March 3, 2014
February 20, 2014
I highly recommend watching the whole video, but here are a few interesting things I took away:
- The NSA and other intelligence services as a kind of high tech secret police, and how fascist mass surveillance is somehow not as bad as the surveillance marketing of Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Why is mass surveillance not as bad creepy advertising? I guess because while we as individuals are never sure if we are under active surveillance by government agents, we are all certain that we are under surveillance by Google, Facebook, and Amazon. It’s also funny when surveillance marketing gets it wrong. After buying books for my daughters for Christmas one year, Amazon thought that I was a 12 year old girl who loved computer hacking. A few years ago, Facebook mistakenly thought that I was African American for like 6 months, and would display these shockingly racist ads about being a father and getting help with child support litigation.
- The west coast student socialist radicals might have grown up to become our high tech capitalist landlords, thereby living long enough to become the villain.
- Instead of hacking art out of the high tech debris, the Internet of Things is going to enable artists to build their own new things. This is a fundamental change in the digital art world order. Instead of scavenging beauty and creativity from recently deceased or discarded commercial merchandise, the artist has the potential to be first to market.
- Casting off the Googles and Apples of the world and surrounding yourself with physical open source could be a fulfilling way of life. This is a sort of stark contrast to Sterling’s criticism of an environmental policy of martyrdom which he succinctly describes as “hairshirt green.” It’s also sort of in keeping with Sterling’s call to reduce the physical and commercial clutter in your life and replacing it with beautiful, meaningful, and highly functional objects.
I find this all to be very compelling, especially after my rant about The New Yorker piece on the maker movement.
February 13, 2014
The Steam Box controller was revealed a while back, and it’s an interesting development. The controller looks to be replicating WASD + a mouse, so it seems that the intent of the Steam Box is to be a living-room-ified PC rather than a proper console the way the XBox or PSX is. I like Steam, especially as a delivery mechanism for impulse purchases of weird games that I might not otherwise have purchased. I have even tolerated the occasional lockout from a game at its hands from lost contact with the mothership. It saddens me to say this, but as a guy that games on both consoles and PCs, this might be a gadget that I pass on.
What I am most interested in seeing is an inexpensive low-end console that is small enough to be semi-portable. Consoles rule for simple setup of multi-player games, and a small console with 2-4 controllers would be a great thing to take on trips to the lake with the family. We have had some success in the past with portable consoles like the Nintendo DS, but we have traditionally enjoyed sitting around a console the most, with multiplayer tablet games coming in a distant second place. I have enough gear to stream movies and whatnot at home, but it would be nice for the device to also have a VLC equivalent media player as well for playing movies and TV shows off of a thumb drive or SD card since the lake is so remote that Internet access can be problematic. If I had my way, it would also let you use an Android or iOS device as a third and fourth controller just so I don’t have to pack 4 separate controllers.
The Ouya looks good on paper for this role (minus using a mobile device as a controller), and as long as it can run emulators for the Nintendo there won’t be a shortage of cool games to play on it. A am also intrigued by the small crop of generic no-name Android consoles coming out of China, and I would like to see a “real” brand bubble up to the top.
While this device is neither inexpensive, nor low-end, the Mad Catz M.O.J.O. does look pretty slick and offers access to Google Play stuff, whereas the Ouya is locked to its own proprietary game store. There are also rumors of an Amazon set-top box/console which is also not very low-end, but interesting in that it could be taking on both the XBox and the Apple TV at the same time thanks to Amazon’s awesome media library. I kind of talked about an Amazon set-top like device in my one of my Dream Phone Initiative(tm) posts, but I didn’t really talk much about a pure Android game console. I am not sure that such a device would appeal to hardcore gamers, but it would definitely be interesting to see what the different console designers will come up with and what new directions they could push the idea of the game console in.
The other place that low-end consoles could gain traction is in developing countries where the infrastructure to provide power and connectivity is behind that of the Western World.
January 22, 2014
I have expressed a kind of disappointment with our President in other posts on this blog. I am not certain that this is entriely Obama’s fault. I wish that he would be honest with the American people about why all this Stasi-NSA crap is so important, but I think that We The People simply overestimate the capabilities of the office of the President of the United States. Whomever is in the office just doesn’t have the power to change things in the manner that the American people have been led to believe. You can vote for Ron Paul all day long and it’s just not going to make a difference. That may be by design since the office of the President was seen as ripe for abuse by the founding fathers, but it also may be due to corruption of the office by monied interests. Congress plays a significant role, for better or worse, but so do government agencies which are not always under the control of either Congress or the President yet similarly vulnerable to influence by monied interests.
EDIT: I forgot that I had this GIF.
January 15, 2014
My friend Dave shared this New Yorker piece with me. It’s a nice intellectual exercise to conflate the maker movement with a political or social movement, but the exercise reveals how little the author understands the hacker ethic that is so central to the maker movement.
Before I dig into just how misinformed I think the author is, I want to share the two basic tenets of the hacker ethic:
1. The belief that information-sharing is a powerful positive good, and that it is an ethical duty of hackers to share their expertise by writing open-source code and facilitating access to information and to computing resources wherever possible.
2. The belief that system-cracking for fun and exploration is ethically OK as long as the cracker commits no theft, vandalism, or breach of confidentiality.
The first tenet is what powers all things open source, from software, to hardware, to documentation. It sets up the gift economy that is the essence of hacking, and now of making. Because the community gives you tools and knowledge for absolutely nothing, you have an ethical duty to share what you have learned and to create new tools and knowledge. All hackers start off the same way: with little or no knowledge and equipment, yet rich in terms of time and energy. Over time the hours spent reading, getting flamed for asking stupid questions, and above all else, hours spent trying and failing all give way to expertise. That expertise leads to confidence, camaraderie, sometimes to employment opportunities, and possibly even a certain small amount of fame. All along your journey the community supports you, not often in a loving way, but it supports you none the less. It provides you with documentation, it answers your questions, it makes fun of your failures, and it challenges you. Along this journey, it’s your duty to be part of the discussion. You have to share what you have learned, and to answer (and possibly flame) those same stupid questions that you once asked. In time, you will find yourself so busy that you don’t have time to be part of the discussion as much, and you give back in other ways. My work with Hive13 and Cinci2600 is how I give back to the hacker, maker, and open source communities that have taught me so much and helped my career in such a meaningful way.
The second tenet is equally important and is paradoxically linked directly to the first. In the dark ages of computing, computers were very expensive and owned only by big businesses, big universities, and the government. This meant that if you wanted to learn about computers but you didn’t work for a big business, university, or government, then you either did without access or you accessed a computer system without permission. In either case, however, shared what you learned. If you found a flaw or vulnerability in a system, you shared it with the system owner so that it could be remedied before a less ethical person made use of it. If you found a vulnerability in a piece of software, you shared it with the software maker so that everyone who used the software benefitted. The act of cracking something is not in itself unethical, failing to share and disclose your findings is. Undisclosed findings are what give zero day vulnerabilities so much power.
Today, computers are cheap and ubiquitous, but the spirit of the second tenet is stronger than ever. Every day we come into contact with systems with strict rules about what you can do with them. Even though we own computer controlled telephones, game systems, cars, and household appliances, they are not ours to do with as we please because of these terms and conditions. Manufacturers, service providers, and media companies force us to agree to strict terms in order to use these devices that we have paid money to own or services that we have paid money to subscribe to. Tinkering with an electronic device or digital file that you own may very well be a violation of numerous agreements that you have made with some company. It is now possible to be a criminal system cracker on your own computer.
The second tenet is why we fight. We fight for access. We fight for privacy. We fight for control. We fight for freedom to make our own apps, to do our own repairs, and to force innovation from the outside. We fight to be able to make an object do something it was not meant to do.
The New Yorker article compares the maker movement to a 100 year old failed labor movement and craftsmanship renaissance known as the Arts and Crafts movement, where everyone was supposed to stop toiling away at corporate drudgery and pursue a philosophical life of mastering the creation of artisanal objects. According to the article, economics drives people to value utility and low cost over aesthetics. This trend toward consumerism is supposed to doom the maker movement as well. While it is possible that consumerism may run afoul of Marxist labor reform, hacking is not about socialism, nor is it about consumerism. The author clearly does not understand the two tenets of the hacker ethic. He conflates the maker movement with a kind of nouveau Marxist labor movement, and then criticizes tech entrepreneurs for getting rich by capitalizing on consumerism. No where in these two tenets is there a call for a socialist labor revolution, nor is there a call to reject capitalist consumerism.
The New Yorker article irks me by basically calling the maker movement a distraction from social and political activism. It basically accuses makers of being tool worshippers rather than people interested in meaningful action, as if engineering and social change are somehow mutually exclusive. Not only is that unfair because social and political philosophy is outside the scope of the maker movement, it’s also completely wrong.
Seeking salvation through tools alone is no more viable as a political strategy than addressing the ills of capitalism by cultivating a public appreciation of arts and crafts. Society is always in flux, and the designer can’t predict how various political, social, and economic systems will come to blunt, augment, or redirect the power of the tool that is being designed. Instead of deinstitutionalizing society, the radicals would have done better to advocate reinstitutionalizing it: pushing for political and legal reforms to secure the transparency and decentralization of power they associated with their favorite technology.
I can tell you from experience that getting hacker and maker types to be socially engaged can be an insurmountable challenge, but that is not the fault of the tools, nor of the tool creators. It is the fault of the people who have access to the tools of social change but do nothing to make it happen. It is also the fault of those who desire social change but do not make effective use of the tools that can make change happen. While we in the west distract ourselves by using Facebook and Twitter to talk about football and celebrity mating habits, people in the Middle East used them to foment the Arab Spring. With that said, if you are interested in starting a movement of any kind, you are going to need tools, things like secure communications and strong crypto for storing sensitive documents. For that, I recommend at least one hacker, preferably a cipherpunk. You also need music, because you can’t have a revolution if the music isn’t right.
To be completely honest, the preoccupation with tools as things that cause evil is, in my opinion, a real failing of the east coast liberal intellectual establishment. In the case of this article it’s technology causing sociopolitical malaise. In other media outlets of similar geo-political affiliation it’s guns causing murders. The preoccupation needs to stop. Stop letting your irrational fear of something that you don’t understand lead you to blame an inanimate object for something caused by an individual’s poor decision making. This is no different than the religious right’s crusade against gay marriage, which is also based on irrational fear. Letting your rhetoric be dictated by fear and misunderstanding undermines your message. It makes you look stupid, like those d-bags that oppose gay marriage. A tool can no more create a movement than a gun sitting on a table can commit murder. In both cases, a live body has to stop browsing Reddit, take their hand out of their pants, and actually do something.
If you are reading this and are suddenly inspired to do something, might I suggest starting with the Electronic Frontier Foundation?
There choice bits of history and philosophy throughout the article, but this paragraph towards the end really sums up the conflation issue:
A reluctance to talk about institutions and political change doomed the Arts and Crafts movement, channelling the spirit of labor reform into consumerism and D.I.Y. tinkering. The same thing is happening to the movement’s successors. Our tech imagination, to judge from catalogues like “Cool Tools,” is at its zenith. (Never before have so many had access to thermostatically warmed toilet seats.) But our institutional imagination has stalled, and with it the democratizing potential of radical technologies. We carry personal computers in our pockets—nothing could be more decentralized than this!—but have surrendered control of our data, which is stored on centralized servers, far away from our pockets. The hackers won their fight against I.B.M.—only to lose it to Facebook and Google. And the spooks at the National Security Agency must be surprised to learn that gadgets were supposed to usher in the “de-institutionalization of society.”
Sure, everyone is on Facebook and GMail, but the real work gets done using tools like Tor, PGP, TrueCrypt, not to mention BitTorrent. They have their flaws, but they keep a good deal of your conversations and data out of the view of oppressors and provide a virtually unstoppable method for distributing your movements’ media. If you do not agree with the Google or Facebook stack, you can always run your own servers and use your own tools. Again, if you don’t want to do it yourself, I recommend getting a hacker to help you.
The hacker ethic and the maker movement are about sharing tools and knowledge, full stop. If all you’re interested in is social change, you’ve joined the wrong movement. Making and hacking are about enabling and empowering people to do things. The hacker ethic focuses on computer hardware, software, and networks, while the maker movement focuses mostly on mechanical and electrical engineering, but both disciplines don’t really leave much room for philosophy, politics, religion, or economics. Political, social, or economic issues might motivate you to hack or to make things, and the things you hack or make might support or your social or political activism, but the disciplines themselves don’t really feature much philosophy. I know hackers who are randian objectivists, bay area campus liberals, man hating feminist lesbians, transgendered, Scientologists, Sikhs and Muslims. They are free to organize or evangelize any cause that they want. That’s the great thing about being a hacker: none of your personal crap matters as long as you have something cool to share.
But don’t take my word for it, read the end of the Hacker Manifesto:
This is our world now… the world of the electron and the switch, the beauty of the baud. We make use of a service already existing without paying for what could be dirt-cheap if it wasn’t run by profiteering gluttons, and you call us criminals. We explore… and you call us criminals. We seek after knowledge… and you call us criminals. We exist without skin color, without nationality, without religious bias… and you call us criminals. You build atomic bombs, you wage wars, you murder, cheat, and lie to us and try to make us believe it’s for our own good, yet we’re the criminals.
Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity. My crime is that of judging people by what they say and think, not what they look like. My crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me for.
I am a hacker, and this is my manifesto. You may stop this individual, but you can’t stop us all… after all, we’re all alike.
January 2, 2014
In part 2 of this series, I talked about hybrid mobile and VOIP devices and the need for greater diversity of handsets in the mobile market. In part 3, I then went on to talk about how tablets have filled in some of the grey space between smartphones and computers. In this post, I will be discussing the convergence of computers, telephones and all of the devices in between to form the foundation for my Dream Phone. I will then discuss how mobile carriers like AT&T and communications vendors like Skype are doing their best to keep that from happening.
The clearest example of the convergence of the computer and the telephone is obviously the smartphone. It’s literally a telephone-sized computer that connects to both the PSTN and to the Internet, but it is also a different category of device thanks to mobile messaging systems like SMS and MMS. Prior to the mobile phone (and VOIP), telephones delivered voice exclusively and computers delivered text exclusively. As I discussed in parts 2 and 3, there is more to life than smartphones, and there is more to phone and computer convergence as well.
In addition to the smartphone, there are three other ways to look at computer/telephone convergence: 1) using a telephone to interface with a computer, 2) using a computer as an interface to a telephony service and 3) using a tablet or other non-phone and non-computer device for text and voice communictaion.
The clearest example of the first case – using your telephone to interact with a computer – is the automated telephone menu. Known in the telecom world as IVRs, these universally reviled systems let you interact, often ineffectively, with the lower tiers of many customer service and tech support systems. Despite our hatred of IVR’s, Text-To-Speech systems do make it possible to interact with and be served by a computer when we do not have access to the Internet. In cases where you need both your hands and eyes free, such as driving, these systems can help you to make use of time that would otherwise be lost because using a touch screen while driving is so dangerous. It’s also easier to get a mobile telephone signal or a dial tone than it is to get mobile data service or wifi. Voice connectivity is one of the last things to go when you are in a poor area for mobile signal. Being able to dial in to a computer and use your voice to access messages and information could be a real lifesaver in some circumstances. The advanced features and add-ons to business telephone systems like Asterisk make it possible to check news and even send dictated text messages and email by using a telephone, I am surprised that mobile carriers don’t offer something similar to discourage texting while driving AND convince people to use their voice minutes.
The best example of the second case – using a computer as a telephony device – is IP telephony or Voice Over IP. Either in the form of computers as telephony clients with a softphone, or in the form of a computer hosted telephony service such as Asterisk, VOIP software lets you use a computer for voice calling to both other computers and often to traditional telephones. Free and low cost IP telephony software and services are, in my opinion, seriously under-appreciated in the market, perhaps deliberately so. Hosting your own telephony service gives you greater control over how your voice communication happens. You get to dictate more than just which device(s) you will use. You can set up ring and hunt groups, and have your voice mail delivered to multiple locations. These features can help to free you from being bound to your smartphone 24×7.
Because of the tablet’s ability to blur the edges between the computer and the smartphone, case 3 was discussed at length in part 3 of this series. What’s important to keep in mind as you read this post is that the tablet could become the low cost alternative to both computers and smartphones. A tablet with sufficient mobile connectivity could also be an alternative to the mobile phone as well. This has the potential for a cost conscious (and single) consumer to be able to buy only one device (a tablet) and subscribe to only one service plan (mobile broadband) instead of three or more devices (phone, computer, and other) and three separate service plans (mobile phone, mobile data, and residential broadband). The problem, as I see it, is that the markets for devices and connectivity are really concerned with keeping everything separate, isolated, and therefore redundant. The thing that keeps the tablet firmly in the “other” category is mobile access to broadband, which as you will read further down, is a major barrier to The Dream Phone(tm) initiative.
Instead of creating three isolated markets for devices (phone, computer, and other), two markets for connectivity (mobile broadband and wired broadband), and two markets for operating systems (computer and mobile) I would rather see the barriers between these products and services erode a bit in order to give consumers more flexibility and choice. When I think about the mobile handset and mobile carrier marketplace, I see that some pretty serious changes need to happen before my Dream Phone(tm) could become a reality.
In the computing camp, software titans like Google, Apple and Microsoft want users to have easy access to their applications and cloud services. This means a multitude of applications, platforms, and platforms within platforms. Google Chrome is a good example of a platform-within-a-platform-problem, with the Chrome store offering to turn your browser running on Windows, MacOS, or Linux into a platform unto itself, even offering to launch applications from outside of the browser. I stopped using Firefox because of all the gadgetry I had to install to make it useful, now it would appear that Chrome has done something similar, but to a much greater extent. The reason the platform is an important starting point is because of vendor lock-in. Whether you are an Apple fanboi, a Google elitist, or a Microserf, you bet your ass you’re locked in.
In the mobile camp, handset makers like Apple, Motorola (now Google), and Samsung want us to upgrade to the latest phone every twelve months. They add compute power and screen real estate while not offering user serviceable batteries or storage so that the phones we love slowly devolve into irritations just in time for the new models to come out, yet long before your contract with your carrier is up. Samsung and Amazon are also playing the platform-within-a-platform game, with Amazon offering its own separate Android app store alongside Google’s, and Samsung is pushing its own API’s to developers so that there is a layer of Samsung goop sitting on top of Android, much like Amazon, but far worse. Competition is always good, but I think the platform-within-a-platform game more about vendor lock-in.
The name of the game in the mobile market seems to be selling an ecosystem. It begins with choosing an OS for your smartphone that seems to dictate many of your subsequent choices. While that helps vendors to corral customers into convenient silos for marketing and selling, something went wrong somewhere. Somehow the use case for telephones and computers stopped being dictated by consumers. Companies like Apple aren’t really looking to their users for inspiration and are instead looking at their existing product lineup and telling customers what they will be buying next. The advent of the smart watch that may or may not tell time is a great example. I quit wearing a watch years ago when I carried both a pager and a mobile phone and I decided that having a third object on my person that tells time seemed superfluous.
So my dream of having a phone that isn’t necessarily a phone so much as a tiny connectivity and communications server that I can wirelessly link screens and other peripherals to is probably ahead of its time. The world may not be ready for the difference between a smartphone and a computer to be largely academic. Ready or not, the lines between phones and computers are falling away. Residential landlines are fading away, and so are traditional PCs. What’s left are various gadgets with the ability connect to both the Internet and the PSTN in one form or another. The People have spoken with their dollars and it’s time for the market to break up the strata that is the mobile communications stack so that consumers can use the devices they choose on their terms.
Creative Commons – Attribution (CC BY 3.0) Smartphone designed by George Agpoon from the Noun Project
Creative Commons – Attribution (CC BY 3.0) Computer designed by Edward Boatman from the Noun Project
Tablet image Designed by chiccabubble from the Noun Project and is Public Domain
Telephone Handset image designed by 1982 from the Noun Project and is Public Domain
Antenna image sesigned by Benjamin Brandt from the Noun Project and is Public Domain
December 11, 2013
In the dark days before the prepaid mobile phone, people used pay phones to keep in touch when they were out and about. When I was a teenager, I used to call pay phones just to see who was hanging around them.
I spent a significant piece of the 90′s over seas with the military, so I missed out on a lot of things, including collect calling wars. The payphones in Germany used smart cards, which I thought was vastly superior to carrying coins. In the U.S. you could make a collect call from a pay phone by calling the operator, but there were other services, like AT&T, that you could use to make collect calls that were supposedly cheaper than an operator call. Living in Cincinnati meant all local calls were under the control of our local carrier, Cincinnati Bell, so there is no telling how much a collect call was, or how much you could save by using another service.
AT&T’s spokesperson for their collect calling service was Carrot Top, which probably explains how he managed to keep being a comic without starving to death:
The primary competitor to AT&T in the collect calling game was 1-800-Collect. Apparently these commercials were a big deal, employing some big names in acting including Chris Rock and Phil Hartman:
December 10, 2013
I ran across this blog post the other day about an apparent campaign by Microsoft to inform the buying public about the dangers of Chromebooks. Coincidentally, this ad comes out at the height of the Christmas shopping season. Good Guy Microsoft, protecting us little consumers from the Big Bad Google.
The post then goes on to question why Google is wasting its time:
An attack on Chromebooks would make obvious sense if Chromebooks were selling like crazy and were significantly eating into Windows-based PC sales. Right now, however, there is simply no evidence that Chromebooks are making a dent in the consumer landscape, let alone hurting sales of PCs.
What’s interesting is that I had a discussion about Chromebooks with a friend who is considering buying one for her daughter this Christmas. Another interesting thing to note is that online retailers like Amazon sold out of their initial stock of Chromebooks when I was shopping for one last year.
I ended up buying a refurbished Samsung Chromebook on sale a few months ago, and I have found that It’s a pretty nice combination of laptop features (12 inch screen plus decent sized keyboard) while being pretty slim and lightweight, kind of like a 10 inch tablet but for a third of the price. The machine itself is plastic, not aluminum, so while it is very thin and lightweight, it does feel a bit brittle. I keep mine in a hard shell case and pack it into my suitcase or carry-on bag whenever possible.
For me, the killer app for the Chromebook is travel. Using a tablet is great for a number of things other than writing. Using a bluetooth keyboard can make writing on a tablet a bit easier, but routine things like copying and pasting text are still pretty time consuming compared to using a keyboard and mouse. It’s hard to touch type on a tablet screen and when you use a bluetooth keyboard, some apps can’t decide if the on screen keyboard should keep popping up or not, which can be frustrating. I have found that I get the best results using an Android tablet, a keyboard with a built-in pointer while using an app instead of a browser (like the WordPress app). This removes the majority of the frustration of typing on a tablet, but it’s still not the same as using a desktop OS with a mouse and a keyboard. I have heard of null-keyboard apps, and apps that turn the on-screen keyboard transparent, but I haven’t tried them yet. In terms of its physical size, the keyboard on my Samsung Chromebook is big enough to write with quickly and accurately, but it is still small enough to make the unit fairly easy to travel with. It won’t be taking the place of by big 15 inch Lenovo, but the Chromebook is an affordable travel-sized substitute for what the Microsoft ad calls a “real laptop”.
What the blog post touches on in an update is the trend for schools to favor the Chromebook. My oldest daughter was issued a Chromebook at her school through her vocational program. She really likes using it and is considering buying it from the school when she graduates. The only reason that I am not using my Chromebook for school is that I already have a netbook dedicated for school use that I keep its own special case attached to by book bag. The Chromebook doesn’t fit into that special case so it just isn’t going to work for school [first world problems :-)] Were I not so emotionally invested in that carrying case, I might consider the Chromebook as a replacement if my school netbook should happen to die. With the emergence of Windows-like tablets, Microsoft’s new hybrid-hosted version of Office and/or the announcement of Amazon WorkSpaces, I may not buy dedicated school laptop in the future and instead invest in a hosted workspace for my academic work environment and a low end tablet. Of course this assumes that my netbook will live long enough for pricing on Surface, Office off/online, and/or Amazon Workspaces to fall down to the level of a netbook and a starving student’s budget.
In light of Microsoft Office being available as cloud service, I am really wondering how well bashing Chromebooks will help MS, considering that a “Scroogled” Chromebook buyer might just be a potential sales opportunity for Office Live 365. I think that would make a better ad than the pawn shop guys.
Another place that I think a device like the Chromebook (or a cheap desktop equivalent) and Google Apps would make sense is in a business environment with a low budget and little or no dedicated IT staff, such as a non-profit. It would be possible to outfit a new employee with a laptop and a mobile-ish phone (via Google Voice) for not very much in terms of dollars, and not very much in terms of support and training. I think Office Live does something similar with Skype but it’s severely limited compared to Google Voice. Unless I’m mistaken, you would still need the Skype In and the Skype Out services get what you get with GV for free.
Big enterprises, with staff dedicated to infrastructure support, will probably find the Chromebook + Google Apps stack to be a bit constrictive, but a small organization that runs mostly web apps could get infrastructure that rivals that of a much larger organization for not very much up front. In the past, I have helped a few small businesses do something similar with bargain PCs from big box retailers and the results have not been good. When I was helping to build the initial infrastructure for Hive13, we used the educational institution plan for Google Apps and the results were better.
UPDATE 12/29: According to this report, Chromebooks account for 25% of new laptop sales. Maybe that’s what has MS so spooked.
November 18, 2013
A few weeks ago, I lost my phone at the Renaissance Festival. This was a colossal inconvenience for a number of reasons, which I will detail below. Since this was my work phone, I my first order of business was to report it to the company InfoSec team. I wasn’t too worried about my work stuff because it takes a separate PIN to access, once you get past the lock screen. Also, I don’t use an app on my phone for remote access to the company network, so that isn’t a danger either.
What really worried me was all of my two-factor authentication tools for GMail, Facebook and Twitter were pointed at that phone. So first, I had to set about redirecting all of those tools from my work phone to my burner. Then, I had to revoke any application permissions or sessions in Google and Facebook that might be open. I also disabled call forwarding to that phone in Google Voice. Now that the missing phone was pretty much banned from my digital life, I had to go about living without a smartphone until I could arrange to get a replacement through work.
In the 3-4 weeks I was without a smartphone I realized a few things:
- I seem to have offloaded my sense of direction to my smartphone’s GPS (presumably to make room for more Internet memes). Losing my smartphone meant losing my sense of direction as well. I had to print (ugh, hard copy) directions to places, or borrow my wife’s GPS, which hasn’t been updated in a couple of years and can be hilariously inaccurate.
- Calls and texts to my burner run me around $0.10 each. That’s an acceptable cost for calls on the go, but not for the bulk of my calling and texting. I have a VOIP phone that serves as my home phone, and a desk phone at work, so I can make outgoing calls with my Google Voice number, but receiving calls is a little problematic for a couple of reasons:
- My work phone picks up after like 3 rings, and it rolls over to my work voice mail, so having GV ring my desk when I’m not there means my work voice mail will pick up before Google’s does. Also, my work environment is pretty quiet, so sitting at my desk and talking on the phone is pretty rude, so I normally take personal calls on my mobile in a nearby conference room.
- Between my need to sleep during the day, the rest of my family needing to sleep at night, and my wife’s general annoyance at random calls, our home phone works off of a whitelist, and all other calls get the message to call back later. This is great for keeping the peace, but not great for being available by phone. If I let GV forward to my home phone, most callers who aren’t on the whitelist would get the message to call me back later.
- My burner (t-Mo prepaid) doesn’t work in data center where I work. I have a phone on my desk, so getting calls from work and home aren’t a big deal, but random calls to my mobile end up going to voice mail. Thankfully I get alerts in Google Hangouts that I have an incoming call, even though I don’t have a microphone to answer the call on my PC. When my wife calls me, I just declined the call and called her from a phone in a conference room.
The first problem was receiving calls to my GV number at home without undoing the whitelist on the home number. My Obihai ATA had room for a second SIP registration, so I configured a VOIP.MS sub account for it and pointed an IPKall DID at it. I also configured the caller ID override to say “ITS FOR CHRIS” so that everyone knew not to answer it if I’m not home. It helped me to avoid missing a few important calls. It also let me set the outbound caller ID to match my GV number, so I could make out going calls from my home phone without needing the GV app.
The second problem was being able to call home from the random conference rooms at work. The outbound caller ID from all the company phones is the same generic number, so I ended up just whitelisting it. That means that people from work could call me at home, if they were to discover my number, but it’s a pretty well kept secret, so I’m not that worried.
I just received my replacement phone today, and it’s a real relief to have a phone that can play spaceteam again.
Having a “secret” second line on my home phone proved to be so handy that I have kept it set up. I was already using VOIP.MS for making and receiving calls on my iPad and my Nexus 7 via wifi, so I configured a hunt group with the tablet extensions and the secret home phone extension in it and pointed my IPKall DID at the huntgroup. So now, when you call my GV number, both tablets and the secret home phone extension will ring, in addition to the usual group of phones that I have configured in GV. Once I got my work phone fixed, I removed the secret home extension from the hunt group, but left it configured on my ATA for making calls with my mobile caller ID.
November 12, 2013
As much as I love regional hip-hop, what little I have seen come out of Texas from the likes of Mike Jones and Bun B really underscores what I dislike about mainstream rap music. I’ve been listening to dudes brag about being pimps and gangsters since the 80′s. While it was pretty original when NWA did it like 25 years ago, today it’s been done to death, especially in Texas. Those dudes are incapable of shutting up about candy paint, wood grain, and 4-4′s. I get that this is what moves albums and gets people to watch videos, but at the end of the day, music doesn’t last unless it says something real. This is why I am drawn to independent music and underground artists, like DualCore.
A sub-genre of hip-hop that came out of London, England that piqued my interest was Grime. Lyrically, the words are basically British lads bragging about being gangsters, but they do it in their own vernacular, and they do it by blending elements of dancehall and drum & base. The samples are unique (no gangster whistle), the delivery is fast and raw, and the slang is like no other. The music captures something that I, as an American, haven’t had seen much of, life on the streets of London. In my youth, I assumed that everyone in England was rich, snooty, and incredibly white.
Dizzee Rascal is easily my favorite grime artist, and “The Boy In Da Corner” is easily my favorite album of his. Here’s one of my favorite tracks:
So like all good things from Britain, Dizzee learned that he can go to The States and make a lot of money. Actors do this, but the practice was pretty much invented by musicians. In hip-hop, you can get an unknown on the charts by having someone known do tracks with them. This is how Dr. Dre put Snoop Dog and Eminem on the map (not to mention Warren G). So Mr. Rascal packed up his trainers and came to the good ol’ U. S. Of A. and did some tracks with Bun B. I have no idea if he’s a thing in America now, but I kinda hope it blew up in his face:
I try to imagine the video shoot, with everyone unable to understand Dizzee Rascal when he talks. If you watch the video, Bun B mentions Dizzee and London exactly once, and then launches into the usual, candy paint, etc.
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