AMITIAE - Monday 3 February 2014

Cassandra: Monday Comment - Apple Developments, Medical Approaches, Security, Photos and a Cockney ATM

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


On Friday, when writing about future developments that Apple might be looking at, I mentioned patents that had been awarded and the recruitment of personnel who might be linked to health applications.

An item on re/code by James Temple not long after I posted that comment, had the news that Apple has been talking with the FDA, to discuss "mobile medical applications". That was about it, apart from the list of important personnel in the field recruited by Apple.

One of the apps that I found quite early on for the iPhone (and later the iPad) is called Mobile MIM. This was developed by MIMVista. This displayed images that come from sources like scans. It disappeared from the local App Store and when I checked with them, it was because of local rules with the Thai equivalent of the FDA. It returned, but now the company has been renamed MIM Software and they have an app called VueMe which seems to do the same thing: the iTunes store seems to show the same images as before. There are also a number of other apps that appear to have similar abilities and the Medical section in the iTunes store has hundreds of apps.

We had an interim update to iOS at the end of last week, bringing it to version 7.0.5 but we can expect another update soon with 7.1 being tested now. Also coming - and probably sooner than the iOS one - is an update of OS X to version 10.2. With beta testing ongoing, it is expected that it could be with us as soon as this week.

One of the things I like to throw in the face of anyone who tells me that Apple does not innovate any more is any one of the hundreds of patents that apply to the industrial processes for making the products. As I work at an engineering faculty, I notice such things. A good example is the process for shaping the angled edges on the iPhone, or the way the newer style batteries that Apple uses are made: this is not luck.

Another patent that surfaced last week was for a smart pen. Jack Purcher on Patently Apple details the patent documentation, with its illustrations and points out that Steve Jobs was not a fan of the stylus: did he set out to change it? Having owned a Palm, I am not a fan of the stylus either. The iPen seems to be able to change (with different modules) depending on the task it is used for which looks like an innovation to me: all the other styluses are dumb. This one could be a stylus, a laser pointer, a recording device (I like that) or a camera, along with a number of other uses. Purcher also mentioned that the same device was patented in Europe as well and goes with other patents previously granted.

In a class of students at the end of last week, we were discussing smartphones and different specifications. Two things came up: the SD card used for memory in Samsung phones; and the twin SIM cards that can be used in some phones. Neither of these things are available for the iPhone and some people say they want them. Electronista reports on a patent that Apple was awarded for a new "ejectable component assembly" and it could apply to either of those functions. The design "includes ceramics, plastic, metal and glass, [that] could mean that the new tray design is intended for use in the iWatch" or other devices, such as iPhones or iPads, because we don't know if the iWatch is real yet, do we?.

A product I cited last week for its innovation was the new Mac Pro and I am not the only one who thinks that the central triangular core is a smart idea. Electronista has a lengthy summary of the technical strengths of the new device that draws on a number of sources. Its final paragraph includes, "The combination of the unified thermal core, custom components and Thunderbolt 2 has allowed Apple to craft a workstation unlike anything previously seen. The chances that something like it could have come from any other company are remote." Didn't I already say that, several times?

I have been making a number of negative comments on Carl Icahn of late. I don't like him. I don't like what he stands for. I don't like what he seems to be trying to do at Apple. And I do not like what he has done to a number of other companies (including TWA) in the past. It seems that I am not the only one as some of the larger shareholders in Apple, including the influential CalPERS do not want Icahn to succeed in what he wants to do with the Apple share buybacks. Mark Berniker, writing on the CNBC site cites a senior executive at CalPERS: "There are owners, raiders and traders. We're an owner and have been of Apple for a very long time. Mr. Icahn is a raider and he's an echo chamber who engages in megaphone diplomacy". Berniker also cites Matt Patsky, CEO of Trillium Asset Management .

Another comment on the oddness that some in Wall Street feel for Apple is in an item by Jeff Sommer on the NYTimes. From comments in the item, it is clear that - as has been said in these columns many times before - the stock market does not understand Apple.

With that in mind, it is interesting to see that CEO Tim Cook is reported to be in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) this week where Apple does not have a store, but sells through Virgin. An article by Abbas Jaffar Ali on TBreak Media has pics of Cook in the Virgin store speculates as to why Cook was there [my link for this was MacDaily News].

There was a useful hint about the Dock this week from Erica Sadun on TUAW. I am quite happy with the solid Dock that comes with Mavericks, but some (like Erica) prefer the semi-translucent Dock from before. She managed to get this back with some work at the command line in Terminal. The commands are in the article and quite simple: cut and paste.

I often like to cite security items, both at the personal and the international level. Of late, this latter field has been extremely rich with the revelations of Edward Snowden, who has been put forward for a Nobel Prize. As a result of the information, that is still seeping (much to the annoyance of particularly the NSA, who have really been caught with their hands in a massive cookie jar), there are new shock! Horror! revelations every few days. Mike Masnick on TechDirt reports on the news that "the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) has been tracking people as they connect to WiFi networks in a variety of public places including airports, hotels, coffee shops and libraries".

CSEC is the Canadian equivalent of the NSA, like GCHQ is in the UK. Canada is one of the special nations, including Australia and New Zealand that have been working hand in glove (sort of) for years. Echelon was one of the early efforts, but that used cable and satellites to spy on phone calls. The internet has changed the ball game. Like the NSA spying on US citizens, the Canadian operation would not allow legal spying on Canadians, but of course, they all help each other. When I looked at Echelon years ago, GCHQ spied on US citizens and handed the information to the US, while the NSA did a similar trade on British citizens.

I used to travel back and forth to the United States regularly in the mid-1980s as I was studying there. While passing through Immigration is always nerve-wracking, it was not as bad as it is these days. My next trip was in 2007 when the Department of Homeland Security was in full belts and boots removal mode. While there has been much criticism of the way these people work and the general ineffectiveness of their operations, it takes someone from the inside to spill the beans on what really happens day to day. Jason Edward Harrington was a TSA officer for a couple of years and in a 4-part article on Politico tells us that some of the things we feared about the way these people work are really true.

I saw some nice photos on Facebook last week that a colleague had put online. He had taken them with a Rolleiflex and developed them himself. When I saw some more sharp photos on Twitter this weekend, I asked the photographer what he used to make them so sharp. As well as a better camera than I have, he had used a specific lens that he favours and some software, before sharpening in Photoshop. The software was NIK Silver Efex Pro which I found appears to be owned by Google these days. I downloaded the demo, which includes a number of other packages for photo editing and have ben playing with it in the last couple of days as it works for me as a plugin with Aperture. I am still debating whether to pay the $149 for the package, but the output is so good. . . .

This week sees my return to the Bangkok Post, at least in a virtual way: I'm not actually going down to Klong Toey. I wrote for the Database section for around 20 years, but when the Post was reorganised to make it more suitable for the new online world (something like this anyway), the supplements were replaced by Life and many of the freelance writers were dropped.

Following a suggestion by Tony Waltham, the man whose ideas created the Database, and who was its editor for most of those years, I was put in touch with the editor of Life and the a column will appear this week. As from next month, it will be every week. I will have to keep it mainly non-technical, to suit the audience, but I have already been in touch with Apple locally and hope that some toys may appear in my hands from time to time for testing.

Living in Thailand we are used to multi-language ATM machines, but Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing has found one in London that has the choice of English or Cockney. He has pics to demonstrate this as some bangers and mash were withdrawn after the user entered the Huckleberry Finn.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. 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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