Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Why I don't own anything Apple sells.

I frequently get asked about apple products, so, I have decided to  put my thoughts down here, to maybe save some repetition.

My opinions are partly technical/practical, primarily moral/political. I will start with the technical/practical.

I am going to speak to apple products in two different classes. The first is the desktop experience, which I am including the Mac books as part of this class. The second class is the Phablet class (This includes the Phone and Tablet form factors.

First, to the desktop:
The desktop is going away. No, they aren't likely to completely disappear anytime soon, but the fact is, most people don't need a desktop PC any more. Most homes in the not to distant future... may no longer have a PC in them. Most people are primarily content consumers, they watch shows, look at web content, search for information, shop, use social media to connect with friends... The PC is not the best tool for these purposes anymore. They are being replaced by Game Consoles (Most of which now offer web browsing, movie viewing etc...), or special purpose media centers. For the rest of it you have the tablet devices. They are small, light, have long batter life... The are less work to maintain, and are becoming much lower cost to own and replace.

In many cases now, even small business owners can do without a PC. There are cloud based services which provide core business applications, accounting, customer management, supply chain... They are more accessible, less work to maintain, and just plain more convenient.

Given that, the first question you should ask yourself is "Do I really need a desktop system", Is there something else that would better meet my needs? If you are doing heavy software development, CAD, video processing, Or other work that requires big screens, big local disks, or ridiculous amounts of RAM or processing power, then you might still live in the desktop niche. In most of those cases, you are looking for a workstation class PC to do the Heavy lifting. Video is an exception. MACs do well in that space.

The other possible need is work. If you work for a company that live int he Microsoft Office space, you might - repeat MIGHT - need a desktop class system. (MS Office is available for MAC and PC, so either will do in this space, though generally PC is going to be lower cost, and provide fewer compatibility headaches). Microsoft Office is also moving into the cloud.

The MAC Desktop is a Niche device (owning less than 10% of the desktop Market), it lacks the power to server the High end workstation arena, and is quickly becoming irrelevant in the  lightweight Home system arena.

Now to the Phablets.

I must say, we all owe a small debt of gratitude to Mr. Jobs in this area. He took advantage of the rabid Apple culture - the sense of prestige - and pushed this from factor into mainstream. It has been on the fringe for decades, palm being one of the previous best of class in this space. But it never really took off until the iPhone. So, Thanks for that, Mr. Jobs.

Now this space is being contested by Microsoft. Microsoft is late to the party, but they have a way of coming back from way behind, so we will see. Android is the real star i n this space at this point, gobbling up Market share with a vengeance. Any one of the three is a good pick technically. Microsoft is rather weak on apps at this point, but I expect they will catch up soon. Android has the greatest variety of shapes, sizes and functionality, you can pick the device that best suits you. That is a plus for many. Apple has tight control of their environment from to to bottom- hardware operating system and app store. This may give them a little more stability, certainly a more consistent fit and feel. But you do lose some freedom in that walled garden, and you tend to pay a higher price for the prestige. That apple logo adds quite a few dollars, with no real world benefit (unless impressing your friends with you keen brand sense is important to you).

Now for the politics. This will apply to both Desktops and Phablets.

One of the big pitches you get from the apple crowd is that "It is more secure". Not true.

Every vendor throws this around. They are all convinced they are the most secure. They are all wrong.

I won't go into the deep dive on security. That would be another two or three posts. The short version is, every lock can be picked, with sufficient time and motivation. True you don't hear many reports of Mac viruses in the wild. They are out there, but with such a small target (less than 5% of the market), they can't do enough damage to make the news.

There really are fewer viruses for MACs. That is just good business sense on the part of the virus writing industry. Virus writing is a mature, legitimate (though illegal), profit driven  industry. In that world, profit involves hitting the highest number of possible targets, and ideally targets which are most likely to have financial information. That is the PC. 91% of Computers are PC's. PC's are heavily used by businesses. They are more likely to have financial data, and they are more likely to have access to servers with even more financial data.

(as an aside: There are a number of Own-to-own contests, where hackers are given a chance to break into a PC, Mac or Linux based system. The first to succeed gets to keep the system. For the past several year. MAC systems have been the first to fall in these contests.)

In the days of XP. it was fair to say that XP was less secure. Microsoft did a fairly awful job at security back in those days. Microsoft has fixed that. The two are quite comparable now in terms of general security. The real weak link in security now is not the box connected to the keyboard, but the person using the keyboard.

But that is a minor irritation. As is the general rabidness with which  Apple users spread the gospel of Apple. And both of these are common to every OS (though Apple certainly has raised it to an art. As I understand it this is simply an extension of the culture Jobs created in the company. He kept various teams in the company isolated from each other, and encourage combativeness between them. I don't care for that management strategy, but maybe that is just me).

The real kicker for me is the exploitative nature of the company.  Apple tends to sit on it's patents. It avoids licensing them for use by other companies. This means that only large corporations, with their own hefty patent portfolio's can make deals with apple. This hurts innovation (many really great innovations have initially taken wing in smaller companies). I don't care for this kind of stinginess.

Then there is China. Apple products are built at Foxconn and other Industrial Cities, which amount to very large slave labor camps. Steve Jobs Told President Obama that those tech jobs would never return to the US, because the US simply can't scale fast enough. He then regaled the president with a story of how engineering made a last minute change to the screen on the iPhone, they called the China facility, and in a matter of a few hours, in the middle of the night, the facility had roused a veritable army of workers from bed, given them some coffee and set them to work applying the change to iPhones. And this was a good thing in his mind!

Now, I don't disagree many Americans expect too much pay for too little work today. We could stand to work a little harder and demand a little less. But what Jobs is describing, that is slave labor! They live in a bunk at work, they are made to work whenever, for however many hours, and they get paid next to nothing! When workers started jumping out of second story windows in protest of the conditions, the factory put up nets to catch them! I cannot in good conscience support a company that exploits people in such a fashion.

There are of course reports about how people are coming in droves to work in these factories, that they have to post guards to keep people from trying to sneak in. And that would seem reasonable defense but for one thing. China is not capitalist. They are Socialist. Money does not move based on market demand. So here is how the scenario plays out. The Chinese government takes money which should be going to improve the farms. and spends in building factories. The farmers, who are left trying to farms with outdated, broken equipment, and insufficient funds to fed themselves, are left with no choice but to go to the factories, because a bowl of rice a day is better than nothing. Apple has great margins, great profits because they sell the iPhone for too much and manufacture it for too little.

This is of course my opinion. Others have their opinions, and they are entitled to them. But you asked, so I answered.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The NSA : "I have Nothing to Hide, why should I care?"

I have heard this often of late. And it seems a reasonable point. If you don't have anything to hide, you don't have anything to worry about. They are only interesting in finding and stopping terrorists and child pornographers. That is a good thing, right? What sensible person wouldn't sacrifice a little privacy for that? A few crazy extremists clinging to their guns, perhaps.

Personally, I don't really have a big problem with cameras everywhere, watching me. Given the number of cellphones with cameras, I have no doubt there is some embarrassing footage out there of me picking my nose, scratching my butt...

To me the problem is that I don't know exactly what they are gathering, how they are using it, or who else they have let see it.

But why does that matter? Again, I have nothing to hide, so nothing to worry about, right?

Let me introduce you to the idea of advanced media manipulation. Did you know that the marketing/advertising industry has poured millions into researching how different things like color influence you? Why? Mind Control, that's why. By applying the right colors, sounds, smells, social cues, they can manipulate you into buying a product you might otherwise pass by.

What does that have to do with spying? The more they know about you, individually, the more specifically they can tailor the message. At the most fundamental non-sinister level, they know what you are looking for, and can send you targeted advertising. But what if they branch into more sensitive areas of your life? Like Health issues?

And as technology advances, the amount and granularity of data they capture increases. You've seen the cool new Samsung Galaxy S4? The one that pauses your movie when you look away from the screen. Did you know that Market research firms are using that technology as well? To better understand what catches your attention?

But what does this have to do with the NSA? They aren't trying to sell deodorant, or toothpaste.

The government deals in Ideas. They are very interested in "Selling" certain ideas, and they are happy to use marketing manipulation techniques to do so. They have. And they are VERY interested in Control. The purpose of a government is to Govern. "Of by and for the people", is only necessary when the people will it.

So, why should I care about secretive organizations data gathering activities? I don't have anything to hide. Do they?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Info Age Fail 10: Big Sister

(This is part 10 in a series. Part 1 is here)

Ever heard the term "Big Brother"? No not the lame reality TV show. I am referring to the Original "Big Brother" from Orwell's "1984" ("Big Brother is watching you"). The great surveillance state. In which your every move, every emotion is caught be cameras, by spies, your every word reviewed for any sign that you are not precisely in lock-step with the party. Pretty terrifying stuff. Many a dark movie has contemplated the implications of a society in which humanity has become enslaved by the surveillance network which they originally welcomed as being necessary for the "greater good" (Enemy of the State and Minority Report are two good examples).

Well, try to set aside those images for a minute as I introduce you to Big Sister.

Big Sister is ... a surveillance system.... in the general sense. But she is very different from Big Brother. Big Sister doesn't attempt to scrutinize or discern your thoughts or intentions. Big sister isn't an attempt to achieve crime prediction and prevention. Most importantly, Big Sister doesn't belong to any one group or organization.

Big Sister is a distributed network of open sensors, cameras and other information gathering equipment, used to provide information needed to make educated decisions, reducing the influence of political agenda, and our own human bias. Big sister doesn't secretly gather information, she doesn't hide in a data center poking through emails, listening to phone calls.  She doesn't send swat teams to Euthanize baby deer.

Big sister provides the framework to allow an engaged public to act collectively, and cohesively to achieve better results. Big Sister can use existing sensor and 'surveillance systems, provided they are fully exposed to the public, and applied equally to everyone (Think less "NSA surveillance center", and more "everyone with a camera phone, and an open repository for all that footage to go to".

Big sister relies heavily on the previously described identification and trust systems. remember her purpose is to present information to the masses, as unencumbered by bias as possible she exists to tell the truth, absent the influence of human bias and perception. She doe not make decisions, she does not keep secrets, and she does not work in a vacuum.

It is probably easier to demonstrate Big Sister than to explain her. I will follow this post with a series of fictional scenarios demonstrating Big Sister in action. For starters, here is one small taste, a hint of a possibility...

Thursday, August 8, 2013

I am a pretty terrible awesome cook

I am a good cook. okay, I am basing that entirely on my own personal opinion. It is entirely possible that my cooking is awful (I have had a few roommates in days past who sad good things, I had a couple proposals of marriage by complete strangers for my black forest cake. So, it probably isn't awful...), But I really like it and that's what really matters, right?

Anywho, there is one big problem with my cooking though. I have a bad habit of hacking when I cook (I mean the old definiton, before it got stolen by the media to mean computer criminal. I mean fiddling with things, making little tweaks here and there, to see what will happen, to see if an improvement can be made). But I don't keep notes.

Example: Last fall, as I was snapping green beans from the garden, I had a nostalgic memory of pickled beans. So I decided, "Hey, I'm gonna make some." I had no idea how to make them, so I went googling for recipes. I found quite a few, but as I read through them, none of them really sounded quite right. So I picked a couple that sounded sorta interesting and merged them. Sort of. I also fiddled a bit with ratio's on a few of the ingredients.

The end result.... was.... a....MAZING! Six pints of pickle-beany-bliss! And then they were gone! And I had NO IDEA WHAT I DID! YAARGH!

This was not an isolated incident. A few months later I pulled a similar number making spaghetti sauce. I started with a recipe I found that sounded good. but then changed a bunch of things that didn't sound that good, and added a bunch of other things. Divine! Gone! Unrepeatable.

Before that it was Salsa. That one I just completely made up. I know there were poblano's. They were the reason I decied to  make salsa. We got a bunch from Bountiful Baskets. Tomatoes obviously. Garlic, salt, lime, a little cilantro. a couple jalapenos. The end result wasn't exactly awesome. It was too mild. But the flavor profile was very promising. Just a little more heat and maybe... But, I don't remember the ratios, or what else was in there. So...

Last week I did it again with pickled beets.

You think I'd learn after a while.