We discuss a number of issues in the news, such as a 17-year old Firefox vulnerability, the threat to end-to-end encryption, and whether Apple should offer a VPN. We also answer listening questions about browser fingerprinting – what is it? we explain – and turning off hyper-threading (we explain that too).
It started with six pieces of Lego. Dan Lyons, former Newsweek technology editor, as well as writer on the HBO series Silicon Valley (and former Fake Steve Jobs), meets a Lego “Serious Play” trainer who asked him to make a duck in 30 seconds. He fretted, then worried, wondering if it was all a trick, before finally presenting his duck to her. It turned out that it didn’t matter what he did, that it was all just a game, a way to jump-start conversation. And that left him rattled.
In his book, Lab Rats: How Silicon Valley Made Work Miserable for the Rest of Us, New York Times bestselling author Dan Lyons critiques how this sort of “Serious Play” activity is all the rage in Silicon Valley, as startups and tech companies mess with the heads of their employees. He criticizes how it looks like a “cult of happiness,” which is facilitated through a new way of working.
And if you’re not in Silicon Valley, it’s coming soon to a company near you.
It is time to use antitrust again. We should break up the hi-tech behemoths, or at least require they make their proprietary technology and data publicly available and share their platforms with smaller competitors.
Robert Reich is right; there are companies that have far too much influence, and they need to be broken up. Google and Facebook are dangerous for democracy, and dominate online advertising, and Amazon is dangerous for retail.
Facebook and Google dominate advertising. They’re the first stops for many Americans seeking news. Apple dominates smartphones and laptop computers. Amazon is now the first stop for a third of all American consumers seeking to buy anything.
However, Mr. Reich is wrong; Apple does not dominate smartphones and laptops, at least not in the entire world. They are first in the US, but with around 40%; that’s not anti-trust level domination. Worldwide, however, Apple’s market share is around 12%, and Samsung is in the lead at around 20%. Apple does dominate the high end of the smartphone sector though.
As much as I use Amazon for practicality – I live in a rural area near a town of around 25,000 people, so local shopping opportunities are limited – I do understand that they are killing off retail.
In the second Gilded Age as in the first, giant firms at the center of the American economy are distorting the market and our politics.
We must resurrect antitrust.
It’s worth noting that Tim Cook recently said in an interview that regulation of these firms will be necessary; he knows it is coming, and is planning for it, whereas Facebook and Google are just playing coy and fighting it. Apple will come out well with this approach.
Are we doomed to read distractedly in the digital age? Technology seems to deter slow, immersive reading. Scrolling down a web page with your thumb feels innately less attentive than turning over the pages of a book. Reading on a screen, particularly a phone screen, tires your eyes and makes it harder for you to keep your place. So online writing tends to be more skimmable and list-like than print. At the top of a web article, we are now often told how long it will detain us, forewarned that the words below are a “15-minute read”. The online reader’s put-down is TL;DR. Too long; didn’t read.
The cognitive neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf argued recently that this “new norm” of skim reading is producing “an invisible, game-changing transformation” in how readers process words. The neuronal circuit that underpins the brain’s capacity to read now favours the rapid ingestion of information, rather than skills fostered by deeper reading, like critical analysis and empathy.
We shouldn’t overplay these dangers. All readers skim. Skimming is the skill we acquire as children as we learn to read more sophisticatedly. From about the age of nine, our eyes start to bounce around the page, reading only about a quarter of the words properly, and filling in the gaps by inference. One of the little miracles of silent reading is that we can do it so quickly and yet also subvocalise, semi-hearing the words in our heads. Skimming is all part of that virtuoso human act.
I remember being taught how to skim in grade school, in order to efficiently read a newspaper. Given that American news journalists – at least back then – often used the the inverted pyramid approach, skimming was a good way to get news without having to read to much, and to know when we wanted to read more.
People who complain about skimming are missing the point. When they talk about reading articles on the internet, skimming is a useful strategy. The problem, however, is when that’s all that people read. I don’t think many people skim novels, though sometimes when a book isn’t that good, and I want to get to the end, I do skip some of the slow parts. Skimming non-fiction books is certainly a valid strategy, because you may not want to read every expanse an author presents.
I do agree that slow reading, or deep reading, is very useful, and worth doing when you read a really good book. But skimming isn’t new, and it’s not changing the way we read. Swiping and scrolling probably have more of an effect on attention spans than skimming articles.
It is well known that Instagram only really works on a smartphone. There are apps for iOS and Android, but there isn’t even a tablet version of the app. You can, of course, view Instagram from the desktop or on a tablet, in any browser (check out my photos on Instagram), but you can’t post or manage your photos.
Well, actually, you can, with a bit of trickery. If you use Safari on macOS, you can do anything that you can do in the Instagram app. Here’s how.
Replacing your mobile phone today is like replacing your computer, something you used to do every couple of years and now do every six or seven. You see the functionality is good enough. Now it’s solely about fashion.
The days of cool hardware are done. The focus is on what the hardware, which is good enough, can do. Software reigns. And not only productivity apps software, but music, art, anything that can be accessed/streamed.
This has been obvious for years. I’ve said this ad infinitum, but once the iPod, and then the iPhone, was able to handle all the forms of media that we can access (music, text, photo, and video), and was able to run apps, including demanding games, there was nothing else to do. The only real improvements in phones any more is in the cameras, and most people don’t care about that; the camera in their current phone is good enough.
The future is about software, but even more about services (i.e., software on a server). This is why Apple is investing a lot on that part of the equation. Only those who want to be cool really need the latest smartphone, be it from Apple or Samsung. But this is why the hardware companies and carriers have introduced subscription pricing for phones, along with a new device every 12 months. Because without it, people will realize that they don’t need to pay all that many to refresh their phone.
The tech press has dared to lean away from its core mission of making technology companies more profitable, says tech advocacy house ITIF.
The industry-funded think tank has cooked up an 18-page report [PDF] that laments what it says is a shift in the media from a “positive” attitude in the 1980s and 1990s to one that is more confrontational in the past two decades.
According to the ITIF, as tech news outlets have meandered from their central mission of hyping up technology and splashing around headlines about companies delivering quality products and treating customers fairly, multi-billion-dollar corporations have found the growing levels of criticism quite inconvenient.
“This report finds that there has been a notable decline in the favorable coverage of technology in the US media,” the think tank claims.
Apple went and did it. In one of their most arrogant moves in a long time, they have published Jony Ive’s latest vanity project, a book called Designed by Apple in California. At $300 (or $200 for the mini version), this is in insultingly expensive book. It’s also a bit odd for a company to produce a book containing photos of its products with nothing more; no context, no explanations of, say, why certain design choices were made.
Parallels have been made with the book Iconic, which contains photos of Apple products, but also some context and explanation. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) This book retails for $75, so comparisons are inappropriate.
John Gruber, writing on Daring Fireball, tries to justify the price, comparing it to a “collector’s edition version of The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”” which cost $1,250, or “The James Bond Archives,” which he paid $200 for, and which is now discounted at $70 on the publisher’s website. The Kubrick was a limited edition, and the James Bond book, well, it’s now discounted…
This reminds me of the apologists for the ridiculous pricing of the Apple Watch Edition, comparing it to the prices of real luxury watches (real, as in they’ll work for more than a few years, and don’t have batteries that die and software that will eventually be useless).
These people clearly don’t know much about the premium book market. If the Apple book were a limited edition, then the price would be reasonable, and if it were a signed limited edition, with a small limitation, then it would cost much more (probably $1,000 or so for a signed edition of, say, 1,000 copies, if it were signed by Jony Ive). But it’s not a limited edition, and the paper and ink are not that big a deal. I have a small collection of limited edition books, including some with very small limitations (fewer than 100 signed, numbered copies) and many of them are cheaper than Apple’s book. You’re paying for a number of things when you buy a premium book. If it’s an art book, you’re paying for the production; Apple’s book would probably sell for $75 to $100 based on the way it’s produced. If it’s a limited edition, and especially if there’s an author’s signature, then you’re paying for rarity, and the autograph on the title page.
Sure, there are art books that cost more; Taschen’s beautiful Bob Dylan: A Year and a Day lists for $700. It’s an oversized book (31.2 x 44 cm), and is limited to 1,765 copies. Its price is in line with the market for that type of book. But it’s much bigger than Apple’s book, and is a limited edition.
It’s a shame that Apple didn’t make this a project for charity, rather than just dumping an overpriced book for fanbois. But, hey, it’s a product they have announced that they can actually ship this quarter, and no adapters are needed.
The laminated papers with cursive-writing instructions, taped to every one of the tyke-size school desks with the sweeping attached arms, were sad and beautiful at once, in the special way of obsolete educational technology, like the Apple IIe, or the No. 2 pencil itself. For me, a writer of strong fuddy-duddy credentials, the sad dramatic irony really was too much. You see, cursive isn’t being taught in my daughters’ school anymore, and hasn’t been for at least six years, as long as I’ve had children in the public schools. Who would tell the cursive that it was no longer needed?
I wish I would write cursive. Naturally, in my line of work, I type a lot. I touch type, and can type fairly quickly. (According to TypeIt4Me, 83 wpm.) But I like the tactile nature of handwriting. I always keep a pad on my desk to take notes, and record notes in notebooks. But my handwriting is ugly; even I have trouble re-reading it at times. It’s always been that way; I never really learned cursive, and have always use a sort of printing that, while efficient, isn’t very attractive.
Here on Kirkville, I also cover a wide range of topics. Not every article I write is for everyone. (And I don’t only write about technology, but right now, I’m discussing my articles about Macs, iTune, iPhones, and more.)
I allow comments on this site; something more and more people are terminating. I feel that a good discussion is useful, and commenters often provide useful information, telling me about their experiences, or correcting me when I’m wrong. Most of these comments are polite and helpful; some are angry and hateful, and are a symptom of the problems with comments on major websites. Anonymity allows people to hate very easily.
I rarely delete comments: I do so only when the commenter’s vocabulary is unacceptable, or when comments are simply hating. One thing I notice is that most of the comments I delete are from people who think they are better than me, and better than average users. Who suggest my opinion is stupid, because I don’t know enough about computers. And that they know so much more than me, and let me know, often in great detail.
The most popular article on my site for the past couple of weeks has been How to Sort Songs in the iOS 10 Music App by Title. I’ve gotten more than 100 emails about this issue, showing that it is indeed a widespread issue. It’s not hard to fix, but you need to know where to look. This small change in iOS 10 has confused lots of users. Mostly “average users.” Not the computer geniuses who comment on articles saying how stupid it is to complain about a feature that confuses “noobs” but not them.
I try to help all users. If an article I write is too simple for you, there’s no need to send in a hateful comment; just close your window, move on, and go read Reddit or something. And if you don’t like my opinions, then don’t read my articles. But at a minimum try to recall what it was like when you got your first computer, when you needed help to understand how to do some of the most basic tasks. Because there are lots of people in the world who aren’t as smart as you. Remember that we technology journalists don’t always write for the tech-savvy users, but write for everyone.