Thursday, April 19, 2018

#OpenWeb site aggregates independent Apple publishers

Last week, Michael Rockwell from Initial Charge introduced a fantastic idea called #OpenWeb. It’s an aggregate of independent technology publishers who primarily focus on Apple (including yours truly).

Michael’s words from his introductory post:

[…] But discovery is still a major problem. Why would you put the effort into buying a domain, setting up a site, and writing if no one is going to read it? And if you do manage to jump through all the hoops to start publishing, how do you find others in the community that have done so as well?

#OpenWeb let’s you find out what everyone’s talking about without having to wade through dozens of knee-jerk political reactions on Twitter or inspirational memes on Facebook. Those things have their place, but I think we need somewhere to go for more thoughtful commentary […].

I think this is a great idea. I started blogging about a year ago, and as Michael says, discovery is a hard problem for an independent writer. Head over to #OpenWeb and discover other great writers and opinions, as I have already.

Thanks, Michael!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Nikola Tesla predicted the smartphone in 1926 →

I saw this through Daring Fireball and just had to share. Here’s the relevant bit of a Tesla interview with Collier’s magazine in 1926:

When wireless is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is, all things being particles of a real and rhythmic whole. We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance. Not only this, but through television and telephony we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though we were face to face, despite intervening distances of thousands of miles; and the instruments through which we shall be able to do his will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket.

We shall be able to witness and hear events — the inauguration of a President, the playing of a world series game, the havoc of an earthquake or the terror of a battle — just as though we were present.

When the wireless transmission of power is made commercial, transport and transmission will be revolutionized. Already motion pictures have been transmitted by wireless over a short distance. Later the distance will be illimitable, and by later I mean only a few years hence. Pictures are transmitted over wires — they were telegraphed successfully through the point system thirty years ago. When wireless transmission of power becomes general, these methods will be as crude as is the steam locomotive compared with the electric train.

The way in which visionaries like Tesla saw the future is just remarkable. Really makes you wonder which predictions made today will be accurate fifty or more years from now.

Amazon warehouse workers pee in bottles, are punished for being sick →

Shona Ghosh for Business Insider:

Rushed fulfilment workers, who run around Amazon’s warehouses “picking” products for delivery, have a “toilet bottle” system in place because the toilet is too far away, according to author James Bloodworth, who went undercover at a warehouse in Staffordshire, UK, for a book on low wages in Britain.

 Bloodworth told The Sun: “For those of us who worked on the top floor, the closest toilets were down four flights of stairs. People just peed in bottles because they lived in fear of being ­disciplined over ‘idle time’ and ­losing their jobs just because they needed the loo.”


A survey of Amazon workers, released on Monday, found almost three-quarters of fulfilment centre staff are afraid of using the toilet in case they miss their targets.

On how workers are punished for being sick:

Another employee said she was ill while pregnant, and was still handed warning points.

And yet another said: “I turned up for my shift even though I felt like shit, managed 2 hours then I just could not do anymore. Told my supervisor and was signed off sick, I had a gastric bug (sickness and diarrhoea, very bad) saw my doc. Got a sick note with an explanation, but still got a strike.”

This is just despicable and unsanitary. How does Amazon attract talent with their increasingly bad working conditions?

Friday, April 13, 2018

Chrome and Firefox will support a new standard for password-free logins →

Russel Brandom for The Verge:

Web browsers are building a new way for you to log in, announced today by the W3C and FIDO Alliance standards bodies. Called WebAuthn, the new open standard is currently supported in the latest version of Firefox, and will be supported in upcoming versions of Chrome and Edge slated for release in the next few months.

WebAuthn has been working its way toward W3C approval for nearly two years, but today marks the first major announcement of browser support. Apple has not commented on Safari support for WebAuthn, although the company is part of the working group that developed the standard.

Today’s announcement the latest step in a years-long effort to move users away from passwords and toward more secure login methods like biometrics and USB tokens. The system is already in place on major services like Google and Facebook, where you can log in using a Yubikey token built to the FIDO standard.

I’m beginning to hate passwords, even with password managers. I look forward to the day in which authentication works just like magic (securely, of course). This sounds like a good step.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

A Healthcare IT Consultant’s take on Facebook’s play for patient data →

Christina Farr for CNBC:

Facebook has asked several major U.S. hospitals to share anonymized data about their patients, such as illnesses and prescription info, for a proposed research project. Facebook was intending to match it up with user data it had collected, and help the hospitals figure out which patients might need special care or treatment.


While the data shared would obscure personally identifiable information, such as the patient’s name, Facebook proposed using a common computer science technique called “hashing” to match individuals who existed in both sets. Facebook says the data would have been used only for research conducted by the medical community.

A supposed use case:

The project would then figure out if this combined information could improve patient care, initially with a focus on cardiovascular health. For instance, if Facebook could determine that an elderly patient doesn’t have many nearby close friends or much community support, the health system might decide to send over a nurse to check in after a major surgery.

Alright, I’m putting my Healthcare IT Consultant hat on here and calling bullshit on multiple levels. To note a couple:

  1. If you’re going to receive anonymized data, hash it, then cross-reference it, you don’t really have anonymized data in the end-run. This implies Facebook was seeking data without patient consent. Otherwise, why anonymize it in the first place? Just do it the right way and ask patients for it. Many healthcare pilots and/or clinical trials deal with patient data, and many are done with proper consent.

  2. You don’t need to cross-reference Facebook to figure out if someone needs a follow up home visit after surgery. These are common for many different types of surgeries, not just for the elderly who live alone. Medical professionals have access to patient history and other means of expertise to make this decision.

As for the whole plan, I think it’s quite ridiculous. Sure, it’s popular to jump all over Facebook right now because of the Cambridge Analytica catastrophe, but I also think this is warranted outcry. There are extremely strict laws, rules, regulations, and policies you must follow when dealing with Protected Health Information (PHI). The most stringent and cited one of all is HIPAA. HIPAA training and compliance is mandatory for all healthcare employees. It’s taken extremely seriously and ingrained into every employee’s mind.

The only large Silicon Valley company that doesn’t scare me in this area is Apple. They have time and again proved that customer privacy is of the utmost importance, and they are the only ones I would trust with using my data in the future. In fact, you may be interested in my first entry on how I think they can improve healthcare overall.

Any healthcare system that partners with Facebook on something like this is now being extremely risky with their brand and reputation.

Friday, March 30, 2018

How Dark Patterns trick you online

Great video by The Nerdwriter on YouTube, providing an overview and examples of Dark Patterns in UX design. As he explains, the term ‘Dark Patterns’ was coined by Harry Brignul. Harry defines them as such:

Dark Patterns are tricks used in websites and apps that make you buy or sign up for things that you didn’t mean to.

Check out Harry’s site for more info. You more than likely will be forced into a Dark Pattern at one point or another. As long as you recognize them, you’ll be better armed to prevail against them.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Facebook reportedly delays home speaker amid data crisis →

Sarah Frier for Bloomberg:

Facebook Inc. has decided not to unveil new home products at its major developer conference in May, in part because the public is currently so outraged about the social network’s data-privacy practices, according to people familiar with the matter.

The company’s new hardware products, connected speakers with digital-assistant and video-chat capabilities, are undergoing a deeper review to ensure that they make the right trade-offs regarding user data, the people said. While the hardware wasn’t expected to be available until the fall, the company had hoped to preview the devices at the largest annual gathering of Facebook developers, said the people, who asked not to be named discussing internal plans.

Good. I hope any device Facebook puts out now will be seen as extremely toxic.

Repeat after me: when it comes to Facebook (and Google), you are the product. To chart the comfortability of having these smart speakers in my home from most to least, it would go: HomePod > Echo > Google Home. Facebook’s would never even make the cut.

Firefox extension 'Facebook Container' limits tracking →

From the Mozilla blog:

This extension helps you control more of your web activity from Facebook by isolating your identity into a separate container. This makes it harder for Facebook to track your activity on other websites via third-party cookies.


When you install this extension it will delete your Facebook cookies and log you out of Facebook. The next time you visit Facebook it will open in a new blue-colored browser tab (aka “container tab”). In that tab you can login to Facebook and use it like you normally would. If you click on a non-Facebook link or navigate to a non-Facebook website in the URL bar, these pages will load outside of the container.

Sounds like a great alternative for those who can’t or won’t get rid of their Facebook. This won’t protect you on mobile, though, where I assume most of Facebook’s traffic comes from.

Friday, March 23, 2018

IBM unveils ‘world’s smallest computer’ at Think 2018 →

Monica Chin for Mashable:

March 19 is the first day of IBM Think 2018, the company’s flagship conference, where the company will unveil what it claims is the world’s smallest computer. They’re not kidding: It’s literally smaller than a grain of salt. 

But don’t let the size fool you: This sucker has the computing power of the x86 chip from 1990. Okay, so that’s not great compared to what we have today, but cut it some slack — you need a microscope to see it. 

The computer will cost less than ten cents to manufacture, and will also pack “several hundred thousand transistors,” according to the company. These will allow it to “monitor, analyze, communicate, and even act on data.” 

On the left of the above image is 64 of the computer’s motherboards, sitting on the tip of a person’s finger. On the right is one full computer resting atop a pile of salt. Truly remarkable! It almost looks like a speck of pepper.

IBM says it will be able to handle Bitcoin-related tasks (go figure). They also claim this type of technology will be embedded in everyday devices within the next five years. That sounds extremely ambitious and not incredibly realistic to me. It brings to mind Google and Levi’s monumental failure of a ‘smart jacket’ from last year. Either way, this kind of innovation will eventually allow technology to get even further out of our way. Imagine this kind of miniaturization for AR glasses.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

WhatsApp founder joins the #deletefacebook movement →

Casey Newton for The Verge:

In 2014, Facebook bought WhatsApp for $16 billion, making its co-founders — Jan Koum and Brian Acton — very wealthy men. Koum continues to lead the company, but Acton quit earlier this year to start his own foundation. And he isn’t done merely with WhatsApp — in a post on Twitter today, Acton told his followers to delete Facebook.

“It is time,” Acton wrote, adding the hashtag #deletefacebook. Acton, who is worth $6.5 billion, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. WhatsApp declined to comment.

What Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have done is purely vile. Facebook’s user count has been in decline, anyway, as millennials flee the service for alternatives. 1 If you ever were in doubt as to Facebook’s privacy policies, look at their track record and let this be the final nail in the coffin. If only there would be a swift demise to both companies. #deletefacebook

  1. Though most are on Instagram, which is also owned by Facebook.