AMITIAE - Friday 15 January 2016

Cassandra: Friday Review - Black and White

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


A few weeks ago I reviewed an app put together by the United Nations World Food Program. It was aimed at helping some child refugees get enough to eat. Some of the images coming out of Syria recently make this a priority. The ShareTheMeal app allowed people to donate easily.

Note this, for example, from AFP as carried in The Straits Times this evening. There was no image with the web page, but the Tweet I saw first has a heart-rending photo of the young man who died of starvation.

Earlier today an email from the UN told me that "Thanks to your generous support Safa [a child pictured in the message] and 20,000 Syrian refugee children like her are receiving school meals for one full year"

Well, I felt good about it for a moment.

There was a blast from the past for me this weekend as I have just had some film developed and that will mean several hours slaving over a hot scanner. With the iPhone I can knock out a burst of 100 (or even 999) images in a few seconds, then pick the bones out of the results, in Photos. However, taking the photos on a medium format camera makes me work at a slower pace, both with the settings, the photo, film-processing (I send this out) and then the scanning.

B&W I do use the iPhone to help with taking these photographs: I have Pocket Light Meter to help with settings; and LightTrac ($8.99) for calculating sun (or moon) direction/elevation.

On the Mac I have VueScan, rather than using the Canon software that came with the device. It has a number of features that I find useful. Unfortunately, the iOS version does not work with the USB scanner. It is only for WiFi scanners and there are precious few of those, apart from those that combine printer, scanner and sometimes fax in the one machine.

I am also quite excited over the imminent arrival of a Kickstarter project item: the Intrepid 4x5 Camera. The small project was put together by a couple of guys in England who not only love film photography, but the large 4 x 5 format. I am going to have to learn several more new skills when it does come.

According to numerous sources I saw in the last few hours, public betas of OS X, 10.11.4 and iOS 9.3 were seeded this week. The iOS 9 beta includes the new Night mode with a control for the levels of blue light. As this reduces blue, it will increase orange (opposite spectrum) which is restful for late night reading, but hopeless for anyone trying to edit images. This is expected to be an option, so there should be an ON/OFF button, and I expect a slider too if Apple keeps to its usual designs.

I have made a couple of comments in the last few days about the Share feature in the latest iOS betas and particularly liked the analysis of Rene Ritchie who looked at this on Thursday. Rene is known for his focus on Apple products of course, but now Ryan Faas on Computerworld is expressing an interest in the Sharing features and suggests that (along with Night Shift mode) the next update has some real benefits.

I hope he is right when (commenting on the education changes) these "will eventually reshape iPad use in the office and at home", because multi-user iPads are really going to help. There is also much more worth looking at in the article, particularly his analysis of how sharing could work in the enterprise.

The Apple Watch was criticised by many in the same way the iPhone was before (and the iPad Pro since), and most of the time by the same people - that must be a clue. Not only are there reports currently that the Swiss watch industry is not seeing such a smooth road currently, particularly with the strength of the Swiss Franc, but that Apple Watch seems to be taking away some of the business that was left, Joseph Keller reports on iMore.


To the surprise of many (shock and horror to some), Juniper Research has found that Apple's arriviste product took 52% of the global smartwatch market in 2015, while Android things held 10%. There are still holdouts of course, with some wondering if the device would add convenience.

If you ever receive a message or a call in a crowded subway train, believe me: the Watch will save all that rummaging about and angry looks from other commuters. I am also more aware of my health, not in a trite way that I start exercising or anything like that, but I check how much I am walking about each day and often use the Watch to monitor heart rate, particularly after ascending the stairs to the BTS Skytrain here: that makes it rocket for a minute or two.

A couple of items of bad news for Apple today: taxes and security. The last few years have seen many attempts by politicians to grandstand with Apple and make lots of noise about not paying taxes. Tim Cook insists that Apple pays all the taxes it owes, and we should be aware that there is an ethical line between evasion and avoidance. The politicians who are the ones who write the laws after all, are not always clear on the difference: but then some politicians don't seem to be able to do this when it comes to their own lives.

It should also be noted that most major corporations go in for schemes that allow them to defer, shift and avoid, and this is important when the company has responsibilities to shareholders, and has operations abroad. Google, General Electric, Intel, Microsoft and many others all use the laws: but Apple gets the publicity.

Earlier today, Adam Satariano on Bloomberg did the sums on what the EU is saying on Apple's ways of moving cash about - particularly through subsidiaries in Ireland - and the point that they are likely to demand Apple pays back something like $8 billion. Apple will appeal of course if this is the finding.


Another problem concerns the Gatekeeper feature that should protect users of OS X who download apps from the Mac App Store, or who reduce their protection by installing applications from trusted developers. Or worse. Roberto Baldwin on Engadget reports that despite some patching after reported weaknesses to the system, the holes are still there.

Patrick Wardle of Synack who revealed the original problem, finds that underlying vulnerability had not been addressed and that there seemed to be some obfuscation with the way Apple was covering the holes up, which could "open up Macs to altered apps that are the result of man-in-the-middle attacks when something is downloaded via HTTP instead of HTTPS."

Tim Cook, handpicked by Steve Jobs for the CEO job has done a good job of steering the company, despite more criticism and ad hominem attacks than most suffer, does have a backbone although his early quiet presentations made many think this was not so. Later presentations improved as he found his voice, but it is more often heard in activism, and in recognition of this he has a number of awards, like the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights 2015 Ripple of Hope award and an LGBT advocacy organization Visibility Award.

We heard earlier this week how he visited a delegation from Washington and made representations regarding encryption, but what we had not heard was just how he did this. Jenna McLaughlin on The Intercept reports that Cook criticized the White House for a lack of leadership and asked the administration to issue a strong public statement defending the use of unbreakable encryption.

Of course that is unlikely with the current mood. There seems to be no give at all from the direction of the authorities who seem to be pulling the strings of the politicians both in the USA and (perhaps more so) in the UK.


One of the lesser known tricks that the police in the UK have up their sleeves is the ability to track vehicle number plates. This was introduced for the London congestion charge brought in by Ken Livingstone, to make sure that those not legally in the city, paid the fines. Camera coverage was extended apparently and I was told last week that now almost every highway and motorway is covered, so wherever a car goes, the police will know. Creepy.

This was one of the methods used to arrest the gang of thieves who were responsible for the Hatton Garden robbery: safe deposit boxes in the main, stuffed with rich folks' secret belongings. The gang did not have enough knowledge about the technological armoury the police can access, so were caught on surveillance video discussing the robbery after it had happened and were also recorded by devices placed in a car.

The story of the robbery, their arrests and convictions are detailed in a Guardian story by Vikram Dodd. They did have some technical help, who opened electronic doors and other digital tricks, but the person was never arrested. It did not help of course when, having broken a drill, one of them used his real name and address to buy replacement parts. Note also, while they were actually engaged in the operation, they set the alarm off, but the police failed to respond.

I inwardly groaned when I saw the news this morning in several sources, including from Serenity Caldwell on iMore, that there was to be a Steve Jobs musical - with Bill Gates too. The movies have not exactly been massive hits; nor has everyone been pleased with portrayals of facts, characters or events.

The musical is to be called Nerds (heaven forfend) and is to open in New York on 21 April. This is not a new show and was first produced in 2005 apparently. It did win "Barrymore Awards for Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Original Music" in 2007. The world has changed somewhat since then of course. I wonder if we will have a dancing chorus of iPhones.


When Netflix arrived here last week, there was almost singing and dancing in the streets, but then some users saw how little content would be available, particularly when compared with the USA - less than 10%. No matter, use VPN, some suggested. Several users from the USA who live in Thailand have been doing that for a while and they have full access.

Now that Netflix has expanded to some 130 countries, the drawbridge is coming up and Andrew Tarantola reports on Engadget that "Netflix announced on Thursday that it is cracking down on users that use VPNs. . . ."

Part of the announcement referred to the licensing of content by geographic territories, something which affected Macs when optical drives were standard and the MPAA insisted on regions, which used to be hell if someone sent me a legitimately purchased video from another country. It is also why iTunes did not have music available in several countries for years: the RIAA controlled the copyright, not Apple. Even with the new Apple Music service, I pay $4.99 as opposed to the full $10, because some music is not available here.

In 1983, Apple produced a highly regarded advertisement, directed by Ridley Scott, that was aired at the SuperBowl: Why 1984 won't be like 1984. Things now seem to have come full circle as it is reported by several sources, including Christian Zibreg on iDownload, that Apple has become an official sponsor of the Super Bowl Host Committee.

The link has the original video which I play to my students sometimes. Zibreg speculates: "does Apple's sponsorship deal hint that the company might run a Super Bowl ad during this year's game?"

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. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



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