App Development… my newest hobby

Posted May 25, 2013 by Greg
Categories: Tech

This has been under wraps for a while, but it’s now public: I just released OneTrip, my first app for the Apple iPhone.

Why did I do it?  Simple: I do the grocery shopping for the family, and I depend on apps to organize and save time: an app can remember what you buy and where you buy it, so that you can plan and shop faster. However, I was dissatisfied with the different apps I tried, so I figured I could write one that perfectly met my needs.

Well, almost perfect: I still have a number of features I want to add to OneTrip, but I have been using this initial version for the last few months, and it already fits my needs much better than anything else I’ve tried.

You can download OneTrip from iTunes, or read about OneTrip on its website.

Meantime, now you understand why I have much less time for writing on this blog.

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Apple: Killing the Killer App

Posted September 21, 2012 by Greg
Categories: Tech

For me, what makes an iPhone invaluable is that it gives me instant information, everywhere. Practically anything I need to know can be found through a quick search – weather, schedules, store hours, a phone number, etc. Location information is especially important since I take the iPhone when I’m heading to an unfamiliar place. And I find the iPhone is better than my GPS since it can find an up-to-date address when I don’t have a clear idea where I need to go.

Case in point: the other day, I needed to meet someone halfway between Seattle and Tacoma. One easy meeting spot is Southcenter Mall, so I took out my iPad, opened up the maps app, and typed: starbucks southcenter. In a flash, it figured out that I was looking for a Starbucks store near Southcenter Mall, and it reminded me that there is one just next to our favorite soup-and-salad restaurant. Perfect!

Apple iOS 6 was released this week, and I heard that the updated maps app had serious problems. So I tried the same test in the updated maps app. Here was the result:

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A complete failure! On my computer, I tried the same search on Google Maps and Bing Maps:

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Both did a good job of guiding me towards what I wanted.  In fact, they suggested that I wanted to search for Starbucks near Southcenter Mall. Yes, that’s exactly what I wanted, and good job anticipating my needs. Much better than the new maps app, which finds nothing and suggests nothing, either.

Apple apologists are saying “Give it time, Google Maps wasn’t that good when it was new.” Who cares today what Google Maps was like when it was released in 2005? Apple has to complete with Google Maps in 2012. And Google – and Bing and Mapquest – have a product that works great.  Afterwards, I learned that I could find a Starbucks near Southcenter if I first search for Southcenter, then, while looking at that map, search for Starbucks.  That’s twice as many steps for something I need to do quickly while I’m on-the-go.

At first, I thought that this isn’t such a big deal, since Google or Mapquest could release an app, and in the meantime, we could use web-based maps. On second thought, a 3rd party map app is only a partial fix: many other apps will continue to rely on MapKit.framework, the native mapping API inside iOS. Which is still stuck with Apple’s half-baked new maps.

Yes, I know very well that geolocation data is hard to get right. That’s why it was a huge mistake for Apple to try to build fresh when there are great solutions available today.

Misunderstanding the iPhone

Posted July 3, 2012 by Greg
Categories: Tech

This past week was the 5 year anniversary of the launch of the iPhone. A number of Apple blogs celebrated by reporting critical quotes from the iPhone launch. The message was anything but subtle: look how foolish these people were for grossly underestimating the potential of the Apple iPhone.

However, this week’s bloggers showed similar foolishness by putting all the quotes Into the same category. You can’t put critical quotes from a writer or analyst in the same category as from an executive at a competing company.

It’s fair to point out how some analysts were completely wrong about the iPhone: their job is to provide expertise. Considering these colossally wrong predictions, it questions their other forecasts, too. Fair enough.

But competing executives? Honestly, what do you expect Microsoft or RIM (Blackberry) to say publicly upon the release of the iPhone in 2007? “We’re worried that Apple could drive us out of the matket in 5 years”? Sure, someone might say that in a private internal meeting, but there is no way an executive would say that publicly. To say so publicly would kill sales and the stock price. It would be grounds for termination. The best praise a competing executive could give is something like: “We welcome the competition – let the best company win!” More likely, they’ll say that their company has market share and that the new competitor needs to be ready for a battle.

For pundits today to poke fun at partisan quotes from competing executives shows that these pundits are just as ignorant as the so-called analysts who completely underestimated the iPhone 5 years ago.

Facebook privacy: broken by design

Posted May 15, 2012 by Greg
Categories: Business

The big story of the week is the Facebook IPO, the largest public offering since Google. Facebook makes a huge profit off the social network of millions. Unfortunately, I think Facebook does this by exploiting private, personal details.

About a month ago, I bid farewell to Facebook. My outrage was over Facebook’s support for CISPA legislation. More broadly, my problem with Facebook comes from its approach to privacy.

It’s easy to see that Facebook privacy is a total failure. A Google search for Facebook privacy settings claims 700 million links. Why should it take that many documents to explain how to maintain control over your privacy? And Wikipedia’s Criticism of Facebook has 13 sections on “privacy concerns”.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that privacy in Facebook is a contradiction. Facebook wants to reassure its users that it cares about privacy. In fact, you can’t view most personal updates and pictures from your friends and family until you sign up for a Facebook account. And I agree that this helps protect Facebook against pedophiles and other criminals that essentially killed MySpace.

But I don’t think that Facebook is altruistic when it comes to privacy. Facebook privacy is really a very clever marketing strategy that helped Facebook to grow: to see personal information, you have to sign up for a Facebook account. And remember that Facebook’s real customers aren’t you and me. It’s the advertisers, and they are paying for personal information about Facebook users. What music do you Like? What restaurants do you Like? What do you Like to do with your spare time? What phone do you Like to use to post on Facebook? All so that Facebook can tailor specific ads for you.

So there’s a fundamental conflict between the needs of its paying advertisers and the desires of its users. And this will only get worse once Facebook must answer to Wall Street.

In short, Facebook privacy is broken by design.

I wish this were only about ads. If so, I could simply not Like anything on Facebook, and simply post tiny details for my close friends and family. But when Facebook pledged its support for CISPA, I realized that Facebook has little respect for its users. If CISPA is enacted, a government employee can ask – without court order – for personal information from Facebook or other online services. Suppose you post that you’re frustrated that a police officer just stopped you for speeding on such-and-so street, and then the police start to harass you for posting about their speed trap. Or if you post pictures of your brand new car, and a tax agent decides to scrutinize your tax records. Or you post how TSA screening makes you feel uncomfortable, so the TSA singles you out for porno screening for the rest of the year.

Some may think that I’m just being paranoid. I simply want to be in control over what is private and what is public. And I have little trust for what Facebook will do with my private information.

I suppose I will have to login again to Facebook, since too many close friends and family use Facebook to post important personal news. But when I do, I’m going to really limit what I share, because I think that Facebook and I have very different views on privacy.

Big brother is watching you – online

Posted April 30, 2012 by Greg
Categories: Business, Tech

Tags: ,

That’s what we can expect if CISPA becomes law.

CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, sounds reasonable at first glance: let’s fight crime and prevent terrorists from using online systems as a safe haven to gather and devise their next plan.

However, the law is far too broad and lacks key checks-and-balances that can prevent abuse.

The ACLU: “The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act would create a cybersecurity exception to all privacy laws and allow companies to share the private and personal data they hold on their American customers with the government for cybersecurity purposes. The bill would not limit the companies to sharing only technical, non-personal data. Instead, it would give the companies discretion to decide the type and amount of information to turn over to the government. If shared in good faith compliance with the statute, these entities would receive full liability protection and would be immune from criminal or civil liability, even after an egregious breach of privacy. Further, once an individual’s information is shared with the government, there would be no restriction on the use of that information. It could be used for any purpose whatsoever and shared with any agency. While such data might be used for cybersecurity purposes, there would be no bar on the government also using it to conduct fishing expeditions for criminal, immigration or other purposes.”

In contrast, a court order is required for a wiretap. From my perspective, that seems to have been effective. So why aren’t there similar safeguards in CISPA?

Unfortunately, CISPA isn’t a theoretical issue. Major tech companies AT&T, Facebook and Verizon pledged allegiance to CISPA. Do AT&T, Facebook or Verizon have personal information about you? Don’t expect that to remain private if CISPA becomes law.

At least Microsoft came to its senses by backing away from its initial support of CISPA.

Meantime, the government has adopted the most hypocritical double standard. On the one hand, the US government celebrates how the internet brings freedom across the world. Just this week, Obama announced new sanctions for Iran and Syria, which are using electronic surveillance to crack down on their citizens: “These technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to repress them.”

What specifically is targeted here? Iran is “identifying Internet users through their IP address, monitoring e-mail and online activity of individuals critical of the regime; requiring owners of Internet cafes in Iran to install equipment to aid the government in monitoring the activities of the Iranian public.”

Exactly the same privileges the US government wants through the CISPA law. Shameful.

[In fairness, I do realize that Obama has announced his intention to veto CISPA. Yet, I’m sure there are supporters of CISPA who also agree with Obama’s speech and executive order against Iran and Syria.]

Please, contact your Senators and tell them that

  1. The scope of CISPA must be narrowed
  2. CISPA requires checks-and-balances to prevent abuse of power

In the meantime, don’t look for me to post personal information on Facebook. If that’s not clear already, wait for an upcoming post.

CISPA
Created by: Paralegal.net

It’s alive!

Posted April 30, 2012 by Greg
Categories: Tech

I have plans to bring my blog back to life.  Stay tuned!

Et tu, eBay?

Posted May 10, 2011 by Greg
Categories: Business, Tech

Today, one of the biggest technology acquisitions was announced: Microsoft buys Skype for $8.5 billion. I have read conflicting analyses of the deal: some people applaud it as a way to improve Microsoft’s offerings in internet communications, while others say that Microsoft grossly overpaid.

I have just one question: how will Microsoft make a success out of Skype when eBay failed?

Yes: eBay previously bought Skype, then later sold it off at a loss. At the time eBay bought Skype, people said that eBay would get great value from synergies: buyers could chat instantly with sellers online and improve the online shopping experience. Except these so-called synergies didn’t materialize, and eBay sold Skype at a loss.

So what’s new now? Ah yes, more promises of ‘synergies’ with Microsoft’s Windows Messenger, Xbox, Windows Phone 7, Lync and a number of other technologies that few have heard of. Except, Microsoft already has chat, voice and video calling in these products today. In other words, Skype is redundant with a wide range of existing Microsoft technologies.

So what did Microsoft buy, exactly? A brand? $8.5 billion seems like a lot to pay for a brand that’s not exactly a household name.

And why will Microsoft make Skype profitable when eBay couldn’t? At least eBay didn’t have the technology; with Microsoft, it seems like they spent a fortune to buy technology they already had.

(I am aware that Skype had a patent issue that was resolved after eBay sold them. Again, if Skype was so valuable after the patent issue was resolved, eBay could have bought them back.)