Tag Archives: technology

Eliminating Usernames and Passwords

PayPal exec aims to “obliterate passwords from the face of the planet” | Ars Technica: “Phones could also authenticate a user with voice biometrics, eye scans, or facial recognition, he said. On PCs, there would be a browser plugin which could recognize the authentication methods that the system is capable of. A USB stick loaded with FIDO software could also work, allowing users to authenticate to computers they don’t own. Google is reportedly working on similar ways to eliminate the password.”

(Via ars technica.)

I’ve made it clear on at least one occasion how much I think user names and passwords are futile. This FIDO concept has me very excited, indeed. 

Not Using Computers is the Hack

John Siracusa is right about electronic voting. People have been trained for years to be skeptical about computers replacing our ancient paper ballot systems. It’s sad for me to hear otherwise intelligent people spew out all the various rote reasons why we could never vote via the Internet from our own laptops or phones.

“It’ll be the end of democracy!” “Hackers will steal elections with a single click!” “Paper systems are so much harder to manipulate!” 

Nonsense, plain and simple. Like fears of Terminator style artificially intelligent machines taking over the human race and enslaving us, fears of electronic voting are just plain illogical. 

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that computers are already involved in tabulating ballots. (You don’t think we add up all the votes from all the counties in all the states with an abacus, do you?) In fact, computers are involved with every part of the vote counting except the part where we actually vote. Eventually, all the numbers from all the little polling places everywhere get fed into a computer, which then is just as easy to “hack” as any other computer. So what we’re really talking about here is the one piece of the process that isn’t already electronic.

But what about those electronic voting machines? Another argument I often hear is “Every electronic voting machine we’ve ever deployed is a piece of crap and easily hackable.” True, but that doesn’t mean a good machine couldn’t be invented. It doesn’t mean that if we put the top computer scientists into a room for a week they couldn’t come up with something a billion times better.

We invented the Atom Bomb. I think we could figure this out.

I may not understand computer security nearly as well as John Siracusa, but I don’t need that knowledge to reason that if we wanted to, we could of course invent a system that was equal to or better than our current paper voting systems in security. A system that was fully transparent, verifiable by disinterested parties, and much harder to hack than the current system. A system where, as he said, individuals could actually log in and verify that their votes were indeed counted. The technology is there. We just need the will and some time.

But will the public ever trust what they don’t understand? 

Let me ask you this: Do you understand the technology behind securing your credit card number on Amazon?

If we trust computers with our money, we can trust computers with our voting. We can cry “democracy” all we want, talk about our inalienable rights until we’re blue in the face, but at the end of the day, nothing is more sacred to people than their money. And we’re doing our banking online, with systems that are frankly subpar when it comes to security and modern standards of transparency. So getting people to trust an electronic voting system is not going to be an obstacle for long. People will distrust, then they’ll talk to friends who had great experiences with it, and then they’ll realize it’s just a hell of a lot more convenient to vote from home than to wait in line for seven hours. Game over. Give it four or five election cycles, and most of the country will come around.

Now, Siracusa rightfully wanted to avoid being political in his discussion, but there is one obvious side effect of a fully-electronic, cryptographically secure system, at least here in the United States: Increased participation. If voting were as easy as ordering something on Amazon, we’d have much higher voter turnout in this country. And much higher voter turnout is definitely not in the best interest of the people in power (and one political party in particular, though I suspect both major parties would fear it). Thus, keeping people scared of electronic voting is paramount to the continuation of the status quo. 

Ironically, many of my smart friends who are most afraid that an electronic system would be “hacked” are in fact making it easier for those they want to keep out of office stay in office longer. Keeping computers out of our electoral process is the hack. It’s a clever form of voter suppression. 

It’ll probably be a few more generations before we see any real reform in this area. That’s unfortunate, because increased convenience in voting, which would cause increased participation, would ultimately make our elected representatives more accountable. Contrary to popular belief, electronic voting would very likely boost our democratic freedoms, and thus ensure a better future for democracy. Because democracy only works when people show up. And with the current system, very few are showing up. 

Nice infographic from Tech Hive on LTE speeds

Infographic: 4G LTE speeds, Verizon vs. AT&T:

The infographic below shows each carrier’s average LTE speed in the cities we tested where both LTE services are offered. The cities are ranked according to a composite score of AT&T and Verizon LTE download speed.

(Via Tech Hive)

The problem with average speeds in tests like this is that they mean almost nothing compared to your real-world performance. Now that I’m carrying an AT&T phone and a Verizon iPad, I have to say, Verizon is hands-down the better choice for me personally. And I’m very often getting faster speeds than this average on LTE with my iPad.

More importantly, I’m getting extremely fast speeds in places where I get zero signal on AT&T. And many of them are places I frequent.

But that’s me. I know other people who live in other places where AT&T is absolutely the right choice. I know people who live in San Francisco for whom AT&T is a better choice. Cell coverage is still a very touch and go thing.

So, as always, your mileage may vary. You have to take that into consideration before charts like this sway your decision-making, interesting as they are.

4G, 3G, 3.5G. Does any of this Make Sense to the Average Person?

Sweden may also investigate Apple over iPad 4G/LTE marketing:

Just a day after the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission filed a complaint over Apple’s 4G/LTE marketing in the new iPad, Sweden is considering an investigation of its own. The Swedish Consumer Agency says it has received a number of complaints from iPad buyers about the device’s LTE capabilities—LTS is only available in the US—and is now weighing whether it wants to open its own investigation into Apple’s marketing practices.

(Via Ars Technica)

Apple’s going to keep running into this problem with other nations. And rightfully so. The carriers, particularly in the US, have been throwing terms around and redefining words (like unlimited) for so long that none of us knows what the heck is going on. And Apple is playing into their marketing terminology soup.

For some reason, the blatant deception flies in the US, but other countries are a little more consumer friendly in their regulations.

But why expose yourself to the legal repercussions? Does anyone really care about the difference between LTE, HDSPA+, etc.? Just keep making it faster every year. And more importantly, improve your coverage area.

Usually, Apple’s approach to geeky tech specs like this is to ignore them. Take them out of the marketing completely. They learned this lesson in the late 90s, when they realized that competing on specs is a slow race to the bottom. That’s why they won’t even tell you how much RAM an iPad has, even if you’re a journalist asking them point blank. (It’s 1GB in the new iPad, by the way.)

I imagine Apple will eventually want to use this approach for cellular technologies. Just stop mentioning the specific terms. The iPad has WiFi, Bluetooth, and Cellular connectivity. Done. No one but a geek cares if it’s 802.111n, Bluetooth 4.0, and 4G LTE. And he or she can always look up the specifics on the web site.

I realize that “4G” is a selling point right now. It’s a buzz word that people look for when shopping for phones and such. But it’s a meaningless term. And that’s the carrier’s game. Don’t play their game, Apple. Make your own rules, like you do for everything else.

Rovio worth 1.2 Billion?

Rovio Entertainment, the created of the popular “Angry Birds” game, is in talks with an interested investor to receive funding that would see the company valued at $1.2 billion, according to a new report.

I love Angry Birds as much as the next guy, but anyone who doesn’t see this as an obvious sign that another bubble is about to burst here in the Silicon Valley Tech world is crazy.

After all, what has Rovio done SINCE Angry Birds? More and more Angry Birds. No new ideas. No second hit game. All that money, simply reinvested into more marketing, more ways to milk the same product.

They are a company without new ideas. And they’re looking to others for money, despite their incredible revenues.

I thought a company’s worth, whether or not it would make a good investment, was a reflection of the company’s potential for FUTURE greatness. I’m not seeing that from Rovio at this point. Unless they have some other brilliant new game up their sleeve that no one knows about, and it’s costing them a ton of money to develop.

I think it more likely that they have no new good idea, so they’re making a push to sell off what’s left of their one hit. One last big cash in.

But what do I know?

Rob Griffiths Perfectly Expresses my Views on Browser-based Applications

The browser is a wonderful invention—for browsing the Web. It’s a terrible replacement for a well-written standalone application.

Great read about everything that’s wrong with Google Docs. While some of the interface stuff is obviously Google’s fault (designed by engineers with PhDs, as opposed to designers), the bigger issue is the premise of building an application to run in a browser in the first place. It’s great to be able to get your email or edit a doc when in a fix, but ultimately, a true desktop app is going to beat any web app every time. Even Apple’s web apps for Mobile Me, which are infinitely better than Google’s in the interface and design department, are weak in feature comparison and ease of use.

The Internet is about the information. The data. Google puts far too much emphasis on the browser itself, which I believe will continue to be de-emphasized as time goes on by small, targeted applications built for a very specific purpose on newer, more portable devices.

Online Ads: Failing again

My argument is simple: blocking ads can be devastating to the sites you love. I am not making an argument that blocking ads is a form of stealing, or is immoral, or unethical, or makes someone the son of the devil. It can result in people losing their jobs, it can result in less content on any given site, and it definitely can affect the quality of content. It can also put sites into a real advertising death spin. As ad revenues go down, many sites are lured into running advertising of a truly questionable nature. We’ve all seen it happen. I am very proud of the fact that we routinely talk to you guys in our feedback forum about the quality of our ads. I have proven over 12 years that we will fight on the behalf of readers whenever we can. Does that mean that there are the occasional intrusive ads, expanding this way and that? Yes, sometimes we have to accept those ads. But any of you reading this site for any significant period of time know that these are few and far between. We turn down offers every month for advertising like that out of respect for you guys. We simply ask that you return the favor and not block ads.

Man, does Ars completely miss the boat in this article. Their argument is basically that people who use ad blockers are effectively stealing food out of their kids’ mouths. What their little experiment SHOULD have taught them instead is that they need to find a better way to fund their content.

If a user turns on an ad blocker, that is a clear gesture that he or she is not interested in devoting his or her attention to an ad. It’s like screening marketing phone calls with an answering machine, or turning on a spam filter in an email program. “I am not interested.”

Rather than listening to that clear message, Ars is instead trying to guilt trip its users into caring about something they don’t care about. And they are trying to scam revenue out of their advertisers for ads that are obviously not getting anyone’s attention.

Begging people to turn off their ad blockers is actually immoral on Ars’ part, because they are asking us to help them lie to their advertisers.

I understand fully that content is not free; people who create great content deserve to be paid for that content. So make that argument. Apple does this very effectively with the iTunes store. I gladly pay $2.00 for an episode of the Daily Show with no ads. Other people prefer to watch it on Hulu for no payment, but with ads. Each of us is making a separate statement. Each of is willing to pay, one with money, the other with attention.

It’s not about free vs. paid. It’s about gaining your users’ trust.

Now, read this excellent post from Shawn Blanc, as well as the other posts linked in his post. (http://shawnblanc.net/2010/03/attention-trust-and-advertising/) This is a perfect demonstration of how to respect your reader’s gestures, and how to make money by listening to your users in a way that is honest to your readers, yourself, and your advertisers.

If all this talk of ads sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve been through this before. Remember the first dot com bubble? It burst because at long last few companies had figured out a way to make money on the Web. They had all bet the farm on Internet Ads, and eventually, companies figured out that Internet ads were essentially worthless. Well, guess what? Nothing has changed in the decade that has passed since. Ads are still essentially worthless. They’re actually worth even less than before, because ads are now cheaper, which means we need to have a lot more of them, which drives the price of each one down, and so on. It’s a vicious circle, spiraling toward failure.

What does this all mean? A second dot com bubble? You bet.

If there’s one company that should be worried right now about this, it should be Google. No one wants to say it, but Google is essentially a one-trick pony. It has bet the farm on ads to a larger degree than any of the original dot com era companies. When the eventual bottom drops out of the ad business online for the second time, what exactly is Google going to do? Start charging for GMail? Wave? Buzz?

Good luck with that.

You simply can’t give something away for free for a time, and then start charging for it later and expect people not to feel betrayed by that. Offer your content for a fair price in the first place, and users will either gladly pay, or go elsewhere. You’ll never grab the whole world that way, but the people who you do get will follow you into the gates of hell, because they will trust you and respect you.

Another Tech Crunch article gets it wrong about Google vs Apple

John Biggs on Tech Crunch suggests that Google should make Apple “beg” Google to write a turn-by-turn navigation app for the iPhone.

http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/10/28/google-should-make-apple-beg-for-maps-na…

Where do I begin?

Let’s get one thing completely straight. In the mobile phone space, Google needs Apple right now A LOT more than Apple needs Google. Google makes money by spreading its ads everywhere possible. For Google to suddenly lose its ability to spread those ads via the iPhone would be a drastic loss.

This is why Google is trying to get out ahead of the PR battle by making Apple out to be the bad guy. We’re building a turn-by-turn app for the iPhone; if Apple rejects it, that’s not our fault.

Those are the words of someone who doesn’t currently have the upper hand.

If Google were out to “kill” the iPhone, it would not only NOT build an iPhone navigation app, it would pull other Google services off the iPhone. And then Apple would need to start begging. But Google can’t do that. Because the goal is to get Google services in more places, not fewer. And the last thing Google wants is to not be available on the hippest, hottest phone in existence.

I’m not the first to say it, and this won’t be the last time I say it: Google has no interest in killing the iPhone. Android exists to kill Windows Mobile. And the only reason Google needs to kill Windows Mobile is because Microsoft doesn’t want Google on Windows Mobile. It would much rather push Bing, or whatever Microsoft wants to call its search this week.

The iPhone helps Google kill Windows Mobile. Thus, as long as Google can get some of its services on the iPhone, Google likes the iPhone.

Once Google kills Windows Mobile, and then kills off Symbian, and then tackles RIM, then—MAYBE then—Google will try to compete with the iPhone. Right now, it wouldn’t stand a chance. Not with another wannabe phone marketed to sci-fi nerds like the Droid.

Free turn-by-turn GPS is not going to suddenly make every single iPhone owner drop their iPhone and grab a Droid. I’d venture to say that it won’t make more than ten iPhone owners drop their iPhone and grab a Droid.

But none of that matters for now. Apple doesn’t have a competing product to Google. It has no interest in ad revenue. And it has welcomed Google services on the Mac and the iPhone with open arms, with few exceptions. (More on those exceptions later.) So even in a future where Android and the iPhone were the only two phones in existence, Google would still have no reason to want to kill the iPhone. As long as Apple never tries to get into the ad business.

Tech writers really need to stop thinking like nerds and start thinking like average people. Turn-by-turn navigation is just starting to become a somewhat, kinda-sorta popular thing. Having that feature on your phone is nowhere near hitting critical mass in popularity right now. It’s not even on the radar for most people, let alone a must-have. It’s nerd stuff.

I fully expect a free turn-by-turn service to end up on the iPhone. Whether it be as a free Google app in the App Store, or integrated into Apple’s built-in Google Maps application, or an alternative service offered by Apple itself, sooner or later, this feature will become available. Meanwhile, there really is no rush, because the lack of this service on the iPhone is not going to cost Apple anything in the short term. In the long run, they’ll want to match Android feature for feature wherever possible. But it will be years before that really matters.

If the iPhone prospered for years without cut,copy, and paste, it’ll do fine without this free service for a while. Believe me.