Do you own the device you just bought?


Professor of Law, Washington and Lee University, has a great blog post that echoes exactly the same sentiments I heard Richard Stallman explain his original drive for open source, way back in the 1980’s.

Fairfield argues that we don’t own the devices we buy, we are merely buying a one-time license to the software within them. He makes a great case. It’s worth the read.

One key reason we don’t control our devices is that the companies that make them seem to think – and definitely act like – they still own them, even after we’ve bought them. A person may purchase a nice-looking box full of electronics that can function as a smartphone, the corporate argument goes, but they buy a license only to use the software inside. The companies say they still own the software, and because they own it, they can control it. It’s as if a car dealer sold a car, but claimed ownership of the motor.

My favorite counter-example of this is the Logitech Squeezebox network music player system I use.  Originally created by Slim Devices, as far back as 2000, with their first music player launched in 2001. Slim Devices were acquired by Logitech in 2006, who then abandoned the product line in 2012.

I started using Logitech Squeezebox in 2008, first by buying a Squeezebox Boom, then a Radio, another Boom, a Touch and have subsequently bought used Duet, and for my main living room, the audiophile quality Transporter.

While there are virtually no new client/players, there is a thriving client base built around the Raspberry Pi hardware with both client software builds and add-on audio hardware, as well as server builds to use the Pi. I’ve hacked some temporary preferences into the code to solve minor problems, but by far the most impressive enhancements to the long abandoned, official, server codebase are the extensions to keep up with changes in streaming services like the BBC iPlayer radio, Spotify, DSD play and streaming and many more enhancements. For any normal, closed source platform any one of these enhancements would likely have been impossible, and for many users made the hardware redundant.

The best place to start in the Squeezebox world is over on the forums, hosted, of course, at http://forums.slimdevices.com/

When my 1-month Ring (video) doorbell failed. It was all I could do to get Ring to respond. I spent nearly 4-hours on the phone with tech support. Not only did I have no control, the doorbell had stopped talking to their service, but they couldn’t really help. After the second session with support, I just said “look I’m done can you send a replacement?” – The tech support agent agreed they would, but 10-days later I was still waiting for even a shipping notice, much less a replacement. While the door bell worked as a door bell, none of the services, motion detection, door bell rings were any good as their services were unavailable to my door bell.

You don’t have to give up control when you buy a new device. You do own the skeleton of the hardware, buy you’ll have to make informed choices, and probably will give up control, if you want to own the soul of the machine, it’s software.

Nobody wants to use…

Everyone wants to have everything. Bertil Muth has a great blog on software invisibility and use, where he asserts “Nobody wants to use software“.

Bertil makes a good case for AI driven software, that senses or learns why it exists, and just does what it should. Of course building such software is hard, very hard. It’s a good read though with some thought provoking points.

In the article when discussing Amazon he made a claim it was worth clarifying. It’s about the “infamous” 1-click patent. My comment is here.

“Then they [Amazon]pioneered 1-Click payment”
Actually they didn’t, they popularized a prior method, which after re-examination by the patent office was restricted to the use online, only in shopping carts.

The idea of a single click payment or financial transaction had been implemented many times before, however, prior to 1982 software patents were extremely hard to get for individual functions of so-called unique concepts, and were reserved for much broader, unique “inventions”.

In 1984, I was one of many working on Chemical Banks Pronto Home Banking System. For transfers between accounts within the bank, we initiated a 1-click on the UI for the PC Junior version of Pronto.

As far as I’m aware, nothing from Pronto was patented due to the high cost at the time. It wasn’t until the late 1980’s software patents started to be filed for individual methods, by the mid-90’s software patents became commonplace, and their use both defensive and offensive, sadly became commonplace too.

Overall though, it’s an excellent post which resonates with many of the themes of simplicity and usability I’ve argued here and elsewhere over the years.

What makes a good technical manager?

Is it possible to engineer the perfect boss? Google was up to the task and found data that will forever change the keys to getting promoted.

A few people posted, quoted and retweeted this INC. Article on my social media streams. The “Eight Habits of Highly Effective Google Managers.” is a good list and set of checkpoints.

For me though, as longtime readers will know, I’ve long been a believer in the non-technical manager, most of my best managers and executives were managers first and technical second. On one post on Facebook it summed it up as:

A good company employs managers to manage the company for employees, and employees for the company.

If the company doesn’t have senior technical non-manager positions and technicians are becoming managers to get promoted, you and the managers are at the wrong company in the first place.

I’d tried being a teamlead very early on in my career, it wasn’t good for me or the team, but then I was just 25-years old. Later on, not being a manager became a source of pride, making it through the corporate ranks at IBM without ever being a manager. My mentoring/career presentation has it on slide-2 and slide-10.

These days I think I’d be a good manager, my patience has certainly improved, I’ve achieved everything and more, that I set out to do, and while I’m still technical, I know my boundaries and wouldn’t want to cross them.

Wikileaks Revelations Expose How the CIA Wants to Destroy Everyone’s Privacy

Analysis of the recent CIA/Wikileaks dump. Backdoors, and known defects used for exploitation are ALWAYS a bad idea. Any politician who advocates for backdoors simply doesn’t understand the Pandora’s box they are opening.

Josep Goded

On Tuesday, Wikileaks published 8,761 documents revealing how the CIA hacks Samsung TVs, computers, phones and cars to spy on civilians from all over the world. For that to happen, a CIA team created a new software capable of infecting the previously mentioned devices to transform them into microphones ready to spy on their owners, including when the devices are apparently in off mode.

Once the device is infected, the CIA can bypass the encryption on apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal by using phones that use Google’s Android and IOS platforms to collect audio and message traffic before encryption is applied. Further, infected devices can also be instructed to send the CIA the user’s geolocation, audio and text communications as well as to covertly activate the phone’s camera and microphone.

According to Wikileaks, each technique the CIA has created ‘forms a “fingerprint” that can be used by…

View original post 628 more words

Local StorageTek Legacy

May 2016

When I first moved to Colorado, I was fascinated and amused, sometimes twice per day on the school run, I’d pass Tape and Disk(or was it disc?) Dr. The roads led to nothing. and empty site, full of scrub grass and weeds. I’d always assumed it was a failed tax break development scheme. This seemed particularly likely as there is a large multi-property multi-family housing development across the street.

I was surprised recently on a Wednesday morning ride when one of the guys I was riding with declared he used to work at StorageTek there. I was fascinated. Although I remember IBM had a plant here that developed laser printers, but I knew that location was sold to Lexmark.

Rather than the roads leading to an undeveloped location, the location had at one time been a thriving location. Some poking around on the Denver Business Journal website revealed the story, and google maps had some pictures of the site in better days and from I36 you can even see some of the buildings. The picture below is a 2008 aerial picture of the site. Disk Dr is the road onto the site in the upper right, and Tape Dr on the lower right.StorageTek

From the Denver Business Journal

Asides from questions about the future of the site, the only real question is when did the site transfer between Louisville and Broomfield cities, see pictures above.

Open letter: CD Recycling

Dear IT Industry Colleague,

I’ve just moved house. In the process I realised that I had hundreds of old datas CD’s. Some of them with old backups, many of them used to copy copies of other CD’s some DVD’s with dumps of system folders and so on a so forth.

I figured I’d just dump them in the recycling, which gets collected bi-weekly. On checking though, not only are these not recyclable, but they are actually pretty hard to completely destroy. They also contain a large amount of toxic chemicals, and unless they are sent to a specialty recycling center, most end up in incinerators or landfill, neither is a good thing.

There is a good article here on the general problems with the creation and disposal of CD/DVD’s, from 2013. It says, among other things:

The discs are made of layers of different mixed materials, including a combination of various mined metals and petroleum–derived plastics, lacquers and dyes, which, when disposed of, can pollute groundwater and bring on a myriad of health problems. Most jewel cases are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which has been thought to produce a higher-than-normal cancer rate within workers and those who live in the area where it is manufactured. They also release harmful chemicals when incinerated.

Having realized the problems, what did I do? First, when disposing old data CD’s and DVD’s you must understand there is an obvious potential security exposure. In principle, any data can be read from the CD. In practice, it may not be that simple if the data is formatted using specific backup programs, encrypted etc. But you do have to consider this before discarding them.

man eating cdI came up with a couple of easy ways to make recovering data hard. One involved scratching the recording sides (remember, some are dual sided). The scratches can be removed but it’s a time consuming process and not something done by someone who casually comes across your CD.

The second process used a nail in a set of grips, I heated the nail and simply pushed a couple of holes through each CD/DVD. Again, some data could still be read by the determined, but very unlikely.

IMG_20160609_182555Once I was done marking all the media, I threw them in an old Amazon box, too them to the US Post Office, mailed them as “media mail” to the CD Recycling Center of America. The CD Recycling Center provides “certified destruction” of your CD’s.

Our industry uses vast amounts of natural resources, it consumes rare minerals at an alarming rate, often mined in difficult, dangerous, and sometimes illegal conditions. Individually this is hard for us to do anything about. Please though, don’t throw old data CDs, DVD’s or any others in the garbage/trash/refuse and especially the recycling.

Yes, it takes a few minutes of your time; yes, it will cost you to box, tape, address and actually post the package back for destruction. Over the years IT has made me a lot of money, it is the least I could do. Please join me. Thank you.

 

Woe are apps

As a follow-on to my recent app post, a couple of interesting udates. First up, marketplace.org ran an interesting piece on apps on June 9th. Sabri Ben-Achour covered the Apple iTunes announcement by saying:

  • It’s hard for app developers to get noticed(thats a “no shit sherlock” moment)
  • It’s hard to make money (thats NSS #2)
  • There are 1.6 million apps on the Apple store, the search function isn’t that great
  • There have been 75 billion app downloads, but the average user downloads zero apps per month.

Apples answer? Paid promotion within the iTunes store. Of course if apps didn’t exist and companies and developers were using the power of mobile through web, css etc. their sites would be found in context of content and SEO. They could focus their efforts in a single way to promote their content and the web UI to access it.

Also new, to me, I went to use Skype to contact one of my kids in Europe the other day and was surprised, and more than a little disappointed to find the Skype app was no longer working and no longer available. It’s not clear if this was a business decision, or a technology one. The app was the only one I ever used on the Samsung SmartTV that used the camera. Yeah, I know I should have taped over the camera.

That’s the problem with apps, you wait for ages for a platform that makes sense, and then two or more come along at the same time. You better hope you pick the right one. There are some 137 pages on a single thread on the Skype Community forums debating if either Skype or Samsung was the wrong platform.

Apps


About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I'm an information technology optimist.


I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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