Image

with some fava beans and a fine chianti

Prometheus, the Titan, was a big fan of mankind. He liked us hairless apes so much that he stole fire from the gods and gave it to men. That selfless act was his undoing – Prometheus angered Zeus who, as punishment, chained him to a rock on the Caucasus where an eagle would feast on his ever regenerating liver daily. Technically, he’s still there, pondering the unintended consequences of his act (let’s not even go into the whole Pandora thing, which was also his fault).

Edward, the IT guy, was also a big fan of mankind. He liked us hairless apes so much that he quit his cushy $200K a year NSA job in Hawaii and stole a bunch of shitty looking powerpoint presentations about how Obama is reading your email. This selfless act was his undoing. He angered a bunch of people in the U.S. government, who are trying to get him in extradited back to America so he can face the music.

But here’s the thing – the U.S. government may be powerful, but it’s no Zeus. Snowden has managed to evade capture so far, avoiding the wrath of the American olympus. Here’s how he’s done it: cunning like a fox, our modern Prometheus spent the past two weeks holed up in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, waiting for offers of political asylum, which have just materialized – from Venezuela and Bolivia.

Something tells this correspondent that old, classic Prometheus, given the choice of having his liver eaten by an eagle ad aeternum versus spending a couple of weeks in a Russian airport and the next two decades in Caracas,  wouldn’t have hesitated: chain me to the rock and call the bird.

Our new Prometheus probably sees the latter option as a crowning achievement. There’s no glory in martyrdom these days.

Image

Of course we take it for granted.

It was the final days of World War II. Victory in Europe was achieved, but war still raged in the Pacific. Vannevar Bush looked back at the frantic scientific activity during wartime and tried to make sense of what should be the next frontier in managing and distributing knowledge.

The philosopher Ted Nelson read Bush’s writings and had utopian dreams of Xanadu, an endless information space. A fabric woven with a new thread he called hypermedia.

The engineer Douglas Engelbart also read Bush’s writings (while serving the Navy in the Philippines as a radar technician) and thought of tools that would augment the human intellect. And he created things like the computer mouse and what’s considered the precursor to the the graphical user interface. He also showed how collaboration and communication over computer networks could work and blew everybody’s mind.

Douglas Engelbart, a member of the holy trinity of the web together with Bush and Nelson, died this Tuesday, July 2nd, at 88 years of age.

Today, when our brightest engineering minds are solving the critical challenge of serving more relevant ads by amassing and crunching ridiculous amounts of personal data, let’s think back on a time when we thought, honestly, without a trace of irony, that technology could “augment the human intellect”.

R.I.P. Douglas Engelbart. They don’t make them like that anymore.

Update: The Hut Where the Internet Began - this article (at The Atlantic, where else) tells the story about how Vannevar Bush’s article made its way from the pages the magazine all the way to a hut in the Philippines.

Since this correspondent moved to Brooklyn and entered (some would say re-entered) the wonderful world of client services, he can’t really find time to blog anymore (well, you can blame that and some prudent self-censorship). However, deep within the cottony crevices of the cloud lies a file with a list of half-baked post ideas. Since they are now somewhat cold and there’s very little chance of any of these ideas actually becoming robust blog posts at some point, it seems fair that they’re dumped here as a testament to the things that occupy the minds at Uniform Zulu Zero Zero, Inc.

  • Twitter has just been hacked. My account was among the 250,000 that were compromised. This is probably a good time to revisit an old post. That’s a house favorite – you should read it.
  • While we’re in the subject of Twitter, they launched something called Vine. No need to explain what it is, just take a look at the Vine posts on Adam Goldberg’s feed.
  • And while we’re in the subject of hacking, you probably heard about Andrew Auernheimer’s (aka Weev) conviction for hacking an AT&T website last year. If you never heard of Weev, you should read his profile on Gawker, written by internet superhero Adrian Chen.
  • But here’s the twist that’s so attractive about this story. On the same day Weev was receiving his sentence for exposing the personal data of iPad users, Apple SVP Eddy Cue was being fired by Apple because of the whole Maps debacle. These stories share interesting parallels – Apple, accountability, blame, and a moment of reckoning.
  • Blackberry launched a BB10 device last week to mixed reviews (mostly positive). Someone made the mistake to ask this correspondent for his opinion. Here’s the result.
  • And here’s a saddest thing about the Blackberry Z10 – it’s yet another rectangular glass slab. One of the most irritating legacies of Apple’s dominance over the smartphone market is upon us – nobody dares to innovate in form factors anymore. Kids, please vacate my lawn, but while you’re at it, do you remember when we used to have flip phones, candybars, slides, qwerty keyboards and even round phones? The need for different form factors is openly ridicularized now.
  • Two articles that came out on the same day last year: The New York Times profiled Mark Penn, a “brawler”, a political operator who was hired by Microsoft to put a squeeze on Google. On the same day Google announced it was dropping the support for Microsoft’s ActiveSync protocol in GMail, basically locking Windows Phone users out of the service. I wonder if the brawler is still brawling.
  • At the UZ00 headquarters we’re big, huge, elephantine fans of Sir David Tang and his column “Agony Uncle”, published on the Financial Times weekend edition. Answering a question from a reader last October, he wrote: “To sacrifice your proper gear and dress down in an attempt to look trendy is reverse ostentation, which is worse than ostentation itself”. Mark Zuckerberg’s hoodie immediately came to mind. As did Jack Dorsey’s Prada suit. They probably cancel each other out.

Ah, feels good to write here. Take care, enjoy your weekend and follow me on Twitter.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Monday, 27 February 2012

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Update: Monday, 14 January 2013

That explains it.

The story so far: back in June, Apple announced iOS 6, in an event that seemed tailored to send Google a message. iOS 6 would provide tighter integration with Facebook, further burying Google+. It would also give Siri additional powers, paving the way for it to become Apple’s own search engine. And, of course, the pièce de résistance: Apple Maps, that would replace Google Maps as the default mapping solution in iOS, would come packed with goodies like turn-by-turn navigation, Siri integration and some other thingamajigs that probably do very little to improve the actual location and navigation experience (*COUGH* 3D Maps).

After a summer of high expectations, iOS 6 is finally available for mere mortals. And the news are not good – Apple Maps experience is subpar. Entire areas that were neatly mapped in Google Maps now show up blank. The map metadata is weak, with hilariously incorrect place markers, missing information and a number of issues that are just plain weird.

Our two readers (hello mom! hi dad!) will surely remember a recent post about Apple’s attempts (and failures) to out-google Google. Well, yes, this is more of the same thing, but definitely in another league. Remember: Google is widely criticized for the perpetual beta, for launching half-baked, unproven products, and slow-cooking them for years. Apple, on the other hand, is praised for its perfectionism, for refusing to bring unfinished products to market.

Now choose how you want to think about Apple’s actions. This could be a case of Hubris bringing Nemesis. Apple thought beating Google in its own turf would be a piece of cake and just went through with it, and is now facing the consequences of its folly.

Or this could have been the moment in which Apple became humble. Maps, Siri – these are products that cannot be perfected behind locked doors by a select few. They require incredible amounts of real, live usage data to be improved, and that’s what Google has been doing for many years. Apple had no option but to do the same: launching a half-baked product, optimizing the hell out of it and hoping for the best.

To beat Google, become Google, Apple must have thought. Now this has *really* become a Jean-Claude Van Damme feature film.

These are the news you should have paid attention to but didn’t, because you were too busy sending faxes from the beach.

If you’re one of the beautiful people adorning the halls of the country club that is App.Net (like Yours Truly), you can find your Twitter friends using this tool.

You know where you can’t find your Twitter friends? On Instagram, of course, but that’s so last week. Doubling down on the campaign to piss off the internet (not really, just a handful of nerds), Twitter this week cut off Tumblr’s access to the “find friends” functionality, too.

Speaking of Twitter, here’s a proposal for a decentralized social networking protocol, which strikes this correspondent as a better solution (at least in principle, I can’t judge the technical merits of the proposed architecture) –  if we’re really serious about replacing the thing and making social networking a part of the internet’s plumbing.

Marissa left and Google’s executive team starts turning into a sausage party. Rumor has it that Cupertino got wind of this copycat behavior is threatening to sue.

This week, Apple’s became the largest company of all time in market cap. Except when you account for inflation, which makes 1999′s Microsoft (ah, those were the days) still the winner.  Not for long, though.

Facebook launched the new native-based iOS client, as promised. The question remains: what does that say for the future of HTML5 as mobile application runtime? (Previously)

This reminded me of this“He’s not like a record company guy at all! He’s like one of us.”

And finally: Here’s a video of Curiosity’s descent on Mars, in full 1080p glory.

Enjoy your weekend and follow me on Twitter.

“I thought you might be worried… about the security… of your shit.”

In computer security and cryptography, “adversary” is sometimes used as a generic term to describe anyone trying to break into a system, crack a code or generally wreck havoc in another’s digital domain. It’s a great term – brings a cloak & dagger feel to an extremely dry subject and lays out the theater of computer security as something of a game. Some weeks ago, writer Mat Honan met his adversary in a now well publicized and widely discussed attack. This post won’t dwell on the particulars of this specific attack as Honan himself (and many others) already explained and debated the whole thing in excruciating detail over the past few weeks. Rather, this is an exercise in wondering now what.

The list of Bad Things that can happen to the digital you is immense, but it can be summarized to two items: data loss (your baby’s pictures are gone) and privacy breaches (everybody can read your W-2). Until the advent of the cloud, data loss was all that most people cared about. If you wanted to avoid headaches, there was an easy solution – backup your shit. And that was good advice, until… we’ve been sold on the cloud. It’s approaching household name status now, with Apple, a company whose branding strategy trends toward stating the blinding obvious, using the term to name a product.  Now backing your shit up is not a problem anymore. Your shit is automatically backed up for you! Where? In the cloud, of course! Neatly organized – together with everybody else’s shit.

Think about it. Evernote begs you to capture your whole life into it so everything can be accessible everywhere. People use Dropbox as if it’s as secure as their hard drives. These products work well, fantastically well, and therein lies the danger – there’s no warning anywhere that maybe one shouldn’t be using these services for sensitive information. Evernote has zero cryptography support. Dropbox doesn’t offer two-factor authentication (yet).  There’s intrinsic value to the data you shove into these great services, but you don’t think about it much. This value may be small today, but growing everyday for each one of us.  By contrast, your bank’s web application sucks, but you are very careful in how you use it, and there’s a fair amount of government regulation to make sure that your bank is careful too. Now far be it from this correspondent to recommend government regulation for cloud storage of data that’s not financial or healthcare related, but mark my words – one day someone from these cloud-praising companies may be sitting in a congressional hearing trying to explain what the hell happened. It’s a good idea to get your act together in advance.

Hanlon’s Razor says “never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity”. What Mr. Hanlon missed is that (1) sometimes disaster is enabled by a mix of both and (2) when you’re on the receiving end, a disaster caused by malice may not feel very different than one caused by stupidity. Which impels the question: who is the adversary then? The adversary is not just the black hat kid social-engineering or scripting his way into your data. He’s also the lazy developer who stored passwords in plain text, the incompetent ops manager who doesn’t patch and upgrade software in a timely manner, the hare-brained product manager who doesn’t double check the customer care policies for potential security flaws.

In the wake of Mat Honan’s troubles, many articles came about explaining what you should do to avoid his fate. They are filled with great advice. Here’s another: pick your adversaries wisely.

A homage to Hugh

These are the news you should have paid attention to but didn’t, because you were too busy googling for the perfect neighborhood in Guayaquil.

Twitter made everybody unhappy this week (not really, it was just a handful of nerds). Don’t even bother with the official announcement and the “quadrants” and go read Anil Dash’s rewrite. This correspondent’s opinion, if you care: Twitter faced a choice of being a lean protocol versus a rich medium and decided to go as far as possible from being a protocol as they could at this moment. The natural path for Twitter as it was evolving up until now was to become a “dumb pipe”, in the parlance of telecommunications. Here’s a funny thing about companies destined to become dumb pipes: none of them wants to become a dumb pipe.

To handle the backlash and man public relations, Twitter hired a guy with an impeccable resume.

Groupon’s shares are down 77% from the IPO price. Facebook is down 50% from the IPO, and is now being called “worst IPO ever”. Does Sarah Lacey still blame NASDAQ glitches?

Hipstamatic sacked the whole staff except for a “core team” of five people. What’s more shocking? The news of the layoff or the fact that Hipstamatic had a team of more than five people?

Mobile payments company Square is on fire. Last week we had the Starbucks partnership announcement. This week, they announced a flat monthly fee option for merchants, which is a very bold move. Coincidentally or not, this correspondent today purchased a burrito at a neighborhood Mexican restaurant that used Square as a register – my first square transaction on a retailer that could have easily afford a standard Verifone POS.

In this week’s social media marketing fail, Subway gets a mouthful (NSFW).

Ev Williams, of Blogger.com and Twitter fame, launched content publishing and sharing product Medium in closed beta.

Terms of Service – Didn’t Read (TOS; DR) is one of the greatest initiatives in internet consumer advocacy in recent times.

And finally: Dave Coulthard drove an F1 car through the Lincoln Tunnel reaching top speeds of 190MPH. This is just a teaser, but very worth watching.

Enjoy your weekend and follow me on Twitter.

Feeding on itself

… and we’re back.

If you live in the United States, you probably spent the past weeks listening to people complain about NBC’s coverage of the Olympics, and if you cared even a tiny little bit about all the hoolabaloo that was going on in London, you probably engaged in a healthy measure of complaining yourself. That’s fine, we won’t judge. But here’s some free advice: if you have a low opinion of NBC’s strategy for covering these games, you should probably find a way to come to terms with it, because it may become a standard in coverage of international sporting events. Why? Because from NBC’s perspective, it was unbelievably successful – ratings went through the roof, and the coverage is now being called “most watched TV event in US history” after the Nielsen ratings were released.

And what have we learned?

First we need to pause and appreciate the irony of a coverage that drew universal outrage becoming the most watched event in US history. It’s the Yogi Berra theory of audience engagement: “nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded”.

Never mind the loud clamor in internet circles that mass media is dying - the power of broadcast to create a shared sense of place is alive and well. For a couple of weeks, every night, NBC picked a few sports out of the hundreds available in London and used them to construct a narrative that brought people to the front of their TV sets. Prime time coverage focused on tape-delayed showings of hand-picked sports: swimming, diving, track & field, gymnastics and beach volleyball. This selection managed to bring in an audience unlike any other in sports – 54.3% female. This is so uncharacteristic that ESPN mostly didn’t counterprogram or react in any way to the Olympics – it was business as usual. While NBC was tape-delaying reality, the American living room was gobbling it up. No word has been more misused and abused in the past few years than “curate”, but there’s no better term to describe what NBC did – instead of aiming a firehose of meaningless sports events at the public, it turned the Olympics into Masterpiece Theater.

Also, the ladies doth protest too much, methinks. The magic of the internet guaranteed that aforementioned firehose was still there, for those who cared enough. If you were really interested on some exotic event that was not showing on the five or more channels NBC dedicated to Olympics coverage, it was probably available online in some fashion. This correspondent watched his compatriot Sarah Menezes nab the gold medal in Judo for the under 48kg category. That medal event probably attracted the interest of about 20 people in the continental United States. Still, it was readily available online.

Right now, in a conference room somewhere in NBC-land, producers are already gathered, laying out the plans for the coverage of the next international event. Do you think the lessons learned in London will apply? If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.

The Tour de France, the Olympics, Zynga dragging Facebook into the hole and the media-or-technology debate. It’s all been too much for this correspondent to keep up with when it’s so nice outside. We’re taking a two-week hiatus to sort things out, speed-read a pile of books and drive around Southern California.

We’ll be back shortly with more irrelevance, but if you’re looking for something to read in the meantime, have you checked out the Links section? Unlike this correspondent, these guys never rest.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.