Tech: Watching History from My Porch

“Gee, Grandpa, do you actually remember people delivering things?”

“Yes, Sonny, and not just things. Information, too. Why, I remember the milkman, the bread man, the Fuller Brush Man, the pretzel and chips man, the “paperboy,” and more. But, in Olden Times, even when we just wanted to send information from one person to another in a solid form, we would print something — or actually use handwriting to write something down — and then fold it up, put it in an envelope, put a stamp on it, and put it outside where it would wait for several hours. Then somebody would come by, take it, put it in a little truck, drive it someplace, maybe put it on an airplane or another truck, take it off at the other end, figure out where it’s supposed to go, route it to another little truck, and somebody would drive that around and put it in a box on the front of my house. All of this cost from between a few cents to maybe half a dollar, over the years, and took between two months and as little as one day —unless you were sending it overseas.”


== PT, iPaddict

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Humor: PennDOT still hasn’t caught up with last winter’s pothole damage

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Media: Minority languages: Cookies, caches and cows | The Economist


Mozilla has 230 localisation teams, says Jeff Beatty, who co-ordinates some from his office in Utah. Their work takes both time and ingenuity. Firefox for a computer uses about 40,000 words; for the phone OS, 16,000. Translators must express technological terms in languages shaped by livestock, farming and fishing, and choose alternatives for culture-specific words such as “cookie”, “file” and “mouse”.

Ibrahima Sarr, a Senegalese coder, led the translation of Firefox into Fulah, which is spoken by 20m people from Senegal to Nigeria. “Crash” became hookii (a cow falling over but not dying); “timeout” became a honaama (your fish has got away). “Aspect ratio” became jeendondiral, a rebuke from elders when a fishing net is wrongly woven. In Malawi’s Chichewa language, which has 10m speakers, “cached pages” became mfutso wa tsamba, or bits of leftover food. The windowless houses of the 440,000 speakers of Zapotec, a family of indigenous languages in Mexico, meant that computer “windows” became “eyes”.

The world speaks nearly 7,000 languages.... Firefox is available in 90 languages.... Apple’ OS offers 33 languages..., and the new iPhone, 35. Google offers 150, including dialects (and some spurious ones such as “Pirate”)....


== PT, iPaddict

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Media: Degree of Difficulty

For millennia, “stored” communications were all pictures (pictographs, hieroglyphics, etc.) carved in stone, painted on walls, etched in wood, inked onto animal skin.

Then the alphabet was invented. Sure, you had to spend months or years learning how to use that new contraption, but it had great advantages and those who mastered it became our new rulers—or at least our new snobs.

Since then, every new media invention was cause for recoil against the more sophisticated and usually more accessible new technology. Print, Braille, Morse code, newspapers, books, broadsheets—all were challenges to the previous way of doing things. The cognoscenti used them to control and influence everybody else.

Now some are lamenting the loss of cursive handwriting. One young lad I know does well in school, but cursive class is his lowest grade.

But so what? I‘ve know many people schooled in cursive who printed their letters when they became adults. Some even got in the habit of writing in ALL CAPS. (And a graphologist could tell you the “meaning” of that!)

But if we had been really serious about handwriting, we would have taught more shorthand as well. I taught myself at 16. After I discovered that only 10 words make up one-fourth of the words we use in English, I thought: “WTH. If I just learn those 10 words in shorthand, my writing speed will increase 25%!” (Though I’m not sure if my math is right!)

And so I did, and went on from there. Never did get near the world record of something like 200 wpm, but I reached maybe half as fast as average reading speed. Most people don’t even speak that fast. Then, of course, that had to be transcribed, usually using a word processor or typewriter (up to a max of triplicate or quadruplicate copies using carbon paper—if you planned for it).

All this will be fading to the background as we use fancier gadgets. I can’t remember the last time I saw a handwritten business document, like a memo (replaced by the email, remember?) or a letter (ditto) or a text or document scrap (now drafted as “texts”). I don’t hear anybody complaining that they miss bad handwriting. (A.k.a. “Doctors’ handwriting”). They only complain that we stopped teaching it.

There’s also an argument that these newfangled technologies rely on gadgets that could go away. But okay, let’s think about it: What happens when we peel back the layers of technology? We would have to do without videos, voicemail, voice-to-text (and electronic language translation), messaging and email, text and word processing, print, handwriting, pictographs—roughly in that order—because they all rely on some technology, the humblest being the brush, pen, or pencil.

What would that leave us? Voice communication, backed up by human brain memory. Most of us are not good at this, and even though it can be learned, it isn’t being encouraged. There is a guy who can recite pi to, like, 100,000 decimal places. And there’s the final scene in “Fahrenheit 451,” which I always thought was preposterous. Turns out, it is not.

The more we offload stuff we don’t have to keep in our heads, the more room we have for the stuff we choose. And instead of storing more facts in our brains, we can store more sources for those facts, more techniques, more methodologies, more hyperlinks for putting information to new and better uses. And since the data in modern communications is fungible, we can quickly make more and better connections between the information dots. We can copy, we can paste.

Sure, it’s still possible to create an illuminated version of the Bible on parchment and haul it behind you in a little wagon wherever you go. That’s called “art” or a hobby. Like calligraphy. But most of us would rather scan and store that rascal online, to share when and with whomever we choose.

Hundreds of years after the invention of the printing press, the automation of information has reached a new level. There’s no going back.

Imagine the future: What if we found a way to store and share information however we liked, between people, using only the neural systems in our brains? With no surgical implants—using a virtual implant that lets us tap one person’s neural network to collaborate with another person’s brain? On demand, on command?

Yesterday I cleaned up my office, I found I still have a pencil. Actually, two mechanical pencils, one wooden pencil, and five erasers. Of course, I’m keeping them, just in case. But I think the significance goes a little deeper than that. OTOH: At least I can improvise a sharpener if need be….


== PT, iPaddict

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Tech: New iPhone Locks Out N.S.A. –

Police want you to help them catch kidnappers.

The federal government wants you to help them fight terrorists.

How can you help? Easy. Just let them access the data on your iDevice or smartphone. Whatever they want. Whenever they want. In the interest of justice and national security. They’ve already been doing it for years by compelling communications companies to provide information about their subscribers to government agencies.

After all, it’s in a good cause.

Unless you live in, say, China, and, oh, I don’t know—maybe you’re what they call a “dissident” (a.k.a., “future inmate”)? That isn’t even mentioned in the following article.

Fascism in the fight for freedom? I doubt the issue will ever be fully resolved. The prosecution of John Peter Zenger, the Alien & Sedition Acts, the Pentagon Papers case— all moved the focus of freedom farther down along the scale. Now it seems to be rolling back.

And Apple is simply trying to just step out of the way….


Signaling Post-Snowden Era, New iPhone Locks Out N.S.A.


Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, introducing the new iPhones, which feature enhanced data encryption. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Devoted customers of Apple products these days worry about whether the new iPhone 6 will bend in their jean pockets. The National Security Agency and the nation’s law enforcement agencies have a different concern: that the smartphone is the first of a post-Snowden generation of equipment that will disrupt their investigative abilities.

The phone encrypts emails, photos and contacts based on a complex mathematical algorithm that uses a code created by, and unique to, the phone’s user — and that Apple says it will not possess.

The result, the company is essentially saying, is that if Apple is sent a court order demanding that the contents of an iPhone 6 be provided to intelligence agencies or law enforcement, it will turn over gibberish, along with a note saying that to decode the phone’s emails, contacts and photos, investigators will have to break the code or get the code from the phone’s owner.

Breaking the code, according to an Apple technical guide, could take “more than 5 1/2 years to try all combinations of a six-character alphanumeric passcode with lowercase letters and numbers.” (Computer security experts question that figure, because Apple does not fully realize how quickly the N.S.A. supercomputers can crack codes.)

Already the new phone has led to an eruption from the director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey. At a news conference on Thursday devoted largely to combating terror threats from the Islamic State, Mr. Comey said, “What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to hold themselves beyond the law.”

He cited kidnapping cases, in which exploiting the contents of a seized phone could lead to finding a victim, and predicted there would be moments when parents would come to him “with tears in their eyes, look at me and say, ‘What do you mean you can’t’ ” decode the contents of a phone.

“The notion that someone would market a closet that could never be opened — even if it involves a case involving a child kidnapper and a court order — to me does not make any sense.”

Apple declined to comment. But officials inside the intelligence agencies, while letting the F.B.I. make the public protests, say they fear the company’s move is the first of several new technologies that are clearly designed to defeat not only the N.S.A., but also any court orders to turn over information to intelligence agencies. They liken Apple’s move to the early days of Swiss banking, when secret accounts were set up precisely to allow national laws to be evaded.

“Terrorists will figure this out,” along with savvy criminals and paranoid dictators, one senior official predicted, and keep their data just on the iPhone 6. Another said, “It’s like taking out an ad that says, ‘Here’s how to avoid surveillance — even legal surveillance.’ ”

The move raises a critical issue, the intelligence officials say: Who decides what kind of data the government can access? Until now, those decisions have largely been a matter for Congress, which passed the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act in 1994, requiring telecommunications companies to build into their systems an ability to carry out a wiretap order if presented with one. But despite intense debate about whether the law should be expanded to cover email and other content, it has not been updated, and it does not cover content contained in a smartphone.

At Apple and Google, company executives say the United States government brought these changes on itself. The revelations by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden not only killed recent efforts to expand the law, but also made nations around the world suspicious that every piece of American hardware and software — from phones to servers made by Cisco Systems — have “back doors” for American intelligence and law enforcement.

Surviving in the global marketplace — especially in places like China, Brazil and Germany — depends on convincing consumers that their data is secure.

Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, has emphasized that Apple’s core business is to sell devices to people. That distinguishes Apple from companies that make a profit from collecting and selling users’ personal data to advertisers, he has said.

This month, just before releasing the iPhone 6 and iOS 8, Apple took steps to underscore its commitment to customer privacy, publishing a revised privacy policy on its website.

The policy described the encryption method used in iOS 8 as so deep that Apple could no longer comply with government warrants asking for customer information to be extracted from devices. “Unlike our competitors, Apple cannot bypass your passcode, and therefore cannot access this data,” the company said.

Under the new encryption method, only entering the passcode can decrypt the device. (Hypothetically, Apple could create a tool to hack into the device, but legally the company is not required to do that.)

Jonathan Zdziarski, a security researcher who has taught forensics courses to law enforcement agencies on collecting data from iPhones, said to think of the encryption system as a series of lockers. In the older version of iOS, there was always at least one locker that was unlocked, which Apple could enter to grab certain files like photos, call history and notes, in response to a legal warrant.

“Now what they’re saying is, ‘We stopped using that locker,’ ” Mr. Zdziarski said. “We’re using a locker that actually has a combination on it, and if you don’t know the combination, then you can’t get inside. Unless you take a sledgehammer to the locker, there’s no way we get to the files.”

The new security in iOS 8 protects information stored on the device itself, but not data stored on iCloud, Apple’s cloud service. So Apple will still be able to obtain some customer information stored on iCloud in response to government requests.

Google has also started giving its users more control over their privacy. Phones using Google’s Android operating system have had encryption for three years. It is not the default setting, however, so to encrypt their phones, users have to go into their settings, turn it on, and wait an hour or more for the data to be scrambled.

That is set to change with the next version of Android, set for release in October. It will have encryption as the default, “so you won’t even have to think about turning it on,” Google said in a statement.

A Google spokesman declined to comment on Mr. Comey’s suggestions that stronger encryption could hinder law enforcement investigations.

Mr. Zdziarski said that concerns about Apple’s new encryption to hinder law enforcement seemed overblown. He said there were still plenty of ways for the police to get customer data for investigations. In the example of a kidnapping victim, the police can still request information on call records and geolocation information from phone carriers like AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

“Eliminating the iPhone as one source I don’t think is going to wreck a lot of cases,” he said. “There is such a mountain of other evidence from call logs, email logs, iCloud, Gmail logs. They’re tapping the whole Internet.”


== PT, iPaddict

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Humor: Making The Point

Check out Dilbert Classics on GoComics!

== PT, iPaddict

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Tech: IOS 8

Guido wrote:

Here’s another error. The Reader renders text in a smaller type size than in the past. And, as had been the case, you can’t enlarge it with a finger spread.
This caused me to find that Apple hasn’t provided an opportunity for user feedback.


PT Replies:

… Clearly demonstrating that nobody wants to hear bad news. ;-)

I’m currently watching local news on TV. I can’t remember the last time I did this. It reminds me of why we have so many gripers these days (aside from the fact that grumbling has much larger audiences than ever in history):

More People = More News

More News = More Bad News

I haven’t been avoiding the media, or restricting it, just ignoring it. And I can’t say that I’ve suffered at all. Not a bit.

Besides, unlike with newspapers, I can go back in time and see what I missed whenever I want. I love the Interwebs!

== PT, iPaddict

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