Journey To The Centre Of The Earth

1959 movie poster for "Journey To The Centre Of The Earth"Did you read Verne’s classic when you were a kid? Imagined walking through those prehistoric jungles, seeing the first glimpses of battling dinosaurs and man-eating plants? It was cool when you were a kid … but like most sci-fi, especially period sci-fi, it comes off as pretty hokey when you get older and realize that there isn’t very much worth seeing under the surface of the planet.

Or is there?

One way to find out: The BBC’s excellent interactive web feature that lets you delve down to the very core of the planet. They did a bang-up job on this – take a few minutes today and take a look.

Brilliant.

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Macphun Focus – Now Free

If you mess around with any sort of photo editing in OS X, you have probably at least heard of Focus from Macphun. It’s a bit of a one-trick pony – it’s simulates the effect of tilt-shift lenses – but it does that one trick extremely well. Flawlessly, in fact.

Better yet, for the next day or two it’s 100% free. Click on this link right here, pony up your email address, and get back a download link and an activation code. No muss, no fuss, no secret crapware add-ons or home page tomfoolery, just free software. Grab it now – once the link is dead, the deal is over. But as long as this post is up, it should still work.

Now quit reading and get downloading.

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BlackBerry Takes Another Shot At The Tablet

They certainly aren’t going to go down without a fight. With the bad taste of the Playbook finally out of the corporate system, the gang BlackBerry is looking to have another go at a tablet.

Samsung - Secusmart Tablet InterfaceOn the surface, this looks like a really good idea: Accept that the mainstream mobile computing market isn’t really interested in anything called “BlackBerry” right now, and instead take aim at a niche that is already a comfort zone for the company. While there are already high-security enterprise solutions available from other tablet manufacturers (including the big one) the fact that a lot of senior IT management types still understand and trust the BlackBerry infrastructure carries some serious weight in the market.

The strategy of using that weight to get the company’s foot back in the door and – hopefully – an eventual wedge to get back into the more lucrative consumer markets is a good one. There are, however, three bumps in the road – one minor, one worrisome, and one potentially fatal – that need to be addressed before they torpedo this particular ship before it ever gets out of the harbour.

The Minor One: Tablets are mobile devices but people don’t purchase them as such. While phones get replaced and updated on a constant basis, tablets are treated more like a traditional computer. People buy them to last and hang on to them until the bitter end … enterprise purchasers even more so. BlackBerry’s traditional revenue models and expectations of success have long been built on regular turnover of hardware, and the success or failure of this product needs a change of corporate mindset to look at the goals and income curve as a much, much longer process. The clock might be ticking for BlackBerry, but they need to use some patience and take a decidedly long-term view here.

The Worrisome One: Blackberry has partnered with Samsung on the security front and is touting the KNOX technology as the keystone of the new tablet’s security. Oops. KNOX is already known to have serious security flaws and is less than ideal hook to hang your hat on – especially for a company that still waves the security flag as one of their corporate strengths. Why BlackBerry would partner with someone else on the security front is beyond me … and why they would parter with a purveyor of a broken system just boggles the mind. The very last straw for these guys would be another public security fiasco. Why risk it?

The Potentially Fatal One: Despite all assurances to the contrary, developers are still treated as something of a grubby little afterthought at BlackBerry. Things are somewhat better than the bad old days but there is still a deep-running mindset at senior levels of the company that the BlackBerry way is the only way – if something needs to be done on a handset it’s already in the operating system, so why do we need to support these developer types? Without developers and a robust application ecosystem you have have nothing. No appeal. No desirability. And no future. At all.

Can BlackBerry overcome these three issues and get back into the game with what looks to be both an interesting new idea and a smart bit of market targeting? Number one? Easy – that’s just business. Number two? From a technical standpoint, at least, that’s another “yes” … BlackBerry knows security. Getting out of a high-profile corporate partnership and doing it yourself, however, that might be something that gets a bit tangled.

But number three? That’s the hard one. Disdain for developers has percolated through the company for years. It’s why the iPhone caught BlackBerry flat-footed. It’s why the BB10 ecosystem is still pretty much flatlined. It’s why they had to resort to paying people to switch to the otherwise-excellent Passport. Can they finally start to learn from these mistakes? Or is the corporate inertia in the most crucial part of the equation one that they simply won’t be able to overcome?

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Disposable Passwords.

Terrible New Yahoo WordmarkI was skipping through the Yahoo blog this morning …

What? Yes, Yahoo. That Yahoo. Still in business and everything. Shocking, I know.

Ahem. I was skipping through the Yahoo blog this morning and they are floating an idea that I think has a some serious legs: On-demand one-shot passwords. You set up your account to take advantage of the feature, and instead of using your regular permanent password you can hit a button that will send a single-use disposable password to your verified mobile device.

While the blog post makes it sound like this is a panacea for those people who constantly forget their passwords – I’m looking at you, mom – it is actually a brilliant idea from a security standpoint. We have all heard the horror stories about hotel and airport wireless networks that are compromised with assorted chunks of malware that fish for user credentials when connected users connect back to their personal email or VPN accounts … and if professionally-administered networks can be easily infiltrated, it’s a pretty safe bet that the WiFi at your local coffee shop or library branch is packing some hidden nasties too.

This process is a simple and foolproof way to protect yourself – it doesn’t matter if the bad guys get your password, because it only works once. They can knock themselves out trying it all day long, and get nothing but air for their troubles.

I haven’t been able to try this yet, because the rollout is currently limited to users with a U.S. phone number. If you happen to live in the states and have a few minutes to try this out, follow the link to give it a shot and let me know how you get on. If it works as advertised, this is something I would love to see become widespread across the industry in a hurry. Credential theft is by far the biggest business in the world of cybercrime … being able to protect yourself in one easy step has the potential to be a game-changer.

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It’s Not A Watch …

Today is the day. Apple makes their first foray into the world of personal luxury and fashion, earning them reams of text on fashion and style pages around the world. There is a nearly endless plethora of speculation about what we are going to see, learn, and – in the case of many people, specifically the style-challenged tech press – be shocked by.

But, when push comes to shove everything that comes down the pike today can be summed up in four little words:

It’s Not A Watch.

Now then. Before we go any further, a note on nomenclature. When I say “watch”, I mean a proper Swiss mechanical watch. Not some cheap-ass quartz-movement thing from a department store. Not some overpriced-but-the-same-cheap-ass-quartz-movement thing from a “designer label”. I mean a hand-built automatic watch, the kind of thing you invest a significant sum into and plan on having for your entire life. That’s what a “watch” is. And – much to the upcoming dismay of clueless media types everywhere – that is the market that Apple has their eye on with this product. Not ugly “smartwatches”. Not the Timex crowd, nor the Marc Jacobs or Fossil or Kate Spade crowd. Think about names like Omega and Hamilton and Tag and you have a much better idea of where this will all play out.

Where were we? Oh, right.

It’s Not A Watch …

… but the iPhone wasn’t a phone, either. When Apple first released the iPhone, a precious few people (thank you, thank you very much) realized that it wasn’t a phone at all. It was Apple swinging for the fences with an entirely new concept of computing … the idea that most of the data interactions you have don’t really require sitting down at a traditional computer and instead can be done in the palm of your hand. The “phone” part of the iPhone is just an app, and if you are like most people it is one of the apps you use the least. But calling it a phone made it easier for people to understand. And want. And use. It was just window dressing, a way to get the device in to average mopes’ pockets and ease them into the now-commonplace world of mobile computing. And that is the eventual end-game here as well. Call it a watch. Make it beautiful and something that people crave. Let them realize later that they are now into wearable computing and can’t imagine life without it. It works a lot better than trying to sell them on strapping a computer to their wrist.

It’s Not A Watch …

… but it’s not a “smartwatch” either. If you have ever seen someone with a Galaxy Gear or a Moto 360 you will realize two things: One, current smartwatches are ugly as shit and two, they are horrible to use. That’s because the current idea of a smartwatch as a teeny tiny smartphone is horribly broken. Using a watch to do the things you do on your phone just makes the task, whatever it is, harder, slower, and more frustrating. Why would you wear something on your arm – and worse, something wretchedly ugly – just to make the things you do more difficult? Answer: You wouldn’t. Which is exactly why you have probably never actually seen someone wearing a Galaxy Gear. Or a Moto 360.

The solution? Take functions and abilities away from the device instead of trying to cram more in. You can tell by both the materials we have seen so far and by the vocabulary that Apple is using that they envision the watch as something that you interact with in passive ways. You glance at it. You feel a tap from it. You touch the face or the crown. But you never ever ever sit there and poke poke poke away at tiny elements on a tiny screen. If Apple maintains that mindset, and enforces some extremely stringent rules on the app store to keep developers from trying to cram busy smartphone apps onto a watch screen, it could be the breakthrough in bringing wearable computing to the teeming masses that has been eluding all of the other players in the game to this point.

It’s Not A Watch …

… but it definitely looks like one. There is no denying the fact that the Apple Watch looks like high-end jewelry, and not like something that your early-adopter nerd buddy would strap to his wrist to tap out blog entries while waiting for a bus. And the wild differentiation in styles, from an obvious sport-activity device to an understated everyday quietly-elegant device to a full-on mega-priced personal luxury item means that Apple is targeting three completely different groups or watch wearers here.

The sport model is, I think, a panacea to the traditional tech and millennial crowd. Something that they can buy at a price that they understand, with a look that they will like, and a utility that is idea for their groovy active lifestyles. These are the people who already have sports bands, and it’s a market segment that is already measurable and ready to be entered. As for the edition model, well, that is for people who can drop ten grand or more on a whim and won’t really care if they have to do it again next year to get an upgraded model. They aren’t normal people – they are an alien group all on their own, and they will buy expensive things just to have, well, expensive things.

But the standard watch? That’s aimed at a market that is a complete crap shot. It’s a market with all the potential in the world, but also one that could crash and burn. This is where Apple is taking a risk – trying to replace quality traditional watches on the wrists of suit-wearing office folk, on golfers and cafe-goers, on the kinds of people who carry a high-end smartphone in one hand and a six-dollar latte in the other. It’s an all-or-nothing bet here. This is the market with the most room for growth, and also the market where the price shocks cause the worst hue and cry. Which brings us to …

It’s Not A Watch …

… but it will certainly be priced like one. Lots of people have tried to come up with an estimate of what the various models will cost. Some of them have been laughably inane. But when thinking about the prices that will be announced today, and about the reaction that is sure to follow, here are three bits of information that are worth having in the back of your mind.

Bit #1: Read this incredibly naive comment from your Average Tech Press Pundit about the cost of a stainless steel watch bracelet. If you don’t want to wade through the text yourself, the money quote is:

“… many of us are waiting for the official steel bracelets to be made available (at a hefty a la carte price of $79.99)”

Hefty. Eighty bucks is “hefty”. Remember that.

Bit #2: When people ask me about watches, I invariably tell them to forget the Rolexes and head towards an Omega. You get a brilliant piece of machinery that will last forever and with a history and heritage that you can almost feel every time you slide the thing onto your wrist. Of all the Omega models, the Speedmaster 57 is my favourite. Solid, understated, classic, elegant … it is everything a personal luxury item should be. If you do happen to have an Omega Speedmaster and you needed to replace the standard stainless steel bracelet, it’s going to set you back a minimum of $600. Not $60. Not $160. Six hundred. Now remember back to the “hefty” price in Bit #1 and you can see how this is going to cause rampant conniption fits among the tech (and probably mainstream) press.

Bit #3: Examine this handy chart of three different models of the Omega Speedmaster and the associated retail prices.

Omega Speedmaster 75 Prices

These watches are identical inside. Same movement, same inner chassis, same daily, same everything. The only difference is the case material. And the prices are literally an order of magnitude different. Is there $15,000 worth of gold in the gold watch? $20,000 worth of gold in the gold watch and bracelet? No, of course not. There is, however, a completely different market for the two variants, and they are priced as such.

Will the difference between the standard Apple Watch and the gold edition model be $15,000? Probably not. But I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the difference was at least eight grand. Maybe more.

In other words, get ready for the shitstorm.

Now. With all that in play, I will take a shot at the madness anyway. We already know that the Sport model will start at the previously revealed price of $349. If I had to make an educated guess, I say that the standard stainless model will come in at $699 with bracelet options that take it all the way to $1199, and the gold Edition model will start at $5999 and have bracelet options that push it to the $11999.

Yep. Hefty. But also very much in keeping with the market that Apple hopes to open up with this particular play. The press can scream and faint all they want … Apple only cares if they sell.

The more intriguing question is whether or not the two sizes of each model will be priced the same. I have a sneaking suspicion that for the Sport, they will be the same. Size in a smartphone is a choice based on function. Size in a wearable is based on your body, and at least at the entry level I don’t see Apple making body size a monetized commodity. In fact, I think that even the stainless model will have one price for both sizes, although the steel bands may be priced in tiers depending on the size of the case they match. And the gold one? Oh yeah, that costs more for the bigger case. Just because they can.

It’s Not A Watch …

… but yes, it is going to be sold like one. Not like a computer, not like a phone. This is something you try on, heft, have a personal interaction with before you plunk down your cash. And that might be the biggest challenge of all. Apple retail stores are not set up with this sort of shopping experience in mind. Apple’s retail partners – specifically the big tech stores like Future Shop and Best Buy are really not set up for this sort of thing. How this part of the equation plays out will be the most interesting part of the whole experiment.

The traditional watch experience is also why the case and bracelet combinations will be limited to the ones you see on the Apple web site right now. You can’t go buy a stainless Speedmaster with a gold bracelet – Omega knows that will look like crap and they just don’t make it an option. The same mindset will be in play here – Apple doesn’t want nasty-looking combinations out in the wild, at least to start, and is willing to tick a few people off to maintain a certain visual standard as the product hits the street.

It’s Not A Watch …

… but it has been treated like one by the teams that designed and built it. And that, I think, is why this will eventually succeed. Everything about the product feels like a watch. Even the vocabulary that Apple uses to talk about the smallest details – to the point of using the unfamiliar-but-traditional term “complications” for visual elements of the watch face display – hints that was never designed as a tech toy on your wrist. This was designed as a beautiful personal item that you will be proud to wear … and just happens to do really cool stuff.

That’s the disruption. It isn’t about making smartwatches that do amazing new things. The Apple watch will probably do less than any other smartwatch on the market. Possibly far less. This is about making a high-end watch that just happens to do a few things that no other watch can do … and how our perceptions of computing are changed again.

Love it or hate it, the iPhone made the “post-PC” era a reality. Apple hopes the watch can do the same thing for wearable data. It’s a risk for sure. But the possible rewards? Staggering.

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March 9th – Set Your Watch

Invitation to the Apple "Spring Forward" Event

Well, well. As previously predicted, the traditional “iTunes/iPod/Music” event that Apple holds in March has been co-opted to announce the Apple Watch. Prices will be revealed – and there will be much hilarious consternation in the tech press when the prices are announced, believe you me – as well as the opening of pre-orders and an official shipping date.

That date? Oh, right. Look for the second Tuesday of April. A little birdie told me so.

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Canadian DRAM Class Action Lawsuit

Are you Canadian? Did you buy consumer electronics in Canada between 1999 and 2002? If you can answer “yes” to both of those questions then you are entitled to a cash money payout as part of the now-settled class action lawsuit against the manufacturers of DRAM.

Photo Of A Typical Canadian DRAM buyerIn a nutshell: The companies that manufacture RAM chips conspired to fix the price of DRAM at artificially high levels. Companies that use those chips to make things (and a lot of things use DRAM) necessarily passed those inflated prices on to you. And now you can get back a little bit of that coin by filling out a simple form – it takes about three minutes for the basic $20 claim – and clicking the send button.

In a bigger nutshell: Any Canadian can claim the basic $20 compensation just by filling out the form … no receipts or other supporting documentation is needed. The legal assumption here is that you almost certainly purchased at least one item that qualifies and it would be unfair to expect you to come up with a receipt at this point for a 15-year old MP3 player or videogame console or whatever. Alternatively, if you are one of the few people in the country who didn’t purchase a device that uses DRAM, your decision was probably influenced by the corrupted market pricing and you are still eligible for damages. Either way, you should take the time to at least fill out the basic claim. To paraphrase the immortal words of Geddy Lee, “Twenty bucks is twenty bucks, eh?”

It a really, really big nutshell, we are talking about a cocoanut here: If you have documentation – it doesn’t necessarily have to be receipts, there are other types of supporting documentation allowed – of multiple items that you bought between April 1, 1999 and June 30, 2002 you can apply for a larger claim. If you are Average Bobby Consumer then your claim is still going to be within spitting distance of twenty bucks, and it wont make much difference. But if you own a couple of stores, make or resell items that use DRAM, or have any other legit reason for buying a lot of gear then it is probably worth the time to sit down with the online calculator and see what you can get.

All of the details, including the FAQ, lists of affected items, the legal back ground, and (most importantly) the online claim form can be found here. It costs you nothing to file a claim but the process closes on June 23, 2015 so if you are going to partake, do it now. One quick tip: Each adult in a household should file individually and not as part of a group submission, otherwise you will end up shorting yourself.

As an aside, I personally think class action lawsuits are the worst kind of legal chicanery, nothing more than opportunistic and greedy lawyers looking to cash in on massive fees while the actual aggrieved parties do all the work of submitting the claims. That said, this one is already in the bag and no matter how odious you think it is you might as well get your piece of the pie. Just hold your nose and think of Geddy Lee.

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Nutshell By Prezi

If you decided to try every new camera app that came down the pipe … well, you would fail. Miserably. There are so many camera apps released each day that you actually wouldn’t have time to test them all. By the time you gave even a cursory glance to each one released on a Monday it would be well into Tuesday and you would already be screwed because Tuesday’s big pile of camera apps would already be stacking up. Worse, the vast majority (and by vast majority I mean about 99.94%) of these things are either garbage, a rehash of something that has already been done to death, or (worse) both.

Honestly, your brain would probably explode about three hours in.

Ka-pow.

Screen shot from NutshellThe sad upshot of this is that when a cool or interesting new camera app actually does come along it is easy to miss it completely. Such is the case with Nutshell, which is a very cool – if poorly documented in one crucial area – new app that lets you bridge the gap between photo sharing and full-on videos to make quick and fun “vignettes” about … well, anything. The app uses a cool sort of stepping-stone time-compression technique that focuses on three key images in your story and offers animated text and sticker-type graphics to enhance your narrative. Best of all, the price is definitely right: This is a fully-featured app with no ads and no in-app purchases and it is 100% free. Lifehacker people, take note.

However – and this is a big however in the world of consumer-level apps – there is a crucial omission in the “get started” instructions that almost guarantees your first attempt will be a big pile of shit. Free apps generally get one use before the user decides to keep it or toss it away, and your first use of Nutshell. The instructions tell you to “take three photos” … something that most people would think allows you to take a photo, wander off, mess around, set up an new shot, take that pic, move on to the third, etc etc. But you aren’t just taking photographs. What you are really doing is marking “key frames” in an actual video. It’s not entirely obvious (although you figure it out after your first botched attempt … or maybe two) that you have to hold and move the camera BETWEEN the three photos in the same way you would when shooting a standard video.

Once the video is complete, the app then uses the three spots where you clicked “photos” as spots to highlight your subjects and add any text and graphics you wanted to include. If you hold your phone properly for the whole event the effect is startlingly cool, and really lets you tell an immersive little story in just a few seconds of video.

If you don’t keep your phone aimed and moved correctly, you get a shaky and disjointed thing that no one wants to see. At all.

The omission is probably understandable – albeit not excusable – because Prezi is a business software company, and generally deals with a world where customers are more invested in their software purchases and don’t make snap judgements based on a single use. Hopefully the gang at Prezi will fix this quickly, because this is an app that deserves to succeed.

One other caveat for anyone who is concerned about their privacy or data security: The built-in sharing functions use either a Facebook or a Google login, and while Prezi has what looks to be a decent privacy policy, the same can’t be said for the companies who provide those affiliate logins. However, Prezi has included the ability to save your video to your camera roll and share manually via whatever method you want so you don’t need to needlessly expose yourself unless you choose to. Kudos for offering alternatives that should please everyone.

Now that you have been tipped off to the little gotcha, why not download it and take it for a spin? It’s free, it’s fun, and once you figure out how to use it, it looks really really cool.

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Smartie 650.2

297,000: The number of dogs and primates killed in the United States each year in research and testing.

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Smartie 0650.1

80,000,000: The number of animals killed in the United States each year in research and testing.

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