Archive for World o’ Web

“Give Us A Hint”

Invitation graphic to the media event being held on September 9, 2015 at the Bill Graham Auditorium in San FranciscoWell, well. As mentioned here last week, Apple is hosting a September media event to launch a new crop of phones, along with the somewhat-delayed reboot of the Apple TV box and the official releases of iOS 9, OS X “El Capitan” and the beginning of the end of Apple Watch tethering with Watch OS 2.0. The date and location were made both public and official yesterday via the standard round of colourful email invitations. What’s not standard, however, is the semi-interactive nature of the invite. The theme this time around is “Hey Siri, give us a hint” and if you do indeed ask Siri for a hint you will get … no, that would be telling. Why don’t you ask her yourself?

Better yet, ask her a bunch of times. She’s at her coquettish best on this one. Will the answers change as we get closer to September 9th? Only one way to find out …

November Launch For Apple Pay In Canada

By anyone’s estimate, Apple Pay has been a huge success in the U.S.A. Apple’s timing in launching the service was exceptionally fortuitous … while the company touted “ease of use” as the prime selling point, the fact that numerous retailers recently proved that they can’t be trusted with your credit card data is really what put the service on the map in a hurry. Apple still downplays the value of keeping both your personal information and your card number secret from retailers – they do need to keep on good terms with said retailers to roll out the service – but it is undeniable that this is the main reason for the service becoming the single largest electronic payment method in less than a year.

Apple Pay point-of-sale terminal in useUntil now, however, Canada has been left out. The main sticking point was the fact that Canadians love to use debit, not credit, as their point of sale payment option. Down below the 49th, people whip out the Visa or Mastercard to pay for small day-to-day purchases. Canadians? We go for the debit card. Using a secure token for debit purchases hasn’t been as easy to integrate as with credit card accounts, and Apple had no appetite to launch the service here without including the most popular form of payment.

Time to catch up. Apple is now planning to roll out the service across Canada in November, with complete debit card integration. They are working with all six of the largest banks and it will be interesting to see if they manage to launch with all six at one time. It will also be interesting to see how hard they push the “keep your information safe from retailers” angle to security-minded Canadian consumers at the expense of possible retailer relationships. Stay tuned.

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.

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.

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.

SkyMall Bites The Dust

In a past incarnation of my career I travelled a lot. And by a lot, I mean a shitload. I was in airports and on airplanes a couple of times a week minimum, and often a lot more. Like a lot of travellers, I found both a lot of humour and great comfort in the SkyMall catalogue. It was something that was familiar, always there for you, and decidedly entertaining … although somehow I don’t think that it was entertaining in the way the company wanted it to be.

A typical SkyMall productWhen you settled in on a flight and found that the SkyMall book in the seat pocket was a brand new edition, packed with all sorts of ridiculous new goodies? Didn’t matter what time it was or how tired you were … your next couple of hours of seat time were set.

It’s not a surprise that SkyMall has now bitten the dust. In fact, it’s a surprise that it lasted this long. But I will still take a minute or two to mourn. And I suspect there are a lot of frequent flyers out there who will do the same. An institution has truly passed.

So long, SkyMall. It was fun.

Jeffrey’s EXIF Viewer

Ever needed a quick and dirty way to take a look at the EXIF data embedded in a photo? Take a peek at Jeffery’s EXIF Viewer – it works with damn near any photo format and includes all of the EXIF fields, something that a lot of so-called “pro” photo suites don’t do. Even better, it’s browser based so there is zero overhead and zero system investment so you can use it when you are away from your own computer or on a mobile device*. If you can get at a browser or any sort, you can get access to the guts of your photo data.

Serious kudos to Jeffrey Friedl for providing a decidedly awesome tool. You definitely want to keep this one in your bookmarks.

*There are oodles of EXIF apps for most mobile platforms, but I have yet to see one that gets as deep into the data as this web tool.

How To Speak Bloomberg, Part Deux

Last week we told you how to decode Bloomberg-ese – specifically how to recognize the difference between “writing something on behalf of one of my analyst friends who wishes this were true” and “just making shit up”.

This week one of the Bloomberg typists wrote a breathless piece about new iPads being released in October, including this telltale phrase:

Apple Inc. will unveil the next generation of iPad tablets around mid-October, a person with knowledge of the plans said …

You do the math.

NBC’s Bullshit-Laden Entirely Contrived Panic-Inducing “Sochi Personal Electronics Hacking Exposé” Is A Journalistic Embarassment

Sorry about the rather unwieldy headline, there. But really, there was no other way to approach this. Brian Williams of NBC – who used to be a real journalist and should definitely know better – put together this breathless report from Sochi that shows personal electronics being remotely compromised with malware and accessed by crackers within minutes of landing at the airport in Sochi. In the video you see a phone being “automatically” being taken over as soon as they turn it on, and two brand-new Macbook Pros being compromised just by turning them on at the hotel and leaving them running for an hour.

It’s the kind of thing that is frightening for average computer users and will get lots and lots of clicks and links and shares and oh my god this is awful what will we do?!?!

Except that the entire thing is a self-created and purposely staged sham, verging on a complete fabrication.

If you watch the unedited video, the whole thing is actually laughable
. Instead of the phone “automatically” downloading malware, the reporters followed an URL to an unknown site and then installed the linked software themselves. Whether or not it was even (as claimed by their security “expert”) malware is debatable, since they never actually said what the linked file was. And the Macbooks that were “remotely accessed while just sitting there”? They manually opened a file that was attached to an unknown email. And bypassed the system warnings telling them not to open it.

The whole thing is a farce. But you will see dozens and dozens of links to it today. Because that is what tech “journalism” has been reduced to. Fabricated bullshit laced with fear, in a sad and desperate attempt to get a few clicks.

Shame, Brian Williams. Shame.

Eleven Minutes Of Action

If you haven’t been reading the “If It Happened There” series over on Slate, you are missing something truly excellent. In a nutshell, they report on American events with the same style and tone that the American media usually uses when reporting on events in other countries … especially countries that are outside the USA’s sphere of influence and/or the average American probably couldn’t find on a map. It’s the very best of completely straight-faced satire, skewering everything in sight in a totally serious manner … not the least of which is the media mindset that Slate itself is a contributing member to.

Nothing is sacred, and the feature reached an absolute pinnacle of awesomeness today with the in-depth report on the cultural and sporting festival known as “The Super Bowl” (there is, in fact, no bowl).

Bloody brilliant.