Linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) leads an elite team of investigators when gigantic spaceships touch down in 12 locations around the world. As nations teeter on the verge of global war, Banks and her crew must race against time to find a way to communicate with the extraterrestrial visitors. Hoping to unravel the mystery, she takes a chance that could threaten her life and quite possibly all of mankind.

Thoughts

  • Twitter: 15 Years Later

    Twitter: 15 Years Later

    2007 was a big year for everyone technologically, but a lot of other things happened that year for me as well. Some of these items include:

    I thought it would be interesting to go back and look at how those events have had an impact, mostly on me, but on the wider technology world. I did not initially think about writing this post, because it did not occur to me, but in reality it should have. That topic is Twitter, so let us start with Twitter early on.

    Twitter logo from 2006 to 2010

    Early Twitter

    Twitter is not that old in terms of social networks. In fact Twitter itself is almost 16 years old. The first tweet written by twitter c-founder Jack Dorsey was written on March 21st, 2006. Twitter began as a service that you could use via text message. In fact, this was why Twitter was originally limited to 140 characters, to take into account any sort of difference in cellular carriers. The idea was to publish what you were doing while out and about, via text message, and then read what others had written on the web. Twitter starting in 2006 meant that this was before the iPhone, before smart phones becoming common place, and definitely before unlimited data on cell phones. However, this was right when many had unlimited text messages, so it was a good time to start such a service.

    Twitter started out as a place that comprised of mostly people into technology. This is because the service was shown off at South by Southwest, which is a combination technology and music conference. Twitter was conceived in the era of text messaging. This meant that Twitter was designed with text messaging in mind, and therefore was limited to 140 characters, which is the same as many SMS services provided by carriers.

    I happen to join Twitter on January 28th, 2007 at 7:59pm, so just about 15 years ago as this is posted. The time I signed up is well before the service really took off. I heard about it from Justine Ezarik on a podcast, and she was talking about the service. She has been on Twitter since July of 2006. Once Twitter had started to become popular, it began to encounter some issues. In particularly, Twitter had some issues with scaling and early twitter users remember, sometimes fondly, the ‘Fail Whale”.

    Twitter Fail Whale

    Twitter has since improved on this and the times that twitter has failures are few and far between these days, but it still does happen from time to time. Typically it is due to a larger problem, like DNS issues, and often affects many sites not just Twitter itself.

    Early in twitter’s life you could send and receive tweets via text message. This was a great way of interacting with the service while on the go, because some users did have unlimited texting plans, particularly after June of 2007 in the United States. This is because a new device, the iPhone, was finally available for sale.

    The iPhone increased the desire for third party apps. While there would not be any official app support until 2008, that did not stop people from creating apps.

    Third-Party Apps

    As mentioned earlier, Twitter was also accessible via text message, but Twitter has always had a website where you could see your timeline, send tweets, and send direct message to other users. The website was primary method of using the service early in its lifetime. While Twitter’s popularity was increasing over 2007 and 2008, it was not until the official release of the iOS Software Development Kit, or SDK, that third-party clients began to be created.

    While the web interface was the most popular way, there was a contingent of users who wanted to use Twitter while on the go and on their iPhone. In order to accommodate this desire, a bunch of third-party twitter clients were created.

    Om Malik had a blog post from December of 2008 that had a number of the third-party clients. Having looked at this list there were some that I completely forgot about.

    The ability to have third-party clients were made possible through Twitters APIs. This is because Twitter itself did not have its own app and actually wanted developers to create applications to access the platform. Some of the other early Twitter available at the time included:

    • Tweetie
    • Twitterific
    • Echofon
    • La Twit

    I remember purchasing Tweetie and using that for a while. Tweetie was such a good Twitter client that Twitter acquired Tweetie in April of 2010 to be used as the official Twitter client.

    While the early days of Twitter thrived on third-party Twitter clients, the service changed over time to put a lot more emphasis on the official Twitter app. Lately though, that approach has changed again that allows third-party to build comparable clients. No, they are not feature for feature the same, but many of the things that used to be exclusive to the official Twitter client have now become available for third-party apps to adopt if they so choose.

    Clients and services are not the only things that have changed, my usage of Twitter has significantly changed over the years.

    My Usage

    Twitter has changed significantly over the years, both visually as well as how I use it. Twitter initially began as a way of posting things about my day, Over time though that has changed to be more of a place where I get my news. That is not to say that I do not use Twitter for communicating with certain people, I definitely still do use it for that, but it not the primary focus.

    As time has gone on though, I ended up building some friendships with those on twitter. Some of those that I have followed early in my time on Twitter I still follow today. Beyond this, I have built up some friendships with those on Twitter. Some of these relationships are more recent than others, but none are more important than others.

    Conversely, with Twitter being around so long there have been those that are no longer around. Some because they passed away, but also some left of their own accord due to harassment, or just due to non-usage.

    In the early days of Twitter it felt a lot more like a giant group chat. The is because it was primarily used by early technology adopters, so you would be able to keep

    There are two features that came about organically, but are absolutely essential on Twitter today. These are mentions and retweets. Mentions on twitter were easily done by putting someone’s twitter handle somewhere in the tweet, typically at the beginning. If they were following you they would see the fact that you mentioned them and would be able to respond. Eventually Twitter added official support for mentions and Twitter would not be the same without them.

    Early in the life of twitter you could easily be a Twitter completionist, meaning that you would read all of the new tweets from everyone that you followed. There are some that still do this, but even I no longer do this. I do have a list where I try to read every tweet, but sometimes that is too much and I ma not able to do so.

    My usage has significantly shifted, particularly within the last few years. I used to be on Twitter a lot more than I am now, constantly interacting and keeping up with the latest developments around the world. Recently though, my twitter experience has been more of a “pop in see what is going on and pop out again”. It is no longer my “go to” when I pick up my phone or use my computer. I am not sure why this has changed, but it has.

    I have spent a lot of time talking about the early days of Twitter, let us look at where Twitter is today.

    Twitter Today

    Twitter Logo 2021

    Twitter is no longer primarily a place for just people interested in technology. Now it encompasses a whole range of interest in topics and Twitter has definitely become more mainstream.

    If you can think of a topic of interest to yourself, I am sure you can find people who share the same interest. This could be something like the NFL, College Basketball, current news, video games, a tv show, or just about any topic, there is a group interested.

    Each social network has its own unique function. Twitter’s function is where you can find information about breaking news. Some of the information may not be 100% accurate, but there is a lot of accurate information surrounding the news as well.

    Mentioned earlier is that Twitter began to move away from supporting third-party clients and instead opting to focus on their own app, to the extent that there was a great disparity between what features offered to third-parties and what the official Twitter app was capable of offering. The disparities were not just because third-parties did not implement features, but because they could not do so.

    Within the last year, at least as of this writing, Twitter has begun changing their stance on third-party clients and has started to offer a whole new API that provides many of the same features that are available in the official Twitter app. There are still some things not offered to third-parties, but this is slowly changing. I suspect there may eventually be feature parity between what third-party apps can offer and what the official Twitter app has, but it will take time.

    Closing Thoughts

    I am not on that many social networks. I have a Facebook account but I hardly use that anymore. I also have Instagram, but I just view stuff on there and do not post a lot. I also have a Mastodon account and have been trying to use that more, but I do not have many people that I follow, nor that follow me, on there.

    I do not have TikTok, nor Snapchat, nor any others. Twitter is by far the social network I use. It’s the one I have used the most and also the one that I get the most benefit from. As mentioned earlier, I have built up some really good relationships through Twitter, some of them are local, but most are not. It is not likely that I will stop using Twitter anytime soon, but it is possible that the way I use it may change, but only time will tell. You can, of course, follow me on Twitter if you want.

    Twitter header for @waynedixon as of January 28th, 2022
  • Windows Vista, The Turning Point: 15 Years Later

    Windows Vista, The Turning Point: 15 Years Later

    There are times throughout our lives when particular years tend to be more important than others. For me, one of those years was 2007. A lot of things happened that year, at least for me technologically speaking. Some of these include:

    • Announcement of the iPhone
    • Windows Vista (this article)
    • Purchase of a 21.5-inch iMac
    • Bought the original Apple TV.
    • Bought a 4GB original iPhone
    • Purchased a Black 13-inch MacBook

    Over the course of the year, I will look back at each of the events fifteen years after they occurred. Each of the posts will look back at my thoughts, and what has happened in the intervening time.

    The first one, previously covered, was the announcement of the iPhone. It was a significant turning point for me in terms of phone platforms. There are instances where a new device can bring complete joy, awe, and inspiration. The original iPhone was that.

    However, the iPhone was not available for sale until the end of June 2007. There was a other pivotal, at least to me, item that came out on January 30th, 2007. That product, was Windows Vista. Now, you might be confused given that I only use Macs, why I would be talking about Windows Vista. In fact, Vista was the catalyst that caused me to switch to the Mac.

    If you were steeped in technology or even tangentially aware, Windows Vista was not the best release of Windows that Microsoft has released. Vista was an operating system that was released five years after its predecessor, Windows XP.

    Windows Vista made some significant changes, like User Access Control, or UAC and Encrypted File System, and including support with the Trusted Platform Module, or TPM.

    Windows Vista About box

    Windows Vista to this day still has the reputation of being one of the worst, if not the worst, version of Windows every released. While it did improve as the years went on, it could not outlive that reputation of not being a good product.

    Along with these was a new Windows Display Driver Model, or WDDM required device driver manufacturers to re-work their device drivers. However, many drivers were not optimized for Windows Vista. Because of these non-optimized drivers, the device drivers would crash constantly, like every 5 or 10 minutes, without fail.

    Windows Vista Orb

    This caused nothing but headaches because the entire system to basically be unusable. The system would not blue-screen, but with the graphics drivers crashing consistently, it would not allow you to effectively do anything on the computer.

    I cannot be 100% certain what I did to mitigate the issue. If I recall correctly, I think I ended up changing the theme to be the basic theme, which would disable the advanced graphics features and would allow Vista to actually run. Even with this mitigation in place, I think this entire event put the seed of doubt in my mind about whether or not to continue to use Windows.

    It turned out, that less than two months later, in March, I ended up buying the 21.5-inch iMac, but more on that closer to the time that I bought the iMac.

  • Thoughts on Microsoft Announces Acquisition of Activision Blizzard

    Thoughts on Microsoft Announces Acquisition of Activision Blizzard

    Today Microsoft announced their intention to acquire Activision Blizzard in a deal worth $68.7 Billion, all-cash deal. This is a huge acquisition for Microsoft for a couple of reasons.

    First, because Activision Blizzard is the maker of some of the most notably franchises around, including Call of Duty, Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo, Pitfall, and Guitar Hero, just to name a few. This is a huge get for Microsoft, and the Xbox in particular.

    The second reason is that these franchises are already big on Microsoft’s platforms, Adding the catalog of games to Microsoft means that even more games to Game Pass could easily entice even more subscribers to use the service.

    Along with the announcement today, Microsoft also announced that they had 25 Million Game Pass, and as John Gruber pointed out, at an average of $12.50 per month, comes out to about $4 billion per year, and that is just the current subscribers.

    Challenges

    Even with the announcement there are some uphill challenges to overcome. These include regulatory pressure and Activision Blizzard culture issues.

    Regulatory Issues

    Today’s political landscape could prove challenging for Microsoft to get approval for the acquisition. That is because governments are looking at every acquisition, particularly in the tech sector, and they could stop the acquisition. One thing that Microsoft does have in its favor is that if the acquisition were to go forward, they would still be smaller than Sony and Tencent. One thing that would be in favor for the acquisition is that it would keep the United States competitive with Japan and China.

    The second, and bigger, challenge is the culture at Activision Blizzard. There have long been indications that Activision Blizzard has had a problem with sexual harassment and discrimination, to the point where the Security and Exchange Commission is investigating.

    In order to help change the culture, Microsoft is making some changes to the leadership amongst the gaming unit. Here is a graphic that they produced showing the changes.

    Microsoft Gaming Leadership Team - January 2022

    What you might notice is that among the leadership there are seven women and five men. This should help change the culture at the Activision Blizzard, at least that is the hope.

    We will see if the acquisition is blocked or allowed to go through or whether it will be blocked. If it is approved, I hope Microsoft cane make some major changes to fix the issues at Activision Blizzard.

    Source: Xbox News, Microsoft News

  • The iPhone Introduction: 15 Years Later

    The iPhone Introduction: 15 Years Later

    “Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything”. When someone states something like the previous quote it is often seen as hyperbole. However, in the case of this exact quote, it was quite prophetic and not hyperbole at all. Although it would take a bit of time for it to catch on.

    This is the opening line to a keynote that introduced a device that would change the way that people use technology. The keynote was for the MacWorld San Francisco that took place 15 years ago today, on January 9th, 2007.

    I have not been lucky enough to attend any of Apple’s keynotes. Instead, I would watch them at home. I distinctly remember feeling that this would be a different one, and indeed it was. As Steve Jobs stated, “Today we are introducing three revolutionary products, A Widescreen iPod, Revolutionary mobile phone, and an internet communicator…Are you getting it, these are not three separate devices. This is one device, and we are calling it iPhone”.

    Apple introduced the iPhone well before it was to be on sale. The iPhone did not go on sale until June 29th, 2007. The rationale for announcing it so early in order to avoid any information being leaked. Jobs even stated as much in the keynote. For years there had been rumors that Apple was building a phone. In fact, Apple started by making a tablet, but they could not get the technology to scale properly, so instead they turned to making a phone.

    Was the iPhone the first Smartphone, no, that would likely go to the Palm or Blackberry. Yet, the iPhone has indisputably been one of the most popular lines of devices ever produced. The introduction of the iPhone sparked the modern cell phone revolution. Many of the paradigms and interaction methods introduced with the iPhone remain to this day, including swiping and pinch to zoom, just to name a couple of examples.

    The iPhone not only changed the way we interact with mobile devices, but it also brought a much more prevalent and larger revolution, the mobile app revolution. Again, the iPhone was not the first to have apps, but it was the device that help usher in a new digital economy. While it is entirely possible to use a mobile device using only the provided applications, it is very very likely that every smartphone user has installed at least one additional app to their phone.

    Skeptics

    At the time of its launch, there were many who did not think as though Apple could pull it off. For instance, Nokia’s Chief Strategist at the time, Anssi Vanjoki stated:

    The development of mobile phones will be similar in PCs. Even with the Mac, Apple has attracted much attention at first, but they have still remained a niche manufacturer. That will be in mobile phones as well.

    Another example is from Palm CEO Ed Colligan, he said

    We’ve learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone. PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.

    The last example is from Research in Motion’s Co-CEO of Blackberry, Jim Balsillie,

    It’s kind of one more entrant into an already very busy space with lots of choice for consumers. But in terms of a sort of a sea-change for BlackBerry, I would think that’s overstating it.

    At the same Macworld event Steve Jobs stated that Apple was hoping to sell 10 million iPhones in all of 2008, which would have been one percent of the overall market at the time. It took Apple just over 74 days to sell their one millionth iPhone. Apple did reach their goal of selling 10 million iPhones in 2008, when they sold 6.9 million iPhones in their 4th fiscal quarter, alone, which was from July to September 2008.

    Personal Journey with iPhone

    As for my own personal journey with the iPhone, that is an easy one. I did not buy an iPhone on launch day. I actually waited until the second day, June 30th. While there was definitely less fanfare that day, it was actually probably better because I was the fourth person in line when I went to get mine. I can clearly recall the delight of being able to use a whole new type of cell phone. My Motorola Razr V3 was still a great phone, but the iPhone was different.

    Since that day, I have only had an iPhone as my preferred mobile device. While I would prefer not to give up my iPad, if I had to choose only one device between the iPhone and the iPad, I would choose the iPhone every time. My iPhone the device I use the most. It is usually not more than a few feet away from me at any point throughout the day. The iPhone has come a long way in the last 15 years. Will the iPhone last forever, no, nothing ever does. But I am sure it still has a long life left in it.

    We now have many things that were not present on the first iPhone. Things like Copy and Paste, Multitasking, and vastly superior cameras and even video recording capabilities. The original iPhone did not even have 3G capability, that would come in 2008 with the release of the iPhone 3G. It is strange to think that the iPhone that begun the entire journey of modern smart phones can no longer be used as a cell phone. Even its four successors, the iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and iPhone 4S will no longer be capable of being used more cellular connectivity as of July 1st, 2022.

    While there are many who prefer to use Android-based phones, they cannot argue that the iPhone is the device that pushed Google to create Android. I do not think that today’s modern technological landscape would be nearly where it is today if it were not for the iPhone. It was, and remains, a truly revolutionary device that has transformed an incalculable number of ways that we do things. It will be interesting to see the next 15 years of the iPhones life will be like. It is possible that the iPhone may be a secondary market and something else may take over.

    Original iPhone as compared to an iPhone 13 Pro Max
    Original iPhone as compared to an iPhone 13 Pro Max

    You can watch the full Macworld keynote on YouTube.

  • My Thoughts on Tabs versus Spaces

    My Thoughts on Tabs versus Spaces

    There are two debates that will never be solved. The first is VIM vs. Emacs and the second is Tabs vs. Spaces. For the VIM vs. Emacs debate, I use VIM, only because it is the first linux-based editor I learned to use and no, I do not need to look up how to quit out of VIM (it is :q by the way, you can use :wq to write to file and quit). Instead, I would like to focus on the other eternal debate, Tabs versus Spaces. Before I delve too far into the topic, let me share some background.

    Day Job

    My job title at work is Developer. It has not always been this, but development is what I have been doing during my tenure there. Primarily, I create custom web applications and reports using PHP, HTML5, and CSS. Over the summer I spent some time re-writing some older code that I written. There are a variety of things to think about when making web apps, like following HTML standards, accessibility, alt on images, and the like. One aspect that is often overlooked is how the source code looks when it is viewed in an editor. Many developers overlook this aspect when it comes to web coding. Yes, the primary concern is really making sure the product works and meets standards, yet future maintainability should also be a concern particular when you need to go back and look at some code that you have not looked at in a while. You likely do not want to spend an inordinate amount of time deciphering your unformatted code.

    Being able to look at the source code and have it look decent is something that I have been doing for a long time. One way that I achieve this is to line up equals signs. Here is an example of what I mean:

    $short1           = "short";
    $longvariablename = "long";

    I could just use a single space or tab after the end of a variable name, but the code generally looks better when everything is lined up. Usually there are a number of variables within a particular function, file, or other scope of code. I would always try to line up the equals signs. This usually allows me to know what I am looking at without having to look all around the code.

    However, while I was reworking the code, I came to the realization that this is somewhat wasteful. Not necessarily because of the extra keystrokes, which is part of it, but because of the amount of space that the file takes up on the drive. There is another aspect that I was thinking about as well.

    Side Thought

    While I was re-writing the code, there was a nagging thought in the back of my mind, the size of current webpages. With the proliferation of JavaScript-laden webpages, as well as ubiquitous tracking in general, the size of webpages have significantly increased over the past decade. Web developers often overlook

    Tabs versus Spaces

    My position is to use tabs whenever possible. The reason I think this is due to the size of the file. Examples are always good, so let me provide one. Say you have a file that is 2 kilobytes in size. It is small, and this file uses tabs throughout where needed. The file size is small, and generally smaller than the size of a cluster on a hard drive or SSD. Now, imagine replacing all of those tabs with four spaces. You have now quadrupled the size of the file from 2 kilobytes to 8 kilobytes. Even with this, the size of the file may still be smaller or just at the size of a single cluster on a disk.

    Now, let us extrapolate that. Say for instance you have a 1 megabyte file that uses tabs and you replace each tab with four spaces. The file size has again quadrupled but now it is four megabytes in size. Even if the file is only called once in a while, it is still a rather large file. Let us extrapolate this further. Imagine the file is called 1000 times per day and at 4MB, that is now 4GB worth of bandwidth used. If you are on an internal network that may not be a concern, but on the internet it can become one.

    Exceptions

    I should clarify, the above example is only meant for interpreted code, not complied code. For the source of compiled code, it may not make a difference. It should also be noted that you could use a strip-whitespace function for some languages, however, depending on the language this may result in the script being misinterpreted.

    I know some language style guides indicate what should be used, where most indicate spaces. If I was going to release something as open source and to be used by a wide variety of individuals I would likely follow the style guide of the language, but for personal projects, I will continue to use tabs.

    Closing Thoughts

    Maybe it is just my thinking, but reducing the overall code size of a project is a good thing, particularly if it is a web-based application. Not only will this save on storage space, but it will also save on the bandwidth consumed by users who are often saddled with a bandwidth cap. While I can understand the need for following a style guide, it is also possible that the time the style guide was written that some considerations were not taken into account. Lastly, do not do what the top image does, that is just wrong and is prone to errors.

  • Apple forces changes for some Parental Control apps

    Apple forces changes for some Parental Control apps

    On Friday, April 27th, 2019, the New York Times posted a story that claims that Apple is crippling competitors to its Screen Time feature, by either forcing changes or removing apps altogether.

    The story provides some information from several developers regarding that their applications have been pulled and that their businesses have been shutdown and/or the apps they have created had to be modified because “Apple began purging apps that offered similar services.”

    According to one developer,

    “They are systematically killing the industry,”

    In response to story, Apple has provided its reasoning for the requesting changes, and if the apps were not updated, removing the apps.

    Part of Apple’s statement says:

    We recently removed several parental control apps from the App Store, and we did it for a simple reason: they put users’ privacy and security at risk. It’s important to understand why and how this happened. Over the last year, we became aware that several of these parental control apps were using a highly invasive technology called Mobile Device Management, or MDM. MDM gives a third party control and access over a device and its most sensitive information including user location, app use, email accounts, camera permissions, and browsing history. We started exploring this use of MDM by non-enterprise developers back in early 2017 and updated our guidelines based on that work in mid-2017.

    As some quick background, Apple unveiled its Screen Time feature on June 4th, 2018 at their World Wide Developer Conference. The feature is part of iOS 12, which was released on September 19th, 2019.

    My Thoughts

    I am sure that some will argue that this is Apple abusing its dominant position. However, I do not think this is the case, given that some of the parental control apps were using Mobile Device Management to provide the significant access. As Apple states, third parties have FULL CONTROL OVER YOUR DEVICES. This cannot be understated. For some of these apps, if you install an MDM certificate and agree, that third-party developer now has access to everything on your device. So when Apple says they are requiring the changes due to privacy and security, I think they are being honest about it.

    There is a line from the New York Times article from a developer whose app was removed. The reason that the developer received was: “Your app uses public A.P.I.s in an unapproved manner, which does not comply with guideline 2.5.1 of the App Store Review Guidelines”.

    Section 2.5.1 of the App Store Review Guidelines states, as of this writing, “Apps should use APIs and frameworks for their intended purposes and indicate that integration in their app description.”. It is the first half of that statement that many developers seem to be reason why they were asked to make changes and/or why their apps were removed from the App Store.

    It is only my guess, but it seems to me that the developer was using MDM to provide additional settings, then they were in violation of the rule. The reason they were in violation is because MDM is only to be used by businesses and schools to control devices that they own and provide to users of their company or students. MDM is not designed to allow developer access to end-user devices.

    Even though these developers were in violation, it does not seem as though Apple made it clear that the developer’s use of MDM was the reason why their app was being removed.

    What Apple Can Do

    There are a few different ways that Apple can change things to make robust apps available in the store.

    Specifically regarding parental control apps, Apple could provide more granular controls both within the Screen Time section, within the Settings app, as well as allowing developers access to configure these settings. However, I can see the significant reluctance for this to occur. Allowing applications access to change when applications are available, could allow a developer to programmatically limit access to apps, possibly without the user’s consent; which would not be a good situation. If there is no interface for developers, it would honestly not surprise me if there are additional settings with the next release of iOS, possibly with more granular control.

    I also do think that Apple could be a bit more explicit when communicating with developers. I understand not wanting to provide exact steps for having applications come into compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines, as there are exceptions to each rule. I also get that indicating exactly how to fix an app might come off as a way of exerting excessive control and explicitly dictating how applications should be created. Even with that, additional information provided to developers can go a long way.

    In this case of the removed apps, something along the lines of “The application’s use of MDM certificates violates the App Store guidelines, because MDM is intended for business or school usage”, or something along those lines could have gone a long way to making it clear as to why the apps were being removed.

    Closing Thoughts

    I think that use of MDM by companies does need to come to light. One of the arguments of the story is that once Apple introduced Screen Time that competing apps were being targeted and removed. However, I do not think this is the case. I take Apple at its word that the reason that they removed the apps was because they were violating user’s privacy and/or abusing the MDM certificates.

    The New York Times story does state that some of the developers were contacted in August of last year, about needing to change their apps. Apple likely began looking into these some of the apps, that utilized MDM certificates, after it came to light that Facebook and Apple were violating the use of MDM certificates by doing the same thing. And if Apple is going to revoke Facebook’s and Google’s MDM certificates, then there is no reason why they would not do the same thing for smaller developers.

  • George Carlin

    Today marks 10 years since legendary comedian George Carlin has died. Even though he has been gone for an entire decade, many of the thoughts and musings that he espoused still remain true and still entirely appropriate. Here are a few of my favorite bits throughout the years.

    Modern Man

    Euphemisms

    Incomplete List of Impolite Words

    Golf Courses

    And as a bonus, his most famous skit:

    Seven Dirty Words

    As a special bonus, this one has some major parallels to today, even though it was recorded 30 years ago.

    The world is worse off place without having him here. I often wonder what he would say about the current state of things in the world. Alas, we shall never know. Thanks for all the great comedy George.

  • Defining an app

    Defining an app

    Everybody has heard, and likely uses, the term “app”. In case you are not aware, app is short for application. A decade ago, prior to the release of the iOS App Store, an app was something that ran on a Mac or PC. With the ability for third-parties to create applications, the term “app” became part of the lexicon.

    With everyone using the term “app”, the question becomes, how do you define an application? Having used technology for the last 25+ years, the term “app”, and all it encompasses and represents, has become instinctive and intuitive. Additionally, it is not often something I think about.

    However, after listening to episode 259 of the Accidental Tech Podcast, I began contemplating the term. What prompted this is something discussed in the episode. Casey Liss said that he created a Mac app. John Siracusa argued that it was not a Mac app, because it was a command-line based.

    This got me to thinking, “How do you define what is an application?”. I generally agree with John, on many things, but in this case I must disagree.

    After some thinking, I think I have a way to define an “app. My definition is: “Any set of compiled, or interpreted, code, along with its supporting assets, that is run on a specific platform.” I think this succinctly sums up what an application is.

    Some people would likely define an app as something that you interact with and has a graphical interface. Yes, a vast majority of today’s operating systems are graphical in nature, and it was a natural progression to make. However, anyone who requires an app to have a graphical user interface is doing a disservice, not only to themselves, but they are also ignoring a significant portion of today’s computing resources. The disservice is not only to non-graphical applications, but also to all non-graphical operating systems. Some of these operating systems range from most Unix systems, to the more mainstream ones like MS-DOS, BeOS, OS/2, and even Apple DOS.

    With this definition, the interaction method does not make a difference. For instance, if you have a Mac app that is a command-line based application, to me, it is still a Mac app, because it runs on the Mac. It may also run on a Linux box but it is still a Mac app. Similarly, if an app runs on iOS it is considered an iOS app.

    It may be seem like a small thing, and the grand scheme it is, but it did get me to thinking. Even though you may initially dismiss any command-line interface, you may also fail to recognize that a significant portion of things that you use on the internet every day runs using the command-line. Just some food for thought.

  • Thoughts on Man in the High Castle

    Thoughts on Man in the High Castle

    One of the upsides to the way that many shows are released these days is that you are able to consume an entire season/series of a show without having to wait for a new episode to be released every week. One of the downsides to this method is that it is as lot easier to not pick up a show after you have consumed it. For me, this has happened with a few shows.

    • Lilyhammer – stopped after season 1
    • Newsroom – stopped after season 2.
    • The Walking Dead – stopped after season 5.
    • Fear the Walking Dead – stopped after season 1.
    • House of Cards – stopped after season 3, episode 10.
    • Game of Thrones – stopped after season 3.
    • Orange is the New Black – stopped after episode 3.
    • House
    • Grey’s Anatomy
    • Lost
    • Sopranos

    Contrast the list above with the list of TV shows that I have seen in their entirety more than once:

    • West Wing
    • M*A*S*H
    • Life
    • Alcatraz
    • Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
    • Planet Earth

    There are likely more shows, but I cannot think of any more at the moment. Given the popularity of the shows above, you would think that I would finish them. However, this has not been the case. So it may be surprising to learn that I have completely finished Season 1 and Season 2 of Amazon’s Man in the High Castle. I have some thoughts and questions about the show.

    NOTE: There will be spoilers. Consider yourself warned.

    The Background

    The series is based on the novel Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick.

    Man in the High Castle is an alternate reality story. One that is based on the United States losing World War II. The country was divided up between Germany in the East, with the “Greater Reich” and Japan in the West with the “Pacific States”. There is a neutral zone that stretches between the two regions. This is where a portion of the story takes place, in particular Canon City.

    No, Seriously, beyond this is spoiler territory. This is your last chance to turn back

    Frank Frink

    The story arc of Frank is an interesting one. In the first episode, he insists on bringing Juliana to the Police Station to turn in the film that Trudy had given her, and that she needs to tell them that she’s a loyal citizen. However, by the end of the second season Frank is right in the thick of the resistance, planning and offering to go cause major destruction to the Pacific States headquarters.

    Trudy

    One of the plots throughout the series is how Juliana is carrying forth what her half-sister Trudy started. Early in the series, Trudy is killed by the Japanese for trying to evade the Kempeitai and for trafficking the films. The last shocker of Season 2 is that Trudy is not actually dead. This bombshell leads to so many questions.

    1. When Juliana’s Mom says that Trudy is not dead, because she can feel that she is not. Was she right?
    2. From the ending of Season 2, it is presume that she is correct that Trudy is not dead.

    3. Did Juliana actually see Trudy in the market?
    4. Again, from the end of the Second Season, it may be that she actually did see Trudy in the market.

    Joe Blake

    One of the primary characters is Joe Blake. Joe is also one of the first characters introduced. The character of Joe Blake is an interesting one. Joe’s allegiances vary throughout the show. At first he is working for Obergruppenführer John Smith. His first assignment was to bring a shipment of coffee makers to the neutral zone, from New York City. During this long haul, Joe get suspicious and begins looking at the truck and realizes that something does not seem right. So, right from the start, Joe questions his loyalty.

    In Episode One, Joe states “I want my country back”, when he getting the job from Mr. Warren, and insists he is not a spy. However, as the series progresses, it turns out that he is indeed working for the Greater Reich. He is a spy for the Greater Reich. It is not entirely clear where his actually allegiances lies.

    A fact that comes in Season 2, is that Joe is actually leibensborn, or part of a German program to create a superior race of germans.

    The Films

    The biggest thread through the series is the films. These films, as one can surmise, show a different world. Some of these films are ones that depict what actually occurred in World War II. Within the Pacific States of America and the Greater Reich, owing a film is considered treasonous and punishable by instant death, as Frank tries to tell Juliana in episode one.

    The entire story behind the films is not fully flushed out. The theory is that the Man in the High Castle is the one manufacturing these films, but very little is know about the Man in the High Castle.

    The Man in the High Castle indicated that all of the films end up with San Francisco being annihilated by a bomb, except for the one that Julianna gave to Joe Blake, that was subsequently given to Adolf Hitler. It can be presumed that this is the most important film of them all since it may show the only way to not have the entire world destroyed.

    Obviously Hitler wants the films destroyed, as is stated in episode one. However, obviously there is a huge cache of them as discovered by Obergruppenfuhrer Smith at the end of Season 2.

    The Trade Minister

    One of the main Japanese characters is Trade Minister Nobusuke Tagomi. One of the ways that the Japanese divine answers to things, and anticipate what will occur, is through a 5,000 year old book, called the “Oracle”.

    You may not understand this. I live by a 5,000 year old book. I ask it questions as if it were alive. It is alive. It tells me you have a purpose. It says superior person in an inferior position, accepting a task graciously brings good fortune to all.

    One aspect to Tagomi’s story is that he goes back to the house that he and his deceased wife owned, or would have owned that part is unclear. When he returns his wife is on her way out, and he finds that she has filed for divorce; or one presumes that. As I do not read Japanese I cannot say for sure.

    At this point, Tagomi’s story takes us into an alternate reality. Tagomi’s alternate history takes place in the timeline where the United States wins the War. During these sequences he sees his son. In this version, his son marries Juliana, and they have a child. It is presumed that in this timeline that there is a strain within his family. He is still on decent speaking terms with his son, and Juliana, but less so with his wife. With this timeline, I am presuming that he is an alcoholic because his son mentions his father’s “benders”. It is presumed that in this alternate timeline, Tagomi is an alcoholic.

    Upon the second viewing, when Tagomi is repairing the broken cup, it symbolizes his attempt to repair his relationship with his family; at least in the alternate timeline. It may seem like a small gesture, but Nori does put it in the baby’s room and allow Tagomi to enter the room and hold his grandchild, so it is a powerful gesture. This, I believe, allows Tagomi to do what comes next.

    In this timeline, Juliana is having a get together at Tagomi’s house where they are creating “Ban the Bomb” signs to protest the Nuclear bomb. During this time, she shows a video of a Hydrogen Bomb test that was conducted on the Pacific Atoll. After showing this film, Tagomi tells his wife: “There is something that I must do.” Her reply, “Safe Journey.” Right after this, Tagomi asks Juliana for the film. The following dialog takes place amongst some Cherry Blossoms.

    Juliana: “Why do you want this?”
    Tagomi: “Proof, that something like this should never happen again.”
    Juliana: “I don’t understand.”
    Tagomi: “You have all made me happy. Happier than nI have been in a very long time. There are somethings that are more important than happiness. I have duties elsewhere tat I can no longer neglect.”
    Juliana: “Are you leaving?”
    Tagomi: “We will see each other again. Of that, I am sure.”
    Juliana: “Ok, don’t go, I’ll be right back.”

    Here is where Juliana begins to leave, she pauses, and when she turns around Tagomi is gone. In the next scene we see Tagomi back at his desk. This is the location where my questions begin.

    1. Was that whole sub-plot just wishful thinking on Tagomi’s part?
    2. We can presume that he thinks of Juliana as a daughter figure, first by providing her a job when she refuses to “perform special tasks” for the general, but through this sub-plot. In particular, when Tagomi tells his son that he is proud to call her his daughter.

    3. Did Tagomi actually travel to the alternative timeline?
    4. It is easy for one to infer that this may be the case, since we see Tagomi back at his desk with the film in hand. Maybe I missed it, but I do not recall him getting this by any other means. At least not that film.

      I have some theories about it all.

    The Smiths

    Of the entire Smith family, the one character that we are exposed to most is Obergruppenführer John Smith. The Smiths are based in New York City. With the Reich taking over the Eastern United States, it appears that John Smith is the most powerful person in the Reich

    The plot with Thomas, which includes Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith, is an intriguing one. In Episode 6 of Season 1, Thomas reveals that he wants to make his country proud, and that there are many places that he would like to go. The statement of wanting to make his country proud. In his eyes, this is exactly what he does at the end of Season 2 in one of the last scenes of the season. In this scene Thomas turns himself into the Greater Reich Hospital because he is a “degenerate” due to his neurological condition.

    It should be no surprise that Smith would take the doctor out of the equation, given that there are only three people who actually know of Thomas’ condition. The doctor, Smith, and his wife Helen. The means of which he kills the doctor was one that some could predict. It does show two different sides to Smith. The first being a father that would do anything for his family. Yet, Smith is willing to do what it takes to protect the Reich, and has no problem using people for his own personal reasons, like Joe Blake.

    In order to save Thomas, or so they think, John decides to make a ruse and had a letter sent to Thomas indicating that he was picked to go on an expedition. At first Helen is reluctant, since she knows about his condition. She confronts John, at work, and John informs Helen of the entire plan. Ultimately, she decides it is for the best and informs Thomas that he will be going to South America.

    Thomas: So you’re letting me go?
    Helen: We’re letting you go.

    This double meaning has so many implications for the Smiths, and Helen in particular. The way that Helen states it, most would pick up on; but Thomas, both being excited, and only a teenager, does not pick up on the subtly and double-meaning of the sentence.

    Even though John Smith is a loyal Senior Officer for the Reich, he disobeys a direct order by acting Chancellor Heusmann and leaves New York to unveil a conspiracy that killed the Crown Prince of Japan a well as Adolf Hitler. Also, he hides all evidence of Thomas’ illness. This includes killing Dr. Adler, as well as confiscating the tapes that implicate that his son has a defect.

    It is clear that when John is at the Reich Headquarter in Berlin, and is being praised within the volkshalle for his heroism in saving the Reich, that he is quite uncomfortable. Short of Himmler, John is probably the second most powerful person in the Reich, after Heusmann and his co-conspirtors are removed. This is likely due to his betrayal with his son and hiding his defect.

    The Bombing

    One of the main plot points is that there is a resistance that is trying to actively work against the Japanese in the Pacific States of America. The bombing happened late in Season 2, and was intended to cause confusion. One question I have is whether Sara and Frank made it out, just like the Inspector Kido managed to. My gut is no, but it would not be surprising if they did, given the unveiling at the end of Season 2. More on this a little later.

    Theories

    This is my theory on the whole story; thus far anyway. It involves the ability for certain individuals; Those who study the 5000 year old book, and follow what it says, have the ability to enter into, and bring items back with them, from the alternate reality. This theory fits quite well with how the Reich was obsessed with the occult. This would also mean that the Man in the High Castle follows what the 5,000 year old book says as well; hence how he is able to bring Trudy back from the dead. This is similar to how Tagomi can bring the film back with him when he leaves the alternate 1962.

    The ability for certain individuals to travel between the timelines is why Hitler wants the films. Given that there are so few individuals who can do this traveling, it is imperative that Hitler gets the films.

    This is reaffirmed when Tagomi is talking to Kotomichi, and realizes that Kotomichi is not of the 1962 that exists within the story, but from the alternate 1962. Kotomichi has burns from the bomb dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

    Furthermore, It is possible that Abendsen is able to travel between the two worlds, at will. This is how he is able to get the films, destroy them whenever he wants, and yet can always end up having more films, even after they are burned.

    The films complicate any rational idea behind the storyline. The best theory that I have is that there are multiple simultaneous timelines. The evidence for this is that how the Trade Minister obtains the film with the bomb testing on the atoll. In particular, since he disappeared when Juliana turned around, after giving him the film.

    This is further evidenced by the fact that the Trade Minister has the visions of his deceased wife as well as his son. We know that his wife is deceased since Juliana brought it up during one of her meetings with Tagomi.

    The idea of being able to bring the films back, may also extend to being able to bring individuals between the two timelines as well. This may be how Abendsen was able to bring show Juliana that Trudy was not in-fact dead. This is how Juliana’s mother felt that Trudy was not dead and why Juliana saw Trudy in the market; because while the “true” 1962 Trudy was indeed dead, the alternate timeline Trudy was brought back.

    Season 3 Plot Ideas

    I do not think that both Frank and Sara are dead, even though they appear to be so. It is possible that one of them was killed in the blast. If I had to put money on it, it would be that Sarah is dead. However, a more unforeseen option would be to have Sara survive and Frank not.

    If Frank is indeed dead, it would not be surprising if Ed and Juliana ended up getting together. This theory is based upon Season 2, Episode 9, where there is the flashback to when Ed first meets Juliana. It is clear that she is flirting, at least to some extent, with Ed while Frank is off getting the glasses.

    I think in Season 3, Juliana will learn that she also has the power to travel between the timelines, or at least the existence of the ability to travel between the timelines.

    Other Thoughts

    • I love the little touches that show the alternate reality, like “Ranger Reich” instead of Ranger Rick. Along this, the signs like “U-Bahn” for Subway, while within the Greater Reich.
    • While Stephen Root (Milton from Office Space) does a really good job as the Man in the High Castle. If he were still alive I think Phillip Seymour Hoffman would have made an even better Man in the High Castle.
    • Given that the year is 1962, the Concorde is still flying and super fast travel is still attainable. Having the capability of fast travel like that would be nice to have, even today, but only if it were financially practical for people.
    • I do like the quasi refrigerator that the Smiths have. I honestly would not mind having one similar myself.
    • Can I have a few of the cars that are shown in the show?

    Final Thoughts

    It is not often that I end up watching an entire series of a show. I have now watched the entire series twice and enjoyed it even more the second time around. You may miss things the first time you watch it, but that is typically how things happen when you watch any sort of media.

    There are a breadth of characters, both primary characters and secondary characters. It is easy to get lost within the story, which is why it is best to really pay attention to everything. It is too bad that Season 3 will not premiere until the end of 2017. It would be nice to have it sooner, but I like the quality thus far.

    If you enjoy alternative-reality stories, then Man in the High Castle would be right up your alley. It may start off slow, but it will be well worth seeing it in the end.

  • Vizio Fined by Federal Trade Commission

    Vizio Fined by Federal Trade Commission

    I normally do not report on technology stories outside of Apple, but the recent story of Vizio being fined by the Federal Trace Commission (FTC) is one that I determined warranted some coverage.

    Backstory

    The FTC has fined Vizio $2.2 Million for their behaviors. The backstory is that in 2014 Vizio began tracking what viewers were watching. This was done by capturing a set of pixels on the screen, sending this information, along with other information, to their servers. Through the use of machine learning, Vizio was able to match those pixels to a vast catalog of shows. This gathering occurred on a second-by-second basis. The information gathered was then aggregated and sold to third-party advertisers. This information that was obtained included demographics, location, and viewing habits. If it was merely a mechanism for gathering what was watched, it may not be considered too bad, but it was more. Despite how bad this was, it was not just TVs that were made after 2014, but that Vizio went back and proactively enabled this on TVs as far back as 2011. The primary complaint was that Vizio did not get a viewer’s consent before performing this action.

    Problems with this

    The biggest issue that I have with this, besides the fact that this was being done without the knowledge of users, is that Vizio has been the only one who has been caught doing this. Does this mean that they are the only company that is performing in this behavior? I highly doubt it. It is very likely that many other manufacturers are also performing this action.

    Bandwidth Usage

    One aspect that is not always readily recognized in today’s technology-laden world is the amount of bandwidth being used. While the information may have been sent in batches, it still uses some bandwidth of every user. Depending on how much the TV was used, this could easily add up. Take this with consideration that many users now fall into data caps and this uses up that bandwidth.

    Mitigations that can be done now

    There are a few ways to not have this occur. The first is disconnect the TV from your network. If the TV is connected via a physical ethernet cable (which is unlikely for most users), you can simply unplug it. However, if it is connected via Wireless, you will need to disconnect it from the Wireless, and if possible, set the TV to completely “forget” the network, so it cannot reconnect on its own.

    The downside to do this though, is that since it is a “Smart TV”, if you use any of the built-in services, like Netflix, you may not be able to use them. This could likely include not being able to watch Netflix in 4K.

    Streaming Boxes

    Another possible solution is to use an external 3rd party box, like Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Amazon Fire TV Stick, or even an Roku, in conjunction with disconnecting the TV from the network. While some of these devices may also be tracking what you watch, it is more likely that it is for their own purposes and not to sell to third-parties. However, you will want to read the agreements before saying anything definitive.

    Long-term Fixes

    There is no simple fix that can be made for this. The fix has to come either through governmental regulation or through industry regulations. The other option, which is not likely, is for people to tell the industry with their dollar. This is likely due to the limited availability for “dumb” TVs on the market. There is a small contingent of people who would be willing to pay a bit more for a TV that did not have any “smart” capabilities. I know I would be one of those people.

    Final Thoughts

    The solution for this problem is not an easy one to determine. It may take some pushback from consumers to demand that privacy regulations be created so that the consumer is in charge of how their information is used. This must come with regulation. The fine of Vizio is designed to let all manufacturers know that they must now get explicit, not implicit, permission from users before gathering the information. The damage, from the existing gathering and selling of information, is already done. Being required to get permissions from users will undoubtedly ultimately hurt the bottom line of the television manufacturers, since fewer users will agree to the collection, thus, they will not be able to sell as much information to advertisers.

    It would behove the government to begin lobbying even larger fines for any company that performs in the same manner as Vizio. If the government is truly intent on curbing this type of abuse, as well as others, making it hurt financially may be an effective way of doing just that.

    Washington Post