"The NSA and You" at Macworld/iWorld

This year will be my first at Macworld/iWorld, a show I've wanted to attend since I was a kid. Being my first trip to Macworld/iWorld, and actually my first trip to California, I resisted colleagues who encouraged me to host a session there.

But when I was invited to speak about NSA mass surveillance, which I've covered to some degree on TidBITS, I couldn't resist.

But ultimately, I'm not an expert on these matters, so that's why I assembled a panel of the foremost experts on security, privacy, Apple, and mass surveillance:

  • Rich Mogull, who is our security editor at TidBITS and CEO of Securosis. Rich is the leading authority on Apple security.

  • Joe Kissell, another fellow TidBITS editor, who has authored dozens of Take Control books, such as "Take Control of Your Online Privacy." Joe knows more about the Mac and iOS than just about anyone.

  • Kim Zetter, who writes for Wired's "Threat Level," where she has covered mass surveillance, online security, and civil liberties.

  • Quinn Norton, an independent journalist who has been embedded in Occupy Wall Street, Anonymous, and was even invited to advise the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Quinn is one of the most daring journalists working today, and is something of a hero of mine. I'm beyond excited that she agreed to be on the panel.

  • Parker Higgins, an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which for decades has been working to defend our digital rights.

I'm honored that such great people have agreed to participate in the panel. It should be a lively discussion.

If you'll be in the Bay Area on Friday, March 28, be sure to swing by Moscone at 1 PM.

Here's my interview with Chuck Joiner of MacVoices about the panel. It may be the darkest episode of Chuck's show ever, as we get into some pretty deep stuff.

More on Why the U.S. Is Falling Behind

In my last post on the topic, I somehow forgot to mention Aereo, which has already been outlawed by judicial decree in some jurisdictions. Its fight against broadcasters is headed to the Supreme Court, where the (supposedly tech friendly) White House is lobbying against it.

Meanwhile, Marginal Revolution has some frightening statistics on our crumbling infrastructure. Also, we now have measles outbreaks in San Francisco and New York City, thanks to ignorance and complacency.

Quinn Norton, writing on Medium, has published a powerful piece on how money rules all in the United States:

There is no place with more personal debt and heavier patterns of obligation than the Land of the Free. We are free to try to get expensive degrees to get jobs that barely exist, we are free to spend most of our lives paying student loans, we are free to lose everything we may have gained the moment we get sick. Along the way we can buy more things and get into more housing debt than almost anyone in the world, making our freedom one of consumption — consuming and being consumed by the systems we are born to.

We are free to vote in gerrymandered districts, and free to vote for two federal parties that are largely identical. We are free to vote on machines and systems that it is often illegal to audit for security purposes. We are all free to talk at once, and listen to no one at all. We are free, ever free, to chase as many dollars as we can, all the way to Hell.

It’s time to call America what it is: a kleptocracy, run by corporations and governments with only cosmetic distinctions. It is full of good people whom the kleptocrats keep fighting against each other, as they have for over 150 years, and will until the good people drown in rising saltwater or epic storms, or simply die, exhausted and used up.

Is there any way to fix this?

Why the U.S. Is Falling Behind

"Hey, we developed a commercially viable electric car!"

Government: BAN IT!

"Hey, here's a newer, better alternative to traditional cabs!"

Government: BAN IT!

"Hey, here's an alternative to cigarettes that is much less harmful!"

Government: BAN IT!

"Hey, we'll test your genetics and warn you if you're at risk of disease!"

Government: BAN IT!

"Hey, we have a flying robot that can deliver packages to your house!"

Government: BAN IT!

"Hey, here's an alternative to hotels!"

Government: BAN IT!

How can we possibly maintain a competitive economy when our federal, state, and local governments outlaw every new innovative technology and service?

Take Control of Apple TV

It’s been a while since I’ve updated the blog, and there’s a couple of reasons for that. First, I’ve had my hands full with the baby. Second, while having my hands full with the baby, I wrote a book, Take Control of Apple TV, that’s available now.

I’ve been a big fan of the Apple TV for years, toying with it, tinkering with it, and slowly replacing every other set-top box in our home entertainment system with it. Its small footprint, ease of use, integration with the Apple ecosystem, and endless expandability (via AirPlay), made it our family’s ideal living room device. We use it for Netflix, iTunes content, to view baby pictures, as a home audio device — just about everything.

Now, for only $10, my years of Apple TV experience can be yours, in an easy-to-browse format. I start from the absolute basics and work you up to more complex hacks that unlock the hidden power of the Apple TV. I’m particularly proud of the “Apple TV at the Movies” chapter, which walks you through controlling video on your Apple TV, how to customized subtitles, and even how to rip DVDs and Blu-rays for viewing on your Apple TV. TidBITS members who got access to the early draft of the book said that chapter alone justified their membership fee.

So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Bradley Chambers, co-host of the Out of School podcast said, “It’s written in such a way that you don’t have to be an Apple nerd to understand what he is talking about. In other words, it’s highly approachable and very well written.”

Thanks to Bradley for that kind review, as well as my editors: Adam Engst, Tonya Engst, Kelly Turner, and Jeff Carlson for making my text shine.

If you own an Apple TV, or are thinking about buying one, be sure to check it out.

Guy Incognito

Tuesday, August 13, 2013, at 7:58 PM, after only 24 hours of labor and an emergency c-section, my wife Hannah gave birth to our first child.

IMG_0647 - Version 2.jpg

His name is James Harrison Centers. (His friends call him Harris.)

He weighed 8 pounds, 1 ounce, and was 21 inches long.

He's the best thing that ever happened to me.

This is an homage to John Gruber's announcement of the birth of his son, Jonas.

John Roderick Reviews Michael Bublé's Latest Album

John Roderick, The Talk House:

The appeal of Sinatra/Martin/Davis Jr. in Vegas in 1965 is obvious, but their slick suits, whiskey and cigarettes can’t be divorced from the fact that they were all in their forties, they’d been through a war, they were Italians and Jews and blacks in an unintegrated country, their audience was shitfaced and angry, and there were mobsters waiting by the stage door. To whatever degree big-band music and Rat Pack culture seem suave and cool, it was a product of a pressure-cooker of violence, racism, alcohol and PTSD. Bublé wants to be suave, and his fans want a little taste of being smooth, but they simply don't have as much pain to put behind them.

If you've never listend to Roderick on the Line, you're missing out.

My New Job

Adam Engst, TidBITS:

It gives me great pleasure to share the news that Josh Centers has agreed to join TidBITS Publishing Inc. full time as the managing editor of TidBITS, effective immediately.

Today, I became managing editor of TidBITS -- a lifelong dream come true. I devoured tech mags as a kid, and after deciding that I wasn't meant to be a coder, majored in journalism with the intention of eventually working for one. That dream eventually died, until my 29th birthday when I realized, with much panic, that my life was going nowhere fast.

I started this blog last August with the intention of writing about how to follow one's dreams. But I got sidetracked along the way. I started writing about tech stuff, and pretty soon, high profile people in the tech journalism community started to notice. So in spite of this detour, I ended up fullfilling the blog's mission after all.

Adam and Tonya Engst, the husband and wife duo behind TidBITS, are two of the sweetest, kindest people I've ever had the pleasure of knowing, and it's a thrill to be working for them. I'm their first full-time employ, so thanks to them for taking a chance on me.

And of course special thanks to Glenn Fleishman, my champion and mentor, without whom this wouldn't have happened.

Last, but not least, thanks to my mom. We've had our ups and downs, but she birthed me, raised me, and put me through school after my father, the blue collar Tony Stark, passed away. I've had a lot of great friends, supporters, and mentors over the years, but without her, I would literally be nothing.

Find What You Love and Let It Kill You

James Rhodes, The Guardian:

The government is cutting music programmes in schools and slashing Arts grants as gleefully as a morbidly American kid in Baskin Robbins. So if only to stick it to the man, isn't it worth fighting back in some small way? So write your damn book. Learn a Chopin prelude, get all Jackson Pollock with the kids, spend a few hours writing a Haiku. Do it because it counts even without the fanfare, the money, the fame and Heat photo-shoots that all our children now think they're now entitled to because Harry Styles has done it.

Quit fucking around.

iCloud's Documents in the Cloud is Fundamentally Broken

Ellis Hamburger, The Verge:

Many veteran developers have learned their lesson and given up on iCloud’s Core Data syncing entirely. "Ultimately, when we looked at iCloud + Core Data for [our app], it was a total no-go as nothing would have worked," said one best-selling iPhone and Mac developer. "Some issues with iCloud Core Data are theoretically unsolvable (stemming from the fact that you’ve put an object model on top of a distributed data store) and others are just plain bugs in the implementation," he said. Syncing alternatives exist, but none of them live up to the goals iCloud set out to achieve nearly two years ago: creating a seamless syncing solution that "just works" without logging in or setting up anything.

It's no secret that developers have been abandoning iCloud, and for good reason, as I learned last year. However, Hamburger's piece shows just how bad the situation is. It's not just a buggy, poorly documented implementation, it in fact just doesn't work.

Steve Jobs was visually imaginative, which is wonderful for hardware and even most types of software. But you can't just dream up a network infrastructure. Having every app be its own self-contained database sounds great, but in practice just does not work, as the piece goes on to explain:

Second, Dropbox uses Document-based syncing. If you’ve ever tried to sync an iPhoto library with Dropbox, you know that Dropbox also chokes on databases. As Jumsoft and several developers have confirmed, document-syncing isn’t what they’re after: the dream is to have databases on two or more devices that stay perfectly in sync. In truth, nobody has been able to do the job well in the iOS space, so iCloud was a beacon of hope at its inception.

The article insinuates that Apple doesn't care enough to fix the problem. I don't think that's the case. Rather, I don't think they know how to fix the problem. They aimed high, but ultimately bit off more than they can chew.

Sometimes the simplest solution is the best:

When Apple does use iCloud, it most often doesn’t even use Core Data to sync information. Apps like Keynote, for example, use the far simpler Document-based syncing method. Keynote must work, so Apple keeps a close eye on Document-based syncing functionality. And when it does rely on Core Data, Apple’s software has no more luck than third party developers. Apple’s simple Trailers app uses Core Data to sync, and periodically loses track of user Favorites. "The best Apple technologies are ones they use themselves," one developer told me.