Archive | Technology

Interesting Stuff – Week 31 2020

Phishing Icon

Culture

The Observer had a good series of articles on Facebook and how it influences politics and culture. 

The Guardian reported on proposals to tax over-40’s more to pay for social care in later life. My initial thoughts on this are positive. It seems like a good idea to me. Works in Germany and Japan according to the article. Doesn’t add to burden on younger people, who already have a raw deal with rent and mortgage costs.

Universities have been in silent trouble for a while. COVID-19 may be the tipping point for many. This article in Nature is a good synopsis of the crisis.

Doesn’t look like remote work will end anytime soon in the big tech companies. Google said their staff will be working from home until at least June 2021, as reported by Ars Technica. The same article also outlines long term plans by Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Microsoft to extend remote working. Apple followed them this week. As AppleInsider detailed.

This is fabulous. During the lockdown, an amateur woodworker from Belgium built an electric guitar from scratch using a thick wooden shelf he had to hand. This 26-minute video summarises the build. Well worth 26 minutes of your time.

Technology

More information about the Twitter security breach came to light this week. Ars Technica reports on how the attackers used spear-phishing techniques to get access. 

But it turns out that the hackers were teenage amateurs, rather than some sophisticated or state-backed outfit. They have all been arrested and charged. Wired has the details.

On the topic of spear-phishing: it often uses social engineering techniques to get access to peoples data. Here is a short video that shows how easy it is for scammers to get your info over the phone.

Following the poor Intel results last week, and the announcement of more delays to their 7 nm fabrication process, the company announced some changes in senior roles. One notable one was the appointment of Irish engineer Ann Kelleher to lead the processor division.

Science

We will probably never know how life started on Earth. Deep time and plate tectonics recycling the Earth’s crust will have destroyed the evidence. But it was likely via pre-biotic self-organising chemical reactions. New research  summarised in Chemistry World last week shows evidence of some self-replicating molecules showing metabolism. Remarkable stuff. 

It’s been a busy few weeks for Mars exploration. NASA successfully launched its Perseverance rover this week. It follows in the trail of missions from both the UAE and China. Hopefully, they will all get into orbit and land successfully.

Apps

This is intriguing. Algoriddim djay Pro AI – Neural Mix music app for iPad. It can extract individual vocal, melody or drum tracks from songs. And allow you to mix in different ones from other sones. Using an AI-based algorithm. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work with the DRM protected Apple Music I have. But for non-DRM protected tracks, it is is pretty impressive.

Interesting Stuff – Week 30 2020

Sci-Fi doodles

Culture

Neotext – a new Sci-Fi fiction publisher launched this week. Their website has both new short stories, and essays about Sci-Fi and concepts from Sci-Fi. This essay by Adam Roberts on how he defines Sci-Fi is excellent.

Technology

A New York Times article with inside details of the group that got access to Twitter admin tools and used it to steal valuable and sought after twitter user names to sell. And how one of the group then sent after popular bitcoins companies and then influential Twitter users to scam Bitcoin from people. It looks like 30+ (twitter updated their estimate) of the users also had their Twitter data downloaded. That has everything in it. Not good.

Intel announced this week that they will miss their targets for their next-generation processors. Before that TSMC disclosed that they were moving to risk estimates for their 3nm chip fabrication processes next year, with full production at this smaller scale targeted for 2020. Remarkable! Apple Insider has details. Apple’s iPhone and iPad chips are made by TSMC using Apple’s designs. Mac’s due this year will also use Apple Silicon fabricated by TSMC.

A selection of essays on the topic of AI and how it will shape our future. Written by leading pundits and experts. Published by The Rockefeller Foundation.

The NHS England COVID-19 contact tracing app has been a shambles from day 1. Sky News has the sorry tale.

The UK National Cybersecurity Centre website has some great information on it. This article on Identity and Access Management is a good starting point if you are looking into the topic.

Science

Apple committed this week to make its supply chain 100% carbon neutral by 2030. Excellent. Where Apple leads, others follow. 

They also published their 2020 Environmental Progress Report.

Maths

Tim Hartford, who presents the BBC More or Less radio show and podcast, announced that his latest book will be published in September. It is a layperson’s guide to how statistics and other numerical data is used and abused in everyday life. It’s called How To Make The World Add Up! I’ve preordered it on Apple Books!

I love what Crash Course is doing on YouTube. This week I discovered that they had lined up with Arizona State University to offer a selection of courses. Including this one on Algebra. Bloody marvellous.

Interesting Stuff – Week 29 2020

Blackboard with maths statistics, equations and ideas

Culture

Prospect Magazine list and poll on the top 50 thinkers in the Covid-19 influenced world right now. Interesting list. Many new to me.

Wired UK article on why we should be wearing transparent face masks. To help people who have hearing issues. And also everyone else, as we use facial cues in everyday speech more than we think.

First, be kind – Your feedback has the power to encourage another person, or shut them down, possibly forever. Excellent advice for everyone. When giving feedback or advice, or even just your opinion. Be nice. 

Web

Nebula is a subscription video service for content creators to post educational and information videos without having to worry about ads and the vagaries of the YouTube algorithm. To surface their content. Also, as it’s not YouTube, you won’t be lead by the hand to videos showing the worst of humanity. Only $3 a month. Bargain. I subscribed. They might need to throw more server capacity or network bandwidth at it though. Time will tell, but I’ve had a few buffering issues using it. Issues that I don’t get on YouTube. 

WindowSwap opens a random video taken from someone’s window in their house, apartment, or office. The videos are showing what’s happening in that place when the video recording took place. Looks to be recordings rather than live webcams. But still fascinating, and brilliant.

Technology

The EU introduced new rules for mediation between businesses and online marketplace providers. The latter include online marketplaces, social media and creative content outlets, app distribution platforms, price comparison websites, professional collaborative platforms, and search engines. In effect in the EU from 12th July. Some interesting stuff, like having to give companies 30 days notice before terminating access to a service. Some are interpreting this as Apple and Google will need to provide 30 days notice before removing apps from their app stores. A summary of the provisions is available here. The full regulations are available in multiple languages and formats here.

M. G. Siegler on how much change there has been in personal computing over the last 20 years. From a desktop PC with a 20 kg (44 lb) monitor to a 0.45 kg (1 lb) iPad Pro. Remarkable.

Wrong About the Apple Silicon Mac – Rene Ritchie outlines why most people are thinking incorrectly about the Mac Apple Silicon migration. Watch on Nebula or YouTube.

Apple are updating their API’s, documentation and contributions to open source projects to remove any exclusionary terms. Nice one. 

STEM

Quanta Magazine article on the incompleteness theorems by Kurt Gödel.

Conrad Wolfram has a book and project to try to update the teaching of mathematics to take heed of the fact that computers exist and can be used to enhance the curriculum. Most people in the future will have access to computational power that they can use to do calculations for them. And with knowledge engines like Wolfram Alpha, and AI systems they will often be able to ask questions in plain language. There is a sample lesson for the new maths curriculum they are developing on the Wolfram blog.

Mini review – Sandworm: A New Era of Cyberwar and the Hunt for the Kremlin’s Most Dangerous Hackers

We hear a lot about how state actors are using cybercrime techniques in order to influence opinion and attack infrastructure in other countries. But we rarely see a well-argued analysis that backs up this assertion. This book provides just such a well-argued analysis that outlines persuasively which organisations, and which country, were behind the devastating cyberattacks WannaCry, NotPetya, and others. And it outlines who is gaining malicious access to the control systems for the infrastructure that powers our modern world. Such as the electricity generation and supply systems, transport systems, communications and broadcast systems, and other industrial control systems. It also provides enough evidence to support the conclusion that the same, or closely associated, malicious actors were behind attempts to influence elections in Europe and the USA. Probably in other countries as well.

The case against the perpetrators, who are identified in the book, is built up logically and comprehensively. Everyone should read it and then draw their own conclusions. I know I have. One of the best books of 2019. Undoubtedly the best on cybersecurity.

The audiobook is really good.

Bought the subscription model

I’ve always felt more comfortable buying digital goods outright if I wanted them. But lately, I’ve been subscribing to more and more services to get access to content. I think I’m now at the point where I’m close to being fully in the subscription model camp. It’s been a gradual transition. Much like the (fictitious) slowing boiling a frog metaphor I haven’t noticed until it was over.

The transition started with Apple Music. I subscribed to that when it was launched in June 2015. I first used it as a way to get access to new music in high quality from a safe and reputable source. But for a long time, I was still buying any songs or albums that I liked and wanted to have in my iTunes library.

Over the two years since the Apple Music launch, I’ve subscribed to several other services on an annual or monthly fee basis. My subscriptions list at the end of July 2017 now includes:

Software subscriptions: 1Password, Pocket, Setapp, Office 365, Evernote, Grammarly, Parallels Desktop, FreeAgent, SocialChess, Chess 24, DropBox, iCloud Storage, RescueTime

Film and TV Subscriptions: Virgin Media TV Large, NowTV, Netflix

Other: Audible UK, Apple Music

That’s a lot of software service subscriptions. When you list them out, it shows that this is rapidly becoming the new model for digital sales.

I joined NowTV to get access to Sky Atlantic for Twin Peaks The Return. As a bonus, I also got access to Silicon Valley and Veep. Plus Westworld Season 1 will be available from 14th August. So NowTV is a keeper. I subscribed to Netflix to watch The Circle film as it didn’t get a UK cinema release, and I wanted to see it after reading the book. Discovered lots of other good content on Netflix that is well worth the modest monthly fee.

I think that NowTV and Netflix were the services that tipped me over into the subscription model camp. In the last few months, I’ve noticed that I’ve stopped buying albums on the iTunes Store. Rather I just add them to my library from Apple Music. Not sure this is a good thing for the artists. I wonder if the same thing will happen with films over time. I’ve just bought The Ghost in the Shell on iTunes. Will I stop doing that in future and just wait for films to appear on Netflix? Time will tell.

The one product area in which there hasn’t been a viable subscription model for me to adopt is for ebooks to read. I do subscribe to the Audible UK subscription service that gives a single audiobook of my choice per month. For ebooks, the biggest subscription service is Amazon Kindle Unlimited. I’ve looked at it in the past, but it didn’t have many of the books I wanted to read. I must have another look to see how many of the books I’ve read or bought this year are available there.

It’s worth getting an AppleTV just to run Magic Fireplace

Magic Fireplace icon

You can’t beat a good fire as the nights draw in. Unfortunately I don’t have a good fire. I do however have an AppleTV, an HD television, and a good sound system. So I can have a digital fire. Using the fabulous Magic Fireplace App from Jetson Creative. It displays one of 20 different HD videos of fireplaces. With a pleasing wood burning sounds. Perfect for dark evenings on the sofa with a book and a big mug of tea. Video below.

Outlook cloudy

I used to be an IT infrastructure person. I selected and installed the first Microsoft Exchange mail system in the large company I was working in during the mid 1990’s. I championed and introduced VMware as the virtualisation platform of choice in a different job in the mid 2000’s, before moving on to a technology innovation role to identify and champion new technologies.

If I was working in a company now in an infrastructure role I would have as much as possible of the server infrastructure off premise in the public cloud. I’d only have servers on premise, or in private cloud or a 3rd party data centre, if the data was too sensitive for a public cloud service. And in that scenario I’d adopt a hybrid cloud model with all the data I could have out on public cloud servers, with just the sensitive data on the in house part of the hybrid cloud. The public cloud services I’d use would be Office 365, Microsoft Azure, maybe Igloo for Intranet services, Slack for messaging, and Airwatch for endpoint device management. If any email accounts were mission critical I’d put them on the lowest spec Exchange Server possible in house as part of a hybrid deployment of Office 365.

The IT budget I controlled would be spent on having good redundant Internet connections and giving the users the choice of device they want to use. Be it Mac, Windows PC, iOS or Android tablet, iPhone, or Android phone.

Time for a stupidly big iPhone

Apple hold their annual iPhone event this week. I get a free upgrade on my mobile account on 26th September. I was at the opticians last week. Turns out these three things are actually related.

My optician recommended that I get new varifocal glasses that have a +1 decrease in the prescription strength for viewing things close up. Like an iPhone. I was going to do this. At the very high cost of £595 for the pair of lenses. Advice on Twitter was that varifocals are a pain so I started to have doubts.

iOS on iPhone has a zoomed mode that basically makes everything on the screen bigger. For use in situations exactly like the one I was having to get varifocals for. I have an iPhone 6s now. Apple will release iPhone 7 Plus and probably ship it on 23rd September. I can upgrade just after that. I’m thinking of getting the bigger model and using it in Zoomed mode. It’ll basically show the same amount of stuff on screen as my iPhone 6s in standard mode. But everything will be bigger. And won’t have to hold it at arms length to focus on it!

iPhone 6S in Zoomed mode

iPhone 6S in Zoomed mode

I’m running my current iPhone in Zoomed mode for the next few weeks as a test. If the rumours about the iPhone 7 Plus are true it’ll also be a bit of a speed demon with a great camera.

Keyboard for use with iPad Pro

I love my Matias keyboards. But they are too heavy for portable use with iPad Pro. I’m not sold on the Apple Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro. Instead I will get an Apple Magic Keyboard to use with it. It will be cheaper, lighter, won’t drain the iPad Pro battery, and allows the iPad and keyboard to be further apart. Which will be better for getting a good typing position.

And I might get one of these in the future.

Update: Got it. It was the right choice.

Apple Magic Keyboard

Apple Magic Keyboard