Virtual Cable, Anyone?

Apple Computer’s hopes of providing bundled cable channels to Apple TV or iPhones could be a significant addition to choices of watching cable channels at lower cost.  Watch the following HBO video talking about making HBO available outside of cable subscriptions.

 

It has been known for several months that HBO has been considering making its channel available outside of cable TV subscriptions despite protest from cable companies who have relied on HBO as one the incentives for acquiring cable service. For Apple TV users like myself this change will be very appealing. Right now I have a standard promotional cable subscription with Xfinity without HD service. I am able to watch HBO in HD on Apple TV through the Apple TV widget called HBO Go which is also a phone app that I can use on my iPhone. Right now I have to confirm that I have existing cable service that includes HBO. That is about to change.

Apple hopes to bundle HBO and a set of other premium cable channels in a package that would run between $30-$40 a month. No cable subscription would be necessary any more to watch these channels on Apple TV or your iPhone.

Apple TV has been seen as rather limited in what it provides. The addition of this package would seem to make Apple TV much more appealing.

Will The Apple Watch Suffer The Fate of Google Glasses?

Apple Computer is about to release the anxiously-awaited Apple Watch on April 24th. That’s right – the Apple Watch.  They did not name it the iWatch. Here is the TV advertisement for it.

Will this new Apple product fail like Google Glasses did or even quicker given how long Google gave the glasses to succeed?  You can check out more about it on the Apple web site.  Here are some of the things being emphasized.

The first is personalization. The watch comes with different cases, bands and faces.  At the low end is the aluminum case model with sports bands at $349.  At the high end are the 18 carat rose or yellow gold case versions at $10,000.  Personalization is achieved through choice of different bands and watch faces.  I don’t think the gold watch is for me! Now the following steel case one is probably what I would pick!

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Next is the hype about keeping exact time.  To quote the web site, “In conjunction with your iPhone, it keeps time within 50 milliseconds of the definitive global time standard.” Now that is amusing to me since I use my IPhone as a watch and this somehow implies the watch is in some way dependent on my iPhone to have the precise time.

Next on the list are the so-called “new ways to communicate.”  It seems you can send something like a Facebook poke called a “tap”, make a sketch and send it, or send the sound of your heart beat while a heart pulses as part of the message.  I have visions of Starbucks coffee houses being forever transformed by these new ways to flirt.

heartNext come the fitness monitors that record your amount of movement, standing, and exercise.  Believe me I could sure benefit from that since my sedentary life style is taking a toll  but I’m not sure that seeing the graphs will do it.

Finally, there are a number of new apps that are expected including one that would allow you to do one-click ordering on Amazon.  That’s dangerous for me because I buy so much stuff on Amazon as it is.

But hey, I’m a 67 year old man!  What do you think?  Would you buy it?  Will enough people buy it to make it a success?

 

Ultimate Malware

A number of years ago, the anti-virus companies were approached by the U.S. government with a request for their software not to detect American espionage viruses. This created an interesting dilemma for these companies. The need for spying may be a genuine need for national security. On the other hand, if people learn their anti-virus software does not reveal all viruses, the credibility of the anti-virus software is undermined.

Malware is a term which has recently come to cover almost any form of software which invades user privacy or in some way degrades the functionality of a computer. Regin may very well be the most sophisticated piece of clandestinely placed spyware as yet written. Its ability to hide on a computer and the fact that Symantec, the company that has detected it is not yet certain about all the things it does, speaks to its sophistication.

With Russia and Saudi Arabia as the countries with the greatest Regin infection, there are some likely candidates for where it comes from. Two years ago, in a freshman seminar I was teaching, the infamous Stuxnet worm, which seemed to target Iranian computers, was still unknown as to source. I told my students I was certain it was American in origin. We have since learned it was a joint American/Israeli invention. Once again, the most likely author of this brilliant spyware is the United States. I suppose we will hear from Eric Snowden about it one of these days.

So what do I think about Regin? Well unless it starts causing me identity theft, I’m actually glad that we have a much-needed ear to the wall to give us much needed national intelligence. My only advice for our government is, try not to get caught!

Will the FCC Ruin the Internet?

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This week the issue of Internet fast lanes reared its ugly head again with discussion by the FCC of allowing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast and Verizon to charge Internet based services like NetFlix, YouTube and Hulu a fee that would allow them broader bandwidth to the consumer connected on the ISP. ISPs claim that movie content services place a heavy bandwidth load on their services and that they should receive compensation for that heavy load. You can check it out on cnn.com.

Under the banner of a free Internet, the opponents claim it will stifle innovation on the Internet and make it hard for start up companies that place a heavy bandwidth load on the Internet with their content to be able to pay the new fees.

Ironically, the biggest load on the Internet itself at present is unwanted spam email. Thanks to email filters, most of us are now shielded from this unwelcome content but it does slow down the movement of traffic across the Internet. Digital content flowing across the Internet does not match the spam load. The issue being discussed her focuses not on the load on the Internet but rather the service provided who connects the user to the Internet.

If Netflix is made to pay these fees, you can bet that they will pass the cost onto customers. The company will likely shift to two different service options: DVD only vs. DVD and live streaming. Hulu would have no choice but to raise fees. If forced to pay the fee, I suspect that Facebook will just remove videos from their page content. The biggest problem, however, is for free services like YouTube which survives on its advertising sales.

We could also expect greater differentiation than we currently see in the fees charged by ISPs. Already some small ISPs in the U.S. charge customers for how much bandwidth they want and there are some very cheap low bandwidth ISPs that are awful for watching online movies. We can expect that even broadband services will begin to charge higher premiums to those of us who use lots of bandwidth. Curiously enough, Australian ISPS do not charge for different levels of bandwidth but limit how much content can been received per month without additional charges.

Much of what is happening seems to be a result of pressure from the big ISP’s (Comcast/Xfinity and Verizon). This debate is not being driven by consumers complaining about the quality of their service. The question the FCC really needs to ponder is what is in the best interest of American and, for that matter, world Internet users. While the FCC once saw one of its role as protecting the interests of broadcast stations, the role of protector of ISP’s disturbs me as a further manifestation of how big business influences our government.

A New Direction for eBooks

Amazon announced a new option to read eBooks today. Now for $10 a month you can have access to over 600,000 eBooks as well as audio books from Audible. It’s a bit like paying a library fee and not a totally new concept for Amazon, given the availability of some textbooks books for online rental.

If you think about it, it’s a logical extension of the expansion of cloud-based media subscription services like those for music and movies, as well as, although it is not quite so obvious, software subscription services like those being used now for Adobe products like Photoshop and Microsoft’s Office. I underscore the notion of cloud-based here, since these services can be made available across a range of devices (desktop computer, laptop, smartphone, tablet) the subscriber owns and the service is cross-platform (Windows, Mac OS and in some cases Unix). Storage space on devices can now be more efficiently used with content no longer stored. I wonder at times if we understand we realize that we no longer own a copy of the book, CD, MP3 or movie. Not that we cannot still actually buy books, CDS, MP3’s and DVDs, but we are gradually being weaned from doing so.

For heavy readers like myself, Kindle books are a blessing. I simply own too many books in paper form and the challenge to finding shelf space for them is overwhelming. Some have been relegated to tall stacks on the floor in a corner somewhere. I no longer need search to find one of my books. It’s there on my iPad and searchable.

But what will be the unexpected consequences of the continuing shift to cloud-based subscription services on the economy of media production? Still to be solved or exploited is how we share what we are reading with each other. Book publishers will have much to negotiate, particularly since some authors may want to see them removed from the chain from author to deliver to readers.

Designing Web Sites – The Rise of Development Frameworks

150px-Ruby_on_Rails.svgIn the beginnings of the Internet, all web pages were hand-coded and sites were small and simple. Gradually, WYSIWYG programs were developed like Microsoft’s Frontpage and Macromedia’s Dreamweaver which which was bought by Adobe after years of unsuccessfully trying to produce a competitor. Web design now, however, has become more complex and truly professional looking sites with dynamic and interactive abilities require graphic design skills, page layout coding skills and and programming skills.  As a result we have seen the rise of so-called “development frameworks.”  One such framework is Ruby on the Rails, an open-source system based on the Ruby programming language which requires knowledge of HTML and CSS as well as the Ruby programming language to use and an understanding of many of the aspects of web application architecture.  Many commercial systems have also been constructed, some with the additional designation “responsive” development framework to indicate that the framework is meant to make it easier to create applications that adjust to the broad range of devices people now use to connect to the Internet.  A distinction is also made between front-end and back-end systems with front end systems really only changing the cosmetic outer appearance of an application which can only be minimally modified in what it does and how it runs.  In some sense the simple drag and drop web design tools like Weebly can be seen as being very limited front end development environments as are the packages that have been developed to run with with a WordPress blog as the back end.  However, front-end development frameworks are limiting and in many cases are obviously shortcuits used by people with little web design skill, even if they attempt to pass themselves off differently. More complete frameworks like Gumby have more potential. However, people with little understanding of HTML, CSS, databases and computer programming are llikely to find it difficult to troubleshoot problems and those lacking even basic PhotoShop skills are likely to choose the highly-overused graphics that these frameworks provide. My recommendation – get a professional who can use a powerful development framework like Ruby On The Rails.

Keeping Your iPhone Safe

This video alerts us to some very disturbing things.  The first is the need to make the phone password harder to crack then the simple set of four numbers. (My iPhone is set with no password, by the way, which is probably not good but I no longer have to deal with an insane person who needed to daily search my phone).  The add tracking and location tracking discussed here are to be taken seriously and few of us would normally think about these.

In the world of Big Data we become a source of data to be constantly tracked and recorded to conveniently serve the interests of advertisers and marketers.  While Google and Facebook CEO’s cry foul at the surveillance of the public by the NSA, they hide their own hypocrisy in building this huge database with all sorts of applications to exploit it.  As consumers we are told all this is to better serve us (give us better customized search results, alert us to products that might be of interest to us based on what we have just bought or a subject we have discussed in our email or a Facebook post or a web page we have just visited).  The system opens us to be easily watched by government and preyed on by criminals and the mentally imbalanced.

What is surprising in this video is the extent to which this is also aided by the mobile devices and operating systems they use.  You think this only happens in the Mac Os on Apple mobile devices and sigh with relief that you are on an Android mobile device? Think again!  Your Android device is powered by Google, the biggest spying organzation that ever was.

 

 

And Now Extortion Malware!

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It’s been reported that a new major computer threat now exists in the form of viruses that try to extort you.  We are seeing programs that lock your files so you can access them and the make you pay to receive a key to unlock them.  Two of these sites were shutdown by the FBI in May but people who have the virus are still infected. With the sites gone there is no way to obtain the key and removing the virus does not unlock the files.

We are likely to see new Internet extortion schemes in which images are stolen from computers with a threat of posting them unless money is paid.  The latest round seems to have come from Russia.

It is important that people upgrade their virus definitions and run frequent scans as well as being cautious when installing free software.  It is probably a good idea to backup files to the cloud or an external device as well to have a means of recovering from file lock down extortion.

New and Exciting Way to Be Hacked

If you have ever had the experience of having your computer broken into or one of your online accounts hacked, you understand not only the inconvenience but the stress people feel.

There are several ways it can happen.  The worst case is when someone installs a keystroke logger on your computer like this one either by physically getting onto your computer or tricking you online to install the program.  Sometimes it happens because you get a virus or other malware on your computer as a result of opening an email attachment.  Without anti-virus software running with constantly updated virus databases, you have little protection.

Sometimes it happens because you were dumb enough to use a common word as your password and someone uses a password cracker that looks up dictionary words and tries over and over as fast as it can.  One such program is produced by ElComSoft in Moscow.  Many of these programs were ostensibly designed for use by people who owned a computer and had forgotten their passwords.  This has allowed the programs to be sold legally.

Sometimes it happens because people fail to do the security updates to their operating system or other programs they have installed on the Internet. This happened to me about two years ago when I had an old WordPress blog installed and had not been doing security updates. The hackers were able to get into my web hosting through the security whole in my blog.

The most recent concern is over public wifi systems that are free and unencrypted which are becoming common in airports, coffee shops, shopping malls and restaurants. People who use their email or other Internet accounts using this public wifi on their smartphone, table or laptop are being shocked to find their accounts have been hacked. Tools like the Android Wifi Spy are being used to do just this.  Sold under the lame excuse of wanting to know if you neighbors are illegally using your home wifi system, the app is popular as way for a hacker sitting at Starbucks to get your email password and other private information.

I Recognize That Face

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Probably one of the most disturbing pieces of new technology, which is being held back because it is known that it upsets much of the public, is face recognition.  You know all those picture of yourself you have put up on Facebook and all those profile pictures you have uploaded to other sites?  Well, you have nicely provided Facebook and Google with wonderful databases on which to develop face matching programs. Even if you delete the pictures, they are still in the databases.  Google Glasses have an app that recognizes human faces.  Google won’t dare release it to the general public. Facebook is capable of automatically tagging almost all the people in Facebook photos with the names of the Facebook members.

I’m quite split on my feelings about this technology.  I’m not young any more and there are cases where people who know me approach me and I am embarrassed that I do not immediately recognize them.  Imagine wearing a pair of Google Glasses that would quickly analyze this person’s face and not only give you their name but a quick bio!

But the potential to scam and con people is certainly present.  Imagine being approached by someone who tells you they have not seen you for a long time and proceeds to demonstrate they know who you are.  They then follow with something like – “hey I wouldn’t ask this of a stranger but could you help me out of a jam by loaning me $20?”

Other people seem to freak out over the use of this technology by governments to identify people in surveillance photographs.  That somehow does not bother me living in the US, but it might if I lived under a totalitarian regime.  On the hand, a guy sitting in a shopping mall using his Google Glasses to identify every young woman who walks by and retrieve information on her does.