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News Roundup: Rapping About Twitter, Apple Excitment and Killing Computers With Pollution

Apple! iPads! Mavericks! iWatch! Siri! Exiciting!

That everyone was talking about the Great British Bake Off the next morning says a lot about the impact of Apple’s latest announcements this week. A slightly better iPad isn’t that exciting, that the sleek Mac Pro looks good is well beyond most people, while making OS X Mavericks & ilife/iWorks free is ok. But does anyone else feel Apple is increasingly losing that excitement factor? I wrote about this last year and received plenty of vitriol for it, but I stand by with what I said. So there.

An iWatch, now that might be interesting. And analysts agree. One report predicts that it could be a tool that would be good not just as a phone companion, but a hub for your Internet Of Things-connected house, and should appear next year. And in the first of two appearances in this week’s roundup, former CEO John Sculley has said the company should start doing a Yahoo! and splashing the cash on some big-name acquisitions. With untold billions in cash lying around, Apple has the power to shift any market or industry it sees fit, and Sculley thinks the Cupertino company should flex its financial muscles. He told the Beeb it could shift the "whole landscape of e-commerce" if it bought, for example, eBay. Sounds like a good idea to me.

In other Apple news, research firm Crittercism found that apps are twice as likely to crash on the new iPhone 5S than the 5 or 5C, while some guy hates the idea of iOS 7 so much he is suing Tim Cook personally to get the installer file removed from his phone. If he wins, it could scupper all the efforts to keep fragmentation within the Apple ecosystem to a minimum.

It also seems Siri isn’t all it was cracked up to be, according to a new poll. IntelligentVoice asked over 2,000 people, and just under half thought Apple had oversold the assistant’s talents, while a third said it was a bit ‘hit and miss’ with its understanding.

NSA

The NSA story is still long-tailing around the world…

-          The NSA have been snooping on a number of world leaders thanks to the sharing of ‘Rolodexes.’ Mexico’s former President Felipe Calderon and Germany’s Angela Merkal, who isn’t very happy about it.

-          Social Media accounts and contact lists aren’t safe either, neither are French phone calls.

-          The US lobbied hard to water down EU privacy laws, but the rules are now likely to change, while the digital rights watchdog, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is leaving the Global Network Initiative over the whole affair.

-          Canadians are suing Canadians over spying, while Chinese company Huawei takes a swipe and says you can trust them completely.

-          Apparently NSA staff are unhappy Obama hasn’t been more vocal in his support for them, while their Director has announced plans to step down next year.

-          Snowden promises there’s no Chance Russia or China has the NSA files, but despite this the Russian Government refuses to be outdone and will try to take its own surveillance one step further.

-          Another secure web service shuts down, this time a VPN called Cryptoseal.

-          Alarmingly, Joe public still doesn’t seem to care, with almost half of people saying it’s all fine and Snowden’s efforts weren’t a good thing. Shocking.

-          Best news of all? Snowden was dismissed by the CIA in 2009 on suspicion of breaking into computers without authorized access.

 

Rapping about Twitter

Rappers often Tweet about odd things, usually trendy stuff a metal head stuck listening to records from 1986 doesn’t pay attention to. Apart from Crunk; gotta love me some Lil’ John. But today’s rappers are spitting lyrics about social media, and specifically about the need to get verified on Twitter. “Your minds on bitter your vibes on Twitter / Check my file my resume is verified on Twitter” sings Slaughterhouse on ‘Funkmaster Flex Freestyle’, while Fat Trel raps, “When are you gon’ realize? / That Fat Trel certified, that’s why my Twitter verified,” despite not actually being verified. For anyone interested, The Guardian recently ran a data piece showing lyrical trends in rap, it’s pretty interesting. 

Elsewhere in social media, British Gas shot themselves in the foot by first hiking up prices 10%, then inviting people to join in with a Twitter Q&A. 10,000 comments and plenty of abuse later, and we now had ‘one of the worst PR disasters on social media had ever seen’. The company itself said it wasn’t that bad, but I guess they’re pretty warm in their offices so don’t mind so much.

Facebook suffered a little glitch this week, and people were left unable to update statuses and do the other usual social stuff. The result? Thousands turned to Twitter and the hashtags #Facebookdown and #RIPFacebook start trending. I wonder what would happen if they both went down at the same time; would everyone turn to Pinterest, Instagram or LinkedIn? Maybe even Myspace would be back in with a shout.

Hacker’s Rights

Bit alarming and daft, this. According to The Reg, a US court has ruled that self-confessed "hackers" can have their hardware seized without warning. The ruling states that by labelling themselves as such, they have all the skills needed to destroy evidence and so should have their stuff removed sharpish. Aside from being a bit invasive, it neglects to take in semantics. What if I’m an ‘ethical hacker’? What if I call myself a ‘Black Hat’ and never a ‘hacker’?  It may be a small detail but could make a big difference.

Pollution

Say all you want about Green IT and environmentalism, but when it starts killing your computers, it’s hard to avoid. Intel has been doing some tests after an unusual number of customers from China and India returned computers with failed motherboards, and the results were pretty conclusive; air pollution in parts of Asia is so bad it’s causing computers to fail due to corrosion. If it’s bad enough to ruin metal, what’s all that pollution doing to the people?

Hyphens no more

Do you know anyone that still uses a hyphen in email? Apparently the NYTimes was until this week. Patrick LaForge, one of the paper’s editors, tweeted the announcement. Someone who just stepped out of the 1990s was shocked.

 “Who needs Silk Road?”

Though it may sound like a made up quote the Daily Mail would attribute to a drug-addict in denial, it’s actually what Bitcoins would say if they could talk. The cryptocurrency hit a high of $197 per coin this week after rising $60 in a day. It’s currently around $180 a coin, and now people are saying the site’s closure may do the currency’s image a favour.

Some random places that now accept BTC payments include a grilled cheese truck, a Catholic church, and Chinese search giant Baidu, who called it “trendy.” Bitcoin is also coming to Google Glass and your local supermarket, thanks to the GlassPay app. Scan your food, pay via the app with BTCs, then leave the shop without queuing. Not sure how you will explain that to the old shop assistant in Tesco when she accuses you of stealing, but it’s a nifty idea.

And although ‘Bitcoin: The Movie’ fell through, Bitcoin may still be hitting the big screen. A few news outlets have report that 20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment have hired ‘Shutter Island’ writer Dennis Lahane to pen a screenplay based on Silk Road founder Ross ‘Dread Pirate Rogers’ Ulbricht.

Pointless Apps(ly)

To continue last week’s rant about annoying Startup names, this week’s entry is Fadely, the Snapchat for emails no one asked for. The point of pictures that disappear is that you can just look, laugh and it’s gone. Reading text on emails doesn’t really lend itself to the added pressure of implosion. Would I want to reread a line, or even the whole thing? Although the name is accurate to describe what it does, it’s still a sin just to stick ‘ly’ on the end.

Skim is another of these self-destructing apps, but this time for texts, so it’s the ‘Snapchat of Whatsapp’ or something along those lines. This is a trend I don’t get; if you’re worried either don’t send it or make sure it’s sent securely to someone you trust. Simple.

Sleep apps are another thing I don’t really get. I find catching the ZZZs too valuable to be worried about what my phone has to say on the matter, but Finland’s most moist successful crowdfunding campaign is a sleep app called Beddit. Excellent name, well timed with a current trend, and it’s dark in the country for large chunks of the year, so all the better for sleeping.

For a genuinely useful app, see Aymta. Relying on spotters based in the mountains of Damascus, it helps predict and warn people in Syria about incoming missile attacks in their area.  The spotters provide rough trajectory details, and an algorithm plots where it will land, and send out warning messages to anyone signed up in the area. Great app, not a stupid name. win/win.

Mixed up Blackberry

Another up and down couple of weeks for struggling Blackberry. There are plenty who see some potential value there, as Lenovo and former Apple CEO John Sculley both joined the queue of companies who have registered an interest in bidding for the company. However, it’s still only Fairfax who has actually put a bid on the table. Meanwhile the latest BB OS upgrade has been announced with more than 300 changes, as well as finally releasing the BBM app for iOS & Android. Shame they had to do it all on the same week as Apple’s big announcements.

The BBM launch wasn’t all it was cracked up to be though; despite 10 million downloads in 24 hours, just half have actually been activated. In Africa, Samsung devices have got first rights to the app until next week, so what does Samsung do? Offer a discount if you trade in your old Blackberry and put BBM on your phone for you. Sneaky.

Despite all the chaos surrounding the company, one analyst is still keeping the faith. "It's very difficult for a company like BlackBerry to go bankrupt,” said Carl Howe, an analyst at Yankee Group, “when it has a multi-billion-dollar revenue stream from existing products and billions of dollars in the bank, regardless of how many reporters try to write its epitaph.” Fight the power Carl.

Fun Verbatim

Plenty of harsh words said to the press this week, especially in relation to all of Apple’s announcements. Microsoft have tried their best to bat away the significance of it all by calling the iPad and now free iWorks ‘not a big deal,’ ‘confused’ and an ‘afterthought.’ Meanwhile Linux creator Linus Torvalds has said Apple giving away OS X Mavericks wasn’t a threat to his OS,  and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak wasn’t too impressed with the new iPad. Even when their announcements aren’t that exciting people will say anything to get on the Apple bandwagon.

Elsewhere, after a study into startups in the capital, YouGov found Tech City is struggling to grow. This was basically due to the rent being too damn high. The answer? According to Brummie businessmen at least, you should head to the Midlands. I can’t imagine Old Street’s startup hipsters adjusting to life in the Black country, can you?

Despite having a low profile in the English speaking world, VK is actually one of the biggest social networks in Europe. It’s so popular, VK CEO Pavel Durov thinks he deserves more credit, especially from a certain Mr. Facebook. "Mark underestimates VK," he said recently. “He doesn't use it very much.” Scathing words there. "VK is faster, easier to use, and has more functionality."

And reaffirming the notion that tech is full of marketing crap, we’ve apparently been getting the idea of Big Data wrong for a while now. “I think many still don’t fully understand what the notion of Big Data really entails,” said Teradata Corporation chief technology officer Stephen Brobst. “Big Data is actually nothing new, it’s a marketing term created to enable people to think out of the box.” He also thinks that in three years the term will disappear. Thoughts?

In internet skulduggery news, the Pirate Bay’s own anti-censorship browser has recently hit 1 million downloads, which is impressive but not that surprising. What did come as a bit of a shock was the news that one file sharing site was actually a year-long pirate honey pot to get information about uploaders and file-hosts. The founder of the site, known as WDF, announced to the masses that he had “suckered shitloads of you,” and was selling the site to a U.S.-based anti-piracy company. Later updates suggest it might have all been a ploy to generate buzz, but it’s all a bit sharky.

That there isn’t enough women in tech is well established. The precise cause is less clear. According to an article in the NYTimes, the film ‘The Social Network’ is partly to blame for the lack of coders. Using the logic that female characters in CSI and Bones had caused an uptake of ladies in forensic science, the same logic should apply to a good--but-not-that-good film. “Nearly every tech or non-profit executive I spoke with mentioned their hope that “The Social Network” has improved the public’s perception of programmers. They also mentioned how bummed they were that the hit film didn’t include more prominent female characters.” Personally I’m not sold on Jesse Eisenberg taking the blame for a whole industry’s failings.

Thanks to the Director of Lewisham Tech City for a heads up on some of these stories. 

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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