So this is totally unrelated to anything ever posted on the Step Aside bog, but I would like to take the next couple of sentences to introduce you to Proceemo. Proceemo is a free service that lets you “watch” items on Amazon, and notifies you when the price of that item has dropped. In case you have not noticed, prices on Amazon fluctuate often because of third party sellers, Amazon inventory, etc. Proceemo offers users a simple and free way to get notified via email when something you want has lowered its price. It’s simple, and did I mention its free?
David Pogue, long time technology columnist for the New York Times is leaving the news giant to work for once Internet giant Yahoo, to start a consumer technology news site. Unless you’re a tech nerd (and even if you are), you do not care about any of this. I don’t regularly read Pogue’s stuff, not because I don’t like him, but because his stuff his boring to me. Pogue writes about tech stuff in such a way that anyone can understand it, which is great for communicating technology news to the masses. The only problem is the masses are not that interested in tech news.
There are more tech sites than you can possibly dream of: Engadget, TechCrunch, Anandtech, CNet, TWiT, Gizmodo, All Things D, ZDNet – and this is not including major news publication tech columns and this is not including a dozen Apple dedicated tech sites. I often wonder how half of these blogs even stay in business, then I realize most of them are owned by huge content conglomerates (with the exception of TWiT, which is user-funded (or at least was back when I was paying attention)). The point is, this is a saturated market, and it keeps growing to a non-growing market. All Things D just announced its founder and gadget reviewer are leaving to start a new tech news venture, though it has yet to be named. Rather than do the responsible thing and research if any of my thoughts or opinions have any valid merit, I’m just going to join the bubble. So today I am proudly announcing the newly formed “Step Aside Technology Blog”:
This fits inline nicely with our podcast change to be less political and more general news oriented. And hey, check out my first post!
We’ve spent a good amount of time on our podcast debating Bitcoin, the virtual currency – from the feasibility of it as a currency to the sustainability of it. Dick Sharpe believed the bubble popped when the US dollar value of a Bitcoin fluctuated from $240 down to $99 in just a week. I disagreed, thinking this fluctuation is more to do with a market that does not know how to value this strange new commodity. While some people believe in the long term sustainability of Bitcoin as a currency, I do not. Bitcoin has a maximum number of currency that can be generated in its lifetime, which creates its scarcity – so it’s more of a commodity than a modern currency. Unfortunately for our modern economy, a commodity makes a lousy currency for one simple reason – no central bank. Central bank’s are needed to help smooth the roller coaster ride that is capitalism. Without them, the world would be faced with times of runaway inflation and high unemployment – neither of which help sustain a great society.
Then if Bitcoin is destined to fail, who will get hurt the most? Like I said previously, I don’t believe the price fluctuations alone are enough to call the bubble burst. After all, who gets hurt the most during this volatility? Those looking to sell their Bitcoins – which at the moment would mostly be hobbyists and weirdo fringe investors. Also, even though the price did jump up momentarily, the value of Bitcoin has actually been trending up for a long period of time, regardless of the jagged edges. Hobbyists are mostly not interested in selling, because for them Bitcoins are all about the technical mining process.So in general, I don’t think too many people were hurt by the large swings in market values.
The real bubble is being inflated now, as Bitcoin popularity continues to trend upwards – the development of third party company’s hoping to bank on the sustainability of Bitcoin. For the past year, small start-up companies have been receiving venture capital and angel investor funds and are developing tools designed for efficient storage and transactions of Bitcoin. I say this is the bubble, because when these companies fail (and they will), real people will lose their investments in these start-up companies; but more importantly, real people will lose their jobs. The engineers, designers, accountants, IT people going to work for these companies don’t stand a chance. Most of the people that go to work for a start-up know this, but collectively, it could be a big problem when the rest of the market deems Bitcoin useless.
People have a natural want of doing really well in their jobs to help themselves get promoted in their chosen career. This is usually a good thing, as it creates a meritocratic system of the best-of-the-best rising to the top in a given field. One of the big exceptions to this system is in the case of public prosecutors. For example, earlier this year a co-founder of the popular news aggregating website Reddit, Aaron Swartz, killed himself, after the state of Massachusetts charged him for enough crimes to put him away for decades. His crime, was gathering electronic articles from MIT without authorization and sharing it to the world. MIT was not willing to file charges against the young man, however the state wanted to lock him up as if he were a serial killer. I’m not condoning the action of Swartz, but clearly the potential punishment did not match the crime. The state prosecutors were not seeking comparative justice; they were looking to see their names in the paper for a record of sentencing for a cyber crime.
Today, another great example of this treatment on a man out of Arkansas. Andrew Auernheimer, was sentenced to 41 months in jail for “hacking” AT&T. Auernheimer was able to get access to 114,000 iPad user accounts from AT&T’s online verification system. The thing about this case is how the prosecution defined hacking though. You see, Auernheimer did not do anything crazy technical to get this information, as he simply used something called a “GET” request on AT&T’s servers for the data, and the AT&T’s servers were stupid enough to reply with the requested information. It’s the equivalent of walking into your local bank and asking the teller for all the bank customers account information – and the teller saying “OK, here you go!” Now, Auernheimer used this information to make a name for himself and gave it to Gawker media, which probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do. But again, he didn’t “steal” data from AT&T, he simply used software to ask for the information and AT&T handed it right over.
Again, I’m not condoning the actions of these people, but certainly their “crimes” do not warrant excessive punishment. This is the same justice system that just sentenced two rapists of a 16 year old girl in Ohio to 1 & 2 years (one got 2 years because he took naked photographs of the girl). It’s also the same justice system that failed to prosecute a single individual for all the mortgage dealings that lead to the Great Recession. In the 21st century, being part of a civilized society requires a system of comparative justice where the punishment matches the crime; not a system where people are trying to make a name for themselves.
Fucking Google. No, this post not a response to their latest breach of public privacy (public privacy?), which by the way is total bullshit on so many levels. I don’t consider logging onto non-encrypted networks to be a crime of any kind; if anything it teaches the uninformed public to lock down your WiFi routers. If your router name is “linksys”, you deserve to have your allotted bandwidth sucked dry by the surrounding public. The only bigger joke in this “offense” is the 7 million dollar fine Google has to pay – that will surely teach them!
No, fuck Google because it’s latest behavior in end-of-life’ing some pretty cool products. First it was iGoogle, my beloved homepage for the last 8 years is being killed off in November. This was a big bummer, as I use iGoogle as a launching point for just about all Internet activities. It’s got news, my calender, my stocks, etc. in a simple, single page, widget’esque format. There’s really nothing else like it on the Internets, and it will be missed. Actually the kicker here is that Google says to use “Chrome apps” as a substitute. For those of you who don’t know, “Chrome apps” are just large bookmarks on an empty Chrome tab. That’s not a substitute, that’s a kick in the balls.
But they didn’t stop there. Yesterday the assholes of Mountain View announced the end-of-life to 7 more products, including Google Reader and Snapseed for desktops. Google Reader is a very cool service where you can read RSS feeds in an email like fashion, without ever having to visit an actual website. I’m sure some blogs are thrilled with this news as it will bring more ad-viewing traffic to their sites – but it really was a cool service. But Snapseed is the real news here, for me anyway. Snapseed is a really lightweight photo editor that can do some quick editing of photos, really well. It’s even more annoying because Google didn’t even develop this product – they bought it just a couple months ago! Buy products just to end-of-life them? Not evil my ass.
If you listen to our show, you may actually think I’m a strong Apple hater. This is not the case – I just present myself that way in front of Basement Rob to try and get him fired up. Since 2004 my personal computer has been a Mac of some kind and it will continue to be that way for the forseeable future (hell, Basement Rob was a hater until I annoyingly shoved my plastic Macbook down his throat!)
So today I write to complain about this article in Forbes, that says very clearly if Steve Jobs were still around, iOS 6 never would have been released. This sentiment exists mainly because of some amusing bugs in the recently released Apple Maps application, which forcefully replaces the Google Maps application that used to be standard in iOS. The writer asks:
If Steve Jobs was alive, would he have introduced Apple Maps with rough edges? Did the meticulousness that went into Apple products die with Steve Jobs? Has Apple squandered the trust of users built up by Steve Jobs over years in one swoop?
Then he says “These are the important questions for Apple investors to ponder.” Really? I’m pretty sure the only question Apple investors are asking right now is “when will this baby hit $1000!?”. Don’t be so fucking naive Forbes – Steve Jobs was around when they released the iPhone 4 for Christ’s sake – remember that debacle?
This Sunday, the latest and greatest NASA Mars rover will attempt to land on the martian surface. This isn’t the first time NASA has sent a rover to the red planet, but it is the first time it will attempt a crazy-ass landing procedure that looks like something out of a science fiction movie. I recommend you watch this 5 minutes video and see the “Seven Minutes of Terror”. The video is unbelievably dramatic, particularly with its music selection. However it is still totally worth watching and seeing the latest Mission to Mars from Earth. Never before has the space agency had to rely on such a complicated landing procedure to explore Mars. And given all the steps involved on making a successful landing one can’t not think of something going terribly wrong.
By the way, how bad was Red Planet? And Mission to Mars for that matter. How has Hollywood not made a good movie about Mars? Email us at stepasideshow @ gmail . com and tell us which one is worse. I say Red Planet, mainly because of the hissing, bitchy robot above. But also because of country singing fool Val Kilmer.
Technology Today: Apple Buys into Twitter, Microsoft on Edge, and Google’s Tangent’s
Since technology and politics are so tightly intertwined (unless you are Dick Sharpe), let’s take a change of pace for today and talk about the latest technological trends and news. So, what happening with technology today.
First on the list, rumors surfaced late last week about Apple investing a bunch of cash into the profit-less fail-whale that is Twitter. After a quick and failed attempt at social networking by Apple, they have probably decided to invest in a successful tool rather than re-invent the wheel. Interestingly, for the first time in a long time, Microsoft beat Apple to the punch by investing a bunch of its cash in Facebook 5 years ago.
Question: Should these gigantic company’s really be investing in social this way? Perhaps I’ll say. The whole thing is slightly reminiscent of the browser wars from a decade ago, and in my opinion, every player than spent a lot of time and money investing in a browser came out as a loser (see Netscape). There is a slight difference with social networking, and that is that some of these firms actually make money, like Facebook and LinkedIn, so it’s not a total lost investment. And much like the browser, social networking is not going away any time soon, so it’s better to be invested in it, and not developing it youself is the safest investment you can make. If you think creating the social network is something big company’s like Apple and Microsoft should be doing, tell me – how is Google+ doing these days?
Second on the agenda, Microsoft. Poor, poor Microsoft. This cash juggernaut is playing with napalm on the edge of a 1000 foot cliff juggling hand-grenades. Just today, Microsoft announced the dismantling of Hotmail for a new email service called Outlook (get your desired email handle today, just in case it takes off). I played a bit with it, and it’s actually quite nice. It is a no ads, easy to use, and nicely configurable web email client. It’s a bit clunky with its other services, such as the calender which links to the old Hotmail site, but I assume that will change over in time. It also connects nicely with Facebook, as just about every new service needs to do these days.
Question: Will this really work for Microsoft? I say, who the hell knows. Much like Gotham believes in Harvey Dent, I still believe in Microsoft, but my confidence is starting to wear thin. The only reason I remain confident is because of the enterprise: Microsoft still dominates the enterprise with Windows, Office, Exchange, Active Directory, and even MSDN. The biggest problem Microsoft faces is its mixture of enterprise and consumers, and that’s something no tech giant has really been able to accomplish. I’d say if Microsoft can continue its stranglehold on the enterprise, introduce the Surface to enterprise clients, it may actually stand a chance in the future.
Third and finally, Google. The Warren Buffet of search if you will. Google last week expanded its unrelated-to-its-core-business to Internet and television service in the Kansas City area. For a one time fee of $300, you can get no-contract, free monthly Internet with a download rate of 5mbps and an upload rate of 1mbps. By modern metrics, that’s equivalent to a good cell phone signal, but you can’t beat the price. For $70 a month, you can get a 1gbps upload and download, which by any modern metrics of price to performance for an ISP, kicks more ass than the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus combined. The third tier of programming adds television into the mix, for $120 a month you get TV and Internet. Similar to a FiOS package, but without one of those outdated home-phones.
Question: What the hell is Google doing? Other than burning through its stock piles of cash, I have no idea, but I like it a lot. Any time a large player enters a market is has no business being in, they either turn out looking incredibly smart or incredibly stupid. I hope it’s not the latter, because I would really enjoy some gigabit Internet, which is not something Time Warner, Comcast, Cablevision, and even Verizon come close to. If this does nothing but get the other players to move to a faster Internet method, then I’m happy with that.
This morning, the SpaceX spacecraft named “Dragon” was officially captured by the robotic arm of the International Space Station. In terms of spaceflight, this is a big deal as SpaceX is the first ever private company to launch a rocket, detach a module, and dock with space station. The pending success of this mission will determine whether the United States government will proceed with a $1.2 billion contract with SpaceX for 12 future payload missions. However, I believe this it truly the beginning of something amazing. In the 1960’s, the world witnessed a “space race” between two countries that wanted to blow each other up. In just 10 years, we went from being able to launch a rocket into orbit to being able to land on the moon. Now we have half a dozen private companies that are competing for the same thing, cheaper and faster than any government could. Who knows, maybe in 10 years SpaceX will be preparing for human spaceflight to Mars.