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Friday, August 21, 2015

What I Want To See in the New Apple TV

On September 9, Apple will unveil to the public the new iPhones in its annual fall event, along with the new iOS (9).  On 09/09.  Yes, I'm sure the coincidence was not by accident.  Meanwhile, credible rumors from the production lines have surfaced that a new Apple TV will come out, on the heels of sales data showing that Apple TV lags behind Roku, Chromecast, and the newly introduced Amazon Fire Stick.

While at this point we have no idea what the new Apple TV will have different from the older boxes, it has been surmised that it will have a faster processor, more memory, and an App Store (that is, developers can now target apps for Apple TV, and more memory to download the apps to).

However, I am truly hoping they took my suggestion of a couple years ago into account.  As I've said before, I think the Apple TV is the best streaming platform for many reasons, not least of which are performance and interoperability within the Apple world.  What it is sorely missing, is to become the center of a Home Entertainment System.

I suggested to Apple on their feedback page (of which of course, you never hear anything after you submit it), that they make a video input on the Apple TV, and sell an external video switch box accessory that can be controlled by the Apple TV remote (and remote app).  Thus, with one remote, you can control your video source on the TV, and the Apple TV.  But more, if they also release a standard that video device manufacturers can implement, the Apple TV remote could also control the switched device.

Imagine this scenario.  You want to watch a Blu Ray, so you switch input to the Blu Ray player.  Because the Blu Ray player you have is "MfATV-compliant", the Apple TV remote also controls the Blu Ray player, moving the cursor around and selecting elements from the disc menu, pausing, etc.  Volume controls, and now you could hook up your MfATV-compliant Cable TV receiver, and use the Apple TV remote (or remote app on your device) to control your cable tv receiver as well.  All integrated, all with Apple TV at the center.

And we have seen the talk about Apple TV being at the hub of the HomeKit that allows you to securely control the Internet of Things around your house (garage door opener, door locks, alarm system, thermostat, and more).  This really begs for a new name, no longer Apple TV, but Apple Home.  And that's what I want to see.

(*)Three Remotes for the video boxes,
Seven for the various streaming players,
Nine for the TV, switch box, games and stereo doomed to die,
One for the Home Owner on his throne,
In the land of Suburbia where the Tech lives,
One Remote to rule them all, One Remote to find them,
One Remote to bring them all, and in the basket bind them
In the land of Suburbia where the Tech lives.
Thus goes the legend...

Here's an excerpt of the screenplay for the scene where they discover the true identity of the One Remote.

Frodwin:  Gandmorph, how do you really know this is the One Remote?  Certainly, it is a great Remote.  It gives me much power over all my devices.  It is precious to me.  But the One?

Gandmorph:  (Snatches the Remote from Frodwin's hand, and tosses it in the fire)

Frodwin: (Gasping) No!!!

Gandmorph:  Wait!  Look and see - the flames touch it, but scorch it not.  The buttons are still the same shape, the brushed finish unmarred.

(The Remote is a burnished, chamfered aluminum-like finish.)

Gandmorph:  (Fetches it out of the fire with a stick, and picks it up in his hand.)  See!  The heat has not made it hot to the touch.  And look at this fiery script now visible on the battery compartment.

Frodwin:  What does it say?  I don't recognize the language.  (Shudders)

Gandmorph:  It is an ancient tongue, spoken only by those who live in the land of Cupertino.  It says, One Remote to rule them all, One Remote to find them.  It is part of the ancient verse... (Reaches out the window and grabs Samwham, lifts him into the house by the ear.)  Samwham Gammer, how long have you been listening at the window?

...

Is your Internet Service Provider lying to you about your speed?


When it comes to Internet Speed, it may seem like this is a cut-and-dry measurement of "how fast am I?"  However, the deeper I dug into this, the murkier the waters became.  I started out pretty happy - and let me warn you now, if you want to stay happy, don't read any more.  Let me lay out for you my journey, and I will add clarity to how Internet speed is tested, and how it should be tested - and what and why my favorite speed test web site is what it is.

The (Internet Super)Highway To Now

This is the road I took, in the post-dial-up modem world.  I had Comcast as my cable TV and Internet provider, and this was tons better than the dial-up modems I had been using before.  But, eventually (read: years later) I had reliability issues - reliability of the technology, that led to my problems with the reliability of their Technical Support technicians showing up at scheduled times.  And the "I'm so sorry, I'll credit you $20 - oops, we already credited you $20 this month" didn't cut it when I had to call several times a month, and several days each month I had no Internet service.

So, I switched to AT&T.  Now, with AT&T, things were great - for about 18 months.  Speed was the same as Comcast, but customer service was awesome.  Then, it broke down - something went wrong.  The customer service remained great, but after a dozen (literally) on-site visits, fixing and replacing every piece of equipment inside the house and out to the main street drop - the speed just wasn't the mere 18 Mbps that I was paying for.  And by that time, Comcast had zoomed past that performance - and UVerse had absolutely no public plans to boost their speed.

So, I did it.  I split my communications providers - AT&T for TV, and Comcast for Internet.  During this period, I relied heavily on 3 web sites that provide Internet Speed Testing:  Ookla speedtest.net, SpeedOf.Me, and TestMy.Net.  I used these tests to help me determine when I was having issues, and how severe they were.  During the UVerse time, I noticed that AT&T used Ookla's software (and presumably their infrastructure) to test Internet speed.  And, the 3 speed sites gave me slightly different results, which I chalked up to different servers used for computing the speed.  However, the results were similar enough at 18 Mbps, but I noticed a big difference at 50 Mbps.

The Speed Test Difference

So, to me, the way I would think to test, is to throw some data across, and time it - see how long it takes to send and receive.  Further, I would try to "flood the pipe" - fill it with as much data as you can push, and see what its limits are.  That seems simple enough, right?  Ookla uses a Flash-based app embedded in your browser to test speed, so that didn't work from my iOS devices - but they do have an iOS app.  Since I was concerned that Flash may skew results because of its overhead and lack of performance, I searched to find a non-Flash alternative, which led me to SpeedOf.Me.  The great thing about these is the test on demand, but then the problem I had was intermittent speed slowdowns, which was hard to show if I had to go to a web page and click to start a test - over and over, all day and all night long.  So, I searched to find a speed test that took samples over time, and came across TestMy.Net.  The best of both words - non-Flash, and you can set up a repeated sampling every hour for as long as you want.

Once I switched back to Comcast for Internet, however, the disparity in testing between the 3 sites became apparent.  On a 50 Mbps service, I was testing 58 Mbps, 60 Mbps with Ookla, 53 Mbps with SpeedOf.Me, and - get this - 39 Mbps with TestMy.net.  Why such a huge discrepancy?

Ookla SpeedTest.net results

SpeedOf.Me results

Conglomeration of TestMy.Net results over time

Now, we get to testing methodology.  Remember my assumption that a speed test is simply dump some data, see how long it takes?  Turns out that is not how Ookla does it.  And, AT&T and Comcast (as well as many other ISPs) use Ookla as their testing software.  Furthermore, when you search on the web to find places to test your speed, Ookla shows up at the top.  So, here are the differences in their testing methodology:
  • Ookla methodology uses what I would call a statistical hack.  They do the speed test, divide the results into 20 "slices" - and discard the bottom 30% and the top 10% of speeds.  Further, it "multistreams" the data - which means, it runs multiple, simultaneous parallel transfer streams to fully utilize your bandwidth.  In addition, they have servers that are closer to you (mine was Troy, MI), so that it can test with fewer "interference" issues introduced by longer chains of connections.
  • SpeedOf.Me methodology uses a multistream test as well, but it does not discard outliers.  It uses a few servers (mine was Dallas) to more closely simulate what you would get in a real world scenario, but still uses Point of Presence (PoP) servers because, for example, you don't want an Internet test to show the speed between you and halfway around the world.
  • TestMy.Net methodology by default uses a single stream, and does not discard outliers.  If you want, you can change the test to Multistream.  It uses a few servers (not hundreds like Ookla).  The huge advantage here was, you can set up an automated test, and as long as your computer is on and your browser tab left open to the auto test page, you will get a test every hour for as long as you request, with the results stored in a database for your analysis.

Analysis of Methodologies

Statistical Outliers

Now, I don't know if you remember from your college Statistics class about discarding outliers, but there are times in which you discard outliers because they skew averages.  Let me explain, that this is not one of those times.  When you are downloading files (say the latest OS update that is 4.2 GB), you really don't care what the trimmed average speed is going to be.  You care how long it will take - for real.  So the real speed is the size of the file divided by the actual time it takes.  In total.  Without discarding the fastest and slowest portions.  So in the case of testing Internet speed, discarding outliers is actually misleading.

Further, the skewed way in which they discard outliers is totally outright scandalous!  Why discard the slowest 30%, and only the fastest 10%?  It should be even, whatever it is.  In discarding a larger portion of slower data points, you ended up with an inaccurate result that is skewed toward reporting a faster-than-reality speed.

In other words, OOKLA IS LYING TO YOU by fiddling with the results, to make it look faster than it is.  And Ookla is the default speed test that all the cable companies use on their web site, and their techs will tell you to go to it to test the speed.  Does that sound like nepotism?

Threading

In computing, "threading" is the method of taking these vast resources we have of computing power and network speed, for example, and splitting them so multiple things can happen "at once".  I say at once in quotes, because in nanosecond timeframes, they are still happening only one at a time, but in our perception, it is so fast that it appears to happen in parallel.  Threads seem to go faster, and thus better utilize the resources because the bottleneck is in the management of the data, not in the processing of the data, so you can push parallel "threads" at the "same" time and achieve an economy of scale.  Indeed, web browsers and other Internet communication software makes use of these parallel threads to achieve better performance over the same connection.

So, if you use the Internet in a multithreaded way, it seems that the testing should show that usage, and how fast it is.  If you were only to use a single thread (for example, that's how we used to do it in the old days of dial-up modems - a single phone connection, and a single data transfer going on over it), you would only effectively use a portion of the bandwidth.  And indeed, this is what is shown by TestMy.Net's single threaded test - 40 Mbps vs. 53 Mbps.  I argue, that tests should simulate actual usage - and, more importantly, should make use of all available bandwidth to tell me "what's the best possible scenario" for the line I have.  So a Multithreaded test is the only way to accurately test your bandwidth.

Server Location

TestMy.Net argues that having servers located near you, on an Internet backbone, is not an accurate test of how we use the Internet, because when we go to a given web site (or other service endpoint), it could be located anywhere.  True, I do understand this reasoning.  However, I have to take issue with it, because when we run a network test, we don't want to see the actual bandwidth to an endpoint - we are already seeing that by going to that web site and downloading!  No, we want to see, what is the total available bandwidth to the backbone, because when I am doing a speed test, I am trying to determine where the slowdown is.  Is it in my house?  Is it in the ISP?  The Internet backbone? Or is it the remote endpoint server that  I am connecting to?  So, a speed test should tell me what's the fastest my connection is running, to the backbone, right now.

Data Collection Over Time

All things go in cycles - and a lot relies on the diurnal cycles of the Earth's rotation, including Internet traffic (tied to our sleep/wake cycles).  However, when we have intermittent issues, it is difficult to trace down those causes without data taken over time, and we can see patterns if we collect data over time.  Further, in the interest of troubleshooting, we can disconnect equipment to isolate issues, and run tests over time.  However, it is critical that these data be collected at regular intervals.  Perfect for a computer - and here is where TestMy.Net shines.  Set up an Auto Test, 24 runs, and you have a 24 hour period of data collection.  You can see the graph, download the graph, or download the raw data and do your own analysis.

Ubiquity of Ookla

After reading the above, you may have come to the conclusion that I think Ookla has us hoodwinked.  You are correct!  However, here is where it gets really insidious.  To further skew what we, the public, find out about our Internet speed - it seems that Ookla has garnered contracts with all the major ISPs to provide their speed test results to consumers.  A Flash-based software, that discards outlying data points in a skewed fashion, and uses questionable methods to report a speed skewed towards fast - I would call that misleading.

We all know how Google searches work - and indeed any search engine.  Those who pay more money, get their results at the top.  And Ookla shows up at the top of speed test searches.  So even people who don't use their ISP's speed test, still use Ookla from the company's web site.

What Do They Have To Say To Me About This Article?

In writing this article, I solicited comments from the Tech Support departments of Ookla, TestMyNet, and SpeedOfMe.  Ookla said they will not, under any circumstances, provide us users with raw test data (only the pruned data), and they politely refused to review this article and respond to these accusations of collusion and misleading.  SpeedOfMe and TestMyNet were gracious enough to review my draft, and agree that I have a good grasp of the issues.

While I like SpeedOfMe because it is Flash-free, I find that hands-down, TestMyNet is the best overall speed test site.  You can use it from any device, choose whether to use single- or multi-threaded testing, and schedule repeated testing over time.  All 3 sites can store your data under a login so you can collect data over time.

What Do We Do Now?

Definitely, stop using Ookla for speed tests - they are lying to you anyhow.  If you call your service technician, and they tell you to go to their page for speed test (e.g. http://www.att.com/speedtest or http://speedtest.comcast.net/), pay attention - you will see Ookla's logo in the graphics.  Complain to them that Ookla is inaccurate and misleading, and that they should not use it for speed tests.

If you are so moved, write a letter of complaint to your ISP that they use Ookla, who skews the results to look faster than they are, and that they are lying to their customers.  And, if you can think of anything else that concerned Netizens should do, post it in comments below.

iOS 9 - Should you upgrade?

With fall (and September) comes the new Apple stuff, and of course, for those of you staying with your existing equipment, the new Operating System.  I have been testing iOS 9 for several months now, and I think there are some very compelling reasons you will want to upgrade:
  1. Security - As NPR reported, IT experts all agree the number 1 method to ensuring computer security, is to apply OS updates as soon as they come out.  You need to stay ahead of hackers, and this is the best and easiest way to do it.  NEVER forget, your "phone" or tablet is a full-fledged, desktop-class computer.
  2. Low Battery - one great feature of iOS 9, is that if your battery gets low, it switches to low power mode.  In this, it turns off all the non-essential parts of your device, so that it lasts longer.
  3. Low Memory - iOS updates take room to download and install, and on devices with smaller memory, you may not have had enough to update.  The remedy until now has been to download on a computer with iTunes.  But now, iOS 9 will determine which apps it can delete to make space, delete them, and restore them once the update is done.
  4. WiFi Calling - to me, this is a GREAT feature (for those of us not on T-Mobile).  AT&T added me to their WiFi beta testing program, and working in areas where I get a low cell signal, but have great WiFi - I have been able to stay on phone calls with absolutely perfect clarity and no dropped calls.  This is awesome.  The phone automatically switches as it becomes necessary.  The one caveat in the agreement to turn on WiFi calling, is that they cannot use location information for enhanced 911 location.  So you have to register an address when you turn on WiFi calling, and you can change it at any time, that will be sent to 911 if you place a call on WiFi.
  5. Frequent Contacts - before iOS 9, you access frequent contacts (as an option) at the top of the app switcher screen.  With the redesign of app switcher, they moved it to the "swipe right" from home screen.  And, it only shows the last 4 to 8 contacts.  To me, this was a big beef.  I personally asked them to restore the contacts on the app switcher screen as an option, but so far they have vetoed the request.  If it makes it to Live in this manner, and you were used to using the contacts feature, you will (like me) have to get used to going to Home, swiping right, and only getting the last few on the screen.  Not as intuitive, not as accessible.
  6. Better Battery Life - at the June 2014 WWDC (Worldwide Developer Conference), Apple introduced Metal, a new "lower-level" closer-to-the-chip graphics programming engine.  Designed to replace OpenGL (which is cross-platform, and not optimized for the Apple OS and hardware), it allows, for example, game developers to write games that take full advantage of the graphics hardware, and do it in the most efficient way possible.  That was iOS 8.  In iOS 9, Apple has rewritten their Core Graphics libraries, upon which all apps (and all of iOS) are built, using Metal.  This means that, after your upgrade, your device will run faster, and use less battery power for the same tasks.  As an aside, I have been really enjoying the introduction of Metal to OS X (the Mac OS) this year in El Capitan, where it has made my 6-year-old laptop run even faster, and the battery last even longer.
  7. Faster - even on older devices, the Metal rework has made the entire OS faster.  You would think you wouldn't notice it on a 64-bit iPhone 6, but it was noticeable even on that platform.
  8. Very stable - I have been an iOS Beta tester for 4 years now, and this release has been extremely stable.  In fact, only in the first couple of releases did it crash, and then only at night while I was sleeping.  I knew because when I used TouchID to unlock it, it asked for my passcode.
Now, there are many other enhancements, including more capabilities with Siri - but I'd say those are the top big things you will notice.  Many under-the-hood changes are for developers, and will accelerate the capabilities of apps, so you will see newer kinds and better apps come out soon.

Monday, August 10, 2015

iOS 9 Supporting WiFi Calling - Not Just for T-Mobile

With today's release of iOS 9 Beta 5 (and Public Beta 3), Apple is now allowing us to select "WiFi Calling" in the Settings app for carriers like AT&T.  However, AT&T mobile users are presented with the message "Wi-Fi Calling isn't yet available in your area, but check back soon."

The WiFi Calling feature allows you to make and receive phone calls - via your standard cellular account - if your phone has WiFi coverage, but lacks a cellular signal.  This means, for example, if you are at the doctor's office and don't get a signal, but they have a guest WiFi that you can connect to, your phone works 100% just like an iPhone (and not just for texting and apps).

AT&T has made this feature available to users in some areas - and mine was lucky enough to be one. After using it all day, it has been totally flawless.  I highly recommend it, and if you are in an area with good WiFi, but bad cellular - upgrade to iOS 9 as soon as you can.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What good is your mobile device if you don't use it?


For many years, Apple has claimed (quoting third party research such as this recent one) that, while they have a much smaller market share in devices in peoples' hands, the vast majority of usage comes from their devices.  As Clammr now reports, that usage gap extends to podcasts as well.  I find it interesting (and telling) that the other mobile operating systems don't even appear on the report - Windows, Ubuntu, Simbian, Blackberry.

So, if it is true that internet browsing, on-device purchases, and now podcast consumption are completely dominated by the smaller market (relative to Android) of Apple i-device owners, that begs the question, what are all those non-Apple device owners doing with their devices?  From my extensive user survey (conducted completely in my head of over 2,000 imaginary people), I have gathered the top 10 uses for non-Apple devices:

10.  To finally fill that last HDMI port on your TV (non-Apple TV).
 9.  Taking photos.
 8.  Accessing the Google Play or Windows App stores.  Just for browsing.
 7.  As a burner phone for a spy or criminal.
 6.  A flashlight, to light your way when times are dark.
 5.  A toothpick.  What?  You can't do that?  Innovation, time to invent!
 4.  To replace the GPS navigator that doesn't update its maps.
 3.  It looks so sporty (and non-Apple) on my hip / cheek / purse / car holder.
 2.  There's something else you can do with it?  How much does it cost?  $1?  Forget it.

And number 1?  Phone calls and text messages.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Major Android Security Flaw Allows Hackers to Take Control Without You Even Knowing

As reported today by National Public Radio, all a hacker needs is your phone number, and they have complete control of your device.  What the article doesn't make clear, is whether this only applies to phones, or tablets as well (assuming tablets can get text messages).

The way the exploit works takes advantage of the ability to secure videos using what is called a Coder/Decoder (CODEC) routine.  This is a bit of computer software that provides a way to encrypt and decrypt the video, so that video producers can secure their own content.  However, a CODEC is simply a bit of software that frankly can do anything.  Because the video the thief texts you specifies the CODEC it needs, as the video is received by the device, the CODEC is downloaded and installed as well - this all without any security checks, and without asking the user. The fact that Android allows any CODEC, gives it full access to the entire device environment, and does this in the background without your authorization or even your interaction, I find to be absolutely unacceptable.
I've said it before, and again, and again, and again, and again...Android is an inherently insecure mobile OS, because security is an afterthought, and wasn't built into it by design, at its core, like it was in iOS.  If that isn't bad enough, to make matters much worse, the Android ecosphere is a mishmash of hardware manufacturers who have their own fork of Android that deviates from the main Google trunk.  This means it isn't up to Google to get the update out for each device, it is up to the manufacturer.  You can probably trust companies like Samsung, HTC, and LG.  Probably.  But how much, and how well will they do?  And, if you have some other manufacturer, I can't even begin to say.

If that isn't bad enough, it has been proven that Android users typically go around with 2 year old OS (or older), and never download updates.  That's right, you can have a brand new Android device, but the manufacturer forked Android 2 years ago (at the beginning of developing that hardware), and so the security you have is already 2 years old, out of the box.  Another NPR article in the past week entitled "Trying To Keep Your Data Safe? You're Probably Doing It Wrong" states that tech experts have completely different priorities on what it takes to keep you safe from hackers, than the average non-expert.  I completely agree with this article on every level - from the fact that the priorities are different, to the fact that tech experts put number one priority on system updates (from the OS manufacturer) as the primary bastion against hacking.  Nothing is even remotely as important as downloading the latest OS updates - whether for phone, computer, tablet, or car.  (If you followed that last link, you found that Chrysler vehicles from 2012 onward with UConnect have an Internet IP address, that hackers can use to gain control of the vehicle - and do anything they want, including shut the engine off.)
In this day and age, I find it ABSOLUTELY INEXCUSABLE for any product company, especially Google, to release a product that is so wide open to hacking, it fails to incorporate the most basic and accepted computing precautions like firewalls, code signing security certificates, forcing communications over SSL, and the like.  All of which, and more, both iOS and OS X (Apple's mobile and desktop operating systems) take into account, and have since the beginning, as they were designed into their core from the beginning.  So if you want to know why I support Apple so much, for security alone, that is why.  I find it also a case of criminal negligence for a company like Chrysler to produce a motor vehicle (the single most deadly type of machine in mass operation today), and make it vulnerable to such attacks.  This when the computer industry has plenty of security experts, and Science Fiction films have provided plenty of scenarios in which a more connected life can become more vulnerable to hackers.
So, now we know about the UConnect vulnerability - what about all the other vulnerabilities that we don't yet know about?  Here's a scenario that is not farfetched at all.  Imagine that you are driving to the Tigers' game.  On the way home, you stop to get gas, go out to dinner, or some other activity in Detroit.  Unbeknownst to you, some guys with a specialized Internet scanner detect your car, push a button - and malware is uploaded to your vehicle, and boom - the engine quits as you pull out onto the street.  You are mobbed by people who mug you, strip your vehicle, maybe even kill you because you hesitated to give them your wallet.  Science Fiction?  Maybe, but I think it's not at all farfetched, and I wouldn't put it past the people designing the computer systems in your vehicle to neglect basic security like I say above.

Further, recent news stories indicate Apple has hired several thousand employees with Automotive experience, on a top secret project.  Rumors abound, but most likely is they are either working on aftermarket automotive systems, or a new electric vehicle to enter into the automotive market.  I cannot think of a better company to make cars incorporating computer technology than Apple.  Who best to take into account computer security, than one of the companies who helped create computers in the first place?  And who best to lock that security to your digital world of smart phones, tablets, and notebooks?  And who best to make it work seamlessly?

If this scares you, it should - you have a pulse.  Do your research, and take action consistent with your findings.  If it doesn't scare you, then go head and tempt fate.  But when it comes crashing down on your head, and you have to jump through hoops because your credit is shot, your bank accounts raped, passwords stolen, and your entire real life ruined by the digital access to it - you only have yourself to blame for your choices.
Now, here's what scares me about the whole thing.  People go around, buying devices and services, without researching or understanding this whole world they are getting into.  But believe me, thieves sure do understand this world, and how to exploit its vulnerabilities.  And legislators are so far behind, they still think they can pass a law that will fix security issues.  The only way to fix the issues, is at the OS and software developer level.  The OS manufacturer should have security built in as a central tenet of the architecture, and their development kits should make it easier for app developers to make secure apps, than to make insecure apps.  The fact that Android is the most prevalent mobile OS, and Windows the most prevalent desktop OS, means that people just don't get it.  But the growth of Apple, means they can learn.  Realize that you (even I) know very little about security in the online world, and that it can impact your real world in many more ways than just money or inconvenience.  You can actually be killed by a security hack.

(As an aside, if you are an Apple developer, iOS has done simple things like provide access to advanced technology through Kits - or libraries that give developers functions to call that makes it easy to write apps to do advanced things.  But the Kits are secure, and allow the device user to control which apps have access to which functions - the camera, microphone, photos, Internet, etc.  And, by default, apps cannot connect to insecure Internet connections, they must use encrypted SSL connections.  If the app needs to do an insecure connection, the developer has to "jump through hoops" by adding exceptions to the app for specific web addresses, so that only those addresses are allowed to be communicated with over insecure, non-SSL sockets.)

What can Congress do about this?  Nothing.  As you are well aware, Congress is a set of selfish, greedy lawmakers who have lost all touch with their constituency, and are at the behest, beck and call of lobbyists.  If they do eventually get around to doing anything, all they can do is pass a bill - and nothing they could do would have an impact, as it would be too little, too late.  This technology is out now (has been for years), and the vulnerabilities exist now.  It's up to you to safeguard you and your family.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Massive Misnomer of the Smart "Phone"


Back in the good old (pre-iPhone) days, we used to call these pocket computers that organized your life a PDA (or Personal Digital Assistant).  With the Palm and Blackberry devices, the convergence of PDAs with cellular phone technology began.  I began with what was called the Palm Pilot, later the Pilot, then just simply "Palm" - had that for many years, and when Samsung came out with the I-300 Palm phone, I was all over it.

And, as is now cliche, along came the iPhone and everything changed.  In fact, I was constantly searching for apps for my Palm and downloading them, but the availability of apps was severely limited (especially as compared to today's App Store and Play Store).  And, I noticed that the plethora of people who had Blackberries and Palm phones, called them a pretty evenly split combination of Phone and PDA (a few called them Organizers).  With iPhone, and I suspect related to the product name, it seems we have abandoned the somewhat wonky and clunky "PDA" for the simpler, but less descriptive, "Phone."  When I want to take a photo, and have to look for my device, I say "Have you seen my phone?"  When I need to check bank balances, travel itinerary, play a game, or the myriad of non-phone things I use my "phone" for the vast majority of its usage time, I call it my "phone."  Kind of interesting.

Although these devices are computers, calling it one is also clunky, because it doesn't take into account the communications and mobility aspects, as well as confusing it with all the non-"phone" computers (desktops, laptops, notebooks, and tablets).  Interestingly enough, the kids constantly say "I want a TV in my room," to which I reply, "You have TV's that you can put anywhere, including in your room."  With Netflix, Watch ABC, PBS Kids, the UVerse app, and more - you have these computing devices that are, by all definition, televisions.  Tablet, by the way, is a great name.  But phone is terrible.  We could go with a Trekky "communicator" - but when you unlock it, you will be forced to change your unlock sound to that of a communicator when Kirk whips it out and says "Kirk to Enterprise, come in Enterprise."

At some point in the not-too-distant future, we will see people who have only ever known a "phone" to be a fully-capable, desktop-class computer with a small footprint and touchscreen interface (i.e. a "smart phone"), and when you say to them "pick up the phone please, it's ringing" - they will stare uncomprehendingly at your cordless handset, wondering what it is, what it does, and why you have it at all.  I mean, all it can do is make and receive phone calls - how useless is that?

Sitting right now in my recycle bin, in fact, is a thick book with the letters "YP" on the front cover.  I have no idea what it is for (other than as a platform for advertising - like there aren't other more useful ones built into my iPhone???).  I mean, it is filled with business names and phone numbers.  Really?  Where are their web sites?  If I want to look up a business, I am going to ask Siri, or type it into a web or map search.  The section on private individuals is totally gone, and rightly so - how could a publication hope to stay on top of peoples' contact numbers?  Maybe this book would be good to use as kindling to start my charcoal chimney, except that I have tons of newspaper for that.  Maybe it could be a paperweight - like I need that.  I have a million other things that have other uses that can also weigh paper down on the patio table when we chill outside.  Obviously there is a segment of people who use these books, but I can't imagine who that is besides senior citizens who don't have a smart phone (a very small segment indeed).  Maybe it is simply a bunch of people working in an office, where over the past 10 years most of the employees have been laid off, and they are desperately trying to hang onto their jobs.