July 22, 2014

Interesting piece by Dan Frommer. I know every one of these pieces, but never thought of them as wearables until I read this.

Great conceptual approach to logo mechanics. Go to this site, then shrink the width of the browser page, watch what the logo does in response.

Only thing that puzzles me is the clipping of the trademark registration mark ® in the Levi’s logo. That intentional?

Last week, security consultant and former iOS jailbreaker Jonathan Zdziarski made headlines with his talk, “Identifying Back Doors, Attack Points, and Surveillance Mechanisms in iOS Devices”. Here’s a link to a PDF of the slides.

Zdziarski:

Before the journalists blow this way out of proportion, this was a talk I gave to a room full of hackers explaining that while we were sleeping, this is how some features in iOS have evolved over the PAST FEW YEARS, and of course a number of companies have taken advantage of some of the capabilities. I have NOT accused Apple of working with NSA, however I suspect (based on released documents) that some of these services MAY have been used by NSA to collect data on potential targets. I am not suggesting some grand conspiracy; there are, however, some services running in iOS that shouldn’t be there, that were intentionally added by Apple as part of the firmware, and that bypass backup encryption while copying more of your personal data than ever should come off the phone for the average consumer. I think at the very least, this warrants an explanation and disclosure to the some 600 million customers out there running iOS devices. At the same time, this is NOT a zero day and NOT some widespread security emergency. My paranoia level is tweaked, but not going crazy. My hope is that Apple will correct the problem. Nothing less, nothing more. I want these services off my phone. They don’t belong there.

Apple responded to Zdziarski’s comments and presentation with this comment, posted on Twitter by Financial Times’ Tim Bradshaw:

“We have designed iOS so that its diagnostic functions do not compromise user privacy and security, but still provides needed information to enterprise IT departments, developers and Apple for troubleshooting technical issues. A user must have unlocked their device and agreed to trust another computer before that computer is able to access this limited diagnostic data. The user must agree to share this information, and data is never transferred without their consent.”

As we have said before, Apple has never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services.”

Rene Ritchie at iMore created a nice summary of Zdziarski’s concerns:

When you connect your iPhone or iPad to iTunes on Mac or Windows — and choose to trust that computer — a pairing record is created that maintains that trust for future connections. Zdziarski claims that if someone takes physical possession of that computer, they can steal those pairing records, connect to your device, and retrieve your personal information and/or enable remote logging. If they don’t have your computer, Zdziarski claims they can try and generate a pairing record by tricking you into connecting to a compromised accessory, like a dock (juice jacking), and/or by using mobile device management (MDM) tools intended for enterprise to get around safeguards like Apple’s Trusted Device requestor.

From an article we posted last year on juice jacking:

When you plug your smart phone into a USB cable, your device will try to pair with the device on the other end of the cable. If the only thing on the other end of the line is your personally owned USB charger, no worries. But if you plug into a public charging station or a stranger’s USB charger, you are opening yourself up to malware. The device on the other end can pair with your phone and cause all sorts of mischief.

This is all about trusted pairing. Apple is making the point that they’ve bottlenecked trusted pairing so that a user needs to agree to the pairing before data access is allowed.

The good thing about web-site cookies is that they are blockable. Cookies are the devil-you-know and web browsers are set up to deal with/delete them.

Now there’s a new insidious devil in town called canvas fingerprinting.

A new, extremely persistent type of online tracking is shadowing visitors to thousands of top websites, from WhiteHouse.gov to YouPorn.com.

First documented in a forthcoming paper by researchers at Princeton University and KU Leuven University in Belgium, this type of tracking, called canvas fingerprinting, works by instructing the visitor’s Web browser to draw a hidden image. Because each computer draws the image slightly differently, the images can be used to assign each user’s device a number that uniquely identifies it.

Like other tracking tools, canvas fingerprints are used to build profiles of users based on the websites they visit — profiles that shape which ads, news articles, or other types of content are displayed to them.

But fingerprints are unusually hard to block: They can’t be prevented by using standard Web browser privacy settings or using anti-tracking tools such as AdBlock Plus.

In a nutshell, canvas fingerprinting detects subtle variations in the way your specific browser renders a requested image to create a fingerprint for your specific computer.

The researchers found canvas fingerprinting computer code, primarily written by a company called AddThis, on 5 percent of the top 100,000 websites.

Here’s a link to the AddThis site, and another to their opt out page (which uses cookies as an opt out mechanism!).

If you’re like most people (myself included), when you see a license agreement, you don’t take the time to read it, you blindly click “agree” and move on.

In your defense, Carnegie Mellon researchers determined that it would take the average American 76 work days to read all the privacy policies they agreed to each year.

The linked article picks up some of the more important (and to some, chilling) things embedded in that Facebook license agreement you agreed to. Here’s a link to Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, as well as to the Facebook Data Use Policy, in case you want to follow along at home.

If you are going to use Facebook, take a few minutes to read the article. Make sure you know what you are getting into.

July 21, 2014

Apple’s new MacBook Air ad: Stickers

This isn’t the type of ad I’m used to seeing from Apple.

This “Normal” ad is anything but

The idea of 3D-printed custom earbuds called Normals is an interesting one but this advertisement for them creeps me out.

Apple:

Apple will be announcing its Q3 2014 financial results on Tuesday, July 22 at 5pm Eastern time (2pm Pacific) followed by questions from analysts.

You can listen to the streaming audio via iPhone®, iPad®, or iPod touch® running iOS 4.2 or above, or any Mac® running OS X 10.6.8 or above or any PC running QuickTime 7 or later.

As usual, many sites will be liveblogging the call. The fun comes in seeing which of the analysts on the call (the press and general public can listen in but not ask questions) will ask the dumbest question of the day.

I don’t know how I managed to miss this earlier, but Robert Plant has signed on to perform at iTunes Festival London—Plant is one of my all-time favorite singers. His solo career has been great, but his vocals as the lead singer of Led Zeppelin are just incredible. I’m hoping for some classic Zep songs during that show.

About ten years ago, when Rory McIlroy was just 15 years old, his father places a bet with British betting firm Ladbrokes that his son would win the British Open within 10 years (before Rory turned 26). The bet was for £200 (about US$341), at 500-to-1 odds. This weekend’s British Open was Rory’s last chance to win under the terms of the wager.

Incredibly, Rory McIlroy won the Open, and his dad is about to win his share of £100,000 (about US$171,000).

Unbelievable story. Here’s the tweet from Ladbrokes confirming the bet:

CONGRATULATIONS RORY: We’re paying out 180k to Rory’s Dad and pals. There’ll be some party at the McIlroy’s tonight!

Amazon has unveiled a new subscription service called Kindle Unlimited, designed to give Kindle readers unlimited access to a limited library of eBooks, all for $9.99 a month.

From the Kindle FAQ:

Kindle Unlimited is a new service that allows you to read as much as you want, choosing from over 600,000 titles and thousands of audiobooks. Freely explore new authors, books, and genres from mysteries and romance to sci-fi and more. You can read on any device. It’s available for $9.99 a month and you can cancel anytime.

The problem I have with Kindle Unlimited is the same problem I had with Amazon Prime Music. When I first dug into the Prime Music library, none of the music I looked for was included. There certainly was plenty to choose from, but it felt like looking through the cutout bin at the record store.

At least I could rationalize Amazon Prime Music, since I was already a Prime member and Prime Music was included at no extra charge. Kindle Unlimited, on the other hand, has a similar restricted choice, but runs about $120 a year. I spent some time digging through the Kindle Unlimited library and did not find a single title on my reading list. And it’s not like I was picking obscure titles. These were popular books with hundreds of reviews.

From the linked NY Times article:

The service, Kindle Unlimited, offers a Netflix-style, all-you-can-read approach to more than 600,000 e-books, including blockbuster series like “The Hunger Games” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” nonfiction titles like “Flash Boys” by Michael Lewis, as well as literary fiction and classics.

So far, however, none of the five biggest publishers appear to be making their books available through the service.

HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster, for example, are not participating, representatives from the three companies confirmed.

Penguin Random House and Macmillan declined to comment, but a search on Amazon suggests that they are not making their books available.

I think this is a bit of a stumble for Amazon, a money grab. I’m an insatiable reader and I would go for this if all of Amazon’s book library was included. But as is, no thanks.

Apple’s presence in China continues to grow.

Next weekend, Apple will be bringing up its official Apple Store count in China to eleven. The Cupertino-based company will be opening up a new store at the Paradise Walk mall in the Jiangbei District of Chongqing on Saturday, July 26th.

Chongqing is a critical base for Apple in China, as it is one of only five National Central Cities. From the National Central City Wikipedia page:

In February 2010, the ministry issued the “National Urban System Plan” and designated five major cities, Beijing and Tianjin in the Bohai Economic Rim, Shanghai in the Yangtze River Delta Economic Zone, Guangzhou in the Pearl River Delta Economic Zone, and Chongqing in the West Triangle Economic Zone as the National Central Cities. Hong Kong was also included as a special National Central City.

The National Central Cities sphere of influence have great impact around the surrounding cities on modernizing and integrating services in fields such as infrastructure, finance, public education, social welfare, sanitation, business licensing and urban planning.

45 years ago, Armstrong set foot on the moon

From the Apollo 11 Wikipedia page:

At 02:39 UTC on Monday July 21, 1969, Armstrong opened the hatch, and at 02:51 UTC began his descent to the lunar surface. The Remote Control Unit controls on his chest kept him from seeing his feet. Climbing down the nine-rung ladder, Armstrong pulled a D-ring to deploy the Modular Equipment Stowage Assembly (MESA) folded against Eagle’s side and activate the TV camera, and at 02:56:15 UTC he set his left foot on the surface. The first landing used slow-scan television incompatible with commercial TV, so it was displayed on a special monitor and a conventional TV camera viewed this monitor, significantly reducing the quality of the picture. The signal was received at Goldstone in the United States but with better fidelity by Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station in Australia. Minutes later the feed was switched to the more sensitive Parkes radio telescope in Australia. Despite some technical and weather difficulties, ghostly black and white images of the first lunar EVA were received and broadcast to at least 600 million people on Earth. Although copies of this video in broadcast format were saved and are widely available, recordings of the original slow scan source transmission from the lunar surface were accidentally destroyed during routine magnetic tape re-use at NASA.

After describing the surface dust as “very fine-grained” and “almost like a powder,” Armstrong stepped off Eagle’s footpad and uttered his famous line, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind” six and a half hours after landing. Aldrin joined him, describing the view as “Magnificent desolation.”

UTC is roughly equivalent to GMT. For some folks, the anniversary was today and, for many others, the anniversary of Armstrong’s first step on the moon was last night.

As an added bonus, here’s the source code from the Apollo 11 guidance computer. It’s written in assembler, but there are lots of comments.

July 20, 2014

Apple announces iTunes Festival London

Apple will be bringing iTunes Festival to London, England for the eighth straight year, the company said on Sunday night. iTunes Festival London brings some of the world’s biggest bands together for 30 nights of concerts and they are all free.

Apple said Maroon 5, Pharrell Williams, Beck, Sam Smith, Blondie, Kylie, David Guetta, 5 Seconds of Summer, Calvin Harris, and Chrissie Hynde, among others, will be performing during the 30-day iTunes Festival event.

Singer Adam Levine performs with Maroon 5 on the Toyota Today Show Concert Series at Rockefeller Plaza on August 5, 2011 in New York City, NY. Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com

Singer Adam Levine performs with Maroon 5 on the Toyota Today Show Concert Series at Rockefeller Plaza on August 5, 2011 in New York City, NY. Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com

iTunes Festival London is held at the legendary Roundhouse. With a capacity of about 5,000, the venue offers an intimate concert experience for the artists and fans alike—this is something I personally enjoyed at this venue. Over the years, the Roundhouse has hosted Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck, The Yardbirds, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Clash, Ramones, Motorhead, and many other great bands.

The great thing about iTunes Festival is that if you can’t make it to London, you can still watch the shows. Apple broadcasts the shows around the world so you can watch them live or on-demand on your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, iTunes on your computer, or in HD with Apple TV.

Apple noted that since its inception in 2007, iTunes Festival London has hosted more than 430 artists playing for over 430,000 fans and tens of millions more online and on-demand.

“These live shows capture the heart and soul of iTunes and we love bringing them to our customers in the Roundhouse, as well as to the millions of people watching all over the world for free,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services.

I attended a few of the shows at iTunes Festival London in 2013 and it was incredible. The venue, the bands, hell, the entire event was very well done. I’m looking forward to another great festival.

Ars Technica:

On July 20 1969, at about four minutes before 10:00 pm Central Daylight Time, former naval aviator and test pilot Neil Armstrong became the first human being to stand on the surface of the Moon.

About 20 minutes later, he was followed by Buzz Aldrin, an Air Force colonel with a PhD in astronautics from MIT (Aldrin had, quite literally, written the book on orbital rendezvous techniques). Armstrong and Aldrin’s landing was the culmination of almost a decade of scientific and engineering work by hundreds of thousands of people across the United States. Even though the lunar program’s goals were ultimately political, the Apollo project ranks as one of the greatest engineering achievements in human history.

The story of the program is an incredible one and I’d encourage you to watch the amazing “From the Earth to the Moon” series if you haven’t seen it.

Priceonomics:

Once heralded as the time-saving successor to stairs, the fire pole is, after 150 years, sliding toward extinction. In its heyday, the pole revolutionized the way firefighters responded to alarms, accessed their trucks, and, ultimately, saved lives. But fire poles came — and still come — with a caveat: they have the potential to be lethal for those who descend them.

As a kid, I always thought it would be cool to have a house with a Fireman’s Pole in it to get downstairs. After reading this article, not so much. I had no idea they were so dangerous.

Kacy Catanzaro, inspirational feat of strength and agility

At first blush, American Ninja Warrior might seem like just another silly bit of reality TV. But try to imagine doing what the contestants on this show do. As you watch the video below, ignore the hype and just focus on each individual task that Kacy Catanzaro takes on. Inspirational. Bravo, Kacy.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were a mercurial supergroup. Each of the four members brought some specific individual skills that came together beautifully to form a harmonious whole.

If you’ve never listened to them before, this is a fantastic entry point. Here’s a link to the album on iTunes. Scroll to the bottom and hit Preview All.

The production is astonishing, especially considering that this was material captured live about 40 years ago.

July 19, 2014

Mosaic:

Why do 40 per cent of Caucasians have type A blood, while only 27 per cent of Asians do? Where do different blood types come from, and what do they do?

In 1900 the Austrian physician Karl Landsteiner first discovered blood types, winning the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research in 1930. Since then scientists have developed ever more powerful tools for probing the biology of blood types. And yet I found that in many ways blood types remain strangely mysterious. Scientists have yet to come up with a good explanation for their very existence.

Interesting article about a subject crucial to all of us and yet something few of us know anything about. I’m embarrassed to say I have no clue what my blood type is.

You’ve no doubt by now heard the story of the AOL VP who recorded a call with a Comcast service rep, trying to cancel his Comcast service. If you haven’t heard the call, here it is:

The linked story makes the case that the rep in the recorded call is being made a scapegoat for following Comcast policies.

Comcast’s response to the call:

Tom Karinshak, Comcast’s (CMCSA) senior vice president of customer experience, issued an official apology on the company’s website stating that, “the way in which our representative communicated with them is unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives.”

But is that the case? Was the rep’s behavior inconsistent with Comcast policies?

It turns out the rep wasn’t going rogue, according to Lauren Bruce, a former Comcast customer account executive. “Unless a customer was moving, we were encouraged to use retention techniques”.

If someone states that they are dissatisfied with service, the customer service representative must first ask why they are dissatisfied before proceeding with the request. The goal is always to retain customers or convince them to buy a higher-priced service.

You get the sense, reading this, that Comcast puts their reps in an impossible situation, one where the price is paid (literally) by the customer.

Customer service agents are instructed to connect customers to a manager if they become particularly angry and insist on speaking with one. Yet Bruce says that in her office, managers were rarely accessible to the employees, so she often had to deny the request. “Comcast is trying to operate lean, so you weren’t given the support you needed,” she says.

The poor work environment made it difficult to help customers, she adds. “I always felt really disempowered to do the right thing. … It was all about the dollar,” Bruce says. “They didn’t care about the hours you had to work or whether or not their policies made sense for you in their job. The system was really outdated and slow, which is always a drag when you’re trying to help someone efficiently.” She adds that “management was poor” because of constant churn among supervisors.

And just in case you think this is simply one person’s view, take a minute to read the confessions of a Comcast video repair agent. I want to use the word shocking, but it all rings true.

M. gives the example of removing the code for HD/DVR service, which will cut a chunk off the monthly bill, but which will eventually render the set-top box inoperable.

“Then you call back, we add it back on, and you’re back where you started, except we don’t tell you that,” he explains. “We don’t give out what we’re doing to fix your box because we have been told long ago that we are to fix your equipment, not talk about your billing.”

This exact thing just happened to me with another provider. This makes me feel like this is a standard industry practice. Grrr.

UPDATE: Just to add more proof to the pudding, in case you had any doubts about the “confessions” post above, check out this Verge post, Here’s why your Comcast rep is yelling at you. Yeesh.

Warren Buffet and Paul McCartney were sitting on a park bench in Omaha. This kid sees them and takes a selfie that has since gone viral. Pretty cool.

July 18, 2014

Entertainment Weekly:

Thirty years ago, a killing machine from 2029—assuming the form of an Austrian bodybuilder—arrived with a lethal directive to alter the future. That he certainly did. The Terminator, made for $6.4 million by a couple of young disciples of B-movie king Roger Corman, became one of the defining sci-fi touchstones of all time.

It’s still a great movie even though it feels pretty dated now.

I just pre-ordered mine.

Every CSS project starts out with good intentions, but inevitably, one too many people eye-dropper colors into nooks and crannies that you never knew existed. CSS Colorguard helps you maintain the color set that you want, and warns you when colors you’ve added are too similar to ones that already exist. Naturally, it’s all configurable to your tastes.

This sounds really cool.

Most presentations are terrible. That, however, does not need to be the case for your presentations. Author David Sparks, a trial attorney and seasoned technology speaker, explains how to create your own exceptional presentation. This Presentation Field Guide explains how to plan a presentation that will connect with your audience, the technical wizardry to create a stunning presentation, and walks you through presentation day to make sure it goes off without a hitch.

I really like David and have respect for his work. This is worth checking out.

Lee Hutchinson has a look at Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s email to employees.

Macworld:

For serious typing sessions — or if you just can’t get the hang of the iPad’s onscreen keyboard — an external keyboard offers the tactile advantages of real keys without sacrificing the iPad’s portability and touchscreen features.

The iPad supports almost any Bluetooth keyboard, but there are many, many keyboards on the market that are specifically made for use with the iPad.

Macworld has updated their exhaustive iPad keyboard guide. Do you use one? Which is your favourite?

Gizmodo:

Netflix, as experienced by our neighbors to the north, is an anemic imitation that besmirches the brand. It shouldn’t even be called Netflix. Netflix Lite, maybe. Netflix Canada Trashcan, probably, although that might negatively impact subscription sales. It’s the same price as the U.S. version, too, which makes it even more insulting.

This is one of the reasons why I tried and quickly canceled Netflix here in Canada. The selection is bad enough in the US. It’s much worse in Canada.

Apple’s official release:

Sue Wagner Joins Apple’s Board of Directors Bill Campbell Retiring After 17 Years of Service

CUPERTINO, California—July 17, 2014—Apple® today announced that Susan L. Wagner, founding partner and director of BlackRock, has been elected to Apple’s board of directors. Bill Campbell, the board’s longest-serving member, is retiring after 17 years of service.

Wagner co-founded BlackRock in 1988 and helped it become one of the world’s most successful asset-management companies, holding a range of leadership positions including vice chairman until mid-2012. She continues to serve on the boards of BlackRock and DSP BlackRock (India), as well as Swiss Re, Wellesley College and Hackley School.

“Sue is a pioneer in the financial industry and we are excited to welcome her to Apple’s board of directors,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “We believe her strong experience, especially in M&A and building a global business across both developed and emerging markets, will be extremely valuable as Apple continues to grow around the world.”

“We conducted an exhaustive search for someone who would further strengthen our board’s breadth of talent and background, and we are delighted to have identified such an outstanding individual,” said Art Levinson, Apple’s chairman. “I’m confident that Sue is going to make an important and positive impact on our company.”

“I have always admired Apple for its innovative products and dynamic leadership team, and I’m honored to be joining their board,” said Wagner. “I have tremendous respect for Tim, Art and the other board members, and I look forward to working with them.”

Wagner graduated with honors from Wellesley College with a BA in English and Economics, and earned an MBA in Finance from the University of Chicago. She has been recognized as one of Fortune Magazine’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and honored by the National Council for Research on Women. At BlackRock, she championed and continues to support the Women’s Initiative Network, designed to foster the full potential of women within the company.

Bill Campbell’s relationship with Apple dates back to 1983, when he joined the company as vice president of Marketing. Next to Apple co-founders Steve Jobs and Mike Markkula, Campbell is the longest-serving board member in the company’s history.

“Bill’s contributions to Apple are immeasurable and we owe him a huge debt of gratitude. On behalf of the board and the entire company, I want to thank him for being a leader, a mentor and a friend,” said Cook. “When Bill joined Apple’s board, the company was on the brink of collapse. He not only helped Apple survive, but he’s led us to a level of success that was simply unimaginable back in 1997.”

“Over the past 17 years, it’s been exciting to watch history unfold as Apple emerged as the premier technology company in the world. Working with Steve and Tim has been a joy,” said Campbell. “The company today is in the best shape that I have seen it, and Tim’s leadership of his strong team will allow Apple to continue to be great going forward.”

Apple designs Macs, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.

This is a generous scoop of genius:

No matter where you are in the world, nothing captures the sweetness of a sunny afternoon better than ice cream. Friday, July 18th, we’re serving up cold treats on demand in 144 cities, in 38 countries, on 6 continents.

Use your Uber app to send a request your nearest Uber driver, asking them to bring you some ice cream. No cash required, it’s billed to your Uber account.

This is smart marketing on Uber’s part. They are leveraging their existing business model to raise brand awareness and to make money as well. They are also crossing from one business model into another, that of home delivery. Hey, Amazon/Google: If you buy Uber, you also get an instant, stealth, world-wide home delivery fleet.