmakers get right? What did they get wrong? Here are 15 things Back to the Future II predicted would happen by 2015. You’ll find some predictions were eerily accurate while many others were way off.

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This Isn’t Quite Picard’s Replicator, But It’s Closer…

Thursday, December 25th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

FOODINI

Via CNN:

The “Foodini,” as it’s called, isn’t too different from a regular 3D printer, but instead of printing with plastics, it deploys edible ingredients squeezed out of stainless steel capsules: “It’s the same technology,” says Lynette Kucsma, co-founder of Natural Machines, “but with plastics there’s just one melting point, whereas with food it’s different temperatures, consistencies and textures. Also, gravity works a little bit against us, as food doesn’t hold the shape as well as plastic.”

The Barcelona-based startup behind the machine says it’s the only one of its kind capable of printing a wide range of dishes, from sweet to savory.

“In essence, this is a mini food manufacturing plant shrunk down to the size of an oven,” Kucsma said, pointing out that at least in the initial stage the printer will be targeted mostly at professional kitchen users, with a consumer version to follow, at a projected retail price of around $1,000.

If you need me, I’ll be standing over my charcoal grill with a couple of ribeyes cut from an actual cow.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Ships with Frickin Laser Beams

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

LAWS

The Navy’s ship-deployed laser we talked about last month has been deployed on the USS Ponce — and tested, too. And it works:

The Navy announced that it had deployed and fired a laser weapon this fall aboard a warship in the Persian Gulf. During a series of test shots, the laser hit and destroyed targets mounted atop a small boat, blasted a six-foot drone from the sky, and destroyed other moving targets.

“This is the first time in recorded history that a directed energy weapons system has ever deployed on anything,” Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research, told reporters at the Pentagon. “A lot of people talk about it—we decided to go do it.”

It was built cheap, using lots of COTS parts — a rare instance of our procurement system working as advertised.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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A Big Advance in Solar

Monday, December 15th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

PLANTS

With a tip of the hat to Charlie Martin, a team of Australian scientists just blew away the previous record for solar conversion efficiency:

A team from the University of New South Wales, Australia, just set a new world record for solar energy efficiency by successfully converting 40.4% of available sunlight into electricity. And what’s even more remarkable is the fact that the record was achieved by using commercially available solar cells in a new way – which means, as the team explains, “these efficiency improvements are readily accessible to the solar industry.”

The efficiency record was first set outdoors in Sydney, and was then independently confirmed by the National Renewable Energy Lab in the United States. The photovoltaic technology used by the UNSW team differs from conventional solar cell technology in one key way: it utilizes triple-junction solar cells. These cells, as Motherboard explains, “are basically a sandwich of differently tuned semiconductors with each one able to capture a different wavelength of sunlight.”

As the innerweb saying goes — faster, please.

Casa Verde has some excellent southern exposure, and my part of the state is famous for averaging 300 days of sunny skies each year. Melissa and I have looked just a little into adding enough solar panels to our electrical system to take the edge off those rising electricity prices.

If the Aussies really can deliver those efficiencies at affordable prices with COTS materials, then we might be able to make a decision sooner than we thought.

Or are we dreaming?

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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The Truth About Uber

Thursday, December 11th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

UBER

The controversial app-based taxi company is taking some heat — justified in one ugly incident — for various things, but I did get my first Uber experience last weekend and thought I’d share it with you.

I flew into LA on Friday for a quickie overnight to attend Kurt Schlichter’s surprise 50th birthday roast. The Hilton’s airport shuttle wasn’t available, and I didn’t have a whole lot of time to clean up and enjoy a pre-party cocktail, so I marched down to the taxi stand and hopped in.

You probably know the drill from here, but just in case, here you go.

The curb attendee shoved a receipt at me. The cabbie told me three times, in broken English, of the $19 minimum to leave the airport, even though my hotel was only five minutes away. That price wasn’t his fault of course, but it did serve to focus my attention on trying Uber ASAP. Upon arrival at the hotel, I whipped out my ATM card to pay, but the cabbie raised his hands, shrugged his shoulders in a childish way, and made an unpleasant “muh” sound at my card.

It’s not that his cab didn’t take plastic; it’s that he just didn’t want to. To make matters worse, I overtipped the guy because I didn’t want to deal with him long enough to get change back from a fiver. Total paid: $25.

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E-Warfare

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014 - by Stephen Green

WARGAMES

Robert Fox says the counterattack may have already begun:

Last week the Financial Times reported that the computer security specialists Symantec had identified one of the most powerful attack viruses, code named ‘Regin’. It appears to have been aimed at Russian and Gulf banking networks; it gets in, does its work, then disappears in days leaving no trace.

Because of Regin’s targeting pattern, Symantec suspects it came from the US and/or the UK and could not have happened without the foreknowledge, at least, of the NSA and GCHQ and/or the intelligence services, the CIA and MI6.

But here’s where it really gets interesting:

The first overt sign that a new era of virtual war is upon us came at the recent G20 summit in Australia.

Vladimir Putin turned up in Brisbane with his pocket flotilla of warships offshore and had a public contretemps with David Cameron over Ukraine. This was plain for all to see. But what went on behind the scenes before Putin’s early departure was far more interesting: there it is believed that Cameron and President Obama’s teams sent the Russians a clear message – “stop the escalation” of cyber attacks before things get out of hand.

The Russian and Chinese hackers seem to generate most of the headlines, but our people are scary good at this stuff. It also plays into one of President Obama’s few strengths as a war leader, which is to direct from on high some very sneaky and deadly actions.

If I were Vlad Putin, I’d have taken the message directly to heart.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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‘What’s Holding Back iCloud’

Saturday, November 29th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

icloud

No one, apparently:

While Apple is known for providing a top-notch integrated software and hardware experience, its ability to provide services, particularly those that run remotely, has been scrutinized in recent years. Apple Maps was a fiasco on its own, leading to a shakeup of the company’s executive team, and the company hasn’t fared particularly well since.

According to the report, iCloud Photo Library has been in flux because of the lack of a “centralized team working on core cloud infrastructure” at Apple. iCloud Photo Library also lacks a project manager to lead the initiative at One Infinite Loop, leaving developers responsible for working on “nearly everything on their own.”

“One person close to the company says Apple is taking some steps to build some common cloud technology but has moved slowly in part because it’s used to projects residing in isolated teams,” the report claims.

iCloud usually works just fine at what it does; the problem is it doesn’t do enough. That’s why millions of otherwise happy Apple customers still use third-party solutions like Dropbox and Google’s services. One of the smartest things Tim Cook has done so far as CEO was to eliminate Scott Forstall’s iOS silo, and force development across hardware and software lines.

It’s past time to do something similar for iCloud.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Hit Me with Your Selfie Stick

Friday, November 28th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

SELFIE-STICK Read, via The Mirror:

Sadly, they’re not arresting them for the crime of making people look uncool. No, the Korean government are organising a crack down because the bluetooth devices haven’t been properly tested before going on sale and could cause other electronics to malfunction, Korea Times reports. Anyone found selling the untested tech could face fines of up to 30 million won (£17,000) and a prison sentence of up to three years.

Sophie Gadd is the author of this piece, and for once I’m going to take issue with the snark. Selfie sticks seem like a great idea for getting group shots, which used to put people at the mercy of strangers. “Hi, excuse me, would you take a picture of us?” And the stranger would smile and nod and say “sure” and then, about 60% of the time in my experience, take a really crappy photo. I know, I know — beggars can’t be choosers. But with a selfie stick, you don’t have to beg. You do, however, need to keep the regulators happy, and that means making sure your Bluetooth shutter release is compliant with the local regulations.

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cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Beware: E-Cigs Can Give You Malware

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

Specifically, Chinese-made e-cigarettes. If you plug them into your computer’s USB port to charge them up, you may be loading malware on your machine.

Many e-cigarettes can be charged over USB, either with a special cable, or by plugging the cigarette itself directly into a USB port. That might be a USB port plugged into a wall socket or the port on a computer – but, if so, that means that a cheap e-cigarette from an untrustworthy supplier gains physical access to a device.

A report on social news site Reddit suggests that at least one “vaper” has suffered the downside of trusting their cigarette manufacturer. “One particular executive had a malware infection on his computer from which the source could not be determined,” the user writes. “After all traditional means of infection were covered, IT started looking into other possibilities.

“The made in China e-cigarette had malware hardcoded into the charger, and when plugged into a computer’s USB port the malware phoned home and infected the system.”

Rik Ferguson, a security consultant for Trend Micro, says the story is entirely plausible. “Production line malware has been around for a few years, infecting photo frames, MP3 players and more,” he says. In 2008, for instance, a photo frame produced by Samsung shipped with malware on the product’s install disc.

Lovely.

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Cross-posted from the PJ Tatler

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Haunting Melissa 2 Arrives in iTunes Store Thursday

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 - by Andrew Klavan

Dark-Hearts-642x558

Dark Hearts:  The Secret of Haunting Melissa, should be available for download from the iTunes store this Thursday, the 20th, tomorrow as I write. This is the sequel to the innovative ghost story in an iOS app, created by Neal Edelstein and scripted by me. I haven’t seen the whole thing yet, but I’ve seen a lot of it and I can say without reservation that it looks absolutely terrific. Neal did a fabulous job with the material and so did the cast from the beautiful Kassia Warshawski — Melissa — on down.

Take a look at the trailer below, then get the app. It’s free though there are in-app purchases. If you have an Android…  dude, buy an iPhone.

YouTube Preview Image

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Google Glass Chief: Google Glass 4X Too Expensive

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

GLASSHOLE

That’s from the man himself, Astro Teller, head of the company’s Google X lab:

Wearables, from Glass to smartwatches, also need to be cheaper — a lot cheaper — before they go mainstream.

“Every time you drop the price by a factor of 2, you roughly get a 10 times pick up of the number of people who will seriously consider buying it,” Teller said in an interview at Google’s Mountain View, Calif., headquarters. That means “two more rounds of halving in price” for most wearables before they’re an attractive buy.

For certain products, like $30 or $40 pedometers, a big price cut probably won’t make much of a difference, he said. “But for a $200 watch, or Glass, or anything in between, I think it’s sort of fair.”

For Google Glass, which costs $1,500 today, cutting the price in half twice would mean a drop to $375 — though the company said it couldn’t comment on a price target or timeline for any cut. But Google, which generated almost $60 billion in sales and $13 billion in profit last year, could absorb the cost cut — if it did want to make Glass a mainstream gadget rather than a novelty.

More than the price, Google needs to do something to reduce Glass’s Creep Factor,

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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The $800 Million Hacking Threat from the North

Monday, November 17th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

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From StrategyPage.com:

In late October South Korean intelligence reported that between May and September North Korea managed to distribute over 20,000 to South Korean smart phone users games containing spy software. The North Korean “spyware” was seeking information from banks as well as documents relating to reunification plans and defense matters. The spyware allowed the North Koreans to transfer data from the infected smart phone and secretly turn on the camera. The government reported that this effort has since been blocked. North Korea denied any involvement in this, as it usually does. But over the past few year the evidence has been piling up of increasing North Korean Internet based espionage via the Internet.

In late 2013 South Korea came up with a number (over $800 million) for the cost of dealing with North Korean cyber attacks since 2007.

Theft is the only way for thoroughly progressive governments like North Korea’s to stay in business. The trick is figuring out the best place to cut them off from their ill-gotten gains.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit, image illustration via shutterstock/

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Peanut Butter Diamonds?

Sunday, November 16th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

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I’m not sure exactly how to lead you into this story, so without any further ado

Diamonds are typically created more than 800 kilometers (500 miles) below Earth’s surface when temperatures over 2200 degrees Celsius (4000 degrees Fahrenheit) and pressure 1.3 million times greater than the atmosphere combine and crystallize carbon into the clear white stone we all know. Synthetic diamonds can replicate the process in a few short days, creating diamonds that are less politically-charged for use in jewelry, electronics, manufacturing, and more.

Dan Frost of Germany’s Bayerisches Geoinstitut has been creating diamonds out of a rather unlikely source of carbon: peanut butter.

Do you have any idea how many potential diamonds my kids have pooped in the last nine years?

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Net Neutrality Isn’t

Friday, November 14th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

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At Forbes:

Most things are not public policy issues, yet get turned into such. Obama’s letter is purely about taking a thriving enterprise — our wild and wonderful Internet — and turning it into a public utility (the legalistic details behind the scenes involve a “reclassification” of up-until-now free Internet services as a public utility).

Google, Yahoo, and the world of media are synergistic with service providers, and each is moving into the other’s territory in ways that foretell that none will escape this new regulatory regime. ISPs will holler today, but they’d all best beware.

It is irksome when politicians take credit for the creations of others, and set “rules” for the future that assure political involvement in what should be liberalized, non-politicized industries.

Microsoft spent the ’90s being proud of the fact that they never “paid to play” with Washington — and got whacked with an antitrust suit from which the company never recovered.

Now it’s the internet’s turn.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

image illustration via shutterstock / 

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We’re Landing on a Comet

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

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Saying it out loud makes it even cooler. Try it.

“We’re landing on a comet.”

More:

A miniature spacecraft cast off from its mother ship Wednesday to start a lonely, nerve-wracking descent to the rugged terrain of a comet.

The European Space Agency’s washing-machine-sized spaceship, named Philae, detached from its carrier just after 3:30 a.m. ET. It faced a seven-hour trip to the comet’s boulder-strewn surface, with no way to steer or turn back.

If it touches down safely, Philae will enter the record books as the first craft to make a safe landing on a comet.

It took ten years to get there, and what we learn will make it all worthwhile — if they can stick the landing.

Fingers crossed…

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit, Update from BBC News: “Probe makes historic comet landing”

The lander touched down on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at about 1605 GMT.

There were cheers and hugs at the control room in Darmstadt, Germany, after the signal was confirmed.

It was designed to shine a light on some of the mysteries of these icy relics from the formation of the Solar System.

The landing caps a 6.4 billion-kilometre journey that was begun a decade ago.

“This is a big step for human civilisation,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, the director-general of the European Space Agency (Esa).

 

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Coming Soon: Dark Hearts: The Secret of Haunting Melissa

Monday, November 10th, 2014 - by Andrew Klavan

Some of you were probably too busy voting Democrats out of office to notice that a terrific new trailer for the Haunting Melissa sequel came out on YouTube last week. HM was director Neal Edelstein’s innovative ghost-movie-in-an-app that climbed the App Store bestseller list in 2013. The script to that film was by your humble correspondent as is the script to the sequel, Dark Hearts: The Secret of Haunting Melissawhich is due out later this month:

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Download the free app here.

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Cross-posted from Klavan on the Culture

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Smart TV, Dumb Policy

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

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Via Red Flag News:

A 46-page privacy policy which is now included in all newly purchased Samsung Smart TVs states that voice recognition technology “may capture voice commands and associated texts” in order to “improve the features” of the system.

The policy, a summary of which is also posted online, ominously advises users to, “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.”

Writing about the privacy policy for Salon.com, Michael Price, counsel in the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, said he was now “terrified” of his new TV, noting that voice recognition is just one feature that could be used to spy on users. The television also logs website visits, has a built-in camera for facial recognition and uses tracking cookies to detect “when you have viewed particular content or a particular email message.”

“I do not doubt that this data is important to providing customized content and convenience, but it is also incredibly personal, constitutionally protected information that should not be for sale to advertisers and should require a warrant for law enforcement to access,” writes Price, adding that current privacy laws offer little protection against “third party” data.

You get the feeling Samsung needs to change this policy if the company wants to, you know, keep selling TVs?

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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