Category Archives: Technology - Page 2

J.D. Power’s 2013 Smartphone Satisfaction Survey

Apple easily won the survey, for the ninth time in a row. Last year, them and HTC were the only ones above the industry average; this year, Apple was alone in that regard. Nokia improved a lot, thanks to their Windows phone, and it, Samsung, Motorola and HTC were virtually tied for second place. Way down at the bottom, LG and Blackberry.

2013 U.S. Wireless Smartphone Satisfaction Study by J.D. Power


The survey asks people who have had their smartphone for less than a year to rate it based on performance, physical design, features, and ease of operation.

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From J.D. Power, via iMore

Hitler Reacting To The Google Reader Shutdown

If you use Google Reader, then you already know that it’s going away on July 1st, and are up in arms about it. Some decent alternatives are coming out of the woodwork to fill the void, more will undoubtedly launch in late June, and there’s a petition for Google to change its mind that’s gathered over 130k signatures. But, Google is busy making two-hour commercials and cars for the blind, and they don’t care about you. So in the meantime, here’s how Hitler took the news:

If you’re wondering, the clip is from a 2004 German movie called Downfall, about Hitler’s final days in his bunker. Since 2006, it’s been a popular meme to replace the subtitles to make funny videos to show outrage about various things. One of the best ones was about the release of the first iPad, in 2010:

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From YouTube, via FAIL Blog

Quite Possibly The First Good Review Apple Maps Has Ever Gotten

PC Magazine did a very rigorous test involving three people driving to the same stops, but using three different navigation systems: Google Maps, Waze and Apple Maps. Since it came out in the fall of 2012, Apple Maps has been the app everyone loves to hate, because it supposedly led people into lakes and off roads. Waze is one of those apps with a crazy core following: it’s crowd sourced and people can report police, hazards, traffic, etc. Google Maps, of course, was welcomed back to iOS with open arms at the end of 2012.

Apple Maps icon

Apple Maps icon


So in this test, the guy using Apple Maps arrived at the destination first, followed by Google Maps, followed by Waze. Which wouldn’t be significant, except for the fact that apparently everyone expected Apple Maps to send the guy into San Francisco Bay.

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From PC Magazine, via iMore

The Complete History Of Siri

The Huffington Post has a long and detailed article on how Siri came to be. It all started in 2003, when DARPA awarded a 150M$ contract to build a virtual assistant that learned from watching people work. The program was called CALO (Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes), was led by the R&D non-profit SRI International, and was the largest artificial intelligence undertaking in history. An engineer named Adam Cheyer was responsible for integrating the work done by the 27 teams on the gigantic project, and he also spent half his time working on another virtual assistant made by a parallel project called Vanguard. A general manager at Motorola named Dag Kittlaus saw the prototype of the Vanguard assistant, fell in love, quit Motorola, and took a job at SRI in 2007.

The original Siri app


Soon after, in early 2008, Kittlaus and Cheyer along with another guy named Gruber got 8.5M$ in investor funding for a startup which would merge the best parts of the CALO and Vanguard projects. They left SRI — which licensed the necessary technology to them in exchange for a stake in the new venture — and started a company called Siri. In early 2010, they released the first Siri app for the iPhone which, by all accounts, was much more powerful than the current Siri which is embedded in the iPhone. The original, standalone Siri was much more intuitive and much more connected to the web: it was much better at inferring meaning from sentences, and could access and consume data from a lot more web services.

A few weeks after the app was released, Steve Jobs called Kittlaus and bought the startup. Interestingly, part of the buyout deal cancelled another deal Siri already had pending with Verizon, which would have made it a default app on all Verizon Droid phones. In other words, Siri almost became a Google Android staple, rather than an integrated part of the iPhone. Verizon even had commercials made.

As it turned out, Siri became a lot dumber once this integration was complete, for a few reasons: first, Apple is a global company and the original Siri could really only support American English, so it had to be retooled to be an international app. Second, deals with partner web services became a lot more difficult with the biggest company on Earth — compared to a small startup — so Siri became less connected. Third, one could originally talk or type to Siri, but the typing option was taken away by Apple, for unknown reasons. Fourth, her snarky personality was changed, to accommodate the much larger user base that iPhones have.

Still, Apple keeps improving the feature, despite that only one of the three co-founders of Siri still works at the company, and the fact that two of its main champions, Steve Jobs and Scott Forstall (the creator of iOS), are also no longer there. A Fortune magazine test showed that from iOS 5 to 6, Siri’s correct answer rate increased from 68% to 77% — from a D to a C — which, as bad as that sounds, is still slightly better than Google Now.

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From The Huffington Post and Fortune, via iMore

Computers Make More Accurate Diagnoses Than Doctors

A pair of Indiana University researchers took clinical data and other information on 6700 patients and applied some artificial intelligence techniques to diagnosing them. The result: their software was 41% better at arriving at the correct diagnosis than actual doctors were. It also cost about 58% less to diagnose a patient: ~200$ vs ~500$, partly because computers don’t have to gas up the yacht for the weekend or pay back 200k$ in student loans.

As we’ve seen before, thanks to recent improvements in artificial intelligence, computers are now replacing not only low-skill labor, but also more and more complex jobs. In the past decade, secretaries, travel agents, librarians and accountants have all been made irrelevant by technology that can run on an iPhone. Now, technology is coming for doctor and lawyer jobs also, and TV series like House will make no sense in a future where WebMD is powered by Watson and can make a complex diagnosis in three seconds.


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From ComputerWorld, via Slashdot

Manhattan Is Getting A Few More Very Tall Skyscrapers

When the Twin Towers were destroyed on 9/11, the Empire State Building once again became the tallest skyscraper in New York City, at 1250 feet. When it was completed, in 1931, it was the tallest building in the world, but it lost that honor to the Twin Towers (1368 ft) in 1973, which was surpassed the same year by the Sears (now Willis) Tower in Chicago (1450 ft). In 1998, the Petronas Towers (1483 ft) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia became the tallest, then Taipei 101 in Taiwan (1670 ft) in 2004, and finally the enormous Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which in 2010 shattered all of the records at 2717 ft — more than twice the height of the Empire State Building.

Burj Khalifa on the right, compared to other tall structures


In 2013, the venerable art deco building lost the reigns as the tallest one in New York to One World Trade Center, a.k.a. Freedom Tower, which surpassed Willis Tower to be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, with a patriotic 1776 ft. It is also the third tallest building in the world, after the Burj Khalifa and The Mecca Royal Hotel Clock Tower (1972 ft) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Besides Freedom Tower, a few more skyscrapers are in various stages of completion, and they will also surpass the Empire State Building’s 1250 ft:

  • 1398 ft: 432 Park Avenue, at 56th St, scheduled for 2016; on the site of the former Drake Hotel (yes, like the one in 666 Park Avenue), its roof will actually be higher than One World Trade Center’s (though not its tip)
  • 1350 ft: Two World Trade Center, scheduled for 2015
  • 1337 ft: Hudson Place North Tower, scheduled for 2017

That last one is part of the new Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project, taking place on a six-block former railroad site on the West side of Manhattan. The site covers 26 acres and ranges from 30th to 33rd Street and from 10th to 12th Avenue. It will be called Hudson Place, will contain 16 buildings, and is the largest private development effort in the world, since the 22 acre, 14 building Rockefeller Center was completed in 1939. Mayor Bloomberg broke ground on the construction site on December 4th, 2012. It was previously the largest single undeveloped piece of land in Manhattan.

Petraeus Resignation Highlights The Importance Of Privacy, And Our Lack Of It

NPR has an interesting article on the privacy implications of the Petraeus scandal. The former commander of the US military’s Central Command and then-CIA director had been very carefully conducting an affair with a journalist. Rather than writing each other emails using their own addresses, they created a GMail account in which they would write draft emails: Petraeus would write a draft, log out, then Mrs. Broadwell would log in, read the draft, and write her own. Pretty crafty, but given that he knew all kinds of terrorist tricks from his manhunts, it was maybe not crafty enough. Regardless, the whole thing would’ve probably worked, except that the FBI got involved, and this is where the lack of our electronic privacy comes into focus.

David Petraeus and his wife, Holly Knowlton


We’ve seen before why everyone needs privacy from the government, and Petraeus is a prime argument for it: he did nothing illegal or even, as far as his job, unethical. Yet he was forced to resign because his mistress sent threats to another woman, which led the FBI to their draft GMail account. Very easily at that, because the feds have the power to read all your email that’s older than six months, just by asking. With a warrant, they can read anything of yours that’s online.

In this age, that basically means your whole life. David and Paula should’ve stuck to old-fashioned paper mail and burned the letters or even kept them — no warrant against Mrs. Broadwell would’ve covered searching Petraeus’ property. So in the leap from paper to electronic mail, our privacy has been eroded so much that one of the most powerful figures in the country was brought down by accident. Imagine how much damage the feds can do to you if they actually try.

David Petraeus and his mistress, Paula Broadwell


Of course, technology giveth as much as it taketh away. There are much better alternatives to clandestine communication than a draft folder in a bogus email account. Lifehacker and Gizmodo both have articles on what they could’ve done better:

  • Used a VPN to hide their IP addresses
  • Used encryption, perhaps through a service like Hushmail, to keep the FBI (or anyone) from reading the racy emails — at least for a few years, anyway, until they break the encryption
  • Used a disposable email account that automatically destroys emails after 10 minutes
  • Used text messages written in code and then deleted

But given the considerable hoops that they would’ve had to jump through just to not be accidentally outed, perhaps it’s time to revisit the extent of law enforcement’s snooping powers, and the ease with which they can be wielded. And given that just a month prior to this incident, several people’s homosexuality got outed by accident on Facebook, our everyday technology needs to have more privacy protection built in from the beginning also.

Oh, and if all this resonates with you like a tuning fork, donate to EPIC.

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From NPR, Lifehacker and Gizmodo

UK Official Recommends Using Fake Info On Facebook

The security chief for the UK government’s network spoke at a conference on Internet policies and gave this piece of advice:

When you put information on the internet do not use your real name, your real date of birth … When you are putting information on social networking sites don’t put real combinations of information, because it can be used against you.

This brought about a good deal of debate on the issue, especially since Google+ and Facebook’s policies explicitly say you’re not allowed to use a fake name on their services. Others were concerned about cyber-bullies, which often do use fake names online, but it was pointed out that people can be found by the government and that the point of using fake info online is to prevent others from stealing your identity. If someone knows your name, address, email, and date of birth, they can do some serious damage.


Back in August, hackers took over a journalist’s online life in one hour, starting with just his Twitter handle — because every personal detail of his they needed was available online. No technical hacking was involved, just plain old social engineering: Twitter led to his website, from where they got his Gmail address. There, they saw his secondary Apple email. His name got them his home address, so they called Amazon customer service and, through clever manipulation, got the last 4 digits of his credit card number. Next, they called Apple, pretended to be him and since they had all the right info, Apple issued them a new password for his email.

Using his Apple email address, they got into his Gmail account with the automated password recovery feature. After they had control of his email addresses, it was simple to recover other passwords. They got into his iCloud account and remotely wiped his phone and computer, deleting everything on them. Finally, they got into his Twitter account, which was the hackers’ only goal: they wanted his Twitter handle. This was actually great news for him, since they could’ve emptied his bank accounts and ruined his real life.

And they did all of this without ever getting into Facebook. Imagine how much easier it would be if someone could look up all that information in the About section of your Facebook profile.

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From BBC and Wired, via Slashdot

You Probably Don’t Need A Case For Your iPhone 5

Rarely do people dare take their phones into the wild concrete jungle without a case. Mostly because we fear that dropping it will shatter the screen, which means either replacing the whole phone, or the screen, or just putting up with it — none being good options. So instead, they deal with the case, just in case (ahem) the phone gets out of hand. However, what most people don’t realize is how sturdy iPhones have become.

You can see for yourself in the videos below: you would have to really try or be really reckless to break the screen on the iPhone 5. So if, like most people, you’re just afraid of dropping it once in a while, all that’s likely to happen is some minor damage to the sides. Adding a bulky plastic case over the great-looking phone to protect against that is like wearing bulletproof vests everywhere you go. Use cases for special occasions, like skiing or paddleboarding — but there’s probably no need for one at the office. Plus, this is the perfect point on which to pivot your superior taste: “No, I don’t have a case! Unlike you, I’m not a poor 1950s Italian family making ends meet in Queens.”

In this first video, a guy drops a Samsung Galaxy S3 and an iPhone 5 from various heights. The S3 is not as lucky well-made, and its screen breaks from a decent-height drop. The iPhone, on the other hand, gets a few dings on the bezel, but nothing major.


In this one, the guys at iFixYourI try scratching the screen with keys (to no avail) and then dropping it from increasing heights (still to no avail), until finally the guy throws it at the ground, face down, and the screen finally breaks in the corner. This, of course, is terrible news to the iFixYourI guys, who are probably used to making a lot of money by fixing iPhone screens.

From YouTube (first and second videos), via iMore

That iPhone Is Probably The Most Secure Thing You Own

Ever since the 3GS model, iPhones have had built-in, automatic hardware encryption. That, coupled with a robust operating system with very few security flaws, makes it simple to keep anyone from getting to your data: just turn on password protection for the lock screen (Settings –> General –> Passcode Lock) and pick a strong password, which has more than 10 characters that aren’t words in the dictionary. Once the phone is powered off, it would take even the NSA 25 years to crack its security.


This is because Apple uses 256-bit AES encryption keys that are stored in the phone’s hardware — the same technology used by the government to store top-secret data. Each iPhone has its own key that is randomly generated and stored nowhere else in the world but on that phone. All the data stored on it is always encrypted using that key, meaning that if someone took its memory out manually and tried to read it, it would look like gibberish, unless they had the key with which to decrypt it. The only way to get that key is from the phone itself, while it’s running.

If the phone has no PIN set, getting the key is fairly trivial — but if it does have one, then the intruder would have to guess it first. Using software, PINs can be entered about 12x per second, so what makes breaking in take longer is how many passwords the intruder has to enter before guessing correctly. The longer the password, the more possible combinations of letters and numbers there are to try, and they grow exponentially: a 4-digit PIN takes 13 minutes to guess, a 6-digit one takes a day, and a 10-digit PIN takes 2.5 years.

The strong encryption key and PIN lock — combined with the option to wipe the phone’s data after 10 incorrect PIN entries and the Find My iPhone feature — most likely makes it the hardest consumer good from which to steal information, including safes. The only other smartphone with similar data protection is the once-mighty Blackberry. There are, however, two gotchas to watch out for, both related to data duplication:

  1. The cloud: almost all the information on the iPhone can and usually is pulled from or duplicated on a computer on the Internet. If someone breaks into that computer, they have access to it without going through your phone.
  2. Your home computer: when you sync the iPhones with iTunes, a popular option is to backup the phone’s contents on that computer. Someone could easily hack into that backup file and get all the data on your iPhone, without ever touching it. It might be a little out of date, but still a major treasure trove.

From Technology Review, via Slashdot