Category: Technology

Why U.S. Developers Prefer iOS to Android

This is one of the best cases I’ve seen made for why mobile app developers in the U.S. ought to and do prefer the Apple iOS platform to the Google Android base despite the fact that worldwide, Google has an 85% share. It echoes what I’ve said several times in the past but does it more succinctly and with more current data.

While I remain a firm believer that HTML5 is the true Platform of the Future, for those apps that need OS-level feature access, this advice could make the difference between a successful software company and one that flounders on the rocks of fragmentation.


YouTube Considering Commercial-Free Subscriptions?

There are news reports today that YouTube is considering offering ad-free subscription channels as a new way of generating revenue. There is at least one situation in which I would gladly pay for such a subscription, with the proviso that they share the revenue stream with the content provider.

YoUTube LogoI do a lot of meditating. I have found YouTube to be a rich source of very well-done meditations of all kinds. On my spiritual community Web site, One Mind Fellowship, I post some of my favorites. I also write and record meditations (though I have not [yet] begun uploading to YouTube because the graphical end always stops me cold). The most aggravating “feature” of YouTube is that at the start and end of meditations, I’m often blasted with loud, raucous ads that are inappropriate to the purpose I have for watching the underlying videos. It is frankly annoying. So much so that I have recently begun to seek out other video channels for free meditations which don’t incorporate inappropriate advertising.

So if YouTube offered me a noise-free subscription service that I could pay for based on channels or keywords or some other way that would keep the cost down and let me choose the videos I wished to see ad-free, I’d be all over it. Maybe the solution is to use one of those “see an ad or do something to prevent it” things (I don’t know what to call them). One day recently, e.g., I was on a news site. The article I wanted to read was behind something of a paywall but when I had finished reading the lead (which was free), I was asked to do one of three things: agree to watch an ad, answer a short survey, or pay 99 cents for a day pass to access the site content. I like that a lot. I wish more sites would do that. It is a slight interruption in the flow of content but if handled well — as it was here — I could support that idea across the whole Internet. Maybe there’s a business opportunity there?


My New Google Docs Book Has Been Published!

Today, I announced the publication of my new book, Use Google Docs Like A Pro. It’s available

title_pageThe book, the second in my new series of Shafer Book releases using the lean publishing model, begins by assuming you already know basically how to use Google Docs, which is, after all, just another word processor on one level. It focuses on things that are different or perhaps not obvious about the app instead.

These items include import/export from numerous supported formats, generation of Tables of Contents, footnotes and URLs, and other such niceties.

In its first release the book is about 60% complete; as I finish additional chapters, I’ll be raising the price. But if you buy the book now at the special recommended price of just $2.99, you’ll get all future upgrades for free. In fact, even if you choose to pay less (you can buy it for as little as 99 cents if you want right now), you’ll still get all future upgrades without spending another dime.

More details on the book’s landing page; check out the press release if you’re a media type and want a free review copy.


Spammers Penetrating gMail?

Several months ago, I switched my gMail interface to their Important Mail model. Using this approach, my incoming email is dived into three stacks: important and unread, important and read, and “Other”. It has been a real boon for me. My Important email is at a point where every day when I go to bed I have zero emails in it. I’m careful about not letting anything sit in Important and Unread; I either delete it or file it. I seldom have to open the “Other” folder any more. When I do, I find it has captured a good bit of spam in addition to a bunch of stuff that’s not really spam but that I don’t care to see.

It is a rare week when I see any spam in my Important Mail folder. Yesterday, I had two. This morning I had six.

I realize this is still a real trickle compared to what most people encounter in a day but for me it’s an unusual amount of spam. I wonder if it’s a harbinger. Have the spammers found a way to crack the gMail Important Mail settings? Is a new deluge about to begin from the scum of the earth who should all be in jail?

Stay tuned.

Net Neutrality = Government Takeover of Internet? Seriously?

One of the most disingenuous public petitions I’ve seen has gathered 2.4 million signatures from people allegedly opposed to Net Neutrality. Just one small problem: the petition never mentioned the term “net neutrality” or anything resembling it. Instead, the entire petition signature prompt was:

“The Internet is not broken, and does not need to be fixed. Left-wing extremists have been crying wolf for the past decade about the harm to the Internet if the federal government didn’t regulate it. Not only were they wrong, but the Internet has exploded with innovation. Do not regulate the Internet. The best way to keep it open and free is what has kept it open and free all along—no government intervention.”

This is one of the most disgusting attempts at misleading the public I’ve seen since…well…the last election in California. And the same basic people are behind it: conservatives who think any government regulation is too much government regulation. These people think that, left to their own devices, the greedy unregulated corporations who run this country will do the fair and equitable thing. We’ve been engaged in an experiment for the past 150+ years proving the folly of that opinion.

Faced with the proposal above and ignorant of what the Internet is and what FCC regulations are at stake, I might have signed it as well. But 3.7 million people who were actually aware of what they were asking for not only signed petitions, they sent individual comments to the FCC on the subject.

Let’s hope informed opinions prevail over propaganda.

Shellshock Malware Once Again Turns Undeserved Bad Light on Open Source

I’m sure by now you’ve heard of Shellshock, the new computer malware that attacks a key part of an underlying operating system and gives its malefactor essentially complete control over the system. For a change, Windows machines are exempt from the virus; it’s Macs and Linux and Unix systems that are most vulnerable.

computer_virusThe flaw, or “exploit”, is in the Bash Shell, an application that is included with almost all Unix and Linux shipments including the one on which the Mac OS X is based. The malware is being called “Deadly Serious” by experts.

The ink wasn’t even dry on the warning notices about the problem before the lamestream media began shouting about how Open Source is bad-bad-bad and we shouldn’t rely on software “built and maintained by volunteers.” In other words, Open Source. In other words, you morons should be paying gobs of money and enriching our corporate overlords by purchasing software that is maintained by an actual corporation where there is an incentive (read, profit, read, exploitation) to fix these problems.

Bull puckey.

Open Source systems are no more vulnerable than proprietary systems to exploits of most kinds. And when a problem does arise in an Open Source app or utility, the community of volunteers rushes into respond almost immediately and with a multi-pronged attack. Historically, problems — whether bugs or security flaws — in OS software are fixed far more rapidly than those maintained by a proprietary company. Generally, such companies have a vested interest in covering up bugs and flaws, then prioritizing their repair based not on what most users want or need but based on what a handful of their top customers insist on.

Interestingly, Shellshock provides a microcosm of evidence supporting my position. My buddy Richard Gaskin reports on G+ that he’s fixed his Linux boxes and applied the Linux patch to his Macs. The Linux boxes check out as clear but the Mac box doesn’t. “Why,” he asks, obviously rhetorically, “are Apple security updates frequently slower than others?” (Richard, like me, is a supporter of Apple in general.)

It’s because large companies like Apple can’t just twist a knob, apply a patch and distribute it to their customers immediately. There are lots and lots of hoops through which to jump, legal, marketing and PR considerations to factor in, backward compatibility to be checked. All good reasons for the slow response but clear reasons why OS is often far better than proprietary when it comes to things like Shellshock.

IOT Must Be Open Source


Internet of Things icon courtesy

The Internet of Things is coming. It is already beginning to encroach on our homes, long ago invaded our cars, and is becoming wearable. It is already difficult to find a place where technology isn’t. But it’s about to become far more a visible — and invisible — part of every waking moment.

The IOT as it is called holds the promise of great convenience and much that is positive, but like all things technological, it has a dark side. The primary downside of ubiquitous technology is a reduction in privacy. Imagine your refrigerator reporting to your doctor that you are eating far more ice cream than you are asparagus. You get a positive health outcome, but at the expense of invasion of your private moments with your frozen concoction.

While clearly not a foolproof solution, perhaps the best practical technique we have available to ensure that privacy is at least considered in the development of IOT is to demand that all software and firmware used in its construction be Open Source. Not so much because Open Source is vastly more inherently secure than proprietary software, but because at least when security holes and breaches are identified, they can be repaired by hundreds or thousands of programmers and checked by many others.

Furthermore, data should be required by law to be stored in open formats. No proprietary databases. Each device that wishes to be a member of IOT must identify clearly what data it captures and stores and for how long. Finally, each such device must provide a public API for accessing its contents with appropriate security safeguards (API keys at a minimum) to protect that information from prying eyes.

If necessary, these standards need to be imposed by legislative action at the Federal level. Yeah, I know. Tall order. But if we don’t start yesterday and get on this train before it’s gone too far down the track, we will all look back on the second decade of the 21st century as the era of privacy and security by comparison. Because unlike the Web, the IOT is being created almost exclusively by Corporatists with one goal in mind: bottom-line profit. And we’ve had a glimpse — but merely a glimpse — of what happens when we let profits control our culture. The IOT will make that situation an order of magnitude worse if it’s allowed to proceed unchecked.


New Firefox Browser to Include Pretty Unobtrusive Ads

firefox_logoWord appeared today that the Mozilla Firefox Web browser would begin hosting ads in an upcoming release. The ads will appear as tiles on the page when users open a new page or tab. That real estate is presently home to most frequently accessed Web sites.

Technically the ads are referred to as sponsored tiles. The non-sponsored tiles are called directory tiles. Mozilla allows the user to set a preference to turn off tiles completely so that each time he starts with a new tab or page, it is completely blank.

The Mozilla Foundation, a non-profit that controls the Firefox browser and a number of other Web sites and technologies, first announced its intent to find non-obtrusive (or, perhaps more accurately, less obtrusive) ways of placing advertising in the browser in February.

I’d call this a pretty unobtrusive way to put advertising in front of me. As a non-profit foundation, Mozilla has to figure out some ways to generate revenue if it’s going to stay afloat. I don’t use Firefox much myself (I’m a Chrome guy) but I do test all of my and my clients’ sites on FF.

Most of the early comments on this development, which occurred in the new version Firefox nightlies and is therefore not yet in wide circulation, have been neutral or supportive but there’s a strain of folks who begin bitching about any new aspect of free software that they don’t happen to like. Interestingly, some of the most caustic comments came from people using the largely unknown and insignificant Palemoon browser (Window and Linux only). Of course, Firefox has the second-highest market penetration of any cross-platform browser, having only recently fallen from the #1 spot and been replaced there by Chrome, which now has 20% of the total market vs. 15% for Firefox. Chrome has been in steady growth; Firefox has been in steady decline. (Internet Explorer retains a 60% usage rate but only because it ships with Windows and runs only on that platform.)

In any case, I’m not bothered much by the Firefox plans. There are numerous ways around even seeing the sponsored tiles. I hope they generate significant revenue to the Mozilla Foundation, which deserves to stay viable.


Cool Way to Handle Tiny Menu Type on Tablet

If you’re a tablet or smartphone user (and who isn’t these days?) who has been perplexed by the tiny type on many menus, you’ll appreciate the “new” technique I discovered during my morning news crawl the other day.

It happens that I discovered it on AlJazeera America, but I suspect other sites are also using it.

When you tap on the top navigation bar of the app on the Kindle Fire HD, rather than going directy to the page or section it appears  you tapped, the app displays the menu in the immediate vicinity of where you tapped, with all of the menus in large type. Tapping on one of them will take you where you actually intended to go. It’s quite genius, actually.

Here’s a screen shot of how it looked when I tapped on “Technology”.



Kindle Fire Wins the Prize for Worst. Editor. Ever.

I was out and about today and had my Kindle Fire with me because I had some reading I needed to do while I waited for people I was chauffeuring around to finish their errands. I decided to do a light edit on a book chapter submitted by one of the contributors to more upcoming book, Secrets of the LiveCode Masters. It’s on Google Drive, so I opened my Chrome browser on the Kindle, found and opened the doc and went into Edit mode.

Now, I’ve tried using the Kindle Fire text editor before. It is a weird app. It uses a guess-ahead approach to text entry and the guessing is sometimes pretty darned good. I’ve found myself being able to type long sentences by typing only the first two or three characters of a word. Sometimes, it feels like the guess-ahead algorithm has some intelligence built in as the word(s) it suggests seem particularly appropriate to the word I just finished typing. If I type slowly (hard for me to do; I’m a really fast typist even on these virtual keyboards), I can often snap off  sentence or two that makes me feel like this is in some ways a faster way of editing than flat-out typing.

But then something strange happens and the editor goes into spasms from which it seems impossible to extricate myself. This  happens when I start to type a word, realize a typo, backspace to fix it, and then find myself with a string of gibberish that I can’t delete or replace.

So let’s say I’m trying to type “project” and instead I manage to enter “projet” and press the space bar. I backspace to replace the “t” and accidentally hit a “j”. Now I have the “word” “projej”. I backspace again. I get to the first “j” and type an “e” and what do I see in my editor? “projejee”. Huh? So, I backspace through the entire word and start over. I get to the previous word, “the”, hit the spacebar, and now I have “thep” where I used to have “the.” WTF?

This keeps getting worse and worse. The more I try to fix the word, the longer and more incorrect the string becomes. I’ve spent several minutes trying to fix the problem; it’s not just that the typo is in the way, it’s that the editor seems perversely determined to keep creating new variations of the misspelling. And because the editor is learning new words from me as it goes along, I end up with meaningless words in my dictionary, which I must then remove from the vocabulary (a completely opaque process).

There don’t appear to be any replacement text editors for the Fire that allow editing of Google Docs with the possible exception of OfficeSuite Pro, but the free version doesn’t appear to support external storage so I can’t test it and I’m not about to plunk down $15 to see if it works.

This editor is so bad it makes the Kindle Fire counter productive for office work. Too bad.