Odd Speed You Crazy Genius

Watching news of the passing of technology titan and creative genius, Steve Jobs, surge through my RSS feeds last night was awe-inspiring. I can’t recall any other event in the space of technology news that triggered anything of the same sort of scale, in time and space. Still I debated whether I would try to pull together some thoughts on this sad occasion.

If you read my blog or listen to my podcast, my recent feelings about Apple the company are no mystery. Ruminating on Steve Jobs as a person brings home a thought I’ve been having with increasing regularity: a company is not the same as the people who constitute it and vice-versa. My thoughts and feelings towards many technology companies are growing increasingly complicated and ambivalent because of the complexity that arises when trying to bear this in mind.

As much as I am critical of Apple’s increasing trend towards centralized control, it would be very self-serving and unfair to not also acknowledge the positive impacts that they and their twice triumphant leader have had on my life.

My first reals use of Apple’s hardware and software was relatively recent compared to many other computer geeks my age. It punctuated two periods of using Linux on all my computers, everyday. The most recent one I documented on the podcast and it continues to the present (and hopefully on into the future.)

I haven’t hidden that multi-year dalliance with the bright and shiny from Cupertino. The last vestiges remain in the form of the Mac Pro tower (now running Linux) that powers my home office/lab/studio and the hand-me-down computers the rest of my family uses.

When I bought my first Mac, a 12-inch G4 PowerBook that I still recall fondly, I was deep in the throes of a bout of geek fatigue. This is yet another experience about which I’ve spoken very frankly on my podcast (as well as the eventual recovery and switch back to using Linux exclusively.) The short succession of laptops, desktops and personal media players I owned and used from Apple represent a re-kindling of the joy that originally got me hooked on computer technology. I very clearly need that spark that Jobs was so good at crafting at that point in my life.

That theme, the inspired playfulness that still inhabits a lot of Apple’s products, resonates throughout many of the remembrances of Steve Jobs and the impact he has had on my peers in the world of technology. Even though I have moved on from buying Apple products and have many questions, I think deserved, about the company’s policies I will always owe Jobs a debt of gratitude both at a personal scale and for his amazing contribution to the space where I’ve been lucky to craft a career from my personal enthusiasms.

Apple Patents Potential in the World DRM

If you are among a certain set, those who have truly grokked how brain damaged DRM is, you’ve no doubt joked about how proponents of restricting digital technologies would love to extend that reach into the environment, beyond just the access and playback of digital files. That idea has taken a massive and disturbing step closer to reality.

On June 2, 2011, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that revealed various concepts behind a newly advanced next generation camera system that could employ infrared technology. On one side, the new system would go a long way in assisting the music and movie industries by automatically disabling camera functions when trying to photograph or film a movie or concert. On the other hand, the new system could turn your iOS device into a kind of automated tour guide for museums or cityscapes as well as eventually being an auto retail clerk providing customers with price, availability and product information. The technology behind Apple’s patent application holds a lot of potential.

Cory over at BoingBoing linked to some of the coverage of this Patently Apple scoop around this patent application that emphasized the negative application. I think that emphasis is warranted, given that the positive scenario of providing context or location aware capabilities is already well doable with existing, deployed technologies like GPS, Bluetooth, AR, and most recently NFC. It hardly seems like we need an IR based technology for that end, leaving the more chilling implication of allowing venue owners and rights holders to reach into and affect the operation of your device, against your wishes.

Apple working on a Sophisticated Infrared System for iOS Cameras, Patently Apple (via BoingBoing)

Even More Arbitrary Rules for the New Mac Store

Of course I am going to be drawn to a Lifehacker article exploring reasons why the new Mac store is going to suck (to be fair posted as half of a pair of articles, the other exploring the store’s virtues). I’ve made no secret of my wrath at Apple’s authoritarian control of their mobile platform. Mostly this arises from my frustration with the fact that there is no good reason for it to be this way. Given that you could describe the Mac App Store as a fancy package manager, the extra rules and constraints chafe all the more.

I will admit to being curious at the source of Whitson Gordon’s list in this article. Some of the items I’ve read elsewhere, like the inability to offer seamless paid upgrades, but some are complete surprises. I find it a little hard to credit that Apple is seriously going to forbid desktop applications from starting themselves when a user logs in, run components in the background, or forbid asking for escalated privileges. If true, these limitations really would turn the Mac into more of an appliance than a computer.

Mostly what I have to wonder is how the presence of the store is going to affect the environment of a typical Mac over time. The biggest reason not to get to incensed at Apple is that (for now) OS X doesn’t in any way prevent the more traditional ways of installing software. In fact, Anil Dash offered some food for thought on taking advantage of that fact to provide a competing app store with more sane policies. (My thoughts on the matter are here.)

The comparison of an app store to a Linux package manager is not far off the mark and it is easy to understand the appeal of bring some version of this concept to normal users (for values of normal excluding hackers, tinkers, early adopters, et. al.). A straw poll of comparable Linux users is likely to reveal that for distributions with robust package managers, hand compiled or manually installed software is a fraction of the total software on a system swiftly approaching zero. Why would a tool from Apple for installing and keeping software from all comers up to date be any different? That’s what drives my prediction of Macs becoming little better than beefier iPads with bundled physical keyboards.

Why the Mac App Store Sucks, Lifehacker

Quick Security Alerts for the Week Ending 10/24/2010

Apple Deprecates Their JVM

Back when OS X launched, Apple made a big fuss over handling their own port of the Java programming language and runtime to their freshly minted OS. Despite grandiose claims about making Java a first class citizen for developing applications for the Mac, the reality unfolded otherwise. The Java Virtual Machine, or JVM, has consistently lagged behind the official versions for Linux and Windows and for a server developer, such as myself, has always utterly lacked key elements of the runtime useful to long running services.

Slashdot, among others, is reporting that a just released patch from Apple for their port of the JVM also contains a curious note, that the JVM is now “deprecated”. It isn’t entirely clear what this means though the implication, especially from instructions in the release note on setting up alternate JVM’s, is that in the near future, the JVM from Apple will simply go away.

The submitter of the story at Slashdot seems to think Oracle, which acquired the rights to Java when it purchased Sun recently, will step into the gap. I wouldn’t be too sure about that. It might be possible for those Java developers who have cozened up to Apple to make use of the OpenJDK port for BSD. Now might be an excellent time to look into that.

Apple Deprecates Their JVM, Slashdot

Concerns Over, and Details of, Mac App Store

I spotted this Download Squad story on Hacker News. It was prompted by a tweet from Mike Beltzner, the director of the Firefox project at Mozilla. There is a link in it, now being shared more widely, to a copy of the text of the developer agreement for the new app store. The problem Beltzner highlights is the set of unrealistic expectations encoded in the agreement–that betas will be disallowed along with any software that has bugs.

The Register has a longer piece, expanding on Beltzner’s criticisms of the move by Apple. I am not entirely sure I agree with his further contention that Jobs is moving to bypass the web. After all, we are only talking about “apps” (see below for how Apple is trying to make that term more than just a lazy abbreviation for application software). I will concede that it does feel like the Mac is getting a little claustrophobic between iTunes as the all encompassing media environment and now this for software. I am wary of Apple’s long term schemes but have confidence in the attractive power of the open web, especially as it much more readily invites the sort of disruptive innovation that is the bane of all attempts at walled gardens.

Sarah Perez at ReadWriteWeb has extracted some of the more interesting conditions in the agreement that legitimately bolster Beltzner’s cause for concern. Basically, just about everything we’ve come to expect of the store for Apple’s mobile platform will carry over into the one for their desktop platform. Well, everything except the fact that the Mac app store will not preclude other means of distributing software for Macs. Of course the Apple managed store will represent a distinctly non-level playing field. They are undoubtedly betting that even with the possibility of installing applications as folks do today, most will flock to the new store out of sheer convenience. All the more reason to look at Anil Dash’s ruminations on open alternatives about which I posted yesterday.

One other point to consider, if true, is that apparently the “apps” in this store will be distinct from actual applications. I didn’t bother viewing the live stream of the Apple event (because you have to use their proprietary codec to do so). What I can parse out of the various live blogs is that an “app” will work much like the programs on a smart phone: intentionally single tasking and unconditionally full screen. Even if I thought that particular interpretation of an application were a worthwhile notion, which I don’t, I am certain there are applications that will suffer considerably in terms of usability and utility if shoe horned into this model. I suspect that fact more than anything will continue to pressure Apple, preventing them from closing down software distribution on the Mac exclusively to the very thin straw that is this app store.

Updated: A reader, Alex, did watch the live stream and while the full screen mode was presented in a confusion fashion, it does seem to be separate from the app store.  Thanks for the clarification.

Director of Firefox fires opening salvo at Apple’s tyrannical Mac App Store, Download Squad

feeds | grep links > iPhone Apps Leak Personal Data Too, Monitoring Employees Online, Why Comcast Can Read Your Email, and More

  • Many top iPhone apps collect unique device ID
    I wondered about the reality of data leakage on the iPhone after last week’s story about a studio of Android apps that were snarfing up location data and other tidbits. Slashdot links to some research that answers that question, not surprisingly demonstrating that both mobile platforms suffer from these issues.
  • Monitoring employees’ online behavior
    Bruce Schneier links to a piece that I believe made the rounds late last week. It didn’t really catch my eye until you pulled out the two most interesting points. The first is the sort of social data mining being discussed isn’t just for workplace behavior but encroaches into the personal life of employees. The second is the usual fear based rhetoric being used to whip employers into a lather so they’ll more likely buy this load of nonsense instead of trusting and respecting the privacy of their workers.
  • Why Comcast can, but probably won’t, read your email
    Nate Anderson at Ars Technica draws attention to a clause in the cable operators Ts&Cs that shouldn’t be surprising at this point. He goes on, though, to ask them why they need the broad right to monitor customer communications. The answer should resonate with concern over the recent news of a renewed push by US law enforcers to gain broad, new info gathering powers over the net. If you think Comcast is covering its rear, now, imagine how much worse this could get.
  • Free Software Foundation turns 25, Slashdot
  • Malcom Gladwell critical of potential for social media to effect change
    Sara Perez was one of a few folks who linked to a piece by the author at the New Yorker. I cannot say I entirely disagree with Gladwell but I think the tools are immaterial. No new capability is going to spark motivation to act in and of itself or more critically fuel the determination to overcome challenges. That being said, I think he definitely underestimates how social networks and messaging can aid devoted change agents and possibly awake those who don’t realize they have a calling to act.
  • Technology cases on the Supreme Court docket, Wired
  • DC voting systems pwned by UMich researchers, Wired

Quick Security Alerts for the Week Ending 9/26/2010

feeds | grep links > Newton on an iPad, More Softening of Apple Policies, PostgrSQL 9.0 Released, and More

  • Newton on an iPad
    Ht @stephenjayl. The link, which I also saw on Hacker News, is to a write up on the latest fun with a pre-existing project, Einstein, that runs Newton OS on modern hardware via emulation. Earlier this month, the code was ported to iOS and the poster has embedded a video of it running on his iPad. I only ever had one on loan and enjoyed using it. My enjoyment of nostalgic computing and specifically the MessagePad overrides my current irritation with Apple enough that if I had a compatible device, I might try running this.
  • Google Voice app approved in Apple’s app store
    As Slashdot explains, it isn’t the first app that was infamously approved, rejected, and then removed from the store. However, Google Voice Mobile is apparently in the process of being re-submitted and re-considered. As with the changes in Apple’s developer agreement, this signals a softening of policies, most likely because of complaints resulting in FTC scrutiny.
  • Modders bring emulation, homebrew games to PS3, Slashdot
  • Swedish Pirate Party fails to retain seat in parliament, The Register
  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein source code released, Slashdot
  • iPhone app piracy tool, source code up for sale, ReadWriteWeb
  • PostgreSQL 9.0 released
    The H has the new features in this release that has been backing for a while. One of the most interesting is replication. It answers my questions, as a long time user of the database server, on how the feature works. It is targeted at hot standby, easing the replication of the write ahead log, so it is distinct from the kind of replication performed by newer, post-relational databases.
  • Europe proposes international internet treaty, Slashdot

Quick Security Alerts for the Week Ending 9/19/2010