Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for July, 2013

UK Porn Filter Will Censor Other Content Too

Starting from a position of ‘porn banned’, subscribers will have to systematically unblock things they require access to. This, Cameron says, will help prevent the nation’s children from gaining access to “corroding influences” online.

While the idea of protecting children is a commendable one, censorship opponents leveled several criticisms at the scheme. Would it work? Would it lead to over-blocking? Would the system be easily circumvented? What about the privacy implications?

In order: no, yes, yes, and “remember privacy?”:

Furthermore, in news that’s unlikely to win the PM or TalkTalk many fans, it’s now been revealed by the BBC that HomeSafe is being run by Huawei, a Chinese company founded by a former China People’s Liberation Army officer. […]

Whether Huawei is linked to the government or not (they insist not), it’s hardly encouraging to discover that even when TalkTalk subscribers turn filtering completely off, their traffic is still routed through Huawei’s system.

Sounds spectacular.

David Geffen’s Beach is Yours

Fascinating story from Trent Wolbe of The Verge:

Last Saturday Ben Adair and Jenny Price had a party to celebrate the launch of their new app, Our Malibu Beaches. Fittingly, it was on the beach in Malibu — a nice canopy to sit under, kids building sand castles, Doritos and Coke for everyone. But it was kind of hard to chat because Mudvayne’s “The New Game” was blasting from speakers in the adjacent mansion. Not in a fun mosh pit kind of way — more like a “get off my lawn” kind of way, even though the public has been guaranteed access to all 1,100 miles of California coast since 1976.

The Trouble With iTunes on the Mac and Windows

Peter Cohen, in a column for iMore:

The net result is that iTunes does a lot of things, but does them poorly. The interface has become needlessly complex, and attempts to refine and improve it have largely failed as a result. iTunes is the one Mac app that drives your experience with music, downloading television shows, movies and apps. It’s trying to do too much. It needs to do much less. As a result, even the name “iTunes” has lost its meaning – “tunes” are only a small part of the app’s overall function.

I won’t ever argue that iTunes works flawlessly for me, but I rarely run into any major issues, even with my large library. But, then again, I also don’t use iTunes Match. iTunes on Windows is appalling, however; it’s the biggest complaint I hear from my Windows-using friends.

As I’ve previously argued, though, I think the monolithic iTunes design makes more sense than using separate apps for purchasing, playback, and syncing. When it works, this experience is more seamless and less convoluted than purchasing a song in one app, adding it to a playlist in another, and then selecting that playlist to sync in a third app. But we’ll see how this plays out this autumn; Mavericks includes iBooks, an entirely separate store application.

Print Dead

The Onion:

Sources close to print, the method of applying ink to paper in order to convey information to a mass audience, have confirmed that the declining medium passed away early Thursday morning.

The influential means of communication was 1,803.

Had Another Messaging in the 21st Century Adventure This Morning

David Chartier:

For now we are stuck with two conclusions: either we live in the past with silly SMS, or we install two, three, five, or even 10 different apps so we can chat with all our friends. We sign up for 10 different services, give our information away to 10 different companies, blindly click Accept on 10 different illegible, user-hostile terms of service agreements.

Some of my friends use iMessage, which is great and lovely and sometimes works 70% of the time. Or something like that. Some of my friends toggle iMessage on and off, depending on their mood. Some of the people I chat with are SMS-only, and that’s fine. Others are people I direct message on Twitter (no kidding!), AIM (no shit!), chat with on Facebook, or use a more byzantine service (postal mail, anyone?).

Is this terrifying? Absolutely. But, in a weird sort of way, it works.

The people I message on Twitter or Facebook are people who don’t have my phone number, and that’s a good thing. The people who do send me an iMessage or an SMS are people I’ve entrusted with the power to buzz my front right pocket on their whim. Any time you give your phone number to someone who will likely text you, you’re entrusting them with the responsibility to use that wisely. With great power, etc.

Random Sneeze Call

Randall Munroe, in another edition of “What If?”:

If you call a random phone number and say “God bless you”, what are the chances that the person who answers just sneezed? On average, not just in spring or fall.

I Guess BGR Gets Paid By Ad Impressions

Zach Epstein of BGR examined a crop of Moto X screenshots which show new camera features, and has come to the conclusion that they reveal “Google’s plan to attack its own Android partners”:

What this means is that over the next few years, we may see real separation build between Google and its Android vendor partners. On one side we’ll have “open Android,” which companies like Samsung and HTC will use as the base for their own smartphone efforts.

But Google may reserve the best and most compelling new features for its own Motorola phones.

Setting aside the obviously sensational title and the extraordinary logical contortions Epstein has had to perform to create this (and many other) stories, there is a genuinely interesting question here: how will third parties react to Google producing their own Android hardware and putting $500 million of marketing muscle behind it?

The case study of Microsoft producing their own tablet hardware in the Surface is a good example — a huge advertising budget,1 unique hardware, and first-party support. It will be interesting to see how this pays out for Google.

  1. The article specifies Windows 8, but the Surface reportedly takes a large share of that budget. ↩︎

Do Android Tablets Stay in a Drawer?

Chitika released an update to their US/Canada tablet usage statistics yesterday:

Since Chitika Insights’ last study on the tablet market, Apple iPad users’ share of U.S. and Canadian tablet Web traffic has increased by nearly two percentage points, from 82.4% in May 2013, to 84.3% in June 2013 – now the iPad’s highest share since the beginning of 2013.

Tim Cook referenced this on the conference call yesterday when asked about the market share of iPads vs. Android tablets.

Then this, today, from Harrison Weber of The Next Web:

Today at a press event hosted by Android and Chrome chief Sundar Pichai, Google revealed that there have been 70 million Android tablet activations to date. Google also detailed that, in the first half of 2013, so far one in every two tablets sold globally is based on Android.

Something doesn’t add up if half of all tablets sold globally in 2013 are running Android, yet Chitika’s data shows an overwhelming lead for the iPad. Chitika’s methodology1 might preclude browsers with ad blockers, and only represents Canadian and American web traffic.

It would therefore be pertinent to cross-check this data against another browser stats site — Net Applications, for example.2 Last month, the iPad recorded 34% of worldwide mobile web traffic, compared to 15% for Android. While that’s not as striking as Chitika’s data, keep in mind that the Android traffic also includes phones and, judging by their worldwide market share, I’d suspect smartphone account for almost all of that.

All of this comes on the same day that Google launched a new Nexus 7, which is a hair lighter than the older model, making it a less-ideal paperweight.

I’m kidding. That’s a pretty bitchin’ display.

  1. “To determine the distribution of Web usage among tablet devices for the month of June 2013, Chitika Insights sampled tens of millions of U.S. and Canadian tablet online ad impressions running through the Chitika Ad Network.” ↩︎

  2. Unfortunately, there’s no way to create a permalink to a specific Net Applications chart short of embedding an ugly chart. However, if you visit their site and select “Mobile Trend by Version” from the “Operating Systems” menu at the top, you’ll see the figures I’m referencing here. ↩︎

NSA Says It Can’t Search Its Own Emails

Justin Elliott, Ars Technica:

I filed a request last week for e-mails between NSA employees and employees of the National Geographic Channel over a specific time period. The TV station had aired a friendly documentary on the NSA and I want to better understand the agency’s public-relations efforts.

A few days after filing the request, Blacker called, asking me to narrow my request since the FOIA office can search e-mails only “person by person,” rather than in bulk. The NSA has more than 30,000 employees.

Surely some of their own emails must have got caught up in the wiretaps and they could simply search those.


Matt Gemmell:

All technology imposes constraints. The specific constraints exposed speak volumes about the company that made the device. What you want is a product portfolio that’s segmented along scenarios of use. A clean division between categories, reflecting choices the user wants to make. Like power, or portability.

This is one of the best articles I’ve read in the past month.

Apple Reports Third Quarter 2013 Results

Interestingly, iPhone sales were higher than almost all analysts predicted, while iPad sales were near the lowest of predictions. This is the last quarter before Apple starts their major product launches; I’d expect Q4 and Q1 2014 to be really big.

Tim Cook:

“We are really excited about the upcoming releases of iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks, and we are laser-focused and working hard on some amazing new products that we will introduce in the fall and across 2014.”

It’s been an awkward half-year of lull, but imagine what Apple can create when their teams get a little more time and space to focus.

Victory Lap for Ask Patents

Joel Spolsky:

Software developers don’t actually invent very much. The number of actually novel, non-obvious inventions in the software industry that maybe, in some universe, deserve a government-granted monopoly is, perhaps, two.

I hadn’t heard of the Ask Patents portal on StackExchange until today. Intriguing stuff.

The 70–20–5 Rule

MG Siegler:

I’d just warn everyone who loves reading tech news as much as I do to no longer take it with just a grain of salt, take it with the entire canister of salt. Maybe desalt the ocean and use that.The likelihood that what you’re reading is completely accurate is very, very, very small. There may be some truth there. There may be none. Just know that.

SIM Encryption Flaw

Kevin J. O’Brien, New York Times:

Karsten Nohl, founder of Security Research Labs in Berlin, said the encryption hole allowed outsiders to obtain a SIM card’s digital key, a 56-digit sequence that opens the chip up to modification. With that key in hand, Mr. Nohl said, he was able to send a virus to the SIM card through a text message, which let him eavesdrop on a caller, make purchases through mobile payment systems and even impersonate the phone’s owner.

Black Hat begins in Las Vegas on July 27, while Defcon begins on August 1. It therefore isn’t surprising that security breaches and issues are being announced this week. You can expect a lot more where this (and the Apple Developer Centre breach) came from.

The Apple Developer Connection Security Breach

Through the eyes of the person who discovered it, no less. Ibrahim Baliç is a security researcher based in London. He discovered a bug in the ADC which allowed him to bulk-download users’ names and email addresses. It appears that he was not able to see physical addresses, however.

If you want to watch your information being slurped via a screen recording, you should act fast. I suspect this video won’t be up for long.

Update: As expected, this video disappeared pretty quickly.

Extended Apple Developer Connection Outage Due to Security Breach

To be frank, I’m surprised anything like this hasn’t happened in the five years that the developer centre has been extremely popular, owing to the iOS App Store.

This sounds serious, but not awful — only names, email addresses, and physical addresses may have been seen. Not comforting, especially if you use a specific email address for your ADC account, but not as worrying as a more serious code or billing exploit. Sounds like this is going to take a while to mend, but that it will be significantly more robust when it has been.

Will.I.Am Offers Advice on Logo Design

Mr. Am demonstrates his understanding of identity:

If the logo doesn’t represent the company’s objective on a symbolic level, right, ‘cos you have to think of what India is going to do to the world. We know what Silicon Valley did to the world, we know what China does for the world. But what India is gonna do for the world is they’re gonna create a symbolic language.

I wonder what the meeting was like at the Wall Street Journal when they were deciding who to interview for a bit about logo design. They could have picked Michael Bierut of Pentagram, or Massimo Vignelli. But they chose Will.I.Am.

Apple Confirms Hopstop Acquisition


At last count, HopStop had two million monthly active users and launched a Waze-like service for reporting real-time delays and other information.

Waze currently provides some data to Apple; after Google acquired that company, this seems like a great move to ensure a bolstering of Apple’s mapping data.

Update: Due to another mapping data acquisition by Apple, I got confused on this one. Hopstop is much more significant to Apple’s future offerings than I first thought; they’re one of very few companies in the world with public transit timetables for many major cities. The only other company that I can think of with that kind of offering is Google.