No, Blogs, MP3 Isn’t Dead

Thank you Jason Snell for not simply regurgitating a press release and calling it “news”. Come on tech blogs. Think for yourself. MP3 isn’t dead, in fact it might be more relevant than ever now that it is no longer being held hostage by software patents. It’s dead to the patent holders, not for anyone else.

The Internet is Optional for Some

Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin voted to eliminate the new ISP privacy law that was set to go into effect. This has been an unpopular decision across the board, regardless of political leanings. But Sensenbrenner isn’t backing down. According to him, “Nobody’s got to use the Internet.”

Of course, anyone who has tried to get a job anytime in the last decade knows that this really isn’t true. Sure, they may be some way to live entirely offline, but it would put you at massive disadvantage compared to your online peers.

It would be easy to blame his age for these comments, but I think it comes more from his profession. He has been in congress since 1979. He has not had any need to experience the hiring market since then. While it is true that he has had to run for reelection every two years, the incumbency rate for the US Congress is around 90%. Sensenbrenner has, in some years, run unopposed. He is someone who has the unusual benefit of being able to avoid such modern necessities.

This is a bipartisian problem. Our representatives live in their own alternate reality. And their decisions, often flying in the face of all logic, reflect this. This is DC syndrome, and it is highly infectious.

Thing is though, while he may not use the internet, I’ll bet you his staff does. And I will bet they use it a lot. This is another thing congressional members have that the public at large lacks, a personal staff at their disposal 24/7.

So here is my challenge to Rep. Sensenbrenner. If this internet is truly optional, prove it. For your 2018 reelection, run it as you did your first election 40 years ago. No internet, no cell phones, no social media, no email. This includes you and everyone on your staff. Break out the corded phones and typewriters. Get a taste of what it would be like for one of your constituents to try to succeed in the modern world without using modern tools to do it.

Give the Gift of Digital Rights

This has been a rough year for technology and digital rights – among other things. Now more than ever we need organizations that will fight for our rights to privacy, security, and digital freedom. If you are looking for a meaningful gift for a tech person in your life, consider a donation to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. While not as high profile as many of the other charities that need support at a time like this, the EFF has one of the most important missions in our modern world. Digital rights, privacy rights, and encryption are under attack all across the world, even in highly developed nations that claim to value freedom and liberty. A membership in the EFF shows that you are aware of the importance of digital rights. And you can get an awesome shirt showing your support for encryption.

Google Inbox for Education

Inbox by Gmail is finally available to Google Apps for Education domains.1 This means I can finally use Inbox as my primary email client across the board. When it launched, it was mostly a clone of the now defunct Mailbox, but it has really grown over time. There are two main reasons I prefer it to the other mailbox-like email apps.

One, it is available basically everywhere. There are apps for both iOS and Android, and the web client works great on basically everything else.

Two, it is made by Google. You do not need to rely on a third party server and all the potential security issues that brings. It is also not going to break because of some server side change that Google implements.

It’s a great productivity apps that can help keep your inbox sane, and I highly recommend Google Apps both enable it for their users and actively encourage its use.

  1. It was supposed to be enabled automatically, but I had to check a box in the admin console.

Let’s Encrypt (Our WordPress Blogs)

Websites hosted on WordPress’s commercial service are now encrypted using certificates from Let’s Encrypt, the free certificate authority that removes both the cost and complexity from HTTPS. If you host a site on wordpress.com, this is already available too you with no additional effort required on your part.

If you have your own hosted WordPress site and you can install software to your server, it is fairly easy to get the Let’s Encrypt software up and running. I recently migrated this site to a VPS and had no issue getting Let’s Encrypt up and running. Many shared hosting services such as DreamHost have also added support.

HTTPS is moving closer and closer to the default state of the web, and that is a good thing. A notable holdout at the moment is SquareSpace, which has never allowed custom certificates, even paid ones. I had an exchange with them on Twitter not that long ago but they did not commit to any timeframe on support for secure connections. I would urge them to move on this before it becomes a competitive disadvantage.

If you are just starting out with creating a website, I would make support for free and easy HTTPS a requirement when choosing your host.

Amazon Banning Apple TV Rather Than Develop For It

Bloomberg is reporting that Amazon will be discontinuing sales of Apple TV and Chromecast. Their reasoning is that Amazon’s own video service is not supported on those platforms.

“Over the last three years, Prime Video has become an important part of Prime,” Amazon said in the e-mail, which was sent to sellers yesterday. “It’s important that the streaming media players we sell interact well with Prime Video in order to avoid customer confusion.”

This would have made sense for years now as Amazon really was locked out of the Apple TV. But as of last month’s announcement of tvOS, this no longer makes sense. If Amazon wants to be on Apple TV, all they need to do is use the developer account they already have and write the app. The whole point of the new Apple TV is that it doesn’t lock out third parties. How is the Apple TV / Fire TV dynamic different than the iPad / Fire Tablet one?

Even worse though is that Amazon is now breaking down the barriers between being a retailer, electronics company, and content provider. For better or worse, Amazon is the retail store for the vast majority of people who are online. Apple does not sell competing brands it does not approve of, but no one expects it because Apple Stores are just that, stores for Apple. Amazon is not Apple. There is no “confusion” because people think of the Amazon website as a store. The people who know about Prime Video very likely understand the difference.

Not like this will hurt Apple TV much, if at all. I don’t know a single person who ever bought an Apple product (other than maybe a cable or adapter) from Amazon. The vast majority of customers buy from Apple directly, with most of the remaining customers coming though authorized resellers. But for Amazon, it sets a bad precedent.

Caching Server and iCloud Data

Apple made an important change in Caching Server in Server 5. By default, it will now cache personal iCloud data in addition to the usual apps, books, and updates. While I guess there can be some value here in saving bandwidth, I seriously doubt most sysadmins would consider this worth the potentially massive storage requirements. On my home server, for example, I was already up to 60GB of iCloud data. And that is for two people!

There is no way to turn it off in the GUI, but an Apple Service Provider in the UK found a way to disable it via command line. Check out their post for the details.

Apple Making Two Factor Less Terrifying

I highly recommend that everyone use two factor authentication on as many accounts as they can, but there has always been one particularly scary aspect to Apple’s implementation of this. When you enable two step verification on an Apple ID, you are essentially cutting off Apple support from ever being able to help you with you account ever again. According to Sophos, this will be changing with OS X El Capitan and iOS 9.

With the new 2FA system, Apple customer support will work through a detailed recovery process with users who lose access to all their trusted devices and phone numbers.

The company will review your case and contact you at the number provided when your Apple ID is ready for recovery. After that, an automated message will direct you to iforgot.apple.com to complete the required steps and regain access to your account.

The company says it will take a few days – or longer – to recover accounts this way, depending on how much information you can provide to verify that you really are the account owner.

I feel much more comfortable with this method. While locking an account forever had the advantage of preventing social engineering attacks like the one that hit Mat Honan, it had a pretty extreme downside. Any issue that locked you out of your Apple ID meant that your Apple ID was lost forever. No force on earth could get it back. Given the amount of important data tied to Apple IDs (purchases, cloud storage, device registrations), this was too heavy a hammer. Having a process to recover access to an account that is slow and methodical is a more appropriate balance between security and good customer service.

Technecast 33: Is That You Apple Watch?

This week’s episode is available for download.

  • Jay loves him some Squarespace.
  • Something good about LinkedIn? No, ok.
  • Microsoft is making cool iPhone apps
  • Like to drink? Like cocktails? Studio Neat released a cool app.
  • Cool Robot building iOS app from Tinybop. Check them out.
  • Photos for OS X launched before the Apple Watch.
  • Wired shares the secret history of Apple Watch
  • Wired article on the Disney Magic Band
  • Apple Watch guided tours and early reviews are now online