Germany…Really?

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Anyone who has ever strayed into the more exotic/weird areas of human sexuality could readily conclude that the Germans are nuts. Don’t get me wrong, I like Germany and Germans. I’ve done a lot of business with Germany, I even speak passable “three beer” german none of which changes my view….nuts to a person. If you ever wanted the perfect illustration of just how nutty Germany can be you need look no further than german justice minister Heiko Maas who has declared that in the interests of “consumer protection” that Google should reveal exactly how their search algorithms work.  As I type that it’s hard to not actually LOL.  The almost obsessive dislike verging into hatred of Google by many EU officials is famous. If they spent half the time they do trying to curb Google fixing their economy the EU wouldn’t be the fragile mess it is now. Yet they chip away at Google looking for any crack they can. Google is no doubt huge and powerful and holds about 90% of the EU market but they don’t have to use it…there are other search engines and email providers. If you use it, you don’t have to click on the ads either.

Suggesting that Google reveal in detail exactly how the sausage is made is absurd at so many levels. Spammers have spent decades trying to figure that out. Google (much like God) is all powerful and ineffable. Larry Page will stop serving Germany before he will reveal a line of code to an EU bureaucrat. Of course they won’t show what’s behind the green curtain. Even as the EU continues to peck away at Google with various regulatory or legal assaults there are probably some people over at the GooglePlex who are wondering why they bother. Were Google.de to shut down tomorrow the vast majority of current users would simply point their browsers at Google.com and the browser language options would do the rest. The electrons may have to go a little further..but hey it’s the speed of light so it’s not going to take that much longer.Yes, they are a monopoly and yes they have too much power and yes they are (the worst offense) american…but Herr Maas if you don’t use it your lights will stay on, the water will remain in your pipes and life will continue. Please find a different windmill to tilt at.

Android Going Wider

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Last week Apple gave us the larger, thinner, faster and considerably more expensive iPhone 6. Only they make the hardware. A while ago Apple pretty much invented then ruled the smartphone segment, now it’s a firm second to Android which already has over a billion users so far. Today Google announced the first Android One powered smart phones targeted at the emerging (ie third world) market and it’s coming out at just over $100. That’s an impressive move. It’s not that there haven’t been cheap smartphones out there, there have. This move is interesting because it represents a reliable high quality OS controlled by Google being offered on robust hardware built by major players.

Part of what has driven Google nuts in recent years is that Android as customized and deployed by phone manufacturers has tended to be both twitchy and bloated with custom modules added by the manufactures often to the detriment of the Android user. Not so in the case of Android One. In this version the handset makers will not be able to modify Android. They will be able to add their own apps but Google will control the OS and will be able to update it remotely. That means Google will be much less vulnerable to hardware driven weirdness and will be able to fix problems without relying on the handset guys cooperation.

Seen in the wider context of emerging markets it makes a lot of sense. Much of the developing world has gone straight to wireless without ever touching large scale copper wire. The addition of lower price high quality handsets and very affordable data plans means the the next billion Android users may be a lot closer than we may have thought.

Although this isn’t necessarily an immediate and massive cash win for Google, taking what amounts to global control of the user experience for what will amount to perhaps 30% of humanity is compelling. It will be Google Apps, search and thus ads which will become the global default. You have to admire the long term thinking.

We do not like you Google Man!

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When it comes to the European Union, the Google crew could be forgiven for getting that “Green Eggs and Ham” feeling. Not in a box not with a fox…there is simply no way that the regulators and gate keepers of traditional media in the EU can bear to put up with Google. Back in the day (the early 2000s to be exact) Google didn’t have the kind of strangle hold it currently enjoys.  Nowadays over 90% of all search done in the EU is done on Google.  There is a reason for this. The short answer is offering great search across the many languages represented in Europe is tough. Gathering and making sense of that data is hard and the linguistic complexity makes it harder. Pretty much alone in the world Google has the tech muscle needed to pull that off…so understandably people tend to use Google almost to the exclusion of all others. That in of itself generates a virtuous circle because the advertisers follow the traffic which in turn starves potential rivals of revenue.

The other factor is the kind of zealous nationalism which has been such a successful contributor to world peace in the last hundred or so years.  Put succinctly many in the EU are getting pretty sick of what they perceive to be US bullies telling them what to do. Google is the posterchild and lightening rod for this kind of envy.

It manifests most obviously in the drum beat of calls for Google to undergo the kind of interrogation and perhaps disassembly as Standard Oil or AT&T went through. Regulators and rivals call foul and demand that Google level the playing field…or that governments do that for them. Google makes grudging concessions often linked to approaches which actually ultimately improves their position none of which endears them to the suspicious. You can see where the concerns come from, Google US revenue is greater than a good few members of the EU…like Belgium or Croatia. Google is also perceived as one of the gatekeepers of the new tech age, arrogant and un answerable to any higher authority.  I have a strong suspicion that it’s that “you can’t touch me” or “you need us more than we need you” arrogance which all things US get tarred with on occasion which is driving this at the core.

Do We Really Need to Regulate Drone Airspace? NASA Thinks So

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With all the drones flying around in the sky, there is surprisingly little regulation in place for managing them. NASA has realized that someone has got to stop it all from descending into chaos.

Researchers at NASA’s Moffet Federal Airfield are working on a complex air traffic control system that would be designed solely for drone aircraft, or any flying aircraft below 400 feet. The system would include provisions to stop drones from flying into buildings and other aircraft while also including no-fly zones preventing any unwanted snooping on federal buildings.

However, for commercial drone operations to take off in the US, the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration is still needed. The agency has so far taken a hard line on any paid work using drones, but says it’s looking to propose new rules before the end of the year.

It’s important to note that for now the system wouldn’t have direct communication with an off-the-shelf drone. It is principally designed for commercial drones like Amazon Prime Air and Google’s ‘Wing’ project. Small, cheap drones are proving increasingly popular for both hobbyists and technology companies alike, but while the technology itself is ready to fly, controlling the airspace is a trickier proposition.

Last week, Google unveiled Project Wing, an experimental drone delivery program that sent half-helicopter, half-airplane drones buzzing around remote farmland in Australia. But how would this system work in populated areas or cities? Who would keep the airspace crash-free?

Oh Apple….Really?

 

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I tried really hard to listen live to the Apple announcement today.  The live feed started 6 minutes late and was apparently being simultaneously translated into Japanese….which I could hear much better than the English language version. The feed stopped, broke and stuttered …so I gave up. I like many other people live in  world of Apple hardware running mostly Google applications. I don’t think today changed much of that. The lame live streaming was a harbinger of lameness to follow.

Apple hit the most of marks that were strategically leaked. the phones and phone tablets Phablets (Lord I hate that word) are bigger, brighter more powerful as expected….none of the features would make me pay the extra to upgrade but would probably keep me on the brand going forwards. The downside (as always) is going to be cost. There are many very good much cheaper Android phones out there with bigger specs and lower prices.

The payment component is probably more interesting. Near Field technology to allow secure payment by device as opposed to a card or cash is ancient. they were doing it in South Korea when I was there a decade ago. It’s been very slow off the mark in the US but the fact that Apple has done the legwork to launch it with most the major banks and many thousands of retail outlets may finally get this off the ground in the US. It’s been a long time coming…but welcome none the less.

The other much leaked launch is the Apple Watch….interestingly not called the iWatch.  The world of wearable tech has been taking off nicely and this is Apples contribution to the effort. Put simply…it’s horrible. It looks like something dropped by my 2 year old grandson. The tech inside and the UI may be terrific but I would cut my hand off before I’d put this on my wrist. I’m actually kinda shocked that they would go with a watch most people wouldn’t be seen dead wearing. Leave aside the fact that there was no info on battery life and no wireless charging…this just looks awful….and fragile. At nearly $350 it’s not fitbit cheap….but looks worse.

They ended the presentation with a surprise performance by U2. Not sure that was a great message either. They are for sure mega stars…but also blow-hardy showing their age and haven’t innovated much at all in the last few years. Oh….no wait…that was perfect.

Fingers Crossed for Apple Tomorrow… We Need a Cool New Toy

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This Tuesday, Apple launches their highly anticipated live event. Many have speculated what is set to be revealed this year, as Apple has been rumored to make a splash in the wearable technology market with the so-called “iWatch.”

Most analysts believe such a device is coming, releasing a smartwatch now would mirror Apple’s strategy in the MP3-player market, where the company waited for a few smaller players to release devices and then went on to dominate the market with its own higher-end product.

Should Apple announce an iWatch this week, the company will likely also unveil a release date a little later in the year so as to coincide with the holiday shopping season. However some analysts believe Apple may postpone the iWatch announcement altogether, allowing it to stagger its big announcements and keep this week’s focus squarely on its new phones.

Beyond the traditional improvements Apple tends to make with every new generation of hardware, the defining feature of the products expected to be unveiled this week will almost certainly be screen size. The above photo is one of many rumored prototypes of a new iPhone, including a bigger screen than the traditional iPhone size. For years, Apple refused to alter the screen size of its flagship device.

In recent years, top rivals of Apple such as Samsung have proven that there exists a market for phones with larger screens. It is unlikely that Apple will release anything as large as the 6.3-inch Samsung Galaxy Mega, or the 7” Galaxy W, but analysts expect Apple to unveil two new types of iPhone – one with a 4.7-inch screen and the other with a 5.5-inch screen. Both would be larger than the most recent, 4-inch iteration of the smartphone.

Since the iPhone morphed from a revolutionary new product into a consumer mainstay several years ago, Apple launch events have largely focused on new tools and services for the hardware, rather than the hardware itself. This week’s event will likely be no exception, as Apple executives are expected to spend a lot of time talking about various cloud-based services – most notably, a new wireless payment standard that will allow iPhone users to make purchases simply by swiping their devices past terminals at the checkout. Many Apple rivals, including BlackBerry, have spent considerable energy on similar wireless payment models, but Apple’s entry is likely to shake up the technology, which has not yet taken off in a big way in North America.

But Apple’s promotion of cloud-based services is likely to prove a little tricky after an embarrassing black eye last week. In a high-profile incident the company has yet to fully explain, numerous celebrities saw their iCloud accounts hacked and intimate photos and other content stolen and distributed across the Internet. The hacking incident reignited a debate about the security of the infrastructure in which Apple users store everything from multimedia to credit-card numbers. As such, Apple executives will now almost certainly have to dedicate some time during this week’s presentation to reassure current and potential customers that their data are safe in the Apple cloud.

The Social Scarlet Letter

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I like dogs, I have two and a half of them back home. One is really quiet and well behaved and one is an American Bulldog…anyone who owns one will know exactly that that means. I don’t like cruelty to animals (who does!) but a recent case has given me slight pause. The fellow who runs Centerplate catering (which specializes in supplying awful overpriced food to sports arenas) lost his temper with a Doberman puppy he was looking after. He kicked the pooch and lifted him up by the collar. His crime was captured on security video in the elevator and it was of course leaked to the media. I watched the video…it’s a little rough to watch..if it was an American Bulldog he would probably have enjoyed the added attention. This gentleman was certainly guilty of being a total jerk….he may yet face cruelty charges in Canada where the event happened.  He apologized profusely, his company put him on suspension, ordered him to set up a $100,000 foundation against animal cruelty and do 1,000 hours in appropriate community service.

Even given those good efforts the social media drum beat for him to be punished for his apparently out of character jerkiness continued unabated. An online petition amassed 193,000 signatures and people started lobbying the clients of his company. The kicker here is that although his company is private many of their clients play in arenas owned by local governments. In response to the video and the pressure it generated several of them claimed to be reviewing their contracts with Centerplate. The implication being (I guess) that if enough people could be organized to protest Centerplate would lose contracts.

After more than a week of this Centerplate folded under the pressure and he stepped down. Obviously I don’t condone the action of what was by all reports a hardworking and successful guy…he was a total jerk. He’s now also out of a job and his company is down what appeared to be a good leader. This has more than a whiff of mob rule about it. The angry mob of protestors wanted blood and they got it. The double standard that Michael Vick probably plays in sports grounds which are catered for by Centerplate is breathtaking. I wonder how many of the protesters have ever had a bad day and taken it out on their dog or spouse..or kids. Social media, in addition to providing us with unlimited access to pictures of cats has also become the bully pulpit of…well….bullies. Its anonymity means that everyone has an opinion and that opinion must be heard. It can build a career overnight and destroy one just as quickly. It’s all very amusing…until they come for you.

Police Departments Hoping Wearable Technology Will Prevent Another Ferguson

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There was a time, not that long ago, when truck drivers drove for 24hrs straight on a mix of coffee and meth leading to routine mayhem on our roads. Then they introduced ‘the spy in the cab’ and the problem went away almost overnight. Similarly the introduction of police monitoring equipment (essentially a GoPro for each cop) has caused enormous changes.

Suddenly the seemingly intractable problem of inappropriate use of force and the complaints filed against the police for so doing dropped immediately. Use of force by 60% and complaints by 88% respectively. The national media coverage following the killing of teenager Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson has given this issue due prominence. The message is clear…if a bad actor knows his bad acts will be recorded and make him answerable for them he will think twice before committing those acts. Even in Missouri a few body-mounted camera systems are being considered, which will likely set the pattern for how wearable technology is used in the police force from now on. Here are some examples of the technology under test or in use:

Digital Ally FirstVU HD Officer-Worn Video System

Digital Ally’s system and others like it are unique because they accommodate the need of police officers exiting their vehicles. Such action often leaves dash-mounted cameras unable to record activity beside or behind the patrol car.

Since its market launch, the efficacy of the FirstVU HD has been complemented and expanded by ‘live streaming’ capabilities, cloud-based storage and access, and the recent introduction of patented VuLink connectivity system, which allows body cameras and multiple in-car video systems to be automatically or manually activated simultaneously.

TASER Axon Flex

Another leading maker of wearable video cameras is Taser. The Axon Flex that sells for $600 lets officers mount the tiny camera on their eyewear, hat, helmet, body or even on the dash of their cruiser.

A collaboration between Taser and Samsung allows the video and audio feed from the camera to be sent to a Samsung media device with a four-inch screen called the Galaxy Player.

Law enforcement agencies have used the Axon Flex-Galaxy Player combination not only for active police work, but also to monitor trainees and help provide better feedback as they develop their policing skills.

GoPro Hero

The company that went public with an IPO back in June makes the Hero line of personal HD cameras, frequently used in extreme sports. Although the GoPro Hero is sold to and used by law enforcement, it is larger than some of its competitors and considered bulky by some.

What some consider a disadvantage, however, could also be an advantage. A chest-mounted GoPro Hero is obvious to anyone a police officer encounters.

Google Glass

Many would argue that Google Glass is a perfect fit for police use. It sees what the officer sees, is small and lightweight, unobtrusive and offers many other benefits including the ability to communicate with various police agencies.

Law enforcement personnel in Dubai, New York, Byron, Georgia and Rialto have made use of Google Glass. Because the device has the potential to be used with a variety of apps that could, for example, scan license plates, many in law enforcement see Glass as one of most attractive options yet.

 

Big Brother is Searching You

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I have an American bulldog called Hedwig (named after Hedwig and the Angry Inch not the owl from Harry Potter). She is a sweetheart and a lughead at the same time. She has a weak spot for pillows…if she is left with unattended access  there is a good chance we will return to find a thick down of feathers covering everything. She just lies on the floor cowering in abject misery as we yell at her….again. Her argument is “what can I do…I cant stop myself… have a problem!”  The NSA is a lot like Hedwig when it comes to our personal data.

The problem with data is that just as data it’s not that useful. You have to be able to use that data to answer questions. The obvious model to follow is a search engine. So God bless ‘em our good friends at the NSA built themselves a “Google like” search engine for all their data. The troubling thing isn’t that they built a search engine….the troubling thing is that according to the law of the land they aren’t allowed to store data on US citizens on a “just incase” basis. Individual US citizens are supposed to be terror suspects or similar before being subject to this kind of scrutiny. In their enthusiasm to collect data on all kinds of potential foreign threats they are also scooping up tons of data on perfectly innocent US citizens and that data is then made searchable through their snappily named Google clone  ICREACH search program.

What our government is doing is circumventing regulations designed to protect our privacy by wrapping a search engine around all of the data stored separately (and perhaps legitimately in some cases) by various government entities and making it searchable by all the agencies irrespective of who gathered it and under what level of legal approval.

This isn’t a new problem. Search technology companies have been solving these problems for large companies for years. Imagine you are Home Depot. You have data in many different databases such as sales, stock inventory, HR records, delivery schedules etc. To manage your business you need to be able to normalize that data so that your people can see the entire picture not just the data limited to the area they specialize in. A search engine can wrap around those different data sources giving insights into the bigger picture.  It also makes sense to present the data in a way already understood by the people working on it. In the same way that the military models their vehicle and weapons control units around XBox controllers so the NSA copied Google. Data perhaps obtained legitimately by agency A is being made completely available to agencies B through Z a lot of data from completely innocent citizens is being collected then made available to any agency employee with access to ICREACH.

The good news is that our leaders who are incapable of launching a website to give access to medical services under the Affordable Care Act have apparently proved able to build and launch a super powerful search platform…an altogether tougher problem. I have a suggestion for that team.  The VA has thousands of veterans who are unable to get services because the government simply can’t find their records. Maybe the ICREACH team could be brought in to index and make searchable the chaos of data collected legitimately by the VA and get those service people the services they need….it’s not as much fun as constantly breaking the fourth amendment…but a good idea none the less.

Google is Hackable?

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The other day I was about to pay for my purchases at Target with my debit card and my hand waivered as I swiped the card….what if they get hacked again. It seems like every day we hear reports of some entity misplacing or mismanaging our data. there have been so many scares most of which don’t ever seem to amount to any real threat it feels like we are getting used to this digital ‘cry wolf’ situation….and in any event the really big guys like Amazon and Google never get hacked…right?

Yesterday was different. For a few hours yesterday morning Google Images lost it’s proverbial mind. No matter what you searched for most of the images returned were of a picture of a car crash some place in Russia. That has to mean one of two things…a monumental bug which redirected all image searches for every topic to one random image….or more likely and probably more sinister they were hacked…probably by Russian hackers.

Given their famously transparent approach it’s unlikely that Google will ever reveal what actually happened but it’s interesting to speculate. In a related area recent testing revealed that a bunch of tattooed boy wonders were able to hack Gmail on all mobile operating systems no less than 92% of the time. Great first the NSA now the Russians…is there anybody not reading our mail?