Friday, 31 October 2014

Yo, I'll tell you what I want, what I really, really want

A short while ago I discussed my Apple consumption prediction for the next year. What I failed to include was an account of what gadget I’m really looking forward to them providing me with. So let’s fix that quickly:
What I would really like to see from Apple is a 12”-13” iPad like device that’s running OS X.
Or, in other words and using more words, I would like to have myself a Mac delivered in the iPad shape factor. But it should still be a Mac, with gigs of storage in the three digits and plenty of RAM, with a current generation I5 Intel CPU, with an HDMI output, and at least a couple of USB outputs. Basically, I’m looking for a device that would do everything I need my computer to do, but deliver it in a portable package that would feel as if I’m carrying an iPad while allowing me to use a wireless keyboard for the serious stuff. I’m looking for a device that fills the same niche that my now aging MacBook Air filled several years ago.
I would like to note that such a device would also allow me to cut down my gadget armada. Instead of running a Mac, an iPad and an iPhone, I could just settle for one MacPad and one iPhone (the 6 Plus, thank you very much). Then again, it is this cannibalisation that is probably preventing Apple from coming up with such a product.
The beauty of it is there are indications Apple is on its way to deliver this very gadget already:

  • There have been rumours concerning an iPad Pro like device for a while now.
  • There have also been rumours concerning a brand new design for a fanless 12” MacBook Air utilising Intel Broadwell technology CPUs.
  • Apple has released its own SIM together with the iPad Air 2. A SIM allowing users to switch providers and plans quickly and seamlessly.
  • We know that Yosemite, the recent OS X release, supports hotspotting. In other words, it won’t take much for Apple to deliver a Mac with an Apple SIM inside.
Microsoft did it already, to one extent or another, with the Surface Pro; its third incarnation would have been a gem if it was running anything other than Windows.
Come on, Apple. Make my day.

Image by brett jordan, Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) licence

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Statements that Prove You Have No Idea*

1. Losing your job is an opportunity.
2. You can always make time available.
Feel free to offer additional statements.

*These statements can also prove that you don’t have children. In which case I am still correct when I argue you have no idea.

Image by Martin Fisch, Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0) licence

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

I Thought I Heard the Dark Side of the Moon

But then I received my brand new Meridian Explorer today. And then I connected it to my Mac and connected my Sennheiser Momentum headphones to the Explorer.
I picked up things with Spotify, listening to a song from Annie Lennox' new album. It sounded good, but I needed a benchmark. So I turned to the album I have listened to the most, my all time favourite The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. I chose a favourite benchmark, Money, for all the variations it has to offer.
What followed was an experience words can hardly explain. I thought I knew this album by heart, but now I was able to easily discern stuff that was there in the background all along but I could never notice before. By the time Money did its trademark shift from 7 beats to the more classic rock 4 beats, I was in tears.
This is the best sound experience I have ever had.

More on the Meridian Explorer in a proper review later. For now, I have music to listen to.

The Real Agenda Behind the Deregulation of University Fees

It really is dead simple, even if no one in the media bothers to state the obvious anymore:
By making university studies accessible only to rich people (through the deregulation of university fees), the ruling classes are making sure their status - the ruling class - is not in danger.
That is to say, the matter of university fees is just another page in the class warfare being waged on the Australian public by the government it had elected a year ago.

Image by David Burke, Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) licence

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Private Apps Are Watching You

Jonathan Zdziarski, a leading security expert with significant expertise in the Apple eco system, wrote his observations after taking a quick look at the Whisper app for the iPhone. By now you probably know that Whisper, an app meant to fill the niche for secretive social media, is the exact opposite. What I found interesting is how the app accomplishes this, as revealed by Zdziarski.
First, note how the app creates a unique ID for the user's device. Unlike anything else so far that may have been used to identify you on the Internet, such as an IP address, there is no plausible deniability here. This identification pinpoints the exact device, regardless of whether you are trying to use VPN or TOR to obscure your identity. Nothing that we can access through a web browser has the ability to achieve this without inflicting severe malware; this is, therefore, a significant “achievement” for apps. 
Second, note the casual way in which the app demands to know your exact location, even though nothing it can offer really needs anything finer than rough. Let us recall that an IP address alone is enough to identify one’s location already. This spells contempt for the user on many grounds, starting from disrespect for battery life and moving on to disrespect for their privacy. All for unnecessary reasons.

OK, you may not have heard of Whisper before and may definitely not be interested in using the app. Fine; I’m not interested in it, either. That does not mean other apps you are interested in do not pull the same tricks. I already noticed certain freemium games, such as Godus, having the uncanny ability to remember where we got to in the game despite device resets, restorations and iOS upgrades. We already know Rovio collects such information about its Angry Birds users, so much so that the mighty NSA had decided to tap into their databases.
The lack of attention society pays to such abuses of privacy mean app developers feel as if they have the mandate to push further through. I suspect that by the time we wake up it will already be too late.

Image by Tim@SW2008, Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) licence

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

You Know People Don't Give a F*ck abouy Copyright

When every time people feel the need to use images to support the written message they are trying to convey, they will - without fail* - infringe someone’s copyrights.

*The only exceptions to this rule that I am able to observe take place in:
1. Cases where the written message goes out to the outside world, which could leave the messenger legally exposed.
2. Cases where the messenger objects to copyright to an extent that they prefer to wage war on it by utilising material licensed under Creative Commons licences.

Image by Sam Teigen, Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) licence

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Google's Education

My son’s school ran an evening presentation for parents detailing its IT policy for the next three years. I won’t bore you with the details of this two hour long presentation; more than half was devoted to “Doh!” grade material along the lines of the case for letting kids learn about/with computers in the first place. The policy itself is good, and – to this self declared expert – stands well on that very unattainable equilibrium of price, value and practicality. I will also note the school principle stood out to let us know parents who cannot afford the cost will be supported, a point whose absence I would consider casus belli on any school IT plan.

My wife allowed me to attend the session only if I promise to behave. Which is one of the reasons I did not make a fuss of what I consider to be a deep chasm in the presenter’s understanding of the concept of online privacy.
Under the banner of privacy, the presented informed us the school kids will use either Google’s educational apps and/or Microsoft Office 365 educational suite. Both are cloud based. The reason this was presented under the privacy flag? Each child will have their own separate account, and the whole school will have its own area that no one else can touch.
This is where I have my reservations. Yes, no one else can touch this area, NSA & Co excepted, but what about Google itself? Surely, it does not provide all these educational facilities because it thinks my child and his school colleagues are so good looking? No, I was told, I needn’t worry; Google promises not to do anything with the information it collects through the educational program. They even have a separate privacy policy to cover that program.
So I went and checked that privacy policy. You can go to pages explaining it to the laymen, such as this one here. This is where the presenter’s naivety struck me. I could accept such naivety a while ago, but in this post Snowden age? In an environment where we know governments and companies lie to us and hide behind carefully spun words to hide their true acts? No.
Have a look at the following clause from Google:
We do not scan your data or email in Google Apps Services for advertising purposes.
Note the glaring absences. Sure, in its creation of a personal dossier of its users, Google will not use anything done through its suite of educational apps. However, do note that Google does not limit itself when it comes to things done outside that suite. For example, what if a child starting to explore their sexuality ventures outside Google’s apps while using the same browser they’re logged in to Google with? And what if those websites the child visits ring Google back through facilities such as Google Analytics, DoubleClick or Google Adsense? Google’s privacy policy does not say what Google will do with information it collects this way. Given what we have learnt from Snowden, this reads like Google having a field day to me.
Don’t get me wrong. I think Google’s educational suite is pretty good and I suspect the vast majority would consider me a paranoid for the threat I consider Google to pose on my son’s privacy. However, my point here is simply to point out that Google is no angel; that Google is giving away free stuff, like its Android operating system, because it makes money out of our privacy. It makes tons of it. And we shouldn’t ignore that when we consider our children’s education options.
This is why, out of the two options, I would prefer my son to use Office 365. It’s not that Microsoft is a beacon for privacy; it is to do with Microsoft having less of a strangle hold on the Internet. In this world where your privacy is guaranteed to evaporate once you venture online, my risk minimisation approach includes hedging my bets with the various players. I apply that approach with my choice of cloud storage providers, and I suggest it applies to schools’ IT policies just the same.

Image by Giulia Forsythe, Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) licence

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

New York, New York

A Twitter friend (now here’s a term worth exploring!) published her Central Park wedding photo on Instagram. New York weddings for an Australian are obviously a special affair, but if you care to look at the photo you would see the wedding was special in at least one other way: it was a gay wedding. Isn’t New York special?
As it happens, New York has special meaning to me, too. I’ve touched it before, how this Tel Aviv boy’s visit to New York opened my eyes. New York was the place my father and I climbed all the way up the Statue of Liberty (all knees involved in the proceedings hurt for a week; steep stairs). New York is where my father and I shared a hotel room just opposite the Chrysler Building, with that most wonderful of buildings glimmering for our pleasure every morning. And New York was where my father and I took the lift up to the top of the Twin Towers, a lift remembered for counting floors in tens and making me feel, for a minute, as if I was an astronaut. I have many quarrels with the 11 September terrorists, but taking down this venue of personal importance, the building I probably looked up to the most (pun intended), is right there at the top.
I can’t speak for my friend, but it does seem to me as if New York had fulfilled a similar role for her as it did me. For both of us New York was a place we came to visit in order to achieve the impossible, after which we came back to the real world. This child returned to the backwater that Israel was at the time, while my friend returned to a country that does not grant her equal rights. And now, in my thoughts, I just came back from a city where I still have a father.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Love Me Tinder

The social life of an adult seems to have its stages. We have the stage when everyone you know gets married, which is followed by the stage where everyone you know has their first child. During each of those stages it feels cool to be there with the norm; disobey it and you’re the outsider who is under constant pressure.
Well, now it seems I am on to the next stage of my social life. Once again, everyone around me seems to be taking part in this cool rite while I am left to fill the role of the outsider. Welcome to the age when it is cool to divorce!
It really does seem as if every social interaction I get in the company of males my age quickly deteriorates into the merits of leaving the old life behind and the sparkle of returning to one’s bachelor’s days. They even got the apps to support them: Tinder, an app I first heard of through a Time magazine article, is a hit with this demographic. [If you haven’t heard of Tinder then, boy, you are so uncool! It’s a dating app featuring nothing but photos of potential candidates, as taken from their Facebook accounts.]
Me, I’m used to the role of the uncool sceptic. It doesn’t take long to figure out that loudness does not equal numbers; the bulk of the people I know are still with their original partners. Psychologically speaking, it doesn’t take much to figure out the glorification of the divorce is meant to act as a mechanism to compensate for the damage that comes with admitting failure.
I’m not saying that divorcees are losers or anything like that. To each their own way and their own solutions. I am only trying to point out that cool trends are not always what they crack up to be. Besides, it’s not like my original bachelor days were all the rage; the original reasons for being happy to have found a partner in the person I now call my partner still stand today. Probably even much more than they did back then.
Then again, I was never cool.

Image by Jo Christian Oterhals, Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) licence