Is it Too Late to Get into Bitcoin and Blockchain?

At Quora, I occasionally play, “Ask the expert”. Several hundred of my Quora answers are linked at the top right. Today, I was asked “Is it too late to get into Bitcoin and the Blockchain”.

A few other Bitcoin enthusiasts interpreted the question to mean “Is it too late to invest in Bitcoin”. But, I took to to mean “Is it too late to develop the next big application—or create a successful startup?”. This is my answer. [co-published at Quora]…


The question is a lot like asking if it is too late to get into the television craze—back in the early 1930s. My dad played a small role in this saga. He was an apprentice to Vladamir Zworykin, inventor of the cathode ray tube oscilloscope. (From 1940 until the early 2000s, televisions and computer monitors were based on the oscilloscope). So—for me—there is fun in this very accurate analogy…

John Logie Baird demonstrated his crude mechanical Televisor in 1926. For the next 8 years, hobbyist TV sets were mechanical. Viewers peeked through slots on a spinning cylinder or at an image created from edge-lit spinning platters. The legendary Howdy Doody, Lucille Ball and Ed Sullivan were still decades away.

The Baird Televisor, c.1936

But the Televisor was not quite a TV. Like the oscilloscope and the zoetrope, it was a technology precursor. Philo T. Farnsworth is the Satoshi Nakamoto of television. He is credited with inventing TV [photo below]. Yet, he did not demonstrate the modern ‘cathode ray’ television until 1934.

Farnsworth demonstrates TV

The first broadcast by NBC was in July 1936, ten years years after the original Baird invention. (Compare this to Bitcoin and the blockchain, which are only 7 years old).

Most early TV set brands died during the first 10 years of production: Who recalls Dumont, Andrea and Cossor? Those pioneering brands are a faint footnote to history! Bear in mind that this was all before anyone had heard of Lucille Ball, The Tonight Show or the Honeymooners. In the late 1950s, Rod Serling formed Cayuga Productions to film the Twilight Zone in New York. Hollywood had few studios for dramatic television production, and the west coast lacked an infrastructure for weekly episode distribution.

Through the 1950s (25 years after TV was demonstrated), there was no DVR, DVD or even video tape. Viewers at home watched live broadcasts at the same time as the studio audience.

The short answer to your question: No! It’s not too late to get into Bitcoin and the blockchain. In fact, we are in the very early era. The ship is just pulling into the dock and seats are mostly empty. The big beneficiaries of blockchain technology (application, consulting, investing or savings) have not yet formed their first ventures. Many of the big players of tomorrow have not yet been born.

At this early stage, the only risk of missing the Bitcoin boat is to assume that it is a house of cards—or passing fad. It is not! It is more real than the California gold rush. But in this case, prospectors are subject to far less risk and chance.


Ellery Davies is co-chair of Cryptocurrency Standards Association. He is also a frequent contributor to Quora and editor at A Wild Duck.

Bitcoin can arbitrage Netflix VPN workaround

I almost overlooked This Forbes article. It was published in June 2016. It is not about Bitcoin. Rather, it discusses the Netflix effort to thwart forbes-logoVirtual Private Networks (VPNs), which had been used to circumvent geographic content restrictions. Thousands of Netflix subscribers use a VPN similar to Linux NordVPN so that they can access different shows in different countries so it’s not uncommon. Many try to watch TV programs for free, too. Fortunately, there are ways to access TV programs completely for free, and you can click here to find out.

The author describes a fascinating work-around. It probably doesn’t break any government law-although it most certainly violates the Terms of Service which users acknowledge when they sign up or log into their Netflix account.

The workaround begins in paragraph 4, with the title: “The Solution”. It describes a self-balancing market for p2p use of desirable residential IP addresses. For example: USA has the largest number of movie and TV titles. The author proposes an automated process of bidding for temporary remote control of USA Netflix subscriptions, using the subscriber’s internet connection as a gateway, while content is delivered to Beijing, Dubai or Fiji.

Effectively, Bitcoin is used as the backbone of a clever negotiating, bidding and settling mechanism. Since USA IP addresses have a premium value to foreign netflix-logo-01Netflix subscribers, it enales USA members to auction the temporary use of their Internet connections.

Of course, using Bitcoin to arbitrage the disparate value of residential Internet connections doesn’t explain the technical process of relaying movies through remote user gateways. That part is achieved by adding an arbitrage-activated VPN proxy into members who choose to bid or auction regional access. Netflix is looking for the IP addresses of commercial VPN gateways and not the IP addresses of its own individual members. Although, I have not yet tested the work-around described, it should be transparent to both users. I hear that If you wanted to find the best VPN looking at Private Internet Access Review will help you make a decision. Understanding how you can enjoy a variety of streaming services with a VPN is a smart idea. You’ll get more value for money that way. Many learn more through this disney plus vpn about the possible applications of VPN.

For me, this is a particularly elegant application of capitalist economics. In fact, I recently sold my patent on a similar bid-for-attention mechanism that stops Spam without blocking anything that each individual user would find desirable, even if it is unsolicited, commercial or sent in bulk.

The key information [excerpt from linked article]:

“Basically, the number of users trying to watch U.S. Netflix would vastly outnumber the users trying to watch Australia Netflix so U.S. connections would be oversubscribed. This can be resolved with a balancing mechanism with financial incentives, such as Uber surge pricing,” Yen told Forbes.

Bitcoin pile-s“When U.S. connections become oversubscribed, U.S. users would be able to make money by making their connections available while foreign users would have to pay more to access U.S. connections. Bitcoin could be used to facilitate these payments since it is anonymous, decentralized and has a low transaction cost.”

What makes this proposal so attractive, is that it thumbs a nose at any vendor that thinks that it can control the individual use or application of its product in the field for no good reason. (I consider geographic content restrictions to be “No good reason”!). Regardless of EULAs and even national laws, in the end, it’s very hard to argue with grassroots phenomena and facts on the ground.

Hey! You’ll get no dog whistles here.

Ellery Davies is a frequent contributor to Quora. He is also co-chair of
Cryptocurrency Standards Association and chief editor at A Wild Duck

Why properly oriented photos jump back to rotated

A year ago, I watched my good friend, George, create a new account at a popular dating service. It wasn’t a hook-up site, but rather a serious forum for like minded, intellectual, Italian Americans.

George Clooney-sSure, Ellery!…I bet that it was you surfing the
dating service—and not your imaginary friend.

No, seriously. That’s him on the right.               »
Anyway, the first photo that George uploaded is the handsome close-up shown here. But to his surprise, the dating service displayed the sideways photo shown below.

George was surprised, because he recalled that the camera displayed it this way when his mom took the photo. He rotated it clockwise even before uploading to a PC. Now, it displays correctly on both his camera and on his computer screen. He thought that the sideways photo problem had been resolved. He even emailed the photo to me, and it looked fine on both my phone and desktop PC.

George Clooney-Couterclockwise« But there it is at ItalianStallions.com. Somehow, the photo had jumped back to sideways orientation. What gives?!

I started to give George a tip about permanently correcting the problem, but he cut me off…“Ellery”, he said—“I just want to meet Sheryl411. She has incredible eyes. I haven’t been so smitten since I met Amal!

With a remarkably low threshold for technology glitches, he decided to leave the sideways photo at ItallianStallions.com. “I can’t imagine that a reasonable girl would care” He said. “After all, women love my mug. They can rotate it after saving it to their drive—Or, they can simply ask my agent to send a signed, 8-by-10 glossy photo”.

I grimaced. In my opinion, the sideways photo broadcasts a not-too-subtle message—It says that the person seeking companionship is a Luddite, rather than America’s premier hunk. George’s character in the film Up in the Air was ruthless, but had so much more common sense.

George and I were still sitting on the back deck sipping Shirley Temples, when the alert appeared on his screen. Even before he reached out to any of the beautiful, eligible women at ItallianStallions.com, he had caught the eye of Sheryl411. What an incredible coincidence! But, sadly, her note to George was an unsolicited rejection letter:

Dear ‘Clooney-Actor-Hunk’,

I am fascinated by your wit and words—and I love your movies. I read about your break-up with Amal, and I just want to hold you to my breast and comfort you.

I wish that I could jet-set to your latest movie set in Casablanca or sail on your 164 foot yacht. But, I’m afraid that it is not meant to be. I could never date you…

If you can’t figure out how to make a sideways pic of yourself upright, then we are not a good match. I’m sorry… Darwin is making me do it.

I tried to sympathize with George. Sheryl411 represented his fantasy and passionate hopes. But Sheryl has a shorter tolerance for techno-averse actors than they do for figuring out how to rotate a photo.

So what is the problem—and how can it be solved?

In response, I am sharing with readers my reply to Sheryl. (I grabbed George’s laptop PC, and wrote this note back to the object of his lust)…

Dear Sheryl411,

I *love* your final comment to my friend George: “If you can’t figure out how to right a sideways pic…Darwin is making me do it”. Hawhh! And to think that I thought this was a problem related to a double-X chromosome!

It is, in fact, a tricky problem, because with some phones & cameras, the rotate-feature does not really rotate the image data. It only adds a tag that tells the display device that it should be rotated (90, 180 or 270 degrees). So, the user may see a properly oriented photo—even after they upload it to a PC. Yet, when they upload to the dating service, it jumps back to sideways. That’s because the dating site uses older rendering software that does not recognize the rotate instruction.

Sheryl411: George’s latest obsession

For this reason, I would give George a break (even though a sideways photo is one my pet peeves too!). Since cameras and PCs are not his thing, it can be tricky to realize that he needed to use the older method of rotating, which actually rotates and re-writes the image, rather than adding a rotate tag.

But wait! Things don’t really get better, because if you use an older process to truly rotate the image, it is likely to leave the embedded tag which tells newer devices to apply an additional rotation. Oy Gevalt! What to do?!

The best solution is to run a free utility, Autororate. It adds a right-click feature to your Explorer/browser. It rotates and re-saves an image file in place. If the file has a rotate tag, it syncs the underlying orientation and then strips the tag, with no loss of image quality.

And so, Sheryl—We have solved the problem. Now, that I have shown you that I know how to avoid sideways head shots, please consider dating  me  instead of George. He may be a hunk, but I have much more going on upstairs, if you know what I mean! 😉 Check out my dating site profile and my upright photos. If Darwin is your thing, visit my Blog, AWildDuck.com. You are sure to be impressed by my intellect, eclectic wit, charm, wry sarcasm and incredible modesty.

Your future date (or mate-?),
~Ellery


Epilogue:

I forgot to create my own dating page and give Sheryl my user name. So, she had no way to answer me. Later that night, she wrote to George asking for my contact information. (she could have used the Contact form here at Wild Duck).

When George saw her request, he went ballistic! He realized that I had put the moves on his girl. I have always thought of this Blog as a family-friendly site, and so I cannot relate the angry note that George sent to me. It drips with venom and profanity.

Today, Sheryl and I are married. George is still with Amal, and he is still angry with me. He refuses to rekindle our friendship, and so we don’t spend time on his Yacht or on set of his Casablanca movie (It is still being filmed). But we always see his films at the local theater and we raise a glass or two in his honor. After all, he introduced us!

No. I don’t really know George Clooney and I am not married to Sheryl411. I wrote this article to
explain JPEG image rotation. Yes, Sheryl411 is real, and she really can’t stand techno-Luddites.

Got Pokémon Go? Not Wesley Crusher!

If your a Trekkie, you remember Wesley Crusher, the young ensign, and son of the ship’s doctor on Star Trek, Next Generation. The character, played by Will Wheaton, appeared regularly for the first four seasons. But beginning with Season five, he made sporadic appearances as a guest star.

tumblr_inline_mqzrxpodNn1qz4rgpIn “The Game” (season 5, episode 6), Wesley locks lips with Ashley Judd, in her first on-screen kiss. It certainly wasn’t Will Wheaton’s first kiss. In “The Dauphin” (season 2, episode 10), he smooches with Salia, a shape-shifting alien with a penchant for morphing between a glowing pile of Jello into the more pleasing form thedauphin1-300x229of teen actress, Jamie Hubbard.

But I digress…

Wesley and his romantic interest hitch a ride on his former ship and discover that a virtual reality game is spreading across the crew like Ecstasy, or more specifically, like Pokémon Go, a Nintendo app that—just 5 tumblr_inline_mqznzssqzs1qz4rgpdays ago—no one had heard of. Now, it runs on one in five smart phones and is spreading like wildfire.

No phenomenon has ever spread across 20% of the population in 5 days. Not in the physical world—and not even in the digital realm. Edison’s gramophone and Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone are indisputably more crave worthy inventions than catching cartoon characters in imaginary balls. Yet, it took these earth shattering inventions twelve years to achieve market penetration.

Kitarian Game on Star Trek Next Generation

A quick pleasure? Use your thoughts to slide the red disks into the funnels.

The Tienanmen Square tank boy and the blue dress (I still claim that it is gold and white) are just bits and pixels. Yet, even these touchstone photographs spread across the country slower than the current Pokémon Go craze.

And just like the eyeglass-mounted game on the Enterprise, Pokémon Go taps directly into the pleasure center causing players to lose sense of where they are and what they had set out to accomplish. How can I be so sure of it’s nefarious capacity for mind control? After just five days, it is implicated in malware scams and armed robberies. It is every bit as addictive as crack cocaine, and possibly as destructive.

Forcibly tapping Wesley’s pleasure center via a game

Forcibly tapping Wesley’s pleasure center via a game

Do you think I’m kidding? When people are addicted to a VR app, bending their will is not difficult. Just ask 1,014 Star Trek crew members who were hypnotized and repuposed by a Ktarian mind control game. If it hadn’t been for the quick thinking of Wesley Crursher and his girlfriend, Ensign Robin Lefler (played by Ashley Judd), we’d all be speaking Ktarian today!


Postscript: This article is more about a Star Trek episode than it is about a new game app. I have always wanted to write a short post about a terrific television franchise that has touched so many people across three generations and all continents. The sudden spread of a new Internet sensation has simply given me the excuse to do so. Just like “Blink of an Eye”, The Game is indelibly written into my psyche. The parallels with an addictive new game that even captivates my AirBnB guest, Javier, and my neighbor, Lois, is eerie and raises questions about the causes, mechanisms and effects of mind control.

Samsung Pay: Advantage over Apple & Google

When I got my new Samsung Galaxy S7 phone, I was lured into trying Samsung Pay. Samsung offered a $30 debit card for trying the wireless payment feature by the end of the month. I bought my phone on March 31 at about 9:30 PM. After driving back to my town, it was already 10:30 PM. Where can I find a place equipped with the latest point-of-sale equipment?

Samsung Pay lets users pay at a register without pulling plastic from a wallet. Just swipe up the app from the bottom of the phone (images of stored credit cards slide across the screen) and wave the phone near a credit card terminal. My authentication is my thumb. The fingerprint scanner built into the phone’s home button is considerably faster than the one on my daughter’s iPhone.

I had assumed that Samsung Pay was essentially identical to Apple Pay and Google Wallet. That is, I assumed that it used the NFC antenna to transmit a short range radio signal into the point-of-sale terminal-or perhaps a Bluetooth or WiFi signal. After all, the three technologies are all built into my new phone. Even my 3 year old Galaxy S4 has these three technologies.

But one thing puzzled me. At a local, all-night pizza shop, the POS system was at least 15 years old. It was an early Veriphone terminal with samsug_galaxy_s7no chip reader, no internet capabilities and an ancient RS-232 cable connecting it to the cash register. It seemed unlikely that NFC or Bluetooth was available for such a relic, even as an aftermaket upgrade. The shop owner agreed that I would have to reach for a real credit card. Perhaps they would update to an ipad pos system eventually, but not there and then.

Of course, this bothered me, because it was now less than 70 minutes to midnight. I had just purchased a shiny, new phone and the incentive for trying Samsung Pay was about to expire. How many retailers or restaurants are open on a weekend at midnight? And how many would have the new payment gear on premises?

Amazingly, when I placed my phone on the old card card reader at the pizza shop, both my phone and the cash register confirmed that I had just paid. I even received an instant message from American Express with a receipt for the pizza! (What?!!). I had seen the TV commercial starring Hannibal Buress even before I bought my new phone, but the main point-that Samsung Pay does not require new equipment nor even a tech savvy merchant-had apparently sailed over my head.

I thought that this was a fluke. Perhaps someone had installed the new feature into the pizza shop equipment during a maintenance visit. But in the weeks that followed, I used Samsung Pay at even more antiquated cash registers. It even works with a cheap plastic reader plugged into the headphone jack of older phone (see photo). Even more puzzling, many of these merchants had no WiFi and my Bluetooth was turned off. How the heck did it work?!

There is no way that these sellers had NFC or other radio gizmos to accept payment. Yet, there it was! Each time I waived my phone at an ancient cash register, I received an instant receipt from the bank processor over the carrier network. As far as I could tell, it was the only network in the building. No one could explain how my phone had communicated with the old equipment-even with all radios disabled.

Tonight, I came across this article in a Samsung newsletter. It turns out that the ability to communicate with very old equipment really is magic! [continue below photo]…

Samsung Pay even works with the free Square Reader

Samsung Pay even works with the free Square Reader

Last year, Samsung purchased LoopPay for about $250 million. That company figured out how to create a modulated magnetic field (they call it Magnetic Secure Transmission). A magnetic field emanates from the phone into the mag pickup head within the a card swipe slot (it’s actually a tape-recorder read head tucked into each card reader). The POS terminal thinks that a plastic credit card is being swiped through the payment slot! Amazing!!!

cassette_adapterIt reminds me of the cassette adapters that folks would stuff into car stereos before car makers added audio inputs, USB and Bluetooth. The audio quality is considerably better than using an FM transmitter, because, with the adapter, two polished magnetic tape heads were placed in direct contact with each other. Samsung Pay (formerly LoopPay) figured out how to couple the magnetic data at distance and in any orientation. Cool, guys!…I am really impressed.

Samsung Pay is compatible with almost every pay station in the universe. In theory, you could even use it at an ATM, although I suspect that the software would have to enable it for that purpose. It is the most clever use of backward compatibility and extending the investment of legacy infrastructure that I have encountered.

Is San Bernardino iPhone fully Encrypted?

Here is a question that keeps me up at night…

Is the San Bernardino iPhone just locked or is it properly encrypted?

Isn’t full encryption beyond the reach of forensic investigators? So we come to the real question: If critical data on the San Bernardino iPhone is properly encrypted, and if the Islamic terrorist who shot innocent Americans used a good password, then what is it that the FBI thinks that Apple can do to help crack this phone? Doesn’t good encryption thwart forensic analysis, even by the FBI and the maker of the phone?

iphone-01In the case of Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone, the FBI doesn’t know if the shooter used a long and sufficiently unobvious password. They plan to try a rapid-fire dictionary attack and other predictive algorithms to deduce the password. But the content of the iPhone is protected by a closely coupled hardware feature that will disable the phone and even erase memory, if it detects multiple attempts with the wrong password. The FBI wants Apple to help them defeat this hardware sentry, so that they can launch a brute force hack-trying thousands of passwords each second. Without Apple’s help, the crack detection hardware could automatically erase incriminating evidence, leaving investigators in the dark.

Mitch Vogel is an Apple expert. As both a former police officer and one who has worked with Apple he succinctly explains the current standoff between FBI investigators and Apple.


The iPhone that the FBI has is locked with a passcode and encrypted. If it was just locked with a passcode, like most iPhones, then something like the 4ukey iPhone Unlocker could be used to bypass and remove the passcode and gain entry into the phone. Download 4ukey iPhone Unlocker for Windows here, if you need these services. However, the iPhone in question is encrypted and this makes things somewhat more complicated. It can only be decrypted with the unique code. Not even Apple has that code or can decrypt it. Unlike what you see in the movies, it’s not possible for a really skilled hacker to say “It’s impossible”” and then break through it with enough motivation. Encryption really is that secure and it’s really impossible to break without the passcode.

What the FBI wants to do is brute force the passcode by trying every possible combination until they guess the right one. However, to prevent malicious people from using this exact technique, there is a security feature that erases the iPhone after 10 attempts or locks it for incrementally increasing time periods with each attempt. There is no way for the FBI (or Apple) to know if the feature that erases the iPhone after 10 tries is enabled or not, so they don’t even want to try and risk it.

oceans_of_data-sSo the FBI wants Apple to remove that restriction. That is reasonable. They should, if it is possible to do so without undue burden. The FBI should hand over the iPhone to Apple and Apple should help them to crack it.

However, this isn’t what the court order is asking Apple to do. The FBI wants Apple to create software that disables this security feature on any iPhone and give it to them. Even if it’s possible for this software to exist, it’s not right for the FBI to have it in their possession. They should have to file a court order every single time they use it. The FBI is definitely using this situation as an opportunity to create a precedent and give it carte blanche to get into any iPhone without due process.

So the answer to your question is that yes it is that secure and yes, it’s a ploy by the FBI. Whether it’s actually possible for Apple to help or not is one question and whether they should is another. Either way, the FBI should not have that software.

The New Era of Virtual Reality

A Wild Duck guest editorial

Richelle Ross-sRichelle Ross is a sophomore at the University of Florida, focusing on statistics and data science. As a crypto consultant, she educates far beyond the campus. Her insight on the evolution and future of Bitcoin has been featured in national publications. Richelle writes for CoinDesk, LinkedIn, and Quora, providing analysis on Bitcoin’s evolving economy.


In 2003, I remember going to see my first IMAX 3D film,
Space Station . My family was touring NASA at Cape Canaveral Florida. The film was an inside view into life as an astronaut enters space. As the astronauts tossed M&Ms to each other in their new gravity-free domain, the other children and space_station_1I gleefully reached our hands out to try and touch the candy as it floated towards us. I had never experienced anything so mind-blowing in my 7 year life. The first 3D film was released in 1922. Yet, surprisingly, flat entertainment has dominated screens for in the 9½ decades that followed. Only a handful of films have been released in 3D-most of them are animated. But now, we are gradually seeing a shift in how people experience entertainment. As methods evolve and as market momentum builds, it promises to be one of the most groundbreaking technologies of the decade. I foresee Virtual Reality reaching a point where our perception of virtual and real-life experiences becomes blurred-and eventually-the two become integrated.

Ever since pen was put to paper, and camera to screen, audiences have enjoyed being swept into other worlds. For those of us “dreamers” being able to escape into these stories is one way we live through and expand our understanding of other times and places-even places space_station_2that may not be accessible in our lifetimes. Virtual reality is the logical progression and natural evolution of these experiences.

I caught the VR bug after one of my Facebook contacts was posting about it and sharing 360 degree videos that were of no use to me unless I too had the headset. Having been a Samsung user for the last several years, I purchased the Samsung VR headset to understand what all the hype was. Just as with my childhood experience visiting the space station, the VR Introduction video sent me floating across the universe. But this time, it was much more compelling. I could turn my head in any direction and experience a vast heavenly realm in 3D vision and tied to my own movements. Behind me was a large planet and in front were dozens of asteroids slowly moving by.

Similar to visiting the Grand Canyon, this is one of those novel experiences you really have to experience to appreciate. Within about ten seconds of trying it out, I had become hooked. I realized that I was experiencing something with far greater potential than an amusement park roller coaster, yet I also recognized that any applications I might imagine barely scratch the surface. This unexpected adrenaline rush is what leads tinkerers to the imaginative leaps that push new technologies into the next decades ahead.

Video games are probably the industry everyone thinks of being affected by this new paradigm. I immediately thought about the Star Wars franchise with its ever expanding universe. It will be a pretty exciting day when you can hold a lightsaber hilt that comes to life when you wear a headset and allows you to experience that universe from your living room. You could even wear a sensored body suit that allows you to feel little zaps or vibrations during gameplay. With more connected devices, the possibility of Li-Fi replacing Wi-Fi and so on, video games are just scratching the surface.

I discussed what the future of VR could offer with Collective Learning founder, Dan Barenboym. We explored various difficulties that impede market adoption. Barenboym was an early enthusiast of virtual reality, having worked with a startup that plans to deploy full-body scanners that give online life to gamers. The project began long before the film Avatar. Berenboym suggests ways that this dan_barenboym_5624swould improve online shopping by allowing people to see their avatar with their own personal measurements in various outfits. This doesn’t have to be limited to at-home experiences though. Dan suggests that instead of walking into the boutique changing room, you walk into one with mirrors connected to VR software. Your reflection ‘tries on’ different virtual outfits before you pull your favorite one off the store rack.

We also discussed the current obstacles of VR like the headset itself, which is a hindrance in some respects as it is a bit uncomfortable to wear for prolonged use. The other looming issue is money. There are many ideas similar to the ones we brainstormed, but startups may struggle to get off the ground without sufficient funding. The Oculus Rift is one great example of how crowdfunding can help entrepreneurs launch their ideas. It is easier than ever before to share and fund great ideas through social networking.

Facebook creator, Mark Zuckerberg, shared his own vision in 2014 after acquiring the Oculus Rift. Zuckerberg eloquently summarized the status of where we’re headed:

Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones. The future is coming and we oculus_rifthave a chance to build it together.”

What could this mean for the social networking that Zuckerberg pioneered? I’d venture to say the void of a long distance relationship may be eased with VR immersion that allows you to be with your family at the click of a button. You could be sitting down in your apartment in the U.S., but with the help of a 360 camera, look around at the garden that your mother is tending to in the U.K. The same scenario could be applied to a classroom or business meeting. We already have global and instant communication, so it will serve to add an enriched layer to these interactions.

The concept of reality itself is probably the biggest factor that makes virtual reality so captivating. Reality is not an objective experience. Each of us has a perspective of the world that is colored by our childhood experiences, personality, and culture. Our inner dialogues, fantasies of who we want to become, and areas of intelligence determine so much of what we’re able to accomplish and choose to commit to outside of ourselves. Michael Abrash describes how VR works with our unconscious brain perceptions to make us believe we’re standing on the edge of a building that isn’t really there. At a conscious level, we accept that we are staring at a screen, but our hearts still race-based on an unconscious perception of what is happening. Tapping into this perception-changing part of our brain allows us to experience reality in new ways.

As VR becomes more mainstreamed and incorporated into all areas of our lives such as online shopping, socializing, education, recreation, etc., the degrees of separation from the real world that society applies to it will lessen. Long-term, the goal for VR would be to allow us to use any of our senses and body parts. We should see continued improvements in the graphics and interaction capabilities of VR, allowing for these experiences to feel as real as they possibly can.

One can only imagine the new vistas this powerful technology will open-not just for entertainment, but for education, medicine, working in hazardous environments or controlling machines at a distance. Is every industry planning to incorporate the positive potential of virtual reality? If not, they certainly should think about the potential. As long as we pay attention to present day needs and issues, engineering virtual reality in the Internet of Things promises to be a fantastic venture.

Author’s Note:

Feedback from Wild Ducks is important. I’ll be back from time to time. Drop me a note on the comment form, or better yet, add your comment below. Until then, perhaps we will meet in the virtual world.

– RR

Ex-NSA Boss says FBI is Wrong on Encryption

What happens if the National Park Service fences off scenic lookout points at the Grand Canyon’s south rim near the head of the Bright Angel trail? Would it prevent the occasional suicide jumper? Not a chance. (The National Park Service tried this in the mid 1980s). People will either gore themselves on fences and posts or they will end their lives on the road in a high speed automobile, putting others at risk. Either way, tourists will be stuck with looking at the North Rim and the Colorado River through prison bars.

Let’s move from analogy to reality. What happens if you jam cell phone signals on tunnels and bridges. Will it stop a terrorist from remotely detonating a bomb? No. But it will certainly thwart efforts to get rescue and pursuit underway. And what about personal encryption?…

Gadgets and apps are finally building encryption into their wares by default, although it is always safer to use a VPN too, such as those designed by 25pc, to give you extra peace of mind. These are highly beneficial for individuals who want to protect their data, but does a locked-down iPhone or the technology that businesses use to secure trade secrets and plan strategy among colleagues enable criminals? Not even close. But if the FBI criminalizes encryption, they cripple the entire American economy. After all, the Genie is already out of the lamp.

Bear with me for just one more analogy (I’m still reaching for the right one): Criminalizing kitchen knives will make cooking impossible and the criminals will still have knives.

A Wild Duck has not previously linked to a media article. I am proud of our all-original content and clear statement of opinions. But in this case, I could not have said it better myself. (Actually, I have said it this all along: End-to-end encryption is a good thing for government, businesses and individuals alike. It is communications and storage empowerment.)

With this article, you will see that the former NSA director gets it. The current FBI director hasn’t a clue. Ah, well…That’s OK. Some concepts are subtle. For some politicians, an understanding of the practical, personal and sociological implications requires decades of exposure and post-facto reflection.

Memo to FBI director, Jim Comey: Get your head out of the sand and surround yourself with advisers who can explain cause and effect.


, Jan 13, 2016)encryption

Encryption protects everyone’s communications, including terrorists. The FBI director wants to undermine that. The ex-NSA director says that’s a terrible idea.

The FBI director wants the keys to your private conversations on your smartphone to keep terrorists from plotting secret attacks.

But on Tuesday, the former head of the U.S. National Security Agency…

Read the full article at CNN Money
http://money.cnn.com/2016/01/13/technology/nsa-michael-hayden-encryption/

Amazon throws perceived threats under the bus

In an incredibly head-scratching move, Amazon has announced that streaming video gadgets that fail to support the full implementation of Amazon Prime will be forbidden for sale at Amazon, even by their partners. This includes Apple TV and Google Chromecast—both of which are more popular than Amazon Fire TV.

amazon-logo-black-sAmazon claims that the withdrawal of streaming devices that don’t fully support their own service will mitigate customer confusion.

Bullsh*t!

No one buying these devices is confused. If this were really about buyer confusion—and not blatant trade suppression—they would simply publish a big, fat comparison checklist on the home page.

Just how dumb does Bezos think his customers are? This is about as smart as Google suppressing any search results that mentions Bing. After all, we don’t want to foster a confused user, right?! But Google recognizes that taking the high ground fosters more trust than blocking your competitors at the door.

What’s next, Jeff? Why don’t you remove apps that stream security footage from private companies, but are not compatible with an upcoming Amazon project? How about de-listing all Android phones and tablets? After all, they might promote confusion with Amazon’s Kindle and Fire products.

amazon bans streaming devicesWhy not suppress all Apple and Microsoft products? After all, Siri and Cortana still have a market edge over Alexa—the persona and research wit of Amazon’s voice controlled speaker.

And what about wireless HDMI? After all, Chromecast is not really a streaming service platform. It’s more of an extension cord that uses web streaming to mimic a video cable.

I suspect that there will be law suits in response to the Amazon decision to de-list hardware vendors who are not licensees and partners. But despite Amazon’s broad and heretofore inclusive offerings, I also suspect that courts will not force them to offer competing products. After all, these products have many outlets. Moreover, Amazon could rightfully point out that Google and Apple don’t sell the Fire TV in their own web stores.

But here’s the thing, Amazon: Selling Chromecast and Apple TV do not constitute promoting competition. Amazon is in many businesses, and one of these businesses is online retailing. In this area, you have deftly scrambled to the top of the heap. You didn’t get there by suppressing competition—you got there through brains, guts and striking innovation.

Amazon Fire TV

Amazon Fire TV: We’re not confused. Please compete on merits and marketing.

Despite the legality of Amazon’s move, it is an incredibly shortsighted blunder. After all, Amazon is not running a storefront for branded merchandise and a few compatible accessories. They are shopping cart to the Earth. The king of retailers. They compete in a rarefied atmospheric aura with only two pretenders to the throne: Aliexpress and Ebay. In fact, they trump everyone else together. They are that significant.

Wise up, friend. Wise up Jeff! It’s healthy to look over your shoulder, but debasing the core mission of selling every legal product makes no sense at all. Suddenly, my go-to place is a competitive censor. For such a bright guy, you have made an incredible blunder. Time to retrench. Time to show a little respect to your customers and your biggest supporters.

…Including me.

The Arrogance of Apps

online_formYesterday, I filled in an online form hosted by a government agency. The PDF form didn’t allow me to save a partially completed form to my drive, but it was easy to do by simply printing it through a PDF driver. But, filling in data was quick and simple with just the free Acrobat Reader that is available on virtually any platform. (It won’t surprise me if Adobe releases of an Acrobat client for the Apple Watch).

I appreciated that I could fill in the form online, but because of my urgent need for a notarized original, I was under the gun to get the form filled, printed, signed, notarized and delivered to a courthouse.

But wait! Perhaps I don’t need to do all those things. I was delighted to find that the government web site would accept my electronic signature during the online session. I could sign the form with a registered Adobe ID and a an image file of my real signature.
I had created an Adobe ID to sign a document in the past and I recalled using the signature feature. With just a bit of digging, I found my ID and password — Acrobat already knew where to find the image of my signature.

But something irking happened after signing the online form. WIth every subsequent boot up of my PC, Adobe Creative Cloud was loaded and running.Adobe Acrobat It placed an icon in the task bar tray; the icon cluster next to the clock with in which a user can select options for running apps.

Since I had previously used the signature feature, there must be other factors that led to new startup behavior. Either Adobe changed their launch policy, or perhaps it was related to my recent upgrade to Windows 10, or perhaps Creative Cloud wasn’t tied to the PDF signature feature in the past. Either way, I figured that I could stop Creative Cloud from launching when I start my PC by simply un-ticking a configuration option.

I was certainly not prepared for what I discovered…

  1. There is no way to disable start-up at boot without signing into an online service.
    (Who owns this PC? Me—or Adobe?)
  2. Since I had never used Adobe Creative Cloud, I had no ID—at least none that I recalled. The ID for my PDF signature was not the correct one.
  3. I could override start-up behavior with MS-Config, a system utility that suppresses startup, but leaves the launch command intact. But this results in a custom boot state intended for analysis and diagnostics. I shouldn’t have to use a system override, simply because Adobe demands that users love their app.

Sure—it’s just a command placed with arrogance by a software vendor. I could suppress it or uninstall the entire application. But still, it raised my blood pressure to know that Adobe thinks they are my mother. They know what’s better for me than I do. In their effort to demonstrate a product ecosystem that rivals Microsoft or Google, they feel supremely entitled to shove a product suite down my throat.

How can a big, reputable vendor be so arrogant and indifferent? In addition to collecting and transmitting data to the mother ship, running unwanted apps steals processor & memory resources and opens up users to new terms and conditions?

Apparently, I am not the only one frustrated by Adobe’s design arrogance. Other users of the Adobe support forum are just as irked as I am.
Of course, this behavior is not unique to Adobe. You see it all the time.

Adobe logo-stResist the Temptation

I was CEO of an email and antispam service for 10 years. We aced expert reviews and were awarded PC Magazine Editor’s Choice for email security. Our service used a local, client app through which mail was filtered. During product-release review, I fought hard to get developers and marketers to back down from demanding that the app be installed without explicit action from the user, loaded without explicit directive and constantly running without the user choosing this behavior explicitly.

Most importantly, I fought to make it quick and simple to disable or uninstall our software. But it was a lonely fight. Software engineers and marketing gurus felt that the need for our product was universal and obvious—on par with any critical OS process. When you consider that we had invested 3 years and millions of dollars in our nifty, little invention, the vociferous justification for arrogance almost seemed to make sense:

  • Why would anyone want to shut down or uninstall our incredibly valuable service?
  • Think of our user’s security. There is danger in failing to launch!
  • Lions, Tiger’s and Bears (Oh, My!)
  • We know better than our users.

In effect, my product team was echoing Danny DeVito’s famous line from Matilda, “I’m smart—You’re dumb! And there’s nothing you can do about it” In the end, it was I who came across as arrogant—at least to my team. Refusing to let the decision be decided by a vote. I vetoed the always on behavior using the executive authority of my office.

IAdobe Creative Cloud had originally titled this article “The Arrogance of Software Engineers”, but after talking with individuals who shared my experience, I realized that it is not necessarily an engineer or marketing manager who pushes for the arrogant decision Often, it is a product manager, a corporate officer or one of the founders.

If I could interdict design arrogance it at my small SAS company, then I am certain Adobe can do a better job. Please guys—You design excellent software and Creative Cloud is a masterpiece of holistic engineering. But check your ego at the door and get over yourselves. The decision of always running is not yours to make. Disabling or uninstalling an app should never require an online account or a password. Please do the right thing. It might even mitigate the frustration of users who rebel against your move to host every utilitarian app in the cloud. [Or this one, or this one]

My rant is not about you, Adobe—It is about the insipid ethos that arises naturally with hard work and pride. If you need a fresh, outside eyeball on your review board for software updates, feel free to contact me. I would be honored to be an acid test for any hidden and lingering arrogance.

Who Runs the HEVC/H.265 Patent Pool?

Summer 2018 Update (3 years later):

HEVC Advance is heeding our advice. And *blush*—this blog has played a role in their new strategy. Three years after we published the criticism below, we noticed that 70% of visitors to this article originate from within the Boston organization or from IP addresses associated with patent pool members. The patent licensing changes have a striking resemblance to our recommendations.


Manufacturers of high-def Blu-ray players, 4K TVs, video streaming devices, cloud media vendors, software developers, and virtually all mobile gadgets are receiving an invoice, and it is a shocker. It’s not just the amount of the bill that is staggering, it’s what is demanded of them—facts and calculations that could be almost as costly to compile. The reason why this is such a big business is because no-one else can compress the file as they can. If we didn’t have this compression, there would be no Amazon Prime, Netflix or any TV guides to learn more about hbo showtime?! So we thank the inventors, please read on to learn more about H.265 HEVC compression.

The question asked in the title is rhetorical, of course. Lawyers run HEVC Advance, which is the licensing consortium for the H.265 patent pool. But according to one industry analyst, the lawyers have not consulted with streaming services, and their licensing model is completely unworkable. I agree.

h_265_hevcH.265 is a new international standard for high-efficiency video compression. Backed by two major standards bodies and a plenitude of brand-name tech companies, the technology also goes by the name x265 or HEVC (high efficiency video encoding). Compared to H.264 (the standard for DVDs and streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube,[1] it reduces file size and mobile bandwidth by 35~50% depending on content. Adherents claim that this the coding efficiency will have a floor of at least 50% once the full feature set is baked into codecs.

H.265 is open source, but it is not free. It is the product of slew of inventors and other intellectual talent. Therefore, software developers and gadget manufacturers (especially companies that make TVs and video streaming devices) have been awaiting word on the royalty fee and licensing terms.

HEVC-EncodeThere are four recognized players in the market to supersede H.264, but most of manufacturers are backing either HEVC or a free encoder from Google called VP9. Ever since HEVC Advance published their licensing requirements last week, VP9 is looking a lot more attractive.

This past week, HEVC Advance published the royalty structure for anyone that wants to bake the growing market for HEVC into their products and services. The problem is that instead of sending their bill to the device manufacturer, they want a piece of every single film, game, video or graphic that is sold. They want 0.5%, and they want this royalty backdated to the first use of a standard that was ratified 2 years ago.

0.5% may not sound like much, but here’s the rub: They want it on content rather than technology.

First, it is a staggering amount when you consider that the market is set to explode—even more than it did for the previous standard H.264. That’s because few people plan to purchase video on DVDs. They want it streamed, much of it wireless, and with the very smallest bandwidth possible. The market is measured in the billions of dollars, even within the US alone.

But the structure of their licensing demands is worse than the land grab. Rather than attach to the device or user application, they seek to tax content hosts, forcing them to determine the fraction of video sales, rental or streaming services that use the new encoding technology. And they want a share of every video that is processed or streamed with a consumer standard. They fail to realize that taxing the flow rather than the vendor or pipe layer is not the way to ignite the adoption of a universally accepted consumer standard. In fact, it is stifling.

Dan Rayburn at streamingmedia.com discusses the nuances and futility of imposing an attorney-crafted bureaucracy on a burgeoning pivot point for consumer technology. His damning observations are clear and articulate. But ultimately, it boils down to a simple children’s story. If you kill a goose that lays golden eggs, you cannot harvest eggs. Lawyers fill a vital role. I am not against lawyers. But they are incapable of thinking in simple terms. [continue below image]…

hevc-sIf the HEVC licensing authority holds its position, it will be a pity for everyone: artists & content owners, streamers & other content providers, hardware manufacturers and consumers. H.265 is a great standard backed by an outstanding collaborative effort. Just a week ago, there was terrific potential for market unification, bandwidth reduction, storage savings, and an array of high-quality video services. BD-BR measurements give HEVC the edge in coding efficiency and the playback load is very light.

Although I could live with a half-percent delivery tax (or consumption tax, depending upon your view), it would result in a fragmented market. It hints at a bureaucracy that rivals the IRS. Ultimately the inventors will collect a tiny fraction of the potential. But the deal stopper is the effort to collect with a requisite fractional-calculation of the sales, rental and share-allocated revenue.

The market for next-generation video encoding is just starting to approach that critical adoption knee in which a 2-sided network floats all boats. We are on the precipice of a multi-billion dollar market. But now, Google—the visionary in this gambit—has the upper hand. If I could talk with lawyers at HEVC Advance, I would help them to navigate deployment dynamics and fundamental network economics…

But like Dan Rayburn, I would prefer a conversation directly with the technology stakeholders. They stand to enjoy a stunning return with a more reasonable model (reasonable on the Laffer curve and reasonable in implementation architecture). My suggestion: Take a royalty from the sales of hardware and application codecs, but not content volume. A fair model that rewards innovation while freeing explosive growth would be crafted like this:

Wild Duck Royalty Proposal

• 0.1% of software codecs within revenue-software applications or processes
• 0.15% of playback codecs built into hardware devices, [2]
• $2 or 0.15% for each encoding process or hardware device, whichever is higher [3]
(#2 and #3 are additive, for any device that encodes)

• 0.1% of paid apps that are extensible (those that support plug-ins or open source codecs) [4]

• Free – Personal reference app (published by patent consortium). It supports stand-alone video playback
Passport-s-T• Free – Hosting or distribution Content encoded with H.265

I challenge HEVC Advance to run the numbers for any believable growth curve. This formula is not only more palatable, auditable, enforceable, and reasonable, it also delivers higher lifetime revenue to patent stakeholders. More importantly, it makes them the good guys.

Hey, HEVC Advance! I want you to succeed. Reach out to me. Use the contact link at the top of this page.

[Ellery Davies is editor of AWildDuck.com. He is also CEO &
Co-Chair of CRYPSA, a recognized standards organization]


[1] Until recently, most YouTube content was encoded in FLV. Currently, YouTube plans to support it’s own open-source VP9, but is leaving open the possibility of supporting H.265 which is licensed by HEVC Advance.

[2] The proposed royalty applies to any hardware device or app that advises or suggests the download of HEVC plug-in or compatible routine.

[3] $2 or 0.15% of sales, whichever is higher, but the fixed fee is reduced to no more than 6% of the hardware value. Up to 16 cores in a single gadget, PC, or device less than 1 cu feet not including external display.

This stacks on top of playback royalty. So, for example, if an video player application can open an x264 video and save as x265, it would pay a royalty of 0.1 or 0.15% (for the playback codec) and $2 or 0.15% for the encoding feature, whichever is more.

[4] For apps that do not include HEVC, it would be difficult to collect a royalty, of course. But developers of x265 plug-ins and helper apps would be liable.

Apple Ecosystem: Simple, elegant, safe & arrogant

Until recently, I lived in a primarily Windows Universe. For the most part, my family, friends and colleagues used Windows PCs and gadgets that played nicely with Windows applications. Some of my friends had proprietary gadgets with an interface by Blackberry or a particular wireless carrier like Verizon, but these devices rarely interfaced with a PC except to exchange media files.

apple_logo (tight)Of course, Apple is a powerhouse of ergonomics and industrial design. The MAC, iPod iPhone, and iPad have successively broken new ground and raised the bar for what a device can be. They are marvels of engineering.

I don’t expect Apple to cave to Microsoft and adapt or debase their user experience because of Microsoft’s dominance on the desktop market. I certainly don’t wish to discourage or stifle Apple’s innovation, quirky marketing or their cultivation of an ardently devoted user base.

But not every single component of the Apple world is invented within and built just for Apple. Their products use many standard, off-the-shelf technologies and components. For example, Apple PCs and gadgets interface with local networks using standard WiFi. They use standard RAM memory and disk drives in their their PCs. Although Apple uses a proprietary interface cable for charge, data transfer and video output, the charge port voltage, keyboard interface and monitor scan specs are universal standards.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that whenever a Windows or Linux user tries to help an Apple user with even the smallest thing, they are thwarted by a culture of paternalistic design arrogance that goes beyond the things that benefit Apple users. Typically this type of design arrogance dissipates as a company begins to dominate one of more market sectors. But in the case of Apple, their design lead is significant and the market sectors that they dominate were first cracked by them. And so, they are able to cling to this arrogance a bit longer than I would prefer.

To explain and illustrate this point, I am posting an exchange that I had with two other iPhone users within an authorized Apple support forum. In the exchange below, ‘Kiwi’ poses a simple question: How can one quickly transfer a few music files between a PC and an iPhone? I am first to reply. Attempting to help a child with an iPhone perform the same task, I identify with the user and await an answer from a full-fledged Apple user.

I find myself in a philosophical debate with two other respondents. Of course, they point to the obvious answer: Do it Apple’s preferred way: Simply sync the phone with a PC that is running Apple iTunes software. But this is not always what the user or the PC owner wants.

Let’s dig a little deeper. In the following exchange, I give a Wild Duck perspective on market leadership –vs– design arrogance…
_______________________________________

Kiwi asks a question:

I want to transfer music from my iPhone 5s to my PC. With pictures, it’s very simple.  I can easily access the DCIM folder through internal storage and transfer picture files to/from my iPhone and PC with ease.

It seems to be a very different story with transferring music from my iPhone to my PC.  I can’t find the music folder. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any way of accessing MP3 files stored on my iPhone even when I have the show hidden items option checked.

Because I’m constantly adding and deleting songs from my iPhone, it’s very important that I’m able to easily transfer what music I have back onto my PC for when I eventually upgrade to a newer device. According to Apple tech support there is no way of doing this unless it’s with music purchased through iTunes or stored with iCloud (I don’t do either).

I am aware there are some third-party programs that are able to do this but I was hoping to be able to do it just through Windows Explorer if possible. If I end up having to use a third-party program, which is the best? I’m aware of Copytrans, Phonetrans, TouchCopy, and iExplorer.
_______________________________________

Ellery replies:

I want to do the same thing, but in the other direction. I wish to transfer music from a Windows 8 PC to an iPhone 5s.

In a separate thread, Lawrence Finch and other Apple devotees insist that one should simply sync to iTunes. These individuals are indoctrinated with the proprietary world of Apple, and they just don’t get it…

This is not my iPhone. The owner doesn’t want my music, she wants the music from a few CDs and thumb drives. I know how to RIP these few tracks into MP3, AAC or any other audio format. But I don’t want to risk syncing her phone with my iTunes libarary. In fact, I don’t want the whole iTunes library hierarchy and associated mishigas!

Why can’t I locate and browse the music, video and system folders when attaching an iPhone by USB or Bluetooth? How is it that Apple users feel it is simpler to force a proprietary App and hide their music folders and files?

These loony restrictions have corporate arrogance written all over it. Some Apple users feel that their ecosystem is friendly, safe and simple. Friendly? Perhaps to a very unexperienced user. I acknowledge that they may be more comfortable in an Apple ecosystem. Safe? Perhaps. Simple? Far from it! Apple thwarts simplicity by dumbing things down to the very lowest level while thumbing their nose at any semblance of standards and practices.

Steve Jobs pointin-s

Look into my eyes. Do exactly as I say.

Hey Siri. I would like to load a few songs onto my iPhone. Can I do that?

“I am sorry…I only know how to play and sync with iTunes.
I am sorry…I don’t now where the music is stored.
I am sorry…You can only access videos with the native tools that Mr. Jobs deems worthy.
I am sorry. This phone is not intended for an experienced user.
I am sorry…This phone is not compatible with open standards.
I am sorry…Utilities to browse your own content are not permitted!
I am sorry…The Bluetooth feature is limited to audio output.”
_______________________________________

Gnome replies:
Ellery asked “Why can’t I locate and browse the music, video and system folders when attaching an iPhone by USB or Bluetooth?”

Because his is not a feature of the iPhone.

The only way to add music to an iPhone is by syncing with iTunes or by purchasing the songs from iTunes.

This is how the device works.
_______________________________________

I accept and appreciate your answer. I hold Apple in high esteem — especially the legacy of Steve Jobs. They have mastered the art of product engineering and especially the ability to imbue gadgets across their product lines with an exhilarating user interface.

But I am both surprised and disappointed. Typically, by the time that a company demonstrates market leadership and by the time that they grow to dominate several consumer fields, there are forced to reconcile certain market pressures and crack just a bit of their ecosystem open to ether public or popular standards. Sure, Apple has given a nod to USB, Wi-Fi and they use off the shelf drive memory technology within their products. But thy have also managed to stave off the most basic and consumer friendly standards.

I would point to the sealed battery and lack of SD card expansion in their phones as an example of over-parenting and arrogance. But, I acknowledge that this may also be driven by design trade-offs. After all, the new Samsung Galaxy S6 has both of these limitations. But the inability of most iPhones to use standard monitors and USB cords (even after all other companies capitulated) represents a systemic problem in the ranks of top management. Of course, Apple is not holding a gun to consumers and forcing them to buy their products. They shine for other reasons, and they are unquestionably popular.

But, I think that it is reasonable to raise a flag and warn consumers that this brilliant design company thwarts users with picky and sophomoric traps, not just to ensure profit, but more specifically to control their long term experience. Some of this is unnecessary and profoundly damaging to the user experience.

Perhaps the biggest problem with this arrogance, is that it prevents many geeks from helping friends and family, because the design decisions are so terribly mis-cued and antithetical to popular standards.

At the very least, Apple should offer a diagnostic mode that allows a user or technical consultant to directly access any file or folder. If they feel that this creates the potential for chaos, they can simply set a flag that demonstrates a user has accessed a non-warranty, non-support mode.
_______________________________________

AppleFan replies:

» I would point to the sealed battery and lack of SD card expansion in their phones as an example of over-parenting and arrogance.

I prefer to think of it as Security and consideration for users.  There’s really no reason you should ever need to replace a battery yourself. If there is something wrong with the battery, Apple offers services to replace them.  When under warranty, they do so for free.

As to the SD card, We are not allowed to speculate on Apple’s decisions in these forums. suffice it to say, in 8 years, they have not seen the need to include an SD card reader in any device.

» But the inability of most iPhones to use standard monitors and USB cords (even after all other companies capitulated) represents a systemic problem in the ranks of top management.

Why?  There are an abundance of connectors for the apple devices out there. The Micro USB standard is dated, and slow for todays requirements. why would Apple use an outdated port, when the Lighting port is faster and better in every way.

»  Perhaps the biggest problem with this arrogance, is that it prevents many geeks from helping friends and family, because the design decisions are so terribly mis-cued and antithetical to popular standards.

No it doesn’t.  I can help my friends just fine with their Apple devices. One just needs to know what one is doing.  And yes, I have used every kind of mobile device under the sun. I used a windows Phione, moved to an android phone, and finally to an iPhone 5 3 years ago. Its the best move I have ever made. And I find it easier to help friends with iPhones then I do friends with Android devices.

» At the very least, Apple should offer a diagnostic mode that allows a user or technical consultant to DIRECTLY access any file or folder. If they feel that this creates the potential for chaos, they can simply set a flag that demonstrates a user has accessed a non-warranty, non-support mode.

iOS devices do not have a filesystem to access. There’s nothing for you to directly access at all. All files are stored within Apps. There’s no reason to have this. There would be nothing to be gained by this.

Going back to the Music query, to add music you use iTunes. There’s no reason people should  to be adding music from a computer they do not sync with.

If they have music they want to add to the device, they can import it to iTunes on their own computer and sync the phone to it.

Adding such liberties would not only allow for rampant piracy of media, but would also open the device up to vulnerabilities.

There’s a reason Apple devices work like they do. And that is for security, privacy, and piracy prevention.  I would wager that Apple knows what the are doing, and their sales figures support that.
_______________________________________

Ellery replies:

Phil, I understand your first two points statements and address all 3…

» Adding such liberties would not only allow for rampant piracy of media, but would also open the device up to vulnerabilities

» … There’s a reason Apple devices work like they do. And that is for security, privacy, and piracy prevention.

I concede that Apple makes design decisions for these reasons, and they are all valid. Perhaps more compelling reasons are to unify the entire user experience, and to reduce the support headache. That is, if users are restricted to certain methods of interaction, then a support technician has fewer branches to parse when diagnosing and correcting a problem.

But this does not change my surprise and disappointment. As I pointed out above, there typically comes a time when successful companies must begin complying with popular standards. I suspect that Apple is so wildly successful at device ergonomics, music services, and the general mobile market that it can postpone the day of reckoning. My disappointment stems from a belief that doing so will not thwart their unique style, their cult following or their panache for design excellence. These things are not incompatible nor threatened by making things a bit easier for res-of-world integration.

» The Micro USB standard is dated, and slow for todays requirements. why would Apple use an outdated port, when the Lighting port is faster and better in every way.

This is really a matter of technology market timing rather than best technology. Sony’s memory stick was used on thousands of cameras, but they were still forced to kill it, because it was non-standard, and had not sparked massive licensing by competitors. Apple PCs have a larger overall user base than Sony cameras, so they can hang in longer and buck the trend. But users lose out, due to higher pricing and fewer competitive offerings.

The lightning Port valiant effort. I had one on my JVC mini-DV camcorder. But I am quite gladdened that for the next iteration, Apple has chosen the newest USB connector that is also being adopted by PCs and mobile devices.

The same goes for monitors. Sure, Apple leads the introduction of many consumer technologies. But this, too, is not about better technology. Apple forced users into a unique interface. Why? To make it more difficult to use any old monitor at a hotel, conference or friend’s home. If Apple played by the rules (rules that do not crimp its design and marketing edge), it would have adopted a standard DVI or HDMI connector and at least USB 3.0.

» There’s no reason people should  to be adding music from a computer they do not sync with.

» [Additionally], there’s no reason you should ever need to replace a battery.

Now, this are points we really disagree upon! They are black-&-white statements for which I do not respect your opinion… My gut reaction: Are you serious?!

I find it difficult to even craft a response, because I don’t know your frame of reference for making such a reckless  statement. I can’t figure out where to begin. Are you my mother? Do you honestly believe that I “should not” replace a battery or be adding music from any computer that I do not sync with?

Forget, for a moment, your thoughts on the battery. That position defies any rational explanation. Here are four scenarios that illustrate why I should be allowed to put music on a music device. (Just a few reasons that come to mind as I write this reply). You may find ways to accommodate one or two of these scenarios, but won’t you acknowledge that your statement is reckless? Don’t you feel that it is a tad paternalistic to tell me that I should not be adding music to a phone that I own? Seriously, Phil!…

  1. The user’s PC owned by a school or employer. The user cannot install executable software, but can upload, download and transfer files. —OR—
  2. The PC already has iTunes, but it is for a different user, and it is directly tied to an online music-matching service that analyzes music and makes recommendations based on any tracks that are added. The primary user does not wish to pollute or risk “syncing” with a child’s iPhone. Additionally, the child does not want to be tied to the parent’s iTunes account. —OR—
  3. The user is at a recording studio and has just recorded a TV commercial for a client. The studio gives the user a USB drive with the new audio file. The user wants the audio track on her iPhone, but the studio does not have a PC on which they can install Apple software. —OR—
  4. The PC user has Panda Antivirus 13.xx installed. It can scan a thumb drive and media files, but it warns the user that it cannot scan the attached iPhone. It warns that running software that accesses the phone directly exposes the local network to unknown risks.

[End of support thread]

In the next few days, I will summarize this Wild Duck post and probably end with some über-pithy observation. But first, tell me what you think? I would like to solicit input from friends, readers and colleagues before force-feeding the final word on this issue.

Is Apple the bully that I perceive them to be? Do you believe that they can get away with an incompatible and paternalistic user interface forever?

Lily is not a Drone—She’s a Flying Selfie

Please don’t call Lily a “drone”. That’s the pitch from Lily Robotics, maker of an an aerial selfie-camera. Rather than a flying toy for hobbyists, they market it to outdoor sports enthusiasts, as a competitor to the GoPro wearable camera.

Lily is different than other drones, because she has no remote control, manual control or Smartphone app to guide it. Instead, it operates differently…

  • It simply follows and films the user. (It can also film from the front or side).
  • There is no flight control. Simply throw it into the area (in an open space). The propellers automatically unfold and it begins following a waterproof tracker in a user’s pocket or on his wrist.
  • The microphone is not on the drone. Instead, it is located in the tracking device carried by the user. In fact, the tracker has several functions:
    • It guides the drone to follow and film the user
    • The user can tell Lili take hi-res snapshots
    • The user can change video mode: Follow, lead, or fly along side
    • The user can recall Lily to land on an outstretched hand

Coolest feature that is not immediately obvious

Lily is waterproof. She can be thrown into a pool or lake. In the crowd funding video below, it films a whitewater kyack adventure both from behind and even from the front.

Limitations

  • Lily has a 20 minute flight time (far more than less expensive, recreational ‘toy’ drones).
  • Lily cannot sense trees, buildings, power lines or obstacles. It can be used only in wide open areas. For this reason, it is useful for outdoor open-area sports only, such as skiing, soccer or rafting. It’s a safe bet that the makers will eventually address this shortcoming and introduce a version that can navigate around obstacles and film in tight quarters.

This slick video makes the benefits and fun of Lily very clear

For details and an interesting perspective of the design philosophy, see this interview with an officer of the start up that makes Lily.

Crowd funding started in May 2015. Participants can purchase Lily for $499. The company plans to introduce it in February 2016 for $999.

Website: lily.camera (that’s the full URL: “.camera” is a top level domain)

From time to time, AWildDuck offers previews or reviews of new products and services. Ellery and AWildDuck received no money or consideration for this article—and has had no contact with the company as of the publishing date. We have not tested this product, which had not been released as of the publishing date.

Lights Out Bitcasa; Amazon “Unlimited Everything” arrives

bitcasa-sIt’s been a rocky 2 years with Bitcasa…like a very bad dream. The company still exists, but Infinite Drive was just a pipe dream. More than just poorly executed—It was a promise replaced by lies. Bait-and-switch, plain and simple.

For Bitcasa, a future filled with missteps and mistakes was foreshadowed when someone got the incredibly uninspired idea to give founder Tony Gauda the heave ho. He was replaced by Brian Tapitch, who promises to return calls, but has difficulty with that effort if the caller dares to mention Tony.

amazon-cloud-driveBut Infinite Storage fans have a new sun dawning. Amazon is entering the “infinite” game with a knockout price on Amazon Cloud Drive. Users can squirrel away unlimited photos and videos for an absurdly low $2/month, or pack rats like me can choose Unlimited Everything for just $5 a month. Think of it as Infinite Storage redoux! I signed up for a 3 month free trial and you should too.

When the trial ends, $60/year covers truly unlimited personal storage. This is not a kitchen sink approach. Amazon Cloud Drive doesn’t come with the collaborative features that form the backbone of Dropbox or Google Drive. They assume that you have your own apps and tools. Unlimited Everything is for users who want drive access from everywhere and rock solid data backup.

I had high hopes with Bitcasa, because their clever use of convergent encryption buttressed their radical business model. I got it wrong that first time, but a rudimentary understanding of economics and shareholder politics suggests that Amazon is less likely to deceive their users and more likely to test services constantly.

At just $5 per moth, Amazon’s infinite storage is almost as low as Bitcasa’s special to beta users and considerably less than what that they promised, but failed to deliver.

Whoops! Did I leave out the sordid details? Wild Ducks can catch up here:

Complicated tax return? Thank TurboTax

Actually, there are two ways in which TurboTax complicates the process of filing your taxes. One is downright nefarious—and the other, just plain stupid.   Continue below cartoon…

Tax Complexity-1

♦ The Nefarious

It’s one thing for a company that builds a business on tax simplification to make their own product more complex. (That’s the topic of the next section, below). But, it’s a completely different animal when a company that helps taxpayers navigate an unnecessarily complex tax code launches a fake grassroots letter-writing campaign that covertly lobbies that same government to maintain complexity and maintain filing fees.

Read about and weep. It is nothing less than a mob-inspired, profit strategy. This is not a faux pas. It is a stick-it-in your eye, anti-consumer behavior without precedent! Intuit sought to preserve their niche of simplifying your life by secretly pushing government to keep it complex and to require a knight-in-shining armor to unwinding the complexity.

♦ The Stupid & Greedy

Tax Complexity-2aThis year, TurboTax has effectively blocked prospective customers  from figuring out which TurboTax product suits their tax situation. Intuit has not only stripped TurboTax Deluxe of important filing returns. Their flagship product can no longer be used to electronically file Schedule D, for capital gains and losses; Schedule E, for rental real estate, royalties and distributions from partnerships; Schedule C, for profit and loss from a sole proprietorship business; or Schedule F, for farm income. This year, those who need to file a Schedule D or E must trade up to TurboTax Premier, while a Schedule C or F requires the even more expensive TurboTax Home & Business.

But wait! The highest end product sells for more than a hundred dollars. It is more suited to corporations, trusts and foundations. Don’t think that you need the many features of TurboTax Home & Business? No problem. Now, you can choose from a dozen filing form combinations. This not-quite à la carte approach virtually ensures that you will have no way of knowing which products to buy until after you prepare your taxes.

That decision can be blamed on simple greed in the boardroom and a phalanx of idiots in the marketing department. WildDucks can Infer the rest from my letter to Intuit General Manager, Sasan Goodarzi.


Greetings, Mr. Goodarzi,

I don’t earn a lot, but I dabble in many things: Self employment income, dividends, royalties, a Family Limited Partnership, a trust, rental property, an inherited IRA and deductions carried forward from past partnerships and business ventures.
I have used TurboTax Dexuxe + State since 1993. I want very much to continue using that product, even if the cost rises…
  • Earlier this week, I walked into my local OfficeMax and was confronted with your new hyper-bifurcated product lineup. (A stunningly complex array of options with at least 3 times as many products as on your revised web site today!!).
  • I immediately realized that you were asking prospective customers to make a very complex purchase decision. I had no idea which product to buy.
  • I checked the comparison check list on the product display and discovered that the only way to ensure that I was covering all of my bases would be to purchase your most premium home and business product.

TurboTax DeluxeFor loyal users of TurboTax Deluxe, the cost jump is from $39 (discount price with 1-state option) to over $120. In my view, this is outrageous.

And so I purchased HR Block Tax Deluxe 2014 + State for $22.49 after promo discount at Newegg.com.

I considered your last-second compromise offer of a one-time $25 rebate. For me, it seemed insulting. You were asking me to either make a very complex decision (one that I could only evaluate after completing my tax returns), or pay $90 more and apply for a $25 rebate. What kind of offer is that? Not one that I would jump at.

TurboTax was once a premium product in a small field of competitors. Your newest offer is reasonable, but it is simply too late! My advice for next time: Simply raise the price, if you feel that the competitive marketplace can sustain the cost bump. For the past 20 years, the discount retail cost of TT deluxe + state (after coupons and store promo) has drifted downward from about $60 to $39. Sometimes, I can even get it for $29. It is reasonable to adjust the discounted cost upward to $49 or even $59 (equivalent MSRP = $84).

But instead, you chose a complex marketing option that mirrors the current problem with our tax code.  To fan the fire, news services are reporting that your company has secretly lobbied to maintain a complex tax code.

You are entitled to a price increase.  But you botched the execution. You lost a long time customer (and one who has purchased TurboTax for employees and partners).

~Ellery Davies
  Formerly, a faithful TurboTax customer

Bitcasa: Headed for the Abyss

I was an early Bitcasa supporter. I jumped on the bandwagon early and I blew my trumpet loud and far:  Bitcasa: Unlimited storage, version history & sync  (Feb 8, 2013)

bitcasa-sBut consider this shockingly short timeline:

• September 2011: Bitcoin co-founder, Tony Gauda, excites investors with a business model that supports an “Infinite Drive” service.

• Feb 2013: My first year is $49/year for “Infinite” storage. Throughout the year, there are numerous bugs with both uploads, downloads and on both web and PC client. Although the beta had ended, I chalked it up to a learning experience.

• Sept 2013: Bitcasa’s visionary co-founder and charismatic CEO, Tony Gauda, is eased out the door. He is reluctant to explain the reason for his sudden departure, even to his fans and email correspondents.

Listen closely to the first 2 minutes of this interview with Mr. Gauda, and tell me if Bitcasa has executed on plan. “The customer with 10 terabytes of video is ½ of 1%. But we love this type of customer… We don’t care how much data you have. We don’t meter it!”

But don’t blame Tony. Blame the directors, probably influenced by near sighted investors. Tony’s business model was solid. As often happens with visionary entrepreneurs, he was given the bum’s rush. He was shown the exit door practically before he even launched.

• Early 2014: Bitcasa announces a stunning price increase.  For newer users, costs increase 1200% (by twelve times). Early users like me see a staggering 2400% increase (from $49 year to $99 per month). Like many users, I am stunned. I am forced to revisit a history of gushing endorsement: Bitcasa bursts its bubble.

• Feb 2014: Bitcasa charges my credit card without authorization. The cost of my plan has risen from $49/year to $99/month. But in a gesture of magnanimity, the company offers to extend my subscription at my “current rate”  which they consider to be $99/yr (not really my current rate—but I was aware that my actual current rate was a one-time special).

I secure a written promise that my credit card data will not be retained and an explanation of how I can ensure that Bitcasa cannot retain that information. Again, throughout the 2nd subscription year, there are numerous bugs with both uploads, downloads and on both web and PC client. Nothing has improved.

• Nov 2014: The Infinite storage plan is retired (Whaa!?!! We are still in the midst of year #2). Can you imagine how this makes early adopters feel? We were duped into referring other users with incentives and offers related to our Infinite Drive plan.

Bitcasa (cartooned)Bitcasa requires users to migrate data into a new plan with only 5 weeks notice. But wait—there’s more. Let’s get personal…

a) Even though I am in the midst of my year, Bitcasa makes another unauthorized charge to my credit card (Again, and after promising that my card data had been deleted). The hat-in-hand excuse that I receive from the support staff is ludicrous. These schnooks ware fed a line from on high.

b) The migration fails miserably. I am a tiny client. I use only 638 MB, and yet none of my data—whether uploaded or mirrored—can be migrated to the new plan. I have wasted dozens of hours trying the Bitcasa tools and failing to get support. It simply doesn’t work.

c) Perhaps just as alarming, there has never been any progress on the numerous bugs with both uploads, downloads and on both web and PC client.

I could go on. But I think that the writing is on the wall. Fair warning. This one is headed for the abyss.

Oye, Bitcasa! Say it ain’t so! Even if you have contempt for your customers (I don’t think that you do), I doubt that you could have intentionally orchestrated a better demonstration of how to spit in the eye of testers, users, investors, and especially anyone giving their credit card to you in good faith.

Past thoughts on Bitcasa: The good, the bad and the ominous.
~Ellery

Keurig brews consumer discontent

Nov 2015 Update: Brewer sales plummet 26% forcing Keurig to introduce 2.0 My K-Cup adapter. Owners can use any coffee they wish. Comment of Nov 8, 2015.

Feb 2015 Update: Keurig CEO, Brian Kelley, called one of our readers to discuss the 2.0 restriction. Scroll to comment of Feb 10, 2015 near the bottom of this page.

Two years ago, as the K-Cup patent expired, the leader in single-serve coffee brewers introduced Vue, a slightly larger, coffee pod. If you haven’t heard of Vue, your not alone. The newer single-serve coffee packet never caught fire like Keurig’s original K-Cup. Just as with ink jet printers, the new pod and the brewers that accommodate them were Green Mountain’s strategy to reassert control of a market that produces revenue and profit from a consumable rather than the appliance that processes it. Now, with the coffee industry brewing, there are a lot more choices when it comes to coffee machines – click here for recommendations.

According to Keurig, the Vue system was introduced “in order to increase the choices users have in brewing beverages.” Now that Vue has failed to gain traction, it appears that Keurig is reaching out to owners and softening their loss.

This certainly sounds like a benevolent company; one that care about consumer preferences, and protections-Right? We’ll get to their motives in a minute…

Keurig Brewer 2.0This month, Keurig put pomp and fanfare behind the introduction of Keurig 2.0. (I think that ‘3.0′ would be a more accurate nomenclature, but who can blame them for trying to downplay the marketplace failure of Vue). And so, this week, I became the owner of a new Keurig 2.0 model 400 brewer. (The flagship model 500-or 560 if you purchase at a warehouse club-has a slightly larger water tank, a larger display screen, and the odd addition of a color changing night light).

Did you catch the omission above? I bet you missed it! I said “I became the owner” rather than “the proud owner”. You might think that unwrapping a new, 3-figure appliance with color display, operating system and lots of shiny new parts would leave me enthralled for at least a week, right?

Not really…

You see, the new Keurig brewer accepts both K-Cup and Vue coffee pods. But it also has has built a camera. The camera spies on the owner of their new 2.0 brewers. (Seriously-It really does!). It’s not trying to film the marital vows that you renewed on the kitchen floor last night. Keurig 2.0 leaves that to the NSA and Google. Rather, the camera is constantly vigilant against any attempt to use unlicensed coffee.

The camera studies the lid of each coffee pod inserted in the brewer and it looks for Taggant, a chemically-coded ink on the outer ring of the lid. It won’t accept the My K-Cup gizmo that Keurig continues to sell for use with legacy brewers, and it even rejects pre-2014 K-Cups from Green Mountain and its partners. Shocking-because they are fully licensed and are well with in the expiration date marked on the package.

For those who own a boatload of Vue pods, the new brewer comes with a comforting statement: “Call us and we will work out something”. Apparently, Keurig will placate owners with a large stash of coffee pods by exchanging them. Gee! That’s great! Just register your products, identify yourself and wait for a package, because your new machine spies on you and will not let you brew your favorite drinks. That’s just ducky.

Was every executive over 25 absent on the day that CEO, Brian Kelley, dreamed up the spy camera? Green Mountain is walking down the path of the early iTunes era. Buy all from Apple or your music won’t play on your phone, your PC or your iPod (the operative word is ‘your’). At least Apple could argue that it was trying to thwart internet piracy.

If you attempt to put a perfectly good coffee pod into a Keurig 2.0 brewer, a message is displayed across a tiny color TV screen:

“Oops! That coffee isn’t compatible with our incredibly high standards! We want you to enjoy the very best experience possible. Besides, you probably wouldn’t enjoy the flavor of coffee from any vendor that refuses to pay us for the privilege of compatibility.”

Keurig-OopsSeriously! It says something just like that. At least, to anyone who can read between the lines. A satirist couldn’t come up with better material for marketing-blunder-of-the year. And not just a blunder, but one that flips a finger to their customers.”

Who would have thunk it? Keurig put DRM into a coffee maker. For cryin’ out loud, it’s a coffee maker! What’s next? Cars that demand Ford-branded gasoline? How about a TV that only displays Sony-licensed content?

As for my new brewer, I have found work-arounds that defeat the Gestapo agent within. Several YouTube mavens describe tricks for keeping Keurig in its place. But make no mistake: It is a pain! I don’t relish the idea of taping a forged software license across a camera and changing it whenever a family member wants to brew a different beverage. I don’t want to search local stores for a licensed K-Cup that is sufficiently close to the each beverage that I already own? Continue below photo »

Keurig 2.0 brewers look for data hidden in the outer ring

Keurig 2.0 brewers look for data hidden in the outer ring

Keurig has turned their brand into the butt of a joke faster than you can say ARccOS. They must be guided by lawyers with no concept of market dynamics. In the blink of an eye, they will become an anachronism. In a few years, the Keurig 2.0 will be a unit in market training seminars alongside the ‘New Coke’, Andy Grove’s slow recall of the Pentium that exhibited math errors, and Ken Olsen’s conviction that consumers would never buy ‘personal’ computers for use at home.

But unlike Coke and Intel, Keurig doesn’t have a 10 billion dollar cushion. Even worse, they have fooled their fans once before. They may not be able to recover from screwing them over with malicious intent and an extended middle finger.

Green Mountain Coffee has a limited time to recover from the Keurig 2.0 fiasco. Here, then, is our humble WildDuck marketing advice:

  • Change the heartless restriction into an on-screen sales pitch. Be a good guy!
  • Accept all the existing K-Cups that your consumers already own. I have dozens.
  • Offer an adapter that allows owners of your new brewers the same privilege of occasionally scooping in the grounds of their favorite store-bought coffee.

And for G-d’s sake, stop spying on your customers! With a downward-facing camera mounted 10 inches above my kitchen counter, I wonder if your next software update will activate a microphone. Get off my back. Please Keurig; respect your customers!


Afterword 2.0

A guest lecturer at Cornell University asked his students to suggest a shareholder letter from Green Mountain Coffee. I haven’t been a college student in years. But if I were in that class, this would be my letter…

Dear Shareholder,

These are exciting times for your company. As you know, we are introducing a series of Keurig branded coffee brewers that are not quite compatible with both of our previous single-serve coffee pods, the ubiquitous K-Cup and Vue.

Keurig Brian Kelley-a

Brian Kelley; genius behind cameras in coffee pots. But, hey! it’s for your own good. A safer, more enjoyable beverage experience.

As a former Coca-Cola executive, I know a thing or two about tinkering with a successful brand in an effort to teach consumers what is in their best interest. That’s why we pushed New Coke onto the market back then, and it’s no different with the Keurig 2.0 product launch.

Of course, it is critical that we at Green Mountain Coffee convince consumers that our use of digital rights management is a benevolent and beneficial act-one that protects them from unsafe coffee, electrical failure and night terror. We must avoid any perception of ulterior motive or hidden agenda. Fortunately, consumers have a very poor memory. With clever marketing, they will buy our products with an assurance that they cannot accidentally harm themselves (or their Keurig 2.0 appliance) by brewing inferior coffee.

Of course, we could have used the very same coffee pod detection technology to simply display a message that the K-cup a user has inserted is not licensed, and may not taste as wonderful as coffee that comes from a company that pays us for the privilege of compatibility. But that wouldn’t be sufficient. We are concerned that our customers may be too busy enjoying coffee from 10,000 competing brands to heed our urgent warning.

Brian Kelley, CEO
Green Mountain Coffee

Ellery is editor at AWildDuck and owner of a new Keurig 2.0 brewer

Latency beats speed for most Internet activity

This evening, editors at Quora asked me to suggest network optimization methods to enhance the Internet experience of Internet gamers. My 5-step reply, below, is good practice for anyone who wants a zippier Internet experience.

Forums across the web stress a high Internet service connection speed as the panacea for gaming or a web experience that lacks zing. Sure, speed is important for network backup or streaming HD video (although, the bottleneck may lie within the video server or it be caused by a backhaul peering spat, or a financial dispute between Netflix and your own ISP). But for everything else – especially a robust web surfing experience, speed takes a back seat to latency. That frustration that you feel when web pages don’t pop up instantly after a click is more likely related to latency than throughput.

Speed is the rate at which a open or streaming data connection passes data. It is measured in megabits per second. In 2014, a speed or ‘bandwidth’ of 30 or 50 Mbps is typical for residential cable or fiber optic service. With their FIOS service, Verizon offers consumers speeds of up to 300 mbps.

Latency is quite different than speed. It is a measurement of the delay in getting a single packet from point A to point B. It is typically measured in milliseconds. (35 ms is typical of an optimized route. 65 ms is tolerable and 120 ms yields a frustrating experience. If you are a gamer or you use a voip phones system (voice-over-Internet protocol), you should test the latency to various hosting services, with an eye toward observing latency under 50ms. Even when you bring in your security measures, be they the ones from a ultraseedbox review or other sources, this should still be the case. Otherwise, you will notice a lag in responses coming from the other side of your connection. On phone calls, this is particularly annoying.

Because latency involves two end points, measurement entails choosing a remote web server or Internet page. In Windows, latency is measured using a command prompt and the PING or TRACERT commands.

N.B. This article is not meant to explain the commands or to be used as a procedural tutorial. Correspondingly, in order to make any progress, some knowledge of the installation, storage, and compute functionalities available in Windows Server 2016 is essential. Moreover, you can learn more about how to install Windows Servers by researching Microsoft Certification exams such as microsoft 70-740 online.

That being said, if you discover very short latency with some sites, but much longer with a few, then the problem is not within your home or local ISP infrastructure. It is related to the remote site that is part of your test or something in the path that is closer to it than to you. But if you find that latency is poor for most of the sites that you choose in your tests, then the problem is very likely with your ISP or even in your own home or business.

Here, then, are my suggestions for a great gaming experience-or similarly, a zippier web surfing session. Tips for reducing latency are offered in the footnote to #1…

1. A fast internet connection: 25 Mbps or better should do. 50 is much better if other family members like to watch Netflix or Amazon Prime while you access the Internet.*

2. Try to use a direct connection to the Internet rather than WiFi. If that’s not possible, use the latest technology-an 802.11AC router. (If you really want to burn rubber, check out the Netgear Nighthawk series). Make sure that any switch or router inside your home supports 1 Gbps at each Ethernet port.

3. Discourage others in your home from doing backups, file transfers, Netflix streaming, Skype or VOIP calls. Even if they are not accessing the WAN/uplink, they will likely hog the limited aggregate bandwidth of your switch or router. Even printing can interfere with gaming unless the user has an ad-hoc/p2p connection with the printer. (This is rare).

4. Check your game documentation for any special requirements such as the need for a phase-inverted, biturbo micro-encabulator. ** [Continue below video]

5. [Advaced]: Learn about the frame buffer feature in your router or switch and study the communications optimization features of your operating system. In some cases, a tool from your ISP can do wonders to optimize some of the esoteric Windows or Mac settings.

* Even more important than a fast Internet connection is the need for a short round trip packet latency. Use a command prompt or diagnostic app to test the ping time (delay) between you and IP addresses of the gaming server or other critical nodes that you can identify.

If ping times are more than 65 ms, look for a different Internet service or perhaps the problem is within your home… Reduce the number of switches and routers between you and the Internet. With a little fine tuning (for example, experimenting with gaming sites that offer multiple hosting cities), you may get the ping time below 35 ms. That would make a big difference in your gaming experience. It may give you the edge that you need.

** I was kidding in #4. There’s no such thing as a biturbo micro encabulator. But still, you should check the gaming documentation!

Update: Bitcasa bursts its bubble

We first wrote about Bitcasa Infinite Storage back in February, and we amplified our kudos in a brief–but gushing–July update. In fact, lots of folks were impressed. The service model, home grown technology, smooth-as-silk founder, and jaw-dropping price point made for a very compelling story.

Infinite storage? Well, Yes…If you have an infinite bank account! Or at least, if you can accept uncapped cost. Surprise! Bitcasa users have been slapped with a 2000% cost increase. For Wild Ducks, only the future cost is “infinite”, obscene or just random.

Bitcasa (cartooned)We raved over Bitcasa in two past reviews, because they “get it”! At least they did before losing Tony Gauda, co-founder and prescient CEO. Bitcasa was a model for massive, private and always online storage with an unlimited ceiling and intuitive apps. We’ve used it ever since—discovering that a venture upstart can kick a*s with the big boys.

I use it with my own PC. Just this week, I expanded the number of folders that I mirror to their cloud servers. I am also relying on some very capable apps. The few glitches seem relatively minor (The Windows agent commandeers the lowest available drive letter, burns CPU cycles when idle, and has difficulty streaming several popular formats). But the company is responsive to these issues. Based on experience, I suspect that they will resolve the technical issues.

But, oh no! Here it comes: The cost of Bitcasa has ballooned. Not just any balloon, but a very elastic balloon. In fact, it looks more like a Blimp!

Users who signed up early this year (but after completion of the beta period) paid $49. We were warned that subsequent years would cost $99 (or less, for those who refer users). Now, we find that the subscription rate is changing from $49 or $99 per year to a slightly higher $999 per year.

Whazzit?! Come again?!!

The new pricing is effective immediately for newbies. From what I can tell, existing users may be exempt from the new pricing model—for now—but it’s not clear for how long. And, if these ‘grandfathered’ users want access to long anticipated features, such as a Linux client, they lose their privileged status. Even worse, the new plan limits the number of devices that can share a single data store. I can accept a device limitation when using iTunes. After all, the service streams licensed media under agreement from a publisher. But for the user’s personal data? The whole point is to support access from everywhere, I mean, c’mon!                                                                                  [Continue after photo]…

100 dolalrs

Next year, you’ll pony up 12 of Benjamins to store data in the cloud. At street price, you could purchase nine 4TB drives = 36 Terabytes

To be fair, early users recognized that the cost for subsequent years might be refined, slightly. After all:

  • The world economy might experience rampant inflation
  • The raw costs for storage and bandwidth might suddenly rise
  • Bitcasa may find that a high fraction of users are abusing the system or may actually store tens of terabytes. That would throw off a centralized storage model
  • Bitcasa may need a higher cost network architecture to enhance robustness

Guess what? None of these things happened! So, what would cause Bitcasa to screw over its devotees? Was the model unprofitable or unsustainable? I think not. Bitcasa de-dupes files while simultaneously encrypting user data. The technology is remarkably clever. In fact with the inevitable addition of a distributed, P2P storage architecture, the infrastructure costs drops by—oh—perhaps by 90%. RDDC can be incredibly lucrative.

Bitcasa_new_pricing

How does Bitcasa explain away a startling blunder? By claiming that only 2% of users need more than 1TB and almost no one needs more than 5TB. Perhaps. But they overlook three things:

  • The higher price goes into effect at 1TB. Anyone with music, movies or years of photos will eat up several terabytes. At 5TB, users experience sticker shock. Hardly “Infinite storage”, Eh?!
  • Fewer than 2% of users may need more than 1TB today (a claim that is highly improbable). But what about tomorrow? Will those users trust that the cost will track the inherent cost of storage back downhill?
  • If very few people use multible TB, then Bitcasa leaves very little money on the table by sticking to its motto: “Infinite storage”. The iconic phrase conveys a powerful and visceral assurance. It is at the core of the platform’s market image and competitive positioning! Changing the rules without the need to do so triggers a vast and negative emotional response from the minions who proselytize on Bitcasa’s behalf, and future users who don’t wish to calculate their storage needs.

Why this? Why now?!

We’re still enamored with founder, Tony Gauda. He is remarkably smart and charming. Incoming CEO, Brian Taptich, is no slouch either! C’mon, Brian. No one expects you to give away service (even though it is exactly what Google does). But you needn’t rain on a parade that your team crafted with brilliance. You have an elegant and profitable model. If you screwed up on implementation, identify the cost overruns. Please fix the problem rather than killing the customer.

Honestly! You can redeem yourself and pull this one out of the fire… But do it quick. In the absence of dissenting opinions (I searched for quite awhile), here is a very typical consenting opinion.

—A loyal fan of the Bitcasa of yore

Amazon Elastic Transcoder: It will mature with time

Most consumer devices, such as PCs or smart phones, can downscale video on-the-fly, as media content streams in from the Internet. But consuming high definition data on a low definition device adds expense at both ends, because it consumes far more bandwidth than the device can display. In fact, watching a 1080p video clip on a 360p device wastes as much a 90% of the data.

transcode6

Transcoding is a job best performed at the service provider (or content source, if they are one and the same). An outgoing process can make intelligent, cost effective, on-the-fly, trade offs that go beyond individual device resolution.

Smart source transcoders are fully device aware. Not only can they adjust for bandwidth and device resolution, but for the recipient codec (AVI, MPEG, MKV), color palette or even display in black & white. All together, a smart transcoder can result in significant cost savings.

Consider, for example, a YouTube enhancement that you may have noticed this month. YouTube began adjusting the default video resolution to the default player window within your browser. For at least some devices and browsers, the YouTube server has sufficient information about your initial display resolution to optimize the transcoder and resulting media stream.

transcode-imageLet’s peek into the transcoder decision process offered to content admins. You might think that this is a concern only for big organizations that serve up lots of data. But more often, lately, it intersects with casual consumers who operate media-streaming clouds from a home-based NAS (such as a router-attached PogoPlug), a remote PC, or from an ISP or hosting service.

The Amazon Elastic Transcoder is a service component of their cloud storage and service suite (AWS, EC2, S3. Refer to this page for the full set of Amazon cloud services). The cost of transcoding depends on the resolution (e.g. from HD to SD, etc), the service region and the minutes of video content converted. For example, a minute of SD transcoding in the Northeast USA region is about 0.45¢ (just to be clear, that less than ½ penny).

This morning, Engadget highlighted improvements to the media transcoder, specifically, its ability to transcode audio as well as video. But, for me, the video tutorial seems to point to a deficiency rather than a bragging point…

A Wild Duck Opinion . . .

For organizations and individuals seeking to serve AV in user-demanded formats, the Amazon Elastic Transcoder barely scratches the surface. In my opinion, the video demonstrates a fine set of underlying processes, but from a user perspective (even from the perspective of a content admin), it is a crude and unfriendly beginning. The overall process fails the most important user tests: simple, automatic and transparent.

transcode_iconI envision this changing rapidly to something that requires no thinking by either the content admin or consumer/user. This is where market evolution must take us: On-the-fly transcoding at the optimum resolution for each user device—as it is demanded. Streams should be scaled even lower for individual users that have elected to conserve bandwidth at their end (using only their device interface). Decisions to prioritize pipelines or retain a cache of transcoded versions (instead of simply creating them anew for each user-demand) should never be a burden to the content admin. S/he shouldn’t be required to think about these things any more than an elevator needs an operator to decide at which floor it should hoover. I don’t mind the admin controls, but such forced decisions are evidence of either a start up alpha-process or a poorly implemented design. I expect that the feature rich controls of Amazon Elastic Transcoder falls into the latter category.

Instead, these should be driven by optimization algorithms that weigh current demand (at each resolution or quality) and the cost and availability of storage -vs- bandwidth. As with the most recent iteration of YouTube, users will ultimately trust that a video watched on a 360p device is not rushing toward their data cap by transmitting at 1080p. (And in fact, their own device will warn them that 90% of incoming data is being discarded, unless they are also saving to memory).

Cloud-based video transcoding, or cloud transcoding, is a service available from Qencode which gives the user access to all the latest formats, codecs and resolutions for improved video quality and reduced transcoding costs.