Archive for the 'software' Category

IoT App hell of the future

On the day after it was revealed that some models of the Google Home Mini speaker was revealed to be recording voices 24/7 due to a defect, Danny Palmer has a thoughtful piece on ZDNet about the toxic legacy of IoT devices.

Danny is spot-on about the social and technological impact of connected devices past their support date. While I’ve complained in the past about constantly updating apps, both adding function that slows the original device, and removing function that changes, often destroys the original value proposition of the device. It’s perhaps when the devices stop getting updates we have the most to fear from?

I have a Netgear NAS that is out of support, in fact, since I have an identical NAS that wakes-up Tuesdays at 2am and backs-up the primary NAS, I have two of them. While they are out of support, Netgear has been good at fixing urgent vulnerabilities. Of course, since I can’t see the source, I don’t know what vulnerabilities they have not fixed.

Kate and I went to see Blade Runner 2049 on the opening day at the local AMC cinema. It’s a bit of a thing of mine to sit through ALL, and I mean all of the end credits, As we left the theater, there it was, right at the very bottom of the screen, unseen from the seats, the Windows XP Start-button. I have no idea what projector they were using, but yes, many projectors did, and obviously still do run Windows XP.

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

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.

Woe are apps

As a follow-on to my recent app post, a couple of interesting udates. First up, 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.


Mainframe Assembler Language 2.0

Those that still follow my blog from my days working in the IBM mainframe arena might be interested in the following.

One of the stalwarts of software at IBM, and self described grand poobar of High Level Assembler, John R. Ehrman has a 1300-page 2.0 version of his book “Assembler Language Programming for IBM System z™ Servers ” and it’s available in PDF form here. There are a wealth of other assembler resources that John has contributed here on

Touch screen and the desktop

I just posted a response over on a CNET discussion topic. As often is the case, rather than write, review, edit and post; I banged away a response and submitted, as always I made a few typo’s, so here is a corrected version.

I’ve just retired from an senior engineering position at Dell, specializing in software and firmware but I also participated in a number of usability studies for hardware/software combinations. I was the originator of the NFC enabled server systems management concept. I’d offer a few thoughts to confirm what some others have said, but also a slightly different perspective.

1. yes reaching across a keyboard to a monitor mounted at the back of a desk is ergonomically unpleasant.

2. Touch is an interesting technology, but for fixed monitors and TV’s etc. it is less than optimal. There are numerous efforts underway to come up with a more responsive, natural way to control a UI. Think X/BOX or Nintendo, or the Samsung SmartTV gestures, voice ala Amazon echo etc.

3. That said, I for one would never go back to a non-touch laptop screen. I can lift my arm from the keyboard and prod the “submit post” button below much quicker that I can use the touchpad, or grab an extrnal mouse and click.

4. If you want a touch screen desktop I’d highly recommend getting an all-in-one with a touch screen and mounting it into a desk. I had one of the Dell XPS 27’s and had an IKEA draftmans desk. We cut a hole 99% the size of the screen; mounted the screen into the hole; secured it with picture wire in a # format across the back. I gave up using a physical keyboard and mouse, bought a Targus Stylus and went 100% touch. The advantage of the IKEA desk is that you can easily angle the surface to one that suits you. Also, it came with a medal lip which stopped things sliding off the edge; also it came with a built in glass area, which was great for to-do lists, notes etc.

One final note, on Touch screen PC’s. As with Windows 10, when switching over to touch screen you have to try to stop doing the way you did them with a mouse and keyboard. The Adobe PDF app for Windows 10, is much easier to use than the Adobe desktop app for Windows 10. Using a drawing program for line art, block diagrams etc. either with your finger, or with a stylus is a huge leap forward to messing about with Word and Powerpoint. In the case of slides, and powerpoint, it made me released me from decades of serial text mode slides.

So rather than ask why so few touch screens for desktop computers. Ask, what are top-5 applications I use, and how could touchscreen make them better, easier, or me more productive. If it’s email, calendar and web browsing, it probably won’t. Although even in those cases, zoom in and zoom out is an improvement.

Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative

In a discussion recently I was asked about the Linux Foundation Converged Infrastructure Initiative and if it was still active?

Indeed it is, they’ve made some great progress on funding and supporting open source projects, and there are some interesting developments coming before the end of the year. CII has funded a number of projects through their grants process, you can read more of the some of the projects, and help with prioritization.

It’s not the nature of the CII to broadcast its’ work, the best measure of success are no vulnerabilities in the projects they are supporting. Projects funded following on from the initial OpenSSL, include:

  • Network Time Protocol (NTP)
  • GnuPG
  • OpenSSH
  • Debian Reproduceable Builds
  • The Fuzzing Project
  • False-Positive-Free Testing with Frama-C

Details of the grants etc. are here. Also, I’ve finally added my profile to the CII web site, as seen here

.CII Profile

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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