February 24, 2012

The Code of Blogging - Part 2

In part 1 of this post, I had talked about how I came into blogging, combined with my various coding ventures. This part, however, unlike other 'part 2s,' will not be a continuation of that, but rather on a linked, yet slightly tangential, topic, focusing on what I have learned from other bloggers, both near and far.

By 'near and far,' I mean bloggers I personally know and interesting bloggers I follow, but do not personally know, respectively.

For the non-(aspiring-)blogger/writer/author, this post might be slightly tedious for you to read, although I am not quite sure where this discussion will lead me, so I would recommend you stick around a while longer!

This post was inspired by the recent astonishing success, of DireThoughts, by Henry dyer, and TheAftermatter, by Ned Summers and Theo Caplan, all of which are good friends of mine. If you do not follow these guys on Facebook or Twitter (or have had your head firmly stuck in the ground for the past month and a bit), you will have missed the big commotion going on.

Let's start with Direthoughts. Henry's blog had been on a steadily growing trajectory* with a few thousand monthly views, much like TheCompBlog now (although I am in the early stages of this trajectory). Then, one day, he had a moment of inspiration at the Westfields Apple Store and exploited an information display iPad through a physical hack, and managed to stream a slightly inappropriate video onto a store Apple TV over the secured Wi-Fi network. This story made it onto a German site, a Portuguese site and many English-based ones to, even including CultOfMac! Hits to that one post exploded within a few hours and he was extremely happy (with being me slightly jealous...but still happy).

Let's move on to TheAftermatter, a physics and math-based blog. These guys are complete geniuses, as will become apparent if you read their posts, including explaining the physics behind music and the thought experiment of all people in China jumping at once. To add to that, both are very talented musicians, with one playing guitar in a band, to which I (believe) am the tech/PR/blogger for, even though I have not done much lately for them unfortunately. They are like the next prof. Brian Cox! Anyway, one of their posts got retweeted by Stephen Fry to 3.7 million followers, and on that day, a few months after they started the blog, they got 30,000 page views! That's a big jump from only a few hundred!

Following this, they managed to get a 5/10 minute interview on the BBC radio 6 morning show. For a blog that is relatively new, that is amazing!

February 16, 2012

Path Finding

If any of you follow the tech industry, as I have repeatedly suggested you do, you will have picked up on the Path fiasco. Just a bit of contextual information here: Path is an iOS (iPhone, iPod, etc.) app that is based on a social experience, like Instagram and the basics of Twitter combined. I have no idea why this app is so popular, but it seems to be so largely in the US amongst the tech pundits I read. Anyway, through a small mistake, it turned out that accidentally Path uploaded the entirety of the user's address book info to their servers. A few hours later, they responded by issuing an apology and a confirmation that the data has been wiped off their servers.

I commend the Path team for their quick and responsive action (unlike Sony at the downfall of the PSN), but aside from that, this story revealed gaping holes mobile platforms' protocol, just like the location data fiasco early last year, where Apple and others were highly criticised for storing an unencrypted file containing location data from the past 6 months. In this case, we are seeing that multiple apps are uploading entire address books to their servers without explicit user permission, like Twitter uploading and storing that data on their servers for 18 months, contrary to what happens currently with location data, where the mobile OS (be it iOS, Windows Phone or Android) will request permission on behalf of the app to use your location.

This is being dubbed "Address book-gate"

Apple has recently issued a statement to AllThingsD detailing their plans to implement a dialog box to appear when an app wants to use address book data, like now with location.

This is good. We are seeing an effort by these companies to protect our data. I actually prefer Google's approach with Android: they basically ask you if an app can use all your data (being more specific of course)! Google's method here is making the user in charge of his/her data, making us the creators and curators, and not just mass creators, churning out vast amounts of extremely valuable data (well, to advertising agencies anyway).

It is here where I would like to show you a video of Steve Jobs talking on Privacy.


"I believe People are smart."

February 15, 2012

And the Fun Continues...

It has been a while, but the amusing comedy show that I like to call patent disputes has finally decided to grace our newsfeeds once more. Guess who is involved in this episode?

Motorola and Apple of course.

What has been unveiling in Germany over the past few weeks had been nothing short of astounding. Oh, wait, sorry. I meant the complete opposite. It's the same boring spiel we have seen time and time and time and time again.

Motorola sued Apple. That is the gist of it, but they are disputing over a patent that is intrinsic to the standard operation of all 3G enabled phones and devices. It's an industry standard patent, even proclaimed as such by Motorola themselves, meaning that companies have to licence it with Motorola giving them fair terms.

What's happening now is that Apple do not believe Motorola are offering them fair terms, as they most likely differ from what Motorola offer other competitors, so Apple removed the iPhone 3Gs, 4 and the iPad 3G models.

Seems ok so far, right? Well, yeh, if you are arguing that the current patent system works.

What we are seeing here is an exemplar case of the patent dispute system gone horribly wrong. After Motorola and Apple sort out this little tantrum, Motorola gets an insignificantly small amount of money from Apple and Apple continues selling their stuff; however, who is affected most in the short and long term by this? The consumer.

In Germany, because Morotola and Apple cannot agree over a simple little thing, German potential buyers are unable to purchase what they want. For Apple, this makes little difference as they are swimming in pools of platinum coins, but its the consumer who has to wait for no reason other than a little tantrum. There is also the case of Apple's push email service being stopped by these patent disputes.

Even though these are minor inconveniences, they do not bode well to an emerging tech industry, where legitimate startups are placed in the firing line of these big tech conglomerates, with no resources at hand to defend themselves with. Do we really want to forge such an image of a vibrant and revolutionary industry?

All these disputes just eat away resources, and for what? So that Motorola can get an extra 0.1p on every 10th iPhone sold, or so that Apple can squash the most popular mobile platform that they claim stole their "look and feel"? How does one even patent a "look and feel"?

Instead of investing these futile paroxysms, why not invest in building the next great thing, you know, the thing that will cause a seismic shift in computing? Alternatively, we could all just beat each other up about nothing that important just as a matter of principal. 

Get over it! No matter how much you try, things will never be the same again, apart from in an alternate universe [cue @TheAftermatter].

February 14, 2012

A Game and Reality

This is an old { < }CompBlog post

The head of (the teaching of) ICT gave a very good talk a few days ago. It had no real direction to it, nor a real meaning [well, thats what I think], but what I believe he was doing was educating the ignorant about the extraordinary rate of change in the world: how “the powerful are powerless, and the powerless, powerful”. Just a bunch of various examples spliced together to create a beautifully succinct presentation with many interesting facts and images, capturing the attention of at least half the year which, for our standards, is pretty darn good! I will not go into all the details now; just touch upon one.

Then he showed us an image. This image was depicting a war scene, with bullets and explosions and soldiers and turrets and the like, but there was one fact of this image that struck me. This image looked like a beautifully renditioned game screenshot. I do not know why, but everything about that image just looked computer generated! The way in which the explosions were rendered, the people presented and the guns facing, the whole thing looked surreal and fake. But when he told us that it was actually a real image, taken by a real person in a real war zone, it took me by shock.

Yes, it was terrible that people have to deal with and live in such unimaginable circumstances and I do not wish to comment on or discredit their efforts at all, but simply make a tangental observation not related to this topic.

The fact that the whole year associated the picture with a rendered video game rather than reality was surprising to me. Many have proposed and debated the fact that “computer games are becoming more and more like reality"; however,  I believe the question we should be asking ourselves is much, much different and, when answered, will have an irreversible impact on the global community. “When does reality become more like a game?”.

And with that, I leave you.

February 12, 2012

The Greatest Challenge Yet

After a moderately long pause from blogging, I am happy to report that I am sitting on a Boeing 737-800 on the way to Vienna, therefore, this can only mean one thing, and one thing only: a beloved airplane post! This time, however, I shall not be looking my lazy, grotesque self, as there is a moderately good looking girl sitting across the isle from me who I might talk to if I can musk up the courage to, but then again, it does indeed look impressive when you are writing a short essay on an iPad, although it may also look like I am a complete twat. Anyway, we shall see...

Moving on to the ambiguous title, as one always does. This post does indeed look like it has some deep meaning, and maybe some English teacher will deduce from writing style, similes, metaphors and tone that there is indeed one; however, I can inform you that there is no intended deep philosophical meaning, only a slightly mundane and irrelevant message, or so my mum would say!

At my school, we are lucky to have many high-profile speakers, like Gordon Ramsey or the chief environmental editor of the Guardian (notice the nice example of a contrast, English teachers!). Many of these speakers, apart from Gordon Ramsey, talk about something relating to their subject and then progress onto telling us how this, that and the other will be the greatest challenge to our generation. I believe the challenge count stands at about 10 now: world poverty, an economic crisis, water shortage, social unrest, the potential threat of war, energy shortage, global pollution, severe weather, the destruction of humanity and another damn Gordon Ramsey reality cooking show. Problem, no?

February 5, 2012

The Privatisation of Education

What has hit me recently following the recent Apple announcement was the fact that everyone (well, almost) is proclaiming that the new iBooks textbook program will revolutionise education, considering the price of college textbooks to be around $200, and once establishments work a way around the $500 price tag of the iPad.

I can now say that it almost defiantly will, but there is a catch, a subtle, but one that no one has yet considered.

If the state system is not careful, education will become privatised. Who wants a nation-wide education system at the whims of a massive conglomerate or organisation? Should every student receive an iPad, Apple would control the distribution and presentation models without any input or limitations by the government.

Now, one might say this is a good idea. A lacking state education system being helped by Apple must be a good thing. It’s not though! While this program might increase test scores and class intake, Apple could easily mess everything up. Then what do you do? By new physical copies without your notes and spend multiple hundreds of dollars/pounds doing so? Well, you will have no other option, and in all likelihood, the same iPad version will not exsist physically, as the iBooks author EULA states that you may not sell your book for money outside iBooks.

So you are completely screwed, in the worse case scenario!

The relevant governmental authorities should have made an integrated system of their own that they could manage across the school districts. They missed their oportunity with physical textbooks, now already privatised, and they have just missed this opportunity.

I have no doubt that the iBooks program will be a success, being an Apple user myself, but how far are we willing to let a cooperation take complete control?

Update: I know that there were plenty of spelling mistakes initially! Hopefully they are all corrected. Just to add, this piece was written in a frenzy, should one wish to call it so, and is not my best work!