Wisdom of the Crowd

The “People” have spoken!

The “People” can declare a victory as the US House and Senate have shelved their respective votes on the controversial SOPA and PIPA legislation.  This is how crowd-sourcing is supposed to work!  If the informed population can continue this level of engagement with our politicos, there might be some really disruptive changes made in our country.  I fear, however, that this could backfire if an especially vocal faction wishes to push their agenda on an unsuspecting public.  But, for now at least, we can see how the power of the people works and bask in the glow.

The real danger of these two pieces of legislation was that they were created by people who don’t understand the internet infrastructure.  I don’t believe that legislators should be allowed to make laws regarding the internet or technology in general without certified technical guidance.  In private sector business, translating business needs into technical specifications is a process and we should adapt that model to the government sector.  Think before you act!

Research (clearly NOT) In Motion

Those who know me are aware that I’m a BlackBerry fanboy.  I have always liked the platform and the devices are normally rock solid.  But RIM is truly an example of a company who has not adapted to the new way of doing business.  When they recently released the Torch 9850 touch screen device, I ran out and got it on the day of its release.  I was going to wait for the iPhone 5 but now I’m glad that I didn’t.  Once again, I’m disappointed with my decision, not because the phone is bad, but it’s not great and that’s what I wanted and hoped for.  The improvements in the touch screen and keyboard are exceptional and equal the Android™ devices I have tested and are close to being as good as the iPhone.  The new OS is a lot quicker than the old, but it still has a lot of problems (and that‘s after 2 updates).  This is uncharacteristic for RIM and shows that they still don’t know how to react to the market quickly.  I firmly believe that replacing the co-CEO’s and shedding some of their non core products is necessary if the company is to survive.  The Playbook should never have been created and it wasted a lot of resources that otherwise might have created some value in their smartphone line.  The implementation of touch screens on devices with physical keyboards seems inappropriate when you use the phone but I guess some users like them just like I am fond of the 9850.

Then there is the problem of apps and peripherals.  Almost all of the peripheral manufacturers and app devs have abandoned the BlackBerry.  I went to BestBuy to find a case for my phone, and there were none for my device.  After looking around, I found 2 accessories for the phone and nothing else.  That will spell doom for the brand.  If RIM can’t persuade folks to develop for the platform, then they are truly out of business.

Apple disrupting again

Apple has announced a proposed system to replace classroom texts with iPads and electronic versions of materials used for study.  I hesitate to call them “texts” because they will be so much more than what they are replacing.  I think this is a great idea as long as they come up with a funding model that treats every school the same so that less fortunate schools in the inner cities will have the same advantages as suburban and parochial schools.  I also believe they should produce an educational version of the device that doesn’t have access to the full app store and is limited in its messaging functionality. Why?  Emails and texts during class will be so much easier since they are supposed to have the device out during class (unlike their cell phones).  I hope Apple pursues this with the same creativity and fervor they have with the iPhone.

On a curious side note, I have a document that I created describing a method of licensing texts to iPads through server based distribution.   I created this system to allow schools to be able to purchase “on demand” subscriptions for e-texts based on the number of people who downloaded them from a central server.  Kind of interesting but I never went anywhere with it.  Now maybe I should!

Hot Topics

Global Warming - Not strictly technology, but definitely science.

Ever since the awarding of the Nobel Prize to Al Gore, skepticism about the science surrounding global warming has gained more and more press. I admire Mr. Gore not because of his stance on the subject, but because he has devoted so much time and effort to a cause that ostensibly affects the world community. Even the respected scientists that disagree haven't provided a cogent argument against the well constructed presentation that Mr. Gore has given.

The arguments for and against global warming have their valid points, so what are we to believe? Is this just a natural phenomenon or cause and effect? If we examine other environmental pollution such as our waterways and atmosphere, it seems clear that mankind has definitely caused those catastrophes. No rational person would suggest that water pollution is a natural phenomenon. So why is global warming subject to such skepticism? My guess is that even though the median temperature is allegedly increasing, we are still experiencing extremely cold and rugged winter seasons. I definitely believe that we have influenced our climate in a negative manner. I also believe that if we don't change our fossil fuel consumption rate, we will not only cause catastrophic atmospheric conditions, but geological issues as well. The science behind global warming makes sense to me and I believe that we should take heed now while we can still breathe the available air.


Verizon iPhone….. YEAAAA!

As I reported last time, I had to return my BlackBerry Storm2 due to a cracked screen (my fault) and Best Buy doesn't carry them anymore, even for replacement. So I was forced to take an Android phone (the HTC Incredible) or terminate my contract and get something else. I like the Incredible although, it took a while to find all of the apps that I needed to make it compatible with my usage patterns. Now, Verizon announced the availability of the iPhone and I'm torn. I have 4 months left on my contract and I'm not unhappy with the HTC device but like everyone else, I do like the iPhone's look and features. I consulted with someone who sells devices on all of the networks and he said that he thought the HTC Incredible was even better than the iPhone and as much as I hate to admit it, he may be right!

Before all of you fanboys start whining, the comparison is not just based on looks. While Apple has the definitive industrial stylist working for them, the phone still needs to make calls and perform other functions as advertised and I believe that the higher quality Android devices have equaled or surpassed what is available on the iPhone. The HTC Incredible was the first of the Android phones to include all of the bells and whistles (1ghz processor, 8mp camera, MicroSD Expansion, Multi-touch, WiFi Hotspot) and it performs well on the cellular network.

On the other hand, I think RIM is ready to announce the availability of the Storm 3. I really did like the Storm form factor and the functions were excellent. The only issue I had was the on screen keyboard. If they could either improve that or add a slide out keyboard (in landscape orientation) then I would definitely go back to a BlackBerry.

New Year… New Challenges

It's a new year for this blog and my only resolution for this year is to attempt to become more diligent about getting posts together. It's not a matter of time, because right now I have plenty of that. It's my motivation that's lacking. I have good ideas and I make sure to keep them written down, I just don't act on them and that is something I need to change if I'm going to be successful (here and in life).

Walk like an Egyptian… Just no talking.

This past Friday, the Egyptian government cut off cell phones and internet access in response to the mass protests developing around the country. Stock markets and government services were exempt from the outage. I hope great big alarms went off around the world. A country with this much disregard for rights of any kind should be censured.

Hopefully, this will alert the world community that we need some kind of universal law regarding communications. Emergency communication still needs to be available and there is no assurance that it is available in situations such as this. When governments are allowed to cutoff essential services to citizens regardless of their politics, they violate the principles that allow them to govern.

Android… It's like a virus and now I have it.

Don't get me wrong, I like the Android OS. I liked my BlackBerry better, but unfortunately, BestBuy doesn't carry them anymore and my screen cracked. I could have replaced it with a Curve, but the keys are so small, I spent most of my time correcting what I mis-typed.

I chose the HTC Incredible and I really like the phone. There are some things that both take getting used to and offer less integrated functionality than I wanted. The unified inbox is one thing that I really needed. I monitor 3 email accounts regularly and switching between inboxes is a real pain. I finally did find "Improved Email" which offers most of what I need.

I don't know about other carriers, but one thing I (and many others) find annoying is the stuff that Verizon loads on the phone and you can't get rid of. Things like 'City ID' which displays the city that the caller was from after the call is over. That is useless to me and it can't be deleted. Other annoyances are the three different 'Social Streaming' apps that they included. Each has the same functions with a different UI. What they don't include is a good synchronization application that works like the BlackBerry sync app. HTC has an application but it's very limited.

All in all, the android phones are excellent and provide a good alternative to the iPhone. My contract is up this summer and all of the kinks should be ironed out of the Verizon iPhone, so maybe I'll try that next.



Back To Work!!

Well, it seems that no matter how hard I try, I am unable to keep on schedule with this, but again, here we go playing catch-up.

Privacy in the digital age…… You're kidding, right?

For some unknown reason, people are uploading stuff to the public internet and expecting that no-one will see it! Wait, isn't that the point of putting it on the internet? As a general user community, we are all guilty of a complete lapse of common sense. If you don't want anyone to see your stuff, keep it to yourself. Otherwise, SHUT UP! Facebook isn't guilty of any moral or ethical transgression. The whole site is designed for sharing information. I will grant you that the controls in place to limit public exposure were lacking, but again, it was designed for sharing and as it grew, the necessity for those controls became apparent. From a technical aspect, it's amazing that Facebook's "up time" is so high considering the number of users it has. Let's all dial back our righteous indignation a couple of notches and remember that this is "Social Media" not super-secret-private media.


The BlackBerry Debacle!

I am a BlackBerry user and have been for a long time. It just works and I don't have to mess around getting things setup and making changes with each new OS update. That said, I'm very disappointed in the RIM management with their capitulation to the overseas governments regarding security issues. This platform has been in use for over 10 years without a problem and now they are taken to task over the failings of some government's internal security.

This seems like another example of the "net" effect where everyone is fixated on one thing for a short period of time then…. It becomes less important. The problem with this scenario is that it leaves a trail of technological destruction behind it. If RIM is forced to negotiate with each government entity regarding access to users information, it will eventually inhibit further innovation on the platform. That would be a true disservice to the community at large.

UPDATE: Since I started writing this post, at least the UAE has backed down and stated that with RIM's cooperation, they have reached a suitable solution. RIM has thankfully stated publicly that they will NOT negotiate individual agreements with governments.


Putting Geo to Good Use!

Anil Dash writes about making ability maps (location based ADA maps of venues). This is one of the best possible uses of the various location-based check-in services and could provide something substantial for us to do when checking in. If we could have the Foursquare and Gowalla developers add a check box or drop down list to select the kind of ADA approved access available at venues, these services would prove more useful

Phones, Phones everywhere

It seems that you can't open a news feed without seeing another smart-phone announcement. It's almost like the period of time after IBM released its control over the PC hardware platform. During that time, PC "clone" boxes were so abundant and varied in capacity and features that businesses has a difficult time making purchasing decisions. Now, consumers find themselves in the same dilemma. There are so many models of smart-phones on the market that it would take weeks to find a "perfect fit".

Actually, if you run the feature list of these phones, they are all the same. The differentiating factors are so insignificant technically, that it really boils down to the carrier and plan and I believe that is the way the carriers like it. If you thought this market was crazy, just wait until all of the Tablet/Slate manufacturers start churning out products.

Rotten Apples!

Cyber-Terrorist reveals Top Secret iPhone Prototype!

Clearly it was a threat to our national security when a prototype of the next iPhone was found in the wild. I know I feel threatened. In the aftermath of this event, most of the technology community feels that Apple (Steve Jobs in particular) has gone over the edge in their pursuit of criminal charges against the people responsible for the alleged iPhone theft.

Wired has an article about the iPhone leak situation and Steve Wozniak's take on the situation.

All kidding aside, Jason Chen and Gawker management should be outraged. This is a typical publicity derived police action which in the end will hopefully be revealed in the same media that the case was reported in. Even if the detectives had a legal warrant, common sense says they could have waited until Jason and his wife were home and entered without breaking down the door. This is a technology blogger not a terrorist!

David Carr of the New York Times had this to say about Apples response to the leak. The consensus appears to be bad for Apple who seems to have traded places with Microsoft as the "Evil Empire".

More Bad Apples….

Continuing in the same bad light, Apple has repeatedly shown itself to be capricious and arbitrary in it's approval process for its iTunes app store. I recently visited the app store to see what I could find and the very first free app is "Ow My Balls", an entertainment app that allows the user to kick a cartoon character in the crotch.


Other gems in the free category are Panties Scanner Lite, Sex Positions Game and Adult Sex Strip. I'm no prude, but if the process is supposed to protect kids against pornography, then I do believe they have failed.

iTunes and Facebook in the news

Illinois governor advocates copyright infringement

Ok, that's not really true, but he might as well! In a desperate attempt to balance the out-of-control budget, Illinois governor, Pat Quinn, has suggested that a 6.5 percent sales tax be placed on downloads from services like iTunes and Rhapsody. If passed, the tax on music and movie downloads would allegedly provide up to ten million dollars per year in additional revenue. Of course, this assumes that the volume of legal downloads remains the same. This is not only bad for the industry but gives the pirates yet another reason to obtain their media from illegal sources. States taxing downloads is nothing new. There are 19 other states who currently have a provision for taxing media downloads.

Speaking of iTunes….

Everyone who owns one of Apple's iDevices (Pod, Pad, or Phone) is familiar with iTunes since it's the only legal way to get anything loaded on them. Purchasing music, movies or television shows is simple and intuitive. But, did you know that there is a huge repository of free information available besides Podcasts? Next time you load up iTunes, check out the iTunes U tab. iTunes U has lectures, college courses, and other educational resources all for free! If you're interested in the workings of the government and military, check out the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Looking for research information on the environment, go to Open University's extensive collection of lectures. Want to hear opinions from the heads of industry, then Stanford Technology Ventures is the place to be. There are language courses and technology courses both in video and audio. Some collections even have transcripts available for printing for offline reference.

It's never too late to learn and this is a great way to do it without spending any money. There is something for every interest and educational level.

Facebook's F8 Developers Conference 2010

Facebook's 26 year-old CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, took the stage at the F8 developer's conference today in jeans and a hoodie to announce some ground-breaking news for Facebook and social media in general. The first platform announcement was "Open Graph". This is a technology that will bring together partner sites and your friends activities on them. If a Facebook member is on, say, Amazon, there will be a "Like" button so that friend can share his purchases with his Facebook friends. This is just one example of the underlying idea behind Open Graph. Users will also be able to share restaurant reviews, tips and opinions using these tools on partner sites. There is a lot more to Open Graph and you can read about it here

The next big announcement came from Fuse Labs, Microsoft's social media think-tank. They are working with Facebook on the introduction of Docs.Com a document collaboration project for sharing and working on documents with your Facebook friends over the web. Docs.com is still in beta, but I tried it and it has a clean interface and the editor is built on Office 2010 Web Edition. Creating, editing or uploading documents is quick and could mean big competition for the Google Docs application.

More Madness!

SDK – WTF Apple?

I stopped writing code for a living many years ago and I'm happy with that decision. If I depended on writing application code for my bread and butter, I would have stopped developing for Apple long ago. Although I normally take the manufacturer's side when it comes to what applications will run on their platform because, they designed it. And yes, we all push the boundaries of those restrictions if there is a compelling reason, but again, I believe that Apple has really gone berserk with this power trip of iron fisted rule over the types of tools that developers can use. If Microsoft told developers that they had to use ONLY the Visual Studio IDE to develop applications, they would revolt. Now, there may be a very good reason (other than "Performance"….lame) to use the prescribed dev tools, but I didn't see that explained anywhere. And, the change to the developers agreement was announced at the same time that Adobe released its iPod/iPhone/iPad application packager allowing developers to write in Flash and then cross compile to the native i-Whatever executable. So, once again, it seems like it's more of a Jobs vs. the World battle rather than a true business decision. Of course, Apple is Steve Jobs. There is no one else working there... is there? I wonder if all of the Apple employees follow in lock-step to the Jobs March?


Actually, this joint submission was not just the product of the MPAA and RIAA. The entire list of villains is enumerated in the first paragraph of the letter to the US Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator. Did anyone know that we had an Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator? Well, apparently we do and some entertainment industry groups have drafted a proposal to persuade the government to assist them in enforcing copyright laws by brute force. Now I'm all for giving artists their just due, but this is not about the artists. It's the same battle that the print media is fighting, but nastier. The motion picture and recording industries have not adapted to the new methods of media distribution and instead of changing, they are attempting to litigate to maintain an outdated business model. And now that litigation seems less than productive, they would like to create a police state to enforce their position. To do this they are suggesting the following;

  1. ISP's should monitor their networks for infringing materials.
  2. Border patrols and TSA agents should examine digital properties to find evidence of piracy.
  3. Search engines should block search results that might lead to copyrighted materials being distributed illegally.

And those are just the most absurd. As Molly Wood from CNET"s Buzz Out Loud said "Are they out of their f----king minds!". Well Molly, it would appear that they are. On the heels of Google's stand-off with the Chinese government, this is a direct attack on the freedom of the internet and represents the same type of censorship under the guise of law enforcement.

Playing Catch-up!

When I started this blog, my intention was to offer a different take on “the technology that affects our daily lives” as the description states. To my despair, a very non-tech interruption prevented me from updating this on a regular basis, so now, I will play “catch-up” on my timeline.

On Friday, March 26, 2010, Verizon Wireless announced the availability of Skype Mobile integration on eligible smartphones (phones with data plans). This is a huge departure from the policies of other providers like AT&T who consistently blocked VOIP type applications on their handsets. I tested this with a friend in another state who called me from his iPod touch using his local wireless network. The call came through clearly and my phone (BlackBerry Storm2) rang as if a regular call was coming through with the caller-id of Skype! While I don’t believe that this will negatively affect Verizon’s bottom line, it is a boon for the large user base of Skype users with smartphones.

After all the hype, speculation and criticism, Apple released the iPad at the end of March. And, of course, it seems to be a hit with over 300,000 units sold during the opening weekend. My opinion of this device has not changed;
a) I personally won’t buy a first generation “luxury” device. I waited until the iPod touch had gone through a hardware and software upgrade prior to purchasing and I’m quite happy with it.
b) This is a closed system with more of the same that I have on my iPod touch so it doesn’t has a use case in my life.
c) I still believe the form factor (tablet, slate, etc.) can have more power and a real operating system like Windows 7 or Android. Chrome is not a real operating system.

That said, the iPad is a nice device for what it was designed for, to read newspapers or periodicals and view videos. The screen size does lend itself better to gaming than the iPhone or iPod touch so I’m sure that we’ll see a huge push in the touch screen gaming category.

To all those early adopters who just had to have their hands on the iPad, enjoy. If I get one, it will be a year or two and there will have to be a compelling reason.

Apple vs. Adobe
Another paradigm shift with Apple becoming the “evil empire” (instead of Microsoft). This seems externally to be more of a personal battle between not Apple and Adobe, but Steve Jobs and Adobe. Mr. Jobs consistently reffering to Adobe’s Flash as “Buggy and Slow”, but those of us who have ever used a new app on the Macbook or iPhone never complained about software. Why, because we don’t have a god complex. Jobs outright refusal to even work with Adobe to iron out some of his issues seems a bit over the top. Hey, if they did work with Apple to fix Flash, then Apple would be the hero by making it better for all of us. Betcha didn’t think about that Steve.

As Paradigms Shift

After all of the hype, speculation, and wish lists that superceded the release of the iPad, many technophiles and bloggers were dissappointed and some were down right upset at the lack of certain features. Multi-tasking, Flash, non-AT&T connectivity being the most prevalent of the missing. But, let us all remember, this is a generation 1 product for Apple.

While I don't really believe that this device will start a computing revolution, it could certainly be developed into a popular media consumption device much like the iPod. The size of the iPad is perfect for personal viewing of videos and reading magazine sized publications. The downside of this is the meager on-board storage making offline video viewing difficult.

But the underlying issues with the iPad are not technological, but idealogical. Apple's reluctance to relenquish any control of their App Store contents makes developing applications for the device less enticing. Once the device is "in the wild" we should see a flurry of development, but the fallout from the restrictions placed on developers may make this a less than ideal platform for new, groundbreaking applications.