Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for July, 2013

DRM on HTML5 Video Makes Perfect Sense

Watts Martin:

Netflix is relying on HTML5’s upcoming video standards to allow content to be saddled with DRM. The free software crowd isn’t upset that Netflix is adopting HTML5 video, it’s upset that Netflix is helping to drive “non-free” web video. […]

They’re not doing this because they hate freedom, they’re doing it because it’s required by their business partners.

XKeyscore

This morning, the White House declassified the documents and orders used to establish the NSA’s wide-reaching record collection. But it isn’t comforting, especially when you consider what Glenn Greenwald reported for the Guardian, also this morning:

[T]raining materials for XKeyscore detail how analysts can use it and other systems to mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search. The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed.

XKeyscore, the documents boast, is the NSA’s “widest reaching” system developing intelligence from computer networks – what the agency calls Digital Network Intelligence (DNI). One presentation claims the program covers “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet”, including the content of emails, websites visited and searches, as well as their metadata.

“We Never Learnt How to Pronounce It”

Philipp Antoni announces the closure of dznr:

The site became stagnant over the years (and bits and pieces started falling apart) so most of you moved on. Now, six years later, it’s time for me to do the same. Already, dznr is no longer accepting new uploads, and on September 1st 2013 the entire site will be shut down.

My first upload was at the end of 2008; my most recent was just a few days ago (mildly NSFW language). The site was the inspiration for services like Cloud and Droplr. It may not have been used by many people, but we all loved it.

Facebook Said to Plan to Sell TV-Style Ads

Edmund Lee, Bloomberg:

Facebook Inc., seeking to break the long-held dominance of television over advertising budgets, plans to sell TV-style commercials on its site for as much as $2.5 million a day, two people familiar with the matter said.

Facebook users freak out when they modestly tweak the layout. Can you imagine what users will do when they find a fifteen-second video ad inline with their friends’ status updates?

At 15 seconds, the ads also would be the same length as Facebook’s Instagram videos — a feature that was added to the company’s photo-sharing service last month. That means the commercials would come in a familiar format for users.

You get one guess as to the direction Facebook is intending to go with this plan.

Today’s Edition of Don’t Be Evil

Google director of public policy Alan Davidson, in August, 2010:

Users should choose what content, applications, or devices they use, since openness has been central to the explosive innovation that has made the Internet a transformative medium. […]

Importantly, this new nondiscrimination principle includes a presumption against prioritization of Internet traffic – including paid prioritization. So, in addition to not blocking or degrading of Internet content and applications, wireline broadband providers also could not favor particular Internet traffic over other traffic.

Ryan Singel, Wired, today:

In a dramatic about-face on a key internet issue yesterday, Google told the FCC that the network neutrality rules Google once championed don’t give citizens the right to run servers on their home broadband connections, and that the Google Fiber network is perfectly within its rights to prohibit customers from attaching the legal devices of their choice to its network.

Oh geez. Who could have seen that coming?

Android Fragmentation Report

Choice can be good for consumers, but this many different products is likely more confusing than it’s worth. Designers must have one hell of a time trying to create interfaces suitable for that many different screen sizes. And for developers, trying to target and test so many different devices and OS version combinations is simply an asinine request. That’s why well-designed Android apps with anything resembling a custom UI are only available for a few phones.

The only entities who benefit from this level of fragmentation are device manufacturers, who are able to tout dozens of SKUs as “innovation”, and carriers, who are able to retain device exclusives for a competitive advantage. For everyone else, it’s enormously discouraging.

Update: Although, (hat tip to Kontra), this is particularly stupid:

Apple are currently working on a lower-end device, increasing the fragmentation of their ecosystem in the process, suggesting that the Android ecosystem is not only doing something right, but doing something to be imitated.

All indications suggest that the lower-cost iPhone is going to have the same display size running the same versions of iOS as any other iPhone.

Apple to Probe Claims of Pegatron Labor Violations

Edmond Lococo and Chinmei Sung, Bloomberg:

[China Labor Watch] found at least 86 labor rights violations while investigating three Pegatron factories from March to July, it said in a report issued today. Apple has been in close contact with the group for several months, yet the report contains “claims that are new to us,” and those will be probed immediately, Carolyn Wu, a Beijing-based spokeswoman for Apple, said in a phone interview today.

These issues are inexcusable. With the revelation in the report that Apple has contracted Pegatron to produce the plastic-bodied iPhone slated for release this autumn, these problems are only going to get worse. Apple must be one of the largest of Pegatron’s clients, giving them both the responsibility and power to change this.

Strategy Analytics

On the weekend, this story gained a lot of traction:

According to the latest research from Strategy Analytics, Samsung became the world’s most profitable handset vendor in Q2 2013. Apple slipped into second position, as margins have been hit by lackluster iPhone 5 volumes and tougher competition in China.

Then today, The Next Web’s Emil Protalinski published more gripping research:

Global tablet shipments in Q2 2013 reached 51.7 million units, up 43 percent from 36.1 million in Q2 2012. Breaking those numbers down, Android secured a whopping 67 percent global share, Apple’s iOS grabbed 28.3 percent, and Windows secured 4.5 percent. […]

“Apple iOS shipments were 14.6 million iPads in Q2 2013 which declined 14 percent annually,” Peter King, Director of Tablets at Strategy Analytics, said in a statement.

iPad sales were down year-over-year; this much is undisputed. But Strategy Analytics uses the same bullshit “research” that most market share estimators use, as AppleInsider’s Daniel Eran Dilger explains:

Strategy Analytics has to employ “research” to come up with this claim because Samsung doesn’t actually report how many phones, smartphones, tablets, cameras or set top boxes it sells (or even the inventory numbers it ships) and doesn’t report the profit share of any of these products segments.

Amazon also doesn’t release Kindle sales figures, and neither does Barnes & Noble, majority owner of the Nook brand.

If sales figures have been derived from “research” which significantly differs from more easily-measurable data — say, web browser share — it’s likely invented, juiced, or just plain wrong.

‘Everybody Loves Bob’

John Gruber clears up the bizarre news from last night:

Apple’s statement means exactly what it says — Mansfield is well-liked at all levels within the company and truly is working on special projects (read: new products). No euphemism there.

Good to hear.

Kindergarten Coders Can Program Before They Can Read

Michael Reilly, New Scientist:

Lorna is 4, going on 5. I’ve never met her before, but her eyes light up when she sees me. She rushes over, blonde curls bouncing. “I’m going to sit on you!” she declares. I demur, so she climbs into the chair next to me. “I weigh forty pounds!” she exclaims.

I hand her the iPad I’m carrying and the silliness melts away in an instant. A teacher helps her load up an app, gives her a quick tutorial and she’s off, pulling at icons, stringing instructions together, building animations. Lorna is on her third day of learning to program a computer.

Last summer, I was chatting with the president of the Alberta College of Art + Design, and he mentioned that fluency and problem solving with computers was one of the fundamentals that he would like to see all universities adapt. Despite using one every day, most people don’t have any idea how a computer works, and they should.

Teaching programming at an early stage accomplishes more than this, however. When people are taught to think programatically, they are required to use a certain amount of logic to understand if a result can be expected from a particular interaction. They’re required to think critically about why something happens. If they can apply that same thought process to any of their classes, they can begin to more comprehensively understand the complex interactions of world politics, history, math, physics, and so on.

Apple Removes SVP Bob Mansfield From Executive Team

Bizarre Sunday night news from AllThingsD’s John Paczkowski:

“Bob is no longer going to be on Apple’s executive team, but will remain at Apple working on special projects reporting to [CEO] Tim [Cook],” company spokesman Steve Dowling told AllThingsD. He declined any further explanation, refusing to comment on the reasons behind Mansfield’s abrupt demotion or whether Apple plans to appoint a new SVP of technologies.

Mansfield has always been highly-regarded at Apple. He was due to retire in June last year, but returned in August to lead an all-encompassing “technologies” team.

Apple made two hires of note this year, both of which add to the mystery of this news. In March, Adobe’s Kevin Lynch was hired as VP of technologies; Mansfield was SVP of technologies, which meant that Lynch was likely directly below him in the chain of command. In June, Apple copped the CEO of Yves St Laurent to work on “special projects”. While it’s obvious that neither of these hires explain Mansfield’s demotion (but not departure), I think they add to the cloud of mystery.

Truly a bizarre piece of news. Hopefully, we’ll find out more tomorrow.

Nine Inch Nails Is Back Onstage

Jon Pareles, the New York Times:

Mr. Reznor isn’t easing back into performing. Most bands play festivals with a bare-bones production, for quick setup on a shared stage. His is making a far more elaborate comeback. The show brings dizzying visual effects to an idea borrowed, Mr. Reznor freely admits, from the 1983 Talking Heads tour, filmed as “Stop Making Sense.” Mr. Reznor starts out onstage alone, and the band gradually assembles around him. From there, the visuals escalate. […]

After the festival shows, Nine Inch Nails will mount an entirely different production with three weeks of rehearsals in September, to headline arenas through much of the next year. “The fact that we’re doing all this only for these few shows, and then we have to do it over again, throwing all this out to do a completely new thing, with new things that won’t work,” Mr. Reznor said, “that feels a little insane.”

I get to see the second production on the final stop of the tour, here in Calgary.

If you want to see and hear the product of the festival tour, Reflecting in the Chrome has audio and video of the first stop at the Fuji Rocks Festival, in Niigata, Japan.

Update: It’s on YouTube, too.

Ibrahim Baliç Likely Wasn’t Behind the Apple Developer Breach

The Guardian’s Charles Arthur plays sleuth, and convincingly finds Baliç’s alleged hacking video completely bunk:

Graham Cluley, an independent security consultant, commented: “Many of the names and email addresses either don’t look like they would belong to Apple developers, or appear to have left no footprints anywhere else on the net.” Of the set of 10 emails which appeared in the video, he said: “It’s almost as though these are long-discarded ghost email addresses from years ago or have been used by Balic in his video for reasons best known to himself.”

Does Anyone Still Use Twitter Music?

Spoiler alert: probably not. Nick Summers, The Next Web:

It begs the question though: why would a Spotify or Rdio subscriber leave their dedicated mobile app for this? There’s no way to create custom playlists, queue tracks or access premium features offered by these more robust and expansive services. The idea, presumably, is to reinforce Twitter #Music’s discovery options by giving users the ability to listen to new tracks in their entirety.

It launched as a turd. A beautiful app, sure, but a turd nonetheless. It still is.

Amazon Hits New High on Optimism About Its U.S. Business

Alistair Barr, Reuters:

Amazon.com Inc shares hit a record on Friday after quarterly results increased optimism about the Internet retailer’s U.S. business.

The company reported a second-quarter net loss and weaker international growth on Thursday. However, its domestic business expanded quickly and profit in the region improved.

Amazon investors are more optimistic than a kid on Christmas Eve who wished for a pony. It’s fascinating how a weak quarter can push share prices so high for one company, while another company’s decent quarter can push prices down. The stock market is fun, isn’t it?

Understanding Google

Ben Thompson:

For Google, it is Chrome that fits this focus on a multi-screen world. Chrome shouldn’t be thought of as a web browser; rather, it’s an optimized bi-directional delivery vehicle: the best experience with Google services for users, and maximum user data for Google. And it runs everywhere. This is why Google has been investing millions of dollars in building the Chrome brand for some time now.

Android, on the other hand, enables several of those verticals, and keeps Apple honest in phones especially; however, by virtue of the hardware world it lives in, it’s not the best vehicle for reaching all users, and Google is fine with that.

Compare this against Dr. Drang’s “Free” from earlier this year. Both are along similar lines, but Thompson’s piece benefits from the fleshing out provided by Google’s event on Wednesday.

The idea that Android, for Google, has become an afterthought, or is worthy of less focus, is particularly interesting. Thompason provides ample justification for this (probably controversial) thought, and I agree with what he’s written. There’s been speculation, too, that Google is looking to merge (or better-integrate) Chrome OS and Android; there’s also been speculation that Andy Rubin left the Android team for reasons of Google’s focus.

Henry Blodget Just Bought A Newspaper

Henry Blodget, Business Insider:

Last night, I did something I very rarely do: I bought a newspaper.

You think he bought a publisher of newspapers, right? As in, Blodget just bought the Washington Post or something.

Nope:

Specifically, the newspaper had an article in it that I wanted to read that contained information that wasn’t just a couple of free clicks away.

Blodget just wrote a thousand words about a copy of a newspaper he just bought. Par for the course, really.

If you really want to read the article, it’s available here.

The Surface RT Isn’t Selling So Well

Tom Warren of The Verge has a source who attended Microsoft’s town hall meeting earlier this week:

“We built a few more devices than we could sell,” admitted Ballmer when referring to the slow Surface RT sales.

A few? Microsoft took a $900 million writedown for the poor sales of the Surface RT.

Brad Sams of Neowin also has a source from that town hall meeting:

As for the next Surface? The device is currently in testing and will feature ‘typical improvements’ which is likely a spec bump. Internal response to the next gen Surface has been positive.

That’s not encouraging.

The Surface RT has always seemed like a confused product to me. It runs an OS that looks identical to the one on the Surface Pro and on any Windows laptop sold in the last year, but it’s nowhere near the same.

It would be like if there were two versions of the iPad, with an OS that looks exactly like OS X. On one model of the iPad, you’d be able to install the full desktop version of iPhoto; on the other, you’d have to install the iOS version. Madness.