Monday, August 30, 2010

Traitorware From Apple

Apple's Odd Patent

It was kind of a slow news week, and when that happens there's always some interesting incendiary anti-Apple article to talk about. I'm going to start out by saying that the EFF calling a patent Apple filed "traitorware" is going a bit far - after all, it's not even a real product yet. Still, it's an interesting solution to the problem of theft.

In a nutshell, the patent is to use things like taking a picture, measuring various biometrics, GPS coordinates, voice recognition, whether your phone is jailbroken, and/or keystrokes to determine if you're the one using your device. The article from Computer World focuses a lot on jailbreaking for some reason - Apple can already technically remote wipe your device if they know it's jailbroken - not even they're crazy enough to do something like that though. The real issue is that giving them that level of information about you is scary. Your heart rhythm is pretty private health information - can you trust Apple with something like that? What's even scarier is the prospect of them collecting this information without you knowing about it. Doesn't this all seem to be going a bit far in the name of identifying unauthorized users of your device? Not if you think of it as their device that you're borrowing instead of your device, which may be their mindset.

The point that I'm trying to make in a somewhat roundabout way is that technology is a wonderful, magical thing, but it's up to us to keep advancements in technology in check. The EFF is just trying to sound the alarm on this issue early. If we don't speak up when scary stuff like this happens, we get on a slippery slope of trading away our privacy for less important advancement in software. Apple has not implemented this yet and it's very possible that they never will, but if they do then how will you react? Will you continue to support them?

Net Neutrality Worst Case Scenarios

In the wake of all this Verizon/Google net neutrality stuff, Mashable put together a few frightening and (mostly) believable scenarios of a world without net neutrality. It's funny that the first two relate to the progression of TV, which has clearly evolved into a far from a consumer-friendly industry ripe with petty fighting and unreasonable pricing.

A couple of the situations are on the other side. The government could go power crazy and over-regulate the Internet, but I think that there are too many Internet lobbyists to alow something like that to happen. There is an argument to be made for the fact that the amount of wireless spectrum available is limited, but I don't think that rules out a net neutral WiMax network if built correctly (not an expert in wireless communication though). I know that Verizon disagrees, but I don't understand how constrained capacity means that you can't send bits faster instead of just more bits at once.

In any case, I think people would have less problems with nominal wireless network management from Verizon if it was more clearly defined as really benefiting the greater good and being abundantly transparent. When you throw in clauses to add tiered services, you lose a lot of points even if there can be some argument made for wireless network management.

Galaxy S

That's the line of Samsung Galaxy S phones, and it looks like every major network gets one, though there are tiny differences between them, like 4G on the Sprint one or better battery life on the T-Mobile one. I personally think that the keyboard on the Sprint Captivate model is really cool because most Android phones lack a physical keyboard, but all 4 are probably the sexiest phones Samsung has come out with in a while. What's interesting is that these are much more multimedia focused than other models, which makes sense since Samsung is known for superior video and audio quality. Maybe they'll be able to attract more 3-D games to Android. In any case, they're definitely devices to keep on the radar.

Netflix for the iPhone

This is one of those things that I think really helps sell iPhones: Netflix has made an app for streaming some of their movies directly to your iPhone. It's apparently not quite optimized yet, but I think this is a pretty big deal since it's yet another way to consume movies aside from their ideal venue (a move theater). It just goes to show how much that industry is evolving as much as the MPAA has tried to resist it (obviously certain studios do get it for this app to exist at all). Of course, you could have probably also guessed that from Blockbuster's current problems.

Digg v4

Digg got a face lift last week, and I personally really like it. Public opinion has been mixed, but I think change is always like that on the Internet. I think they've done a really great job trying to innovate in the news aggregation space by taking into account the people that you actually care about. It applies the technology you use to get from useless information from your Facebook feed to information that you should care about: actual news. It's still a little rough around the edges, but I do hope that it works out in the end for Digg.


Just a few one-liners:

Beware of HDMI cables upselling you on their refresh rate - it's all marketing lies.

This is a pretty interesting article on what fields of study Computer World thinks will be useful for getting a job in the future.

For a bit of cell phone nostalgia, you'll appreciate these old school ads.

This year was the biggest price hike yet for movie theater tickets, mostly because of 3-D. Ouch. When I was growing up, a movie was just $6!

Last but not least, the new Kindle is out!

Have a fantastic week!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Google and Verizon Sold Out the Internet

Net Neutrality Under Fire

I don't know what's more sickening, the proposal I have to talk about here or the fact that it's not likely that enough people are going to care about it to stop it. Google and Verizon have made a joint policy proposal that dresses itself as supporting net neutrality though it really smacks it in the face. It supports great ideas like transparency, protection of customers' right to send what they want over the wire, granting the FCC power to regulate the broadband access (but not its content), a commitment to using the fee on consumers' phone bills to help build a nationwide broadband network, and non-discrimination of traffic that would hurt competition. However, it only supports these things for wired networks, and given the pervasive nature of mobile Internet access and the hopeful future of 4G, this is a pretty enormous loophole. It's also conceptually silly to divide the Internet into wired and wireless where one of the two becomes a second class citizen. They claim this is because of the way that wireless works, but that's a total cop out. There's also other not-so-exciting provisions including the ability to create a separate network that an ISP can charge extra for if it's different from regular Internet access (whatever the Hell that means) and the power of network management to improve service quality. Network management assumes a lot of trust in companies that have traditionally only screwed their customers. In any case, isn't network management just a back door out of actually improving their networks to not need such management?

Senator Al Franken has rightly lambasted the agreement and called out how laughable some of the details are. I think his most potent argument is that it doesn't make sense that the major players in an industry get to write the rules on how they operate. Another really going point he brought up is regarding the future of what can happen if we let these companies do what they want.

Make no mistake, Google and Verizon have sold us out to ensure their success - they've shown that they don't care what's best for the continuation of innovation on the Internet. They're carving up the rules in a way that favors what's sure to be most profitable in the coming decades while making concessions to simply wired Internet. An Internet that's not neutral puts in danger free competition on the Internet by creating tiers to protect the websites that are already doing well without giving competitors a fighting chance. Write to your congressmen and tell them that this policy does not make any sense.

Xbox Live vs. Android Mobile Gaming

Engadget got the scoop on the set of launch titles for Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7 and it's not a bad list, but definitely nothing to stop the presses for. To be fair, we still haven't seen footage of Halo: Waypoint, Star Wars, or Castlevania, so Microsoft hasn't shown all their cards yet. Supposedly, performance is pretty solid, but I didn't see anything showing off what separates it from the iPhone, Android, or Palm Pre (which has a surprising number of 3-D games). What happened to the Xbox 360 integration that was demoed months ago?

Comparatively, there's very strong rumors of a Sony Ericsson phone that crosses a touchscreen Android phone with a PSP Go sliding controller. Heavy hitter franchises seem to be part of the equation including LittleBigPlanet and God of War. Given that the PSP already integrates with the PS3, if Sony can pull off an Android device that integrates with the PS3 with really strong titles, they could beat Microsoft to the punch and really put together a compelling product for casual gamers and hardcore gamers.

I don't think video games are something that should be underestimated when it comes to mobile platforms - when you look around in meetings and on buses, you see people playing games on their phones a lot. It's a burgeoning industry and that's why the iPhone got on the bandwagon with partners like EA very early on.

More Droids

After about a year now, the Droid 2 is finally here, which is the true successor to the original Motorola Droid phone since it has an improved physical keyboard. It seems to improve upon the Droid, which was already a pretty highly celebrated phone, in every way including the screen and camera.

Meanwhile, the R2-D2 Droid was announced. It will be available next month only and only online, so it'll be a true collector's edition type of phone. I think this is kind of weird - as cool as it is to have a unique phone, I'd be afraid of buying a phone that there's so few out there for Verizon to care about supporting. Of course, there's enough Star Wars geeks out there that this thing will almost surely sell out.

Facebook Places

After much talk and speculation, Facebook's Places API for geolocation check-ins has been announced and is now available to play with. It's supposed to play nice with Gowalla and Foursquare, but I can't imagine that those two companies don't feel threatened. Foursquare believes that it's a different enough product to co-exist with Facebook Places, but given how much more pervasive Facebook is, it'll be interesting to see what really happens. As silly as it may seem, these services have a lot of potential in that it's something that small businesses can really sink their teeth into, but their profitability is still yet to be fully mined.

Google TV Struggles

Google TV was announced not too long ago as a product that basically mashed up Chrome, Google, YouTube, and your TV to provide a rich television watching experience. Apparently I was one of only a few who thought this was a compelling concept if done right. So far not so good for Google as they struggle to sign on partners. They'd like to have content owners share information to help Google link live television with offerings on these content owners' websites, but traditional media still isn't sold on the profitability of what Google is setting out to provide.

Maybe Google needs better TPMs - how do you get this far in a product (i.e. as far as telling the public about it) without having dug into the feasibility of support from the people whose support you'd need? It may be that this is ahead of its time, but I think Google may have known it was kind of pie in the sky and that it could take years to really get off the ground - Google is the sort of company with the resources to be in it for the long haul. I really do hope they pursue it - I think getting video on demand to work well in the living room has been a struggle for everyone, including Apple, but each company to try makes a small dent in it.

The Small Stuff

Just a few quick articles in closing:

Gizmodo has an awesome article explaining common symbols, like USB and Bluetooth and other such techie things. They're not at all things you'd guess unless you really knew the inside story.

This is an awesome parody trailer of The Social Network substituting Twitter for Facebook. Even though I think The Social Network will be terrible (not even David Fincher can salvage that idea), I have to give props for its trailer being pretty good.

Speaking of Facebook, Giga Om has an interesting piece talking about why so many Facebook employees who have been there from the beginning are leaving now. It's mostly normal stuff when a new company starts to age, I don't think it's particularly telling.

If you know of any kids who show an interest in computers then please direct them to one of these tools to help teach kids the fundamentals of programming. It's like giving a kid lego blocks - they're the tools to build what's in their heads.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

I really was hoping to get to a full post this week, but a number of things have come up that I'm not at liberty to talk about and so I'm at the point now that I'm past the point of exhaustion. Still, I do have some words in my head that I feel are worth giving up sleep to share, so I hope you'll enjoy my review of Scott Pilgrim.

Best Comic Movie Ever
It was with very little fanfare that I went to see Scott Pilgrim vs. the World on opening night. The ads were never really appealing to me and I felt like Michael Cera was being typecast so I figured this movie would be a flop. Still, there was enough positive buzz that I agreed to come along when a friend wanted to go and I'm floored at how opposite of a reaction I had to this film. Not only is it probably the biggest surprises of my life as far as movies go (not plot-wise, just in my feelings about it), but it's hands down one of the most fun experiences I've ever had in a movie theater.

The plot of Scott Pilgrim is pretty much exactly what you'd expect from the trailers: Michael Cera is Scott Pilgrim, who has fallen in love with a very alluring girl who, as it so happens, has 7 evil exes who have banded together to ensure that no one dates her if they can't. You really have to go into the movie accepting that this is the plot because it's not anything deeper than that, and that's a big part of what I love about it. This is one of the few movies I've seen in a long while that understands exactly what it needs to do and really nails it. It focuses on a few things and blows them out of the park. So even though the romance story is never fully fleshed out, it's the first movie I've seen that has felt like a comic book and a video game have come to life, slept together, and produced a child on the big screen.

I don't know how true it is to the comic book, but that's irrelevant because it stands on its own as something really smart if you can appreciate the references and things it tries to parody. You don't have to be a gamer or a comic book fan to enjoy the film, you're just guaranteed to love it if you are either. I never thought I'd see a movie that got so many things right about video games - everything from nonsensical fights to collecting coins where it doesn't make sense to a ton of subtle things that are just elegantly done. It's either subtle or obviously over-the-top, it never beats a joke to death. I laughed a lot - from even before the movie formally started - but I also saw very few promotional materials.

Aside from those facets, the music is perfect for the movie. I almost felt like it had as much music as a musical without the baggage that would entail. The cast really contributing to pulling off the music though. I believed in them in their roles, as crazy as the world they lived in ended up being. I believed their passion for their music, and that was a cool feeling. The way they weaved music into the storyline was truly clever.

I can't leave out how much heart this movie had either. I don't mean gushy have-a-good-cry heart, I just mean that it actually makes you feel good to be a nerd if you're a nerd. It makes you want to go out and jam out on your guitar or play Street Fighter or something - I just felt pumped and enamored with how much the director seemed to love music and video games and comics.

Unfortunately, I don't think this is a movie everyone will love. I can't imagine anyone hating it because it just makes you feel so good walking out of it, but I can see parts of it being harder to appreciate without being in your 20s or early 30s. It is somewhat of a niche movie, but I wouldn't be ashamed to show it to anyone (assuming they're at least a teenager). I will say that the writing is weak at times. Even though I did identify somewhat with the romance, it was still at times handled a little strangely. I can see people taking issue with the characters, but I actually liked how non-traditional they were. They weren't people you could totally peg down, but in a good way. One minor gripe I had was that the ending was possibly a little more drawn out than it needed to be, but I didn't really mind that much.

This movie is easily an A+ to me, and I urge you to please go and see it. It's only done like $10 million and I think it'll make it up over the course of its run in theaters and on home video, but I feel bad that the makers may not feel the love from the box office that I felt for this movie. I feel silly having had such a strong positive reaction to a romantic comedy action movie that appeals to the 12-year-old inside of me, but I can't lie: I enjoyed this film and can't wait to get it on Blu-ray.


I also saw Inception over the weekend and I know it's been talked about to death, but I just wanted to quickly say that I agree about it being a must-watch. You may want to see it before Scott Pilgrim because it's definitely not as light overall as Scott Pilgrim, but it's an experience on par with Memento. I really didn't think it was as complicated as people said it was - I mean unlike Donnie Darko, they actually explicitly explained ideas to you. Albeit, often in more words than necessary, but they did. Go see it in theaters because the visuals are truly stunning - not in the way that Avatar was, but more just from a creativity standpoint. If you want my score: easily an A.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Prohibition on Software Patents

The Software Patents Situation

This article calls for the abolishing patents, but I don't think I fully agree so I'm going to stack them up with those in support of the prohibition of alcohol. As I'm sure we can all agree, Prohibition sucked.

The US patent system is by no means perfect, but I don't think I agree that companies shouldn't be allowed to protect their products. Just because it's being abused so badly in technology doesn't mean we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. When it boils down to it, the real problem with patents seems to be patent trolls. Granted, there's also a problem of patents being granted for silly things, but I think patent trolls are really what has created an patent arms race.

What's wrong with having patents for products you actually create though? Rather than squatting on an idea, I think you have the right to protect a genuinely good idea that you develop a product based on. I don't think you should be allowed to own ideas that never materialized or that you have no vested interest in other than to sue people because that's contrary to the basis of patents.

Blackberry Torch

A survey came out last week showing that less than half of all Blackberry users want to stick with RIM, but I think smartphones are a market where it's hard to predict what brand of phone you're getting next unless you're a month or two (or less) out from the decision.

Their newest phone is coming out in a couple of days and it's a doozy. It's a slider with a full physical keyboard, though a little thinner than typical Blackberry fare. Engadget has a full review. The OS is a pretty big shift here as it borrows elements from the iPhone, including a mobile browser worthy of the year it's being used in. It seems like the UI is a true evolution of the standard Blackberry OS, but there's nothing it has under the hood that 1ups any other current phone - it just joins the table they're already sitting at. One of the commenters said it best: it would be a great phone if it came out in 2008.

Wave is Dead

Google finally killed Wave, the little product that never could. Google went to great lengths to generate buzz for Wave before it came out, so what went wrong? Marketing to nerds is a tricky thing, and if you can't make a compelling case for it then they move on to the next shiny new thing. It's not enough to be a novelty, your product has to serve a definable purpose or set of purposes. I think wave was a great idea that didn't have enough practicality behind it. The curse of a great engineer can be not having the right direction. Still, I think it's cool that Google took the risk anyway. No risk, no reward - that's the story of any great CEO.

Other Stuff

A page derailed my night, so I have to wrap up early here.

Amazon launched the Kindle store in the UK.

Barnes and Noble is trying out new and used textbook purchases as well as rentals.

Android now has the largest smartphone market share in the US.

Make sure you keep your Windows machine protected - here's some great free antivirus choices.

This is a list of some Google services that don't get much attention despite being pretty nifty.

Monday, August 02, 2010

New Kindles

Black Graphite is the New White Plastic

The coolest thing to happen last week is probably the one thing I shouldn't talk terribly much about: the new Kindles. I'm just going to go on record that I work no where near anyone on the Kindle team and I have no knowledge of how that business operates or its strategy. Independent of being an Amazonian, I'm finally really excited about the Kindle now. I was definitely very skeptical when it first came out and was concerned when the iPad came out at its competitive price point. Though it's a totally different device, the comparisons are inevitable because of the form factor. Anyone who says reading a book is better on the iPad than the Kindle is definitely an Apple fanboy - it's technologically superior for reading plain text. At $139 for the entry WiFi model, it's finally at a price point fitting of a standalone book reader, and features better battery life (up to a month now), faster page turns, and better contrast ratio than the previous generation. I believe the reason for the switch to black graphite is probably because that makes it easier to read in sunlight, but you can still get it in white for the 3G model at $189.

I'm really curious now to see how Barnes and Noble will respond. Now that the Kindle has a model at $60 less and also available in-person at Target stores, the Nook is quickly losing what competitive advantage it had. Still, with e-Book sales outpacing physical book sales, there's gotta be enough to go around, but how big a piece of the pie will Apple and Barnes and Noble get compared to Amazon?

Ballmer is an Idiot

Steve Ballmer is really pissing me off nowadays. Ever since he's taken over, he's made many terrible decisions, including killing the Courier. This was the super creative tablet that Microsoft was working on that Ballmer decided to cut. Now he admits that the iPad is their number one threat and they need to compete with it. It's frustrating that he had a product that stood a chance against the iPad and threw it away, and now they have little hope of taking on the iPad. Microsoft has gone from being known for innovation to being way behind on market trends. Instead of trying to create another iPad now, why don't they either resurrect the Courier or invest in something totally different?

Windows Phone 7 and Free Bumpers

A lot of interesting stuff has been going on in cell phones. Ars Technica has a really good preview of Windows Phone 7 going in great depth into some nice UI touches and little nuggets of their impressions, like the keyboard being on par with the iPhone keyboard. Still, it's clear that there are a lot of question marks to be filled in. How well will the Xbox Live integration work? Will developers give the platform a shot? Given that someone leaked Microsoft's internal announcement to give all employees a Windows Phone 7 device, it's clear that Microsoft is definitely serious about the platform, so we just have to hope that it will all come together in the end.

I'm a little late on this since I missed last week's post, but Apple finally decided to respond to all the negative coverage of its iPhone antenna woes by giving away the bumpers that pretty much solve the issue. I have to bring up something that Molly Wood and others were predicting at CNet before this event happened: Apple never owned up to a problem and instead spoke at great length about how the problem had been overblown. It's definitely a smart strategy because it makes them look like they've been bullied into having to do this free bumper thing even though it's clear they had to know about the issue to create this case, which they hadn't done for any previous iPhone. In any case, it's great that they're doing the right thing now, but if they're only doing so until September 30 I wonder if they've figured out a hardware fix for the issue so that future batches won't have the issue?

Google has finally killed the Nexus One. Google has proved that people don't want a phone they can't play with at a store, even if it is a somewhat compelling product. It will still be sold abroad, but no more for US consumers.

Ars Technica has a ridiculously detailed review of the Droid X, and it seems like probably the best phone Motorola has put out in a while. Still, the UI seems to fall short of the Droid Incredible in visual flare. Plus, at a screen size rivaling the Dell Streak you have to wonder if anyone wants something that big in their pocket. There is such a thing as too big for a smartphone.

WPA2 Hole Discovered

WPA2 has finally been cracked - kinda. It was only a matter of time before a hole was discovered, and it doesn't render the standard useless but does damage it for enterprise use. It turns out that the standard's language allows for an authorized user on the network to send malicious packets to others on the network as well as sniff the packets of others. For most people, this probably isn't such a big deal, but could be worse for business use. The problem with fixing it is that all implementers would have to fix it, and it's unlikely to organize something like that. The next best bet would be a revision to WPA2, but there doesn't appear to be language in the standard to support something like that. It's a rather interesting conundrum.

Also in security news recently, Apple was deemed the company with the most security vulnerabilities in its software. So much for their claims of having the safest platform. The issues weren't in OS X, but rather in other ancillary products. Still, it helps debunk the claim that you can ignore security just because you have a Mac.

Funny Videos

I missed this a while back, but the guy who posted his customer service cartoon ranting about iPhone fanboys also posted one sticking it to Android fanboys. It's almost as hilarious.

In an example of social media marketing gone right, the Old Spice marketing guys decided to create a bunch of videos with Isaiah Mustafa responding to people on Twitter with short videos, including Alyssa Milano. They did a pretty awesome job.

Final Notes

I'm out of time, but here are a few other stories I found worthwhile.

Gawker has a funny post on the stupidest things caught on video that people said about the Internet, including the infamous Al Gore quote on his greatest invention. You may recognize certain terminology sourced from some of the videos.

I've seen reports off and on recently about issues with cell phone manufacturers and building screens, and it looks like HTC has had enough issues with AMOLED that they've decided to move to Super LCD for these devices. AMOLED hit the market a few years back and was quite impressive, but apparently still not easy to make.

If you're wondering what to load on your Android phone, PC Mag has you covered. Makes me a little envious on a few of those, I have to admit.

YouTube has increased their upload limit to 15 minutes, so now you can post longer useless videos.

If you want to see a real ninja badge, you have to check this out.

iPhone jailbreaking is now legal!

Hope everyone has an excellent start to their August.