Category Archives: Technology

Fingerprint snap back

You know what I thought when Apple announced the iPhone 5s and confirmed it having a fingerprinter sensor? “Jesus Christ, the amount of virtual ink that’ll be spilled in deploring the sensor and how easy it will be to fake ones fingerprint.”

Alas, of course, we didn’t even have to wait for the phone to actually in people hands. Or fingers.

Here’s Cory Doctorow:

More interesting is the prediction that phone thieves will lift their victims’ fingerprints and use them to bypass the readers. As German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schauble discovered, you leak your fingerprints all the time, and once your fingerprint has been compromised, you can’t change it. (Schauble was pushing for biometric identity cards; playful Chaos Computer Club hackers lifted his fingerprints off a water-glass after a debate and published 10,000 copies of them on acetate as a magazine insert).


“Fingerprints can be a useful addition to security but their value depends highly on the type of fingerprint reader and how it is being used – for example, the best use of a fingerprint is to provide a convenient way to unlock something in a medium to low security scenario,” Mr Rogers said.

First of all, “medium to low security” compared to what? A pin?

Next, since the sensor won’t work with a dead, a.k.a. chopped off finger, I’d imagine it’s really difficult to, but not impossible, to simply lift a copy of a fingerprint and use it to open the phone.

Rich Mogull has a pretty comprehensive analysis of the technology and using fingerprints for authentication.

The Touch ID sensor in the iPhone 5s is a capacitive reader, embedded in the home button. That was a good choice on Apple’s part, since capacitive scanners are more accurate and less prone to smudgy fingers, and can’t be faked out with a photocopy of a fingerprint.


But the real reason is that using fingerprints creates better security through improved usability. Most people, if they use a passcode at all, stick with a simple four-digit passcode, which is easy for an attacker to circumvent with physical possession of your iPhone. Longer passphrases, like the obscure 16-character one I use, are far more secure, but a real pain to enter repeatedly. A fingerprint reader, if properly implemented, provides the security of a long passphrase, with more convenience than even a short passcode.

While I welcome Doctorow’s, and others’, pessimism in introducing new security measures and being critical of technologies such as fingerprint readers, I’d also welcome them to not just criticise, but also offer better alternatives.

I don’t think we’ll see many cases of people fingers being chopped off. If for no other reason, then for that charges on ‘nicking a phone’ are quite a bit less serious than on ‘bodily mutilation’.

A chainsaw, leg and iPhone

photo 4Some six years ago, my dad cut himself with a chainsaw. Accidentally. Right under the knee. It took a good five, six weeks to heal properly.

A few weeks ago he did it again but luckily this time he had an iPhone in his trouser pocket. Turns out, the metal frame around the iPhone works pretty well for stopping the chain and prevented it from eating into his quadriceps.

It reminds me of a story of a U.S. Army soldier in Iraq was shot but the bullet was stopped by his iPod. True, this isn’t quite as dramatic as being shot but he is a keen marathon runner and if he wasn’t able to run for a while, everyone would suffer.

photo 2

So. Leg saved by an iPhone. Big deal. But what’s even cooler is that the iPhone still works perfectly. Even the headphone jack, which is in the corner where it took the hit, still works. No loss of mobile or wifi signal. Pretty incredible.

(The Husqvarna chainsaw he used does have a mechanism that stops the chain from moving when you release the trigger. He had been operating the saw for some three hours which results in the chain loosening, which in turn keeps the chain stopper from working.)

Mass following leads to poor experience

I was cleaning out dead or quiet accounts from the list I follow on one of my Twitter accounts and noticed something that perhaps isn’t really that surprising: many of the accounts that were following almost 2000 other users were quiet with no activity to speak of. Many of them seemed like genuine accounts with perhaps a few hundred followers themselves.

Reason why one would follow up to 2000 users is simple: you hope they follow back. But the problem is that this ruins the experience of using Twitter. Instead of being a stream tweets that are more or less highly curated, it’s suddenly becomes a cacophony of random noise.

Hashtags and conferences

I largely agree with Daniel Victor on that hashtag-free tweets are more aesthetically pleasing and that we should avoid using them. Or at least put more thought into when we use them.

I’d like to add a little idea I’ve had on using hashtags in conferences. Hashtags are handy in connecting small groups of people but I think there’s an alternative.

Twitter should treat hashtags at the start of a tweet the same way as it does @replies, hide from your main feed unless you follow that specific person or hashtag in this case.

#LearningFest Just arrived, who else is here?

This way you could freely be a little more vocal at these events but and at the same time not piss off those followers who don’t care about premier education events. I know people are self conscious about this; I’ve seen some start separate conference accounts to allow machine gun tweeting without the ill side effects.

Problem is that Twitter will never make that change. Large part of their valuation is based on how ubiquitous the hashtag has become. “Oh, by the way Simon Cowell, fewer people will now see #xfactor as we’re cleaning up the system to make it more user friendly”. No. Never gonna happen.

But fear not, solution is already here.

I suggest that next time you’re at a conference you do this instead:

@LearningFest Just arrived, who else is here?

This way only those who give a damn will see it. Chances are that if you’re at that conference, you’ll have followed the account. You can always mention before hand that “I’ll be at @LearningFest, follow to hear the latest” so your other followers can keep up if they care enough.

Other obvious benefit is that now it’s easy to find out what the event is you’re talking about. So often you see a hashtag but struggle to find out what the context or event is.

I guess hastags are the new—or as it used to be at the turn of the century. You know, back when we use to say things like “you’re a dumbass dot com”? I’m not saying I’ll never use one but as Victor suggest, I’ll be more considerate when using them.

How piracy destroyed Battle Dungeon

While the internet tubes get lubed and ready for what will probably be the biggest piracy event to date, here’s the story on how piracy made one game shut its servers.

However, when you release a multiplayer game that requires account creation to play you suddenly get a much clearer picture. The answer? Around 90% of our signups were coming from pirated copies of our game.

Battle Dungeon: Risen is the reworking of the original title as a single player game and it’s available in the App Store.


iPad Air will most likely sell for £249 ($299)

I’ve been sitting on this screenshot for a while. Since the iPhone 5 announcement event, in fact.

It’s from the first few minutes of Apple Store UK coming back online after the event. Look at the iPad section and ‘from’ price. At the time, and still today, iPad pricing starts at £329 for the iPad 2. I think the screenshot shows the price that Apple at least at the time was thinking for the yet-to-be-announced iPad Air. £249.

(For the record, you can download the screenshot that was taken on my iPad, here. That’s the untouched, RAW file downloaded using Image Capture.)

Couple of things. First, how could Apple accidentally update the iPad ‘from’ price to a wrong one? It’s probably because they at some point might have planned on announcing the iPad Air in September and this price got stuck on one the website content templates that were consequently activated on the 12th September. Easy mistake to make.

But £249? Isn’t that more than what Google is selling the Nexus 7 for and what Kindle Fire costs? Yes it is and it doesn’t matter.

When has Apple ever intentionally competed on price? Never. After the original iPad came out, other tablet makers were unable to either match Apple’s spec or the price. The iPad was, and still is, unbeatably cheaper but I don’t think this is what they are going for; the price is a side product of an immaculate design and perhaps more importantly, the amazing scale they’re made at.

iPad Air isn’t trying to get into the sub-£200 game but it will establish what consumers are to expect from a sub-8 inch tablet.

Why Apple should buy Vimeo

With iOS 6, Apple is getting rid of yet another link with Google; the Maps app which has always been made by Apple but uses data from Google Maps will start using Apples own proprietary map tiles and directions.

Still, one well known Google property remains on the first home screen: YouTube.

Signs were there early on in February when Mountain Lion was first previewed to a few journalists. OS X is taking good part of iOS and one of those elements is the share button. In ML you’ll be able to share content to different services much like you can on an iPhone or an iPad. But videos, you can only share to Vimeo, not YouTube. This might obviously change by the time 10.8 is released but I think it send a pretty stern message: there is nothing Apple needs from Google.

After becoming a father just over a year ago I’ve shot a lot of little videos of our son. Email isn’t great for sharing files like that so I most often just upload them to YouTube as an unlisted video and send the link to my family. System supported service for uploading videos to is essential, even more so than for photos.

What’s stopping them? I don’t think Vimeo ‘is not for sale’. Any venture capital funded company that doesn’t have a clear path to turning large enough profits to bring a good return for its investors, is for sale. At the right price.

Biggest problem there is is the sheer scale of iOS; 365 million users* would definitely put an unpresented strain on the service. What better way then than to test how well it scales by incorporating it in a smaller product like OS X Mountain Lion?

UPDATE: After reading this again, I realised I didn’t clearly answer the question. Reasons are that 1) Vimeo on its own won’t be able to scale fast enough and 2) Apple is all about integrated services that it has full control over.

*Devices sold as of June 2012

Why did Apple wait until now before including USB 3.0?

I sometimes get into–let’s call them debates–with someone* about Apple. His comment was this:

Oh, Apple is caving in and adding USB3. Guess Thunderbolt was the failure it was made to be. Well, I’m happy: Less peripheral connection standards, the better of everyone is.

(He did compliment Apple for now including a USB port on both sides of the new 15-inch MacBook Pro.)

Let’s start in order, one by one.

Why did they wait until now with USB 3.0? Were they never going to include it or was this their plan all along? My guess is that they kind of knew they’d end up including it eventually but wanted to give Thunderbolt a head start. Let’s call it a strategic delay. As a standard, Thunderbolt is superior (more on that later) but to get peripheral manufacturers to adopt it they wanted to have on the market a good number of computers that only supported TB, Not USB 3.0.

If you look at the PC industry in general, you’ll notice that it’s pretty conservative when it comes to killing off legacy technologies. Don’t believe me? Sony, Dell and Toshiba have just launched new laptops and all three include a VGA port (via John Gruber). VGA ports? Yes, VGA ports. VGA was probably revolutionary when it was invented but that was literally 25 years ago. It’s time to move on.

I feel embarrassed using this analogy but heyho.. “If Henry Ford listened to his customers, he would have made a faster horse“. In other words; Don’t sell your customers what they want, sell them what they need.

Is Thunderbolt a failed standard? It can fail in two ways. 1) it’s a useless, badly thought our standard that doesn’t do what it’s meant to and/or 2) it doesn’t achieve wide enough adoption to be considered an industry wide standard. Number 2 remains to be seen, but at the moment things don’t look that bad; at least Western Digital, LaCie and G-Tech have external hard drives that support it. While Apple seems to be the only one having a Thunderbolt port on a display, you can use a Thunderbolt to DVI adapter and have the screen as the last node of linked devices.

This neatly brings us to why as a technology Thunderbolt is so great. To simplify this, it is basically like connecting something straight to the motherboard via a PCI Express. It delivers speeds up to 10Gbps which is so fast that you can’t find a single hard drives fast enough to take advantage of this (You can make a RAID array of SSD drives to do this). Unlike USB 3.0, it supports daisy chaining devices. You can have three hard drives, a Blu-Ray drive and a display hooked to the same port and use all of them at the same time. What’s not to like?

Finally, with this in mind, if you want less connection standards Thunderbolt is the one to have. I don’t mean the industry should completely abandon USB, there’s still lots of good uses for that, not least because it is so widely accepted.

*As the conversation happened on Facebook and the original status wasn’t public, it’s not my place to say who this person is.

That’s So Finnish

Nokia used to be a Finnish icon. Torchbearer of innovation, engineering and design.

Then, in 2007, Apple released the iPhone and denied Nokia the opportunities to be innovative, continue to create iconic designs or even engineer decent phones. If there’s anyone to blame for Nokia’s misfortune, slide in profits and marketshare, in the recent years, it has got to be the iPhone, Apple and their creator, Steve Jobs. Right? If only Nokia had invented the iPhone, all would be well.

Too many newspaper and magazine articles in Finland about Apple are blaming them for single handedly reducing Nokia from being one of the largest companies in the world to one which future as an independent company is no longer certain. (Microsoft could have bought them twice over with their cash holdings.)

Here’s David J. Cord for Helsinki Times: “[Steve] Jobs has probably been directly responsible for thousands of Finns losing their careers at Nokia or its subcontractors”.

Here’s another quote from Kauppalehti (to call them Financial Times of Finland is giving them too much credit but for the sake of familiarity, that’s the role they play there): “It is widely assumed that the [24th October] release date of Steve Jobs’ biography is timed to take press coverage away from Nokia World [which was on 26th Oct in London]”

Both quotes, I believe, represents the populist views that the press in Finland are eager to imbue. It’s easy to blame Nokias misfortunes to an outside force rather than be critical of the Finnish icon.

What’s worst in this is that this misguided view is mostly only held by the press and some of the public. Nokia management knew the ship was going to run ground unless the course was changed. They tried to change it but were not able to.

One personality trait that Finns have is a fear of failure. When you’re biggest fear is to fail it becomes near impossible to talk about it and accept it when you have failed. Nokia has been much more than just another company to Finns.

But that was in 2007. Now, in 2011, it’s high time for the press in Finland to grow up and 1) report on lessons that can be found in what went wrong with Nokia and 2) give a fair treatment to innovation that comes from outside the borders.

The Post About Backup, Part 1

Macbook Pro, Western Digital Studio, Backblaze, Chronosync backup system explained

Click to enlarge

Let’s imagine a scenario.

You’re working on your laptop in the safety of your own home and your best a friend comes around for a coffee. Your sitting around your dining room table, having a coffee, eating cake and chitchatting about life and everything else. You then show some of your latest illustrations, web designs, lesson plans, music video, spreadsheet, short story, novel or the 3-D model of the TV cabinet you’re secretly building in your shed.

Then the inevitable happens; you bring a whole half a litre glass of orange juice for your friend. The glass slips our of your hand, on to the computer. All of the juice filters through the innards of your two year old MacBook Pro. The juice shorts the circuitry and from a puff of smoke, you know, that your laptop left this world and returned to Infinity.

What happens next? Do you:

a) Panic and whack your friend with a clenched fist (after all you wouldn’t have dropped the juice if it wasn’t for him)?

b) Start crying.

c) Calm and collected, you call your insurance company and tell them to send you a new laptop. Tell your friend that it’s OK, everything has been backed up to the moment he arrived.

If you chose ‘c‘, you can stop reading and pass this on to your friends. But if you chose ‘a‘ or ‘b‘, keep reading and pass this on to your friends.

Maxims to keep in mind:

  • If a hard drive hasn’t crashed yet, it is about to.
  • Backup has to be automatic, otherwise you will not do it.
  • Keep three copies of each file. Two onsite and one offsite.
  • Backup is not an archive.

In this post I’ll first explain how I handle my own backing up procedure. In part two, I’ll give you tips on building your own backup strategy.

My data mostly live in two places; on the hard drive of my MacBook Pro (MBP) and on two Western Digital Studio 1TB (WD Studio) drives. My data accumulation rate is probably about a gigabyte to one and a half per day on average. Not an inconsiderable amount but not unmanageable either.

First, my laptop is backed up hourly with Time Machine (TM). This means that if I’ve been out shooting for a day and importing images into Aperture library, they’ll most likely be backed up by TM before they get moved to my main library on the WD Studio drive. TM can’t at the moment backup external drives but at least the files will be duplicated there for few months even if neither of the work drives are backed up immediately.

Time Machine has its downsides. Biggest issue for me with it is that it takes up quite a lot of processor cycles and read bandwidth of the internal hard drive while it’s backing up. This can be a problem if you’re trying to edit photographs or video at the same time. I find myself quite often cancelling the backup and restarting it at a more convenient time. (There is a Time Machine script you can use to schedule the backup but I don’t use this at this time.)

Best thing about Time Machine is its simplicity. Plugin your backup drive and it takes care of the rest. And it’s very easy to recover from data loss, just plugin the Time Machine backup drive to your new computer and few hours later your back where you were.

Most of the photos and videos that I work on, when I’m in the office, live on the WD Studio drives. They offer faster read/write speeds than the internal drive and have a lot more space. Those drives get backed up every few days on a barebones 2TB drive using Chronosync. It’s a $40 backup utility that allows you to do all sorts of clever tricks and schedules for your backups. It handles exclusions well, and dissects library folders—such as Aperture and iPhoto—so only changes to those libraries will be backed up.

Then there’s offsite backup. I’ve used Backblaze for almost two years now and today have over 1.1 TB backed up to their servers. Backblaze takes all your personal files (this excludes the system and application files, which are easy enough to replace) from your internal and selected external drives and uploads them via your broadband connection to the data centre. Of course, how fast this happens depends on how often you leave your computer on and, especially, how fast your upload bandwidth is. Our actual peak bandwidth is about 200 KB/s. That translates to about 17 GB per day but–realistically–I can expect about 12 GB to be uploaded in a day if the computer is left on all day.

Backblaze, or another offsite backup service, can also be used to access files when you don’t have access to your computer. For example, one time I needed to edit a Pages document that was on my laptop. Only my laptop was in London, I was in Pyhäsalmi. Not a problem, I went online to the file restore page and in couple of clicks, I had the file sent to my email.

I wouldn’t trust an offsite backup as my only backup for two reasons. One, it might often take a few days for new files to be uploaded (or a few weeks as it did after we got back from Japan). And two, if I needed to recover every single file from the backup, it’d be a choice between downloading over 1TB of data or waiting until they send all the data on a hard drive. Either way, it might take a week or two.

That’s more or less it. In part two, which will be out in weeks time, I’ll go through the steps you need to take to start backing up. You wont need to wait for it if you can trace back what I do but I’ll offer some further tips deciding what’s the best strategy for you.

As they say, you can’t get it back if you don’t backup.