AMITIAE - Friday 29 March 2013

Cassandra - Friday Review: The Weekend Arrives

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


Opening Gambit

Wayward children or wayward parents? Analysts at it again: but these have less expertise than a plumber. Apple Maps to have more cracks papered over. Steve Jobs returns to Apple: the color purple. Apple attacked in China: not by consumers it isn't. Apple rumours: TV and iPad mini. Accessories for our Apple phones. Windows to be fixed with Blu-Tack? Massive DoS attacks from untouchable spammer service. Same old Military-Industrial Complex cake but the icing is new. Illegal tracking of cell phones by US law enforcement: lying to the judges. Cuts to the Internet in Egypt: was someone stealing the cables or was this a military job? Sony decides not to sue Korean game copier.

Apple Stuff

Apple is on an exec hiring spree at the moment and we read a report on MacNN that tells us the former chief digital officer for the Omnicom Media Group, Paul Wright, has been recruited as the head of Apple's iAd operations for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa,

There have been, as far as I can make out, three families in the UK recently who have given their offspring free rein with credit cards, albeit in the more limited arena of the iTunes store: not quite the same as handing over a credit card in Siam Paragon mall, in Bangkok. Nonetheless, there is a certain amount of irresponsibility, and even stupidity involved. No, not the children - they just see it as a free go - but the parents. The last added to the picture by reporting his son for fraud; not that he wanted the kid to have a criminal record (perish the thought) but so that he could claim on his insurance. Actually, in retrospect, that sort of removes his qualification as parent: money makes the world go round (of course).

I am glad to see that I am not alone here in putting the blame on the parent, not the child, and certainly not on Apple who have several warnings that must be passed first, and provide Parental Controls on iOS devices to reduce the risk of children running amok. Of course, the last guy - a policeman to boot - wanted to download music from iTunes so used his son's device, and that was what opened it up. Have Social Services been informed? Michael Grothaus on TUAW takes a similar position and links to several cases in which the self-same thing has happened. I have a couple of iPhones linked to my account, but I am the only one who has the password, and if asked nicely, I will type it in; but that is under my control.

Earlier in the week we were regaled with lots of opinions of analysts, all averaged out, to show that Apple was perhaps going to reach its guidance this quarter but that gross margins were sure to fall. That was the theory anyway. Shares would not fall any more (although they dropped a little) as the analysts had already done enough damage - not that this was the phrase that was used. Now we are told that, having talked the shares down to the current levels, one analyst - Ernie Varitimos on The Street - has a target of $1600. Say what?

I seem to remember this theory before: what goes down, must go up; or a spring-back or something. Pressure must be released: "the markets are going to explode in the next year or two, and so will Apple." See, Tim Cook was right all along. I admit though, I am as sceptical of this $1600 theory as I was of the bargain basement hunters. [My source for this was MacDaily News.]

There was also a link to a story in which a Candain version of Rob Enderle, named Edward Zabitsky, was interviewed and puts out so much trash that one wonders if there are any sane people who would trust him, including the gem, highlighted by MacDaily News (in a cruel analysis) that "With the Galaxy, Samsung now has the world's best-selling smartphone." Umm, we have looked at a number of articles that have had the figures for both Samsung and Apple devices - not in the same league.

In another article MacDaily News links to an unusual item by Ernie Varitimos on AppleInvestor who makes the succinct point that "most analysts have very little investing or trading experience, and they do very little of the actual data collection and analysis . . . nothing more than glorified financial reporters. MacDaily News add to this excellent comment with "Plumbers require more certification than Wall Street analysts. . . ."

Even I have been critical of Apple maps with some of the errors that can be found within a couple of kilometers of me: including the BTS sytem that I am looking at as I write, that Apple and Google show as concrete ramps. Nonetheless, Apple is aware of shortcomings (at least in some countries) and in Australia began to recruit people to make fixes. A number of sites, including Jordan Golson of MacRumours mention that Apple now has more job offerings in this area for "U.S., The Americas, Western Europe, Japan, Asia Pacific, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East & Africa." I did try and refine the search on the Apple pages and clicked on Thailand but there are no jobs - I mean zero - of any description, for Apple here.

It is not only Maps that Apple has problems with and earlier in the week I linked to some criticism of the iCloud services. Kate MacKenzie on PixoBebo outlines some of the minor difficulties she has and mentions also that she uses Dropbox. I must admit that while I am wary of relying 100% on iCloud for data like presentations and papers, email is fine.

However, there may be some light on the horizon as several sites, including MacNN are reporting that it is expected that the data center that Apple is setting up in Reno is about to go onlne.

When I have been to San Francisco I used to take pictures of Apple persons carefully as the black outfits that are so much in favour always turn out brown with the lighting that is used. It was worse in earlier days of digital photography and we can see this in a series of photographs posted on Flickr recently by Tim Holmes of "The Night Steve Jobs returned to Apple". The black is a weird purple. However, there are some interesting views, not the least of Steve with Satjiv Chahil, who was then head of corporate worldwide marketing.

Perhaps as part of the current attacks that Apple is experiencing in China, Apple is to be sued by a company there for a Siri patent, Kevin Bostic reports on AppleInsider. The patent in dispute was granted in 2006 and it is in wide use in China already. Like the iPad name we read in the article that "Zhi Zhen's goal is to get Apple to stop infringing, but that a monetary settlement could be a possibility." How about that? . . .

However, MacNN reports that following the way that initial attack last week was seen as clearly a conspiracy, there is now a considerable response and the truth now appears that state run companies are not popular while Apple is. Asked to comment on which companies they would want to smash, the answers were "China's major banks, telecom providers, state-run oil companies, public utilities and The People's Daily itself, along with other media companies." What a surprise.

Apple went through a great deal of trouble in the courts with Samsung and when the case was re-examined there were some adjustments to the awards that Apple had been given. Now, Mikey Campbell reports on AppleInsider, Cupertino's lawyers are arguing that the cut was $85 million too much as it is claimed that the judge miscalculated.

What would a week be without an Apple rumour and this time, it is time for the TV to take center stage as 9to5 Mac are reporting on a Digitimes story that Apple is working on a 4K TV for either later this year or early next year. Bear in mind the unreliable nature of Digitimes reports and the oft-repeated nature of this story. This is still a wait and see.

Another rumour concerns the iPad mini and this should cause a panic: at least among analysts trying to outdo themselves for headlines. AppleInsider reports that it is suggested that there is to be a cut of 20% in shipments of the iPad in the next months, and this probably signals a new model in the works. I am sure some will read into this that Apple is failing again . . . "With shipments of the Pad mini set to fall by 20% . . . etc., etc., etc.."

I found one within ten minutes, when MacNN write about the cuts and in a sub-heading blame the next generation mine and Android. Well make up your minds.

With that iPad mini rumour came some information from MacNN that suggests Apple is to drop Samsung for the panels (again?) and instead use Innolux and Central Display. Innolux is already working on the larger iPad panels, so this could be a relatively easy transition

I must admit I am a lover of things that improve the experience with technology I have and this week reviewed the Silent Pocket case that isolates a mobile device: no signals in, no signals out. On MacWorld, Serenity Caldwell has a look at a device that is useful when taking videos with the iPhone. The usual problem is camera shake but Tiffen's Steadicam Smoothee (sounds delicious) she tells us works wonders the way it stabilizes the camera when a user is making a video. I am not a great video person (prefer stills) otherwise I would be looking at this myself.

Picking up the pieces, Apple made some poorly accepted moves when it updated Final Cut Pro last year and lost a lot of professional users. Jordan Kahn reports on 9to5 Mac that Apple is to have a push to try and take back some of the hearts and minds that it lost earlier and there is to be a new campaign for this.

There is also an update, MacNN reports, with a number of minor, but useful changes to bring it to version 10.0.8 along with some bug fixes. Along with the Final Cut Pro update, there are also updates to Motion (5.0.7) and Compressor (4.0.7).

Other Matters

A couple of days back we mentioned rumours about a fixit called Windows Blue (or was that Blu-Tack) that was to be arriving like a knight on a white charger (blue charger?) to fix the perfect Windows 8. Now Brooke Crothers adds to the mystery with the second idea that Windows Blue will merge Windows RT. OK this is Digitmes, but there are some problems with RT and its lack of apps.

So why is Ballmer still there?

Actually, let's report some good news for Redmond concering shipments of Windows phones that exceed those for the Phone in some countries, Lance Whitney (and others) reports. Mind you, have a look at the list and wonder if it really is good news: Argentina, India, Poland, Russia, South Africa, and the Ukraine.

I don't know about anyone else, but the internet this week has sagged like my mother's chocolate cake, but instead of it being local conditions, there may be some causes that (at least) border on the criminal. One of the sources I use, Electronista, has an outline of the retaliation by a webhost based in the Netherlands called Cyberbunker. It was called out by Spamhost and as a result a massive DoS attack was launched. It reaches the realms of something only Hollywood might put out when the article includes as part of the concluding paragraph,

Due to the size of the DDoS and the disruption caused, a number of police forces and government agencies have started investigating the attacks, something that Cyberbunker has previous experience in dealing with. The web host operates from a Cold War-era bunker in the Netherlands, and has survived a raid by a Dutch SWAT team.

Is there not something a little wrong with that?

Also with some useful information on this attack is H-Security, who call this "the most aggressive DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack in the history of the internet", with "the attack's data stream reached up to 300 GBits/s at peak times". They explain some of the technical details of how the attack was set up and some of the comparisons suggest that this has been extremely brutal.

Although the denial of service attack is real and serious, there is a lot of uninformed information on security and much of this (and the protections rolled out) end up making life difficult for us. Like the regular warnings Mac users get about non-existent malware threats, there is also much FUD and, like the malware warnings, most of the scare-ware comes from the developers of defense-related solutions who, I guess, are updated versions of Eisenhower's Military-Industrial Complex. Mike Masnick on TechDirt writes about this new threat to the balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable and includes a new threat - this is utterly fantastic and surely breaches a number of US laws - with "Lockheed and Raytheon signing agreements with Homeland Security in which they get to "help" the government out by scanning email and other info collected by the NSA."

Not so long ago, the authorities in the UK and US, as well as other Echelon-linked countries were all wringing their hands and wailing about the need to check everything with the usual reasons (terrorism organised, crime, porn); but it looks as if Homeland Security are just ignoring the law and getting on with it. As Mike Masnick writes, "the FUD keeps spreading."

There is some more information that looks as if it is connected to the FUD idea, and it appears that the funding for "a formal assessment of cyber-espionage or sabotage risk particularly referring to China (and by implication, Huawei) was slipped into a funding law signed this week, Electronista reports.

We are aware that the use of telephone tapping has been going on for years and that with the mobile phone, the FBI also used surreptitious cell phone tracking technology known as Stingray. Declan McCullagh reports that privacy groups will be in front of a judge this week insisting that Stingray is illegal (4th Amendment) as it is warrantless. The FBI lost a case a couple of years ago when they put a tracker on a car without a warrant. The article is lengthy but well worth looking at for the amount of detail it contains.

Also commenting on this is a report from Mike Masnick on TechDirt who tells us that the Department of Justice misled judges for years on how it used Stingray. Odd little aside in the article comes when he writes, "law enforcement will always blow through those limits and abuse its powers." As I have mentioned in the past, when I was a policeman, there were many occasions that I tried to use the law up to its limits (and perhaps beyond) with the knowledge that my bosses and the courts would slap me down if I did go too far.

I mentioned last week the security overkill when the authorities in the US seemed to have over-reacted when a man posted a photo of his son holding a gun on Facebook. Police and child welfare turned up and there were some cross words. Chris Matyszczyk follows up his original words with some more information including the news that the state governor wants an investigation, but the police are revealing some information about what they faced when they went to the house and it appears it was not all as first thought. Perhaps the father added fuel to the flames.

It is not only the authorities in the USA that have problems, but there were some other cuts to the internet in the middle east last week. Cuts: literally. Off the coast of Egypt security forces arrested three divers cutting through an undersea Internet cable, Steven Musil writes. Now there are a couple of possibilities here: either someone was after metal for scrap although not all cables are made of copper these days; or if this is an attack by criminal elements; or an attack by another country's military.

An unusual development is reported by Mike Masnick on TechDirt when he writes about a copycat game that was created, apparently almost a clone of a game that had been created by Sony. The larger company did grumble a bit initially, then the alleged copier (from Korea - surprise, surprise), Netmarble, made some changes, so in the end Sony decided not to sue and their statement (as it appears in the TechDirt item) is a model of sensibility. Headline, "Surprise: Sony Decides Not To Sue Over Copycat Game; Says Legal Action Wouldn't Be Beneficial." This should set a precedent (but won't, of course).

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.



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