Bye bye, Instagram

I deleted my Instagram account today due to their new overreaching terms of service that essentially promise to violate my copyright in any photos posted to the service.

The NY Times Bits Technology blog has a good summary of the new terms and their impact on customers, so I won't repeat the detailed analysis here, but it boils down to essentially these huge privacy red-flags:

  1. Instagram can share information about its users with outside affiliates and advertisers
  2. Instagram can use your photos in advertising and promotions without your consent
  3. If you want to opt-out, your only option is to delete your account

Thanks, I went ahead and just did that.

In terms of mobile photo-editing on my smartphone or tablet device I've long preferred using SnapSeed anyway, because it has tons more powerful and customizable features.

For more blog coverage on the new Instagram terms see Techmeme

Password Security and Keeping your Data Safe

If you are using a password that is 8 characters in length (or shorter) you just lost the game. And I'm not talking about well-known passwords, such as "password", "monkey", "qwerty", or "12345678". This machine here is part of a cluster of 25 GPUs (Graphic Processing Units) and can crack any 8 character password of any complexity in less than 6 hours:

GPU Cluster

As reported on the Ars Technica blog today, researchers have built a Linux-based GPU cluster that can do a brute-force attack on the NTLM cryptographic algorithm at the heart of the Windows login authentication that can try and astounding 958 combinations in just 5.5 hours. At a speed of 350 billion guesses per second, it can crack any password of 8 characters or less in length without resorting to dictionary-based attacks.

Combining such power with existing dictionary based cracking algorithms can possibly crack even longer passwords in a similar time.

The machine was unveiled by Jeremi Gosney at the Passwords^12 conference in Oslo, Norway, last week. The same machine can make 63 billion guesses per second against password hashes computed using SHA1 - a very widely used hashing algorithm.

How secure is your password?

The reality is that most people still use incredibly weak passwords. The 25 Most Popular Passwords of 2012 are well-documented, as are the 10,000 Top Passwords of 2011. If your password is on either of those lists, you should stop what you are doing right now and go change it. Seriously. All of these well-known passwords as well as any word that appears in a dictionary is highly susceptible to hacking.

Up until a little while ago the common recommendation was to add a few numerical digits and maybe a special character or two to the mix and that would usually result in a pretty safe password. Most sites also require users to pick a password of 8 characters of length (or more) and people usually stick with 8. But that is simply no longer sufficient, as any password 8 characters in length can now be hacked within 6 hours with a brute-force attack.

However, the solution is fairly simple: just by doubling the password length from 8 to at least 16, the duration required to crack the password by the new GPU cluster or similar machines increases from 6 hours to 138 billion years. Even assuming reasonable advances in processor power over the next couple of years, that should make the password pretty safe for the foreseeable future.

If you want to see how (in)secure your old password was, you can use this service. But please make sure you change your password afterwards!

In addition to these thoughts about password length and complexity, it is also important to realize that sooner or later most online websites end up being hacked and all their passwords being stolen (see, for example, the LinkedIn Password Hack in June 2012). Therefore, it is vitally important to minimize the damage and not reuse your passwords on multiple sites.

Ultimately, however, a password alone cannot ever be 100% secure. In addition to hacking in its various forms, any password is also susceptible to phishing attempts, trojans, key-loggers, and other approaches that compromise its security. The only proven approach to really keep a system secure is based on a technology called 2-factor authentication where you need to provide at least two pieces of information to access a system: for example, something that you know (password) and something that you have (secure token).

A lot of these topics have also been discussed in various newspaper articles and blog posts recently and I have provided links to the most useful articles at the bottom of this blog post.

Recommendations

Here is my own personal list of measures that help me keep my passwords and data more secure - these are based on my own approach that I've developed over time, so feel free to adopt any of those for your needs as you see fit:

  1. If an online service offers 2-factor authentication, I always take advantage of that - especially for sensitive information, such as online banking, investments, etc. but I also use it for DropBox, my Google account, or even for Facebook.
  2. All passwords need to be 16-20 characters length at a minimum and include at least 6 numeric or special characters. This makes them relatively uncrackable, provided that one doesn't include any common words from the dictionary. I try to stay away from common recommendations and password-generation patterns, such as taking the first character of each word in your favorite song lyrics or similar approaches. If a pattern has been described somewhere you can rest assured that hackers know about that pattern and can tweak their algorithm to crack it.
  3. I use different passwords for all sites - not a single password shared amongst multiple sites.
  4. For all online services I use computer-generated random passwords with a length of 16-20 characters or longer - depending on what the website allows - and these passwords use at least six numeric or special characters. For example, such a password might look like this: [mLzJKf1j7cP3n|B!8@WJw
  5. I use a password-management application to generate and keep track of all these random passwords. There are many popular such applications on the market and after some research and testing I found 1Password to be the right solution for me, since it is available for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android.
  6. My master password for the password-management software is somewhere between 25-35 characters in length and uses more than eight numeric and special characters. Nothing in this password is susceptible to a dictionary-based attack, so it should withstand all current cracking capabilities.
  7. I store all my sensitive information and financial data in an encrypted file and keep it safe by storing that file on a USB drive. I use a href="http://www.truecrypt.org/">TrueCrypt as the encryption software of choice, because it is again available on multiple platforms. The password for my encrypted data is again highly complex and fulfills all of the requirements outlined above.
  8. To guard against catastrophic failure of the password-management software, a printout of all passwords is stored in my safe.

With this approach I feel that I have done a pretty good job of making a hackers' life rather difficult. Is it 100% secure? Probably not, and I constantly tweak my system as new information surfaces and we learn about new improvements in processing speed or cryptography advances.

What is your strategy? Let me know your thoughts here on the blog or via Twitter or Facebook comments…

Further reading:

Tools I use:

Ingress - an AR-MMOG created by Niantic Labs at Google

I don't often write about games on my blog, but this one deserves an exception, because it is extremely innovative, unique, and a harbinger of things to come. On November 15 Google launched a closed beta of Ingress, a sci-fi themed game currently available only on the Android platform.

Ingress defines a new category of game that could probably be best described as AR-MMOG (Augmented Reality - Massively Multiplayer Online Game). The basic premise is that an alien influence called Shapers are trying to control human thought and are entering the world through portals that are often associated with historically significant locations, statues, or public displays of arts. These portals are associated with Exotic Matter (called XM in the game) that needs to be collected to energize the player as well as the portals.

Players must move through the real world and visit these portals with their GPS-equipped Android smartphones to play the game.

The objective is to hack the portals, link different portals, and create so-called control fields by forming triangles of linked portals. After completing a few training missions, players must choose a faction and either side with the Resistance, who are trying to protect mankind and prevent further Shaper influence, or side with the Enlightened, who consider Shaper influence to be beneficial and usher in the next logical step in the evolution of mankind.

Enlightened vs. Resistance

I was very happy to receive my invite to the closed beta on November 21 and found some time on the morning of Thanksgiving Day as well as on Black Friday to play the game on my Galaxy SIII. Doing so allowed me to take some extensive walks on both days and burn off a lot of the food calories that would have accumulated otherwise.

Playing the game is extremely addictive. I decided to join the Resistance and explored the available portals in and around Marblehead on the first day. Capturing my first few portals was fairly easy, but then I encountered some Enlightened portals that gave me a good challenge right away. Most of the portals are directly taken from the Historical Marker Database, so you learn a lot more about the history while playing the game. I also found that having a car to drive to neighboring towns and some remote portal locations is a huge bonus - especially when you get to deploy higher-level portals that have a range of several kilometers available for linking.

For example, on one of my excursions I took a stroll through downtown Salem in my quest to capture more portals and found one above the statue of Roger Conant:

Approaching a portal in Salem

By hacking and capturing one portal after the other, I was able to not only collect the required items for linking portals together, but also the necessary weapons for attacking portals of the opposing faction. And it didn't take long for me to eliminate all of the Enlightened influence in my area and connect several of the portals in Marblehead to create the necessary control fields that are then shown on the display of the Ingress app:

Control Fields in Marblehead

As I leveled up, I was able to create more powerful portals that allowed linkages over several kilometers distance and so I used Black Friday for some further excursions into Salem as well as trips to Swampscott and Nahant that allowed me to create a much larger field to protect all the inhabitants in my immediate vicinity:

Larger area control fields

Now it is only a matter of time until the Enlightened students at MIT try to increase their influence further north and will begin their attack on the North Shore. I am sure a battle of epic proportions will ensue in the days to come:

Larger Boston Area Intel

Ingress is extremely well done for a beta version of a game. I can only assume that Google has done some extensive internal testing before opening up the beta to people outside. And the combination of GPS, mapping, the historical marker database, and the many different web properties (see list below) combine to provide a truly addictive game-playing experience.

Even before you get immersed in the actual gameplay - and while you anxiously await the arrival of your invitation to participate in the beta - there are several websites that provide hints at the background story, videos, and artwork by fictions characters that appear to exhibit signs of Shaper influence.

One can easily see how Google's Project Glass will be used in a future version of this game that takes augmented reality game-play to a whole new level…

Obviously, there are also some privacy implications in such kind of gameplay and several bloggers have already questioned Google's motives in creating this game. Allegations range from creating an optimized database of walking paths for further enhancing Google Maps to more sinister data collection for advertising purposes.

Be that as it may, for the time being I will continue participating in the beta for a very simple reason: the game is actually a lot of fun to play!

Further information on Ingress can be found here:

Also see blog posts on AllThingsD, Engadget, pandodaily, The Verge, TechCrunch, and others…

P.S. Don't ask me for an invite, as I don't have any to give away, sorry!

iPad 2 with dead/swollen battery - Apple refuses to fix it and wants to charge $240 for replacement

I will admit that I've been a bit of an "Apple Fanboy" for a long time now. Today I am afraid, this relationship has finally come to an end.

Let me explain: I've been an "early-adopter" Apple customer for about 29 years, starting with my first Apple IIe in 1983, first Mac in 1984, etc. (in the last 18 months alone, I've purchased: 3 iPhone 5, 2 iPhone 4S, 1 15" MBP w/ Retina, 2 new iPad2 March 2012, 1 Apple TV, 1 Time Capsule 3TB, 2 Mac Pro, 1 MBP 15" Aug 2011, 1 27" Thunderbolt display, etc.). As such, I have followed Apple's products and also product recalls over time and know that Apple normally stands by its products to the extent that systematic battery failures, like they occurred in the MacBook Air were met with a well-designed recall program that provided customers with a battery replacement plus a replacement of the top case if that was damaged by the swollen battery.

I was, therefore, very surprised about the turn of events today:

I had purchased a new iPad (3rd generation) in March this year and pre-ordered it on the day it was announced. Since then my iPad 2 has been sitting in a drawer of my desk, and I was recently approached at our Rotary Club by our exchange student from Germany on whether I had a tablet computer to donate to him. Obviously I felt that the iPad 2 would be ideal for such a donation, but when I tried to charge it this morning, it showed the following symptoms:

  • It would not start without the power adapter being plugged in
  • When plugged it, it showed a 100% battery charge
  • However, when removing the plug, it immediately shut down, so the battery is clearly no longer functional
  • I left the iPad plugged in, but noticed that after a while the top glass started lifting up at the right edge - very likely due to an expanding battery
  • The iPad 2 is entirely unusable in this state and it is just 19 months since I had bought it and a little over six months since I last used it
Here is a photo of the iPad 2 atop my barograph where the lifting of the glass can be seen on the right edge just a little bit to the left of the volume buttons:

2012 11 05 13 32 22

I figured that since battery issues such as this one are well-known and documented, it would be an easy appointment at the Genius Bar at the Apple Store Northshore Mall in Peabody today.

You can imagine my surprise, when the genius I was assigned to politely listened to my story and then informed me that my only option was to buy a new replacement iPad 2 for $240 (i.e. at some discount compared to the new price).

Even though the iPad 2 is obviously out of warranty, I was expecting this to be a free replacement due to the systemic nature of battery issues in various Apple products (including many cases documented for the iPad 2 in the Apple Support forums) and due to the fact that in case of such systemic issues a recall is mandated by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008. In the worst case, I was expecting to be charged about $40-50 for a new battery if this was considered a border-line case because I left the iPad 2 in a drawer for 6 months.

But being asked to pay $240 when all I wanted to do was donate the iPad to a Rotary exchange student felt like an inappropriate reply. Therefore, I asked to speak to the manager and was kept waiting for 10 minutes. After that time a certain Mr. Kevin Alumbaugh came out and introduced himself as the manager on duty and politely listened to my story again, only to offer me the exact same choice. When I suggested to him that (a) this case was similar to the swollen battery issues in the MacBook Air and (b) he should perhaps look at my purchase history with Apple and (c) consider to be more open to the potential that this might also be a systematic issue and warrant a free replacement as well as sending the device to Apple's QC department, he changed his tone, became rather confrontational, and started berating me about several things:

  1. He questioned how I could know that this was a battery issue even though I had clearly explained all the symptoms and the fact that the glass started lifting off when I attempted to charge the battery. The fact that published images of various gadget blogs also clearly show the battery at the right side of the case where the top glass lifted off on my iPad apparently did not factor into his consideration.
  2. He berated me with the words "maybe that's how you run your business, but at Apple we treat each customer the same" when I pointed out that he should maybe consider that it is in general not such a good idea for companies to upset their early-adopter customers.
  3. He explained that Apple could not open or repair the iPad, so even if the battery died after 18 months, the only option is to throw away the entire device. According to Kevin, Apple was being extremely generous to me to offer a $240 replacement path even though my warranty had already run out, rather than forcing me to upgrade to the latest model.

At no time did he offer any alternative path than for me to pay $240 for a refurbished replacement iPad 2.

I ended the conversation at that point, asked him for his business card (which indicated that he was actually from a different Apple store at Pheasant Lane in NH), and advised him that I would reconfirm his position with Apple PR before blogging about it tonight.

Since then I have emailed Apple's PR team and asked them to confirm whether the following points are indeed Apple's official position with respect to an iPad 2 that no longer works due to a dead battery and shows clear signs of an expanding ("swollen") battery including lifting off of the to glass at the right edge:

  • Apple does not consider iPad 2 battery issues to fall under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 and refuses to engage in a product recall of such units
  • Apple is not interested in having the device sent to quality control in order to investigate further whether or not a product recall is warranted
  • Apple does consider it an extremely generous offer when they ask a customer to pay $240 for a refurbished replacement unit only 19 months after the original purchase
  • Apple finds nothing wrong with the idea that after 19 months a tablet device has to be thrown away just because a battery has failed

Sadly, I have not received any response to my inquiry from Apple PR by the time I published this to the blog.

Clearly, just a little over one year after Steve's passing, the company has lost its way and is now demonstrating an arrogant and presumptuous posture towards customers. Combined with the various 3rd generation iPad issues with LTE, iCloud, etc., the restore issues when migrating from iPhone 4S to 5, the recent Maps disaster, increased criticism of the closed eco-system, and extensive and ever-increasing competition in terms of tablets from the Google Nexus, the Amazon Kindle Fire, and the Microsoft Surface, this could be early signs of the decline of Apple.

UPDATE: Several days after posting this to my blog I received a phone call from Kristin Gitlitz, manager at the Apple Store North Shore Mall and she told me that she would like to take another look at that iPad. I was traveling in Europe on a business trip during that time, so I made an appointment with her on Sunday, November 18. After running some battery tests on the device and having a technician open it up, she confirmed that it was a battery issue and promptly told me that there was a $99 fix available rather than the $240 replacement. Furthermore, she agreed to provide that fix for free as a compensation for all the trouble I previously had to go through. Well done, Apple. Thank you for restoring my faith!

Windows 8 double-fail

I was expecting to jump right into the Windows 8 experience today and do some upgrading and testing this weekend as well as play with my new Microsoft Surface tablet, but it appears that this will not be happening as Microsoft managed to fail twice in just one day…





I had, of course, been testing previous pre-release versions of Windows 8 and like the new features, but when I went to upgrade my home PC to Windows 8 Pro today, the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant failed spectacularly every time I tried to actually spend $39.99 and purchase a downloadable upgrade:

Win8UpgradeFail

Furthermore, there is no back-button and so if this happens and you want to try again - thinking this might just be server overload - you have to re-enter all your information. It is also somewhat discouraging that a company like Microsoft has to rely on a 3rd party company called "arvato digital services, llc." to process upgrades? Why is this not sold through the Microsoft Store? Last, but not least, wouldn’t you think that Microsoft would run a spell-checker on their error messages? "Intializing" isn't' even a word…

So I figured I'd wait with my PC upgrade until tomorrow and was looking forward to instead work with my new Microsoft Surface tablet that was supposed to be delivered today. I had pre-ordered the device on the day it was announced and was promised a delivery today, October 26th. Imagine my surprise when I checked the FedEx tracking info from the Microsoft Store link:

Surface RT FedEx non-delivery

So it seems the pre-ordered Surface that was guaranteed to be delivered today is going to show up on Monday instead.

Great job, Microsoft, making a first impression with Windows 8…

UPDATE: On the fifth attempt the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant worked, the order completed, and the download progress is now at 32% with 5 minutes remaining…

UPDATE 2: FedEx ended up doing a separate delivery run today, so the Surface also arrived.

Altova MissionKit 2013

Just in case you missed these announcements last month, here is a quick recap of some of our blog posts about the new major features in the Altova MissionKit 2013:

But there is so much more included in version 2013 of the various developer tools across the entire MissionKit tools suite in terms of new features that we added in direct response to customer feedback:

  • Seamless integration options in Java applications for XMLSpy, MapForce, StyleVision, Authentic
  • Support for embedded XML Schemas in WSDL files
  • Enhanced WSDL documentation options
  • Flexible integration of external programs into XMLSpy
  • Support for CamelCase words in spell checker
  • Option to strip unnecessary whitespace
  • Support for Team Foundation Server MSSCCI Provider for version control systems
  • Table row and column conditions
  • XPath Evaluator extension of XPath Builder
  • Integration with Eclipse 4.2 (adds to support for earlier versions)
  • Support for US GAAP 2012 XBRL taxonomy (adds to support for earlier versions)
  • Support for UML 2.4
  • Support for SysML 1.2
  • Support for displaying .NET properties as UML associations
  • Spell checker for UML model components
  • Print results of directory comparisons in DiffDog
  • Significant performance improvements in DiffDog
  • Authentic browser plug-in for Google Chrome
  • Authentic push installer for browser plug-ins

More information on all of these new features can be found on our "What's New" page

Google Data Center StreetView with Storm Trooper and R2-D2

Google has opened up StreetView access into its data center in Nenoir, North Carolina today, giving you the ability to take a virtual walk-through of their facility. In a time where most companies are super-secret about their facilities to prevent vulnerabilities, hackers, or even physical intrusions, this is a remarkable and somewhat surprising publicity stunt. GoogleDataCenterStreetViewR2D2 Maybe they are convinced that their site security team - apparently consisting of a single Imperial Storm Trooper and R2-D2 - is sufficient to prevent any malicious attacks…?

Kindle Paperwhite 3G Review: Finally a Worthy Successor to the Kindle 2

I will gladly admit that I've been a fan of ebook readers from the day the very first Kindle was announced. In fact, I've always been a collector of books and while I do prefer real books in hardcover or paperback form in my library at home, there just isn't anything that could possibly beat an ebook reader for the convenience of bringing several books with me on a trip or for the ability to read a book in bed under low-light conditions, or reading a couple of books on the beach on a sunny summer day, or buying a new book instantly online when I'm finished with the previous one.

So I was truly delighted when my new Kindle paperwhite 3G arrived today. I had always loved the original Kindle in 2007 and the Kindle 2 that I had bought in 2009, because both devices had an e-ink display that was easily viewable in bright daylight conditions as well as indoors. By contrast, I felt that the Kindle Fire was a big disappointment when it first came out. In fact, while I had bought one at that time, it ended up somewhere in a pile of unused electronic gadgets very quickly. It was neither good enough as a tablet computer to truly compete with the iPad, nor was the screen any advantage when reading a book, and the battery life was just too short. In fact, I kept reading my books either on the Kindle 2 (outdoors) or on the iPad (indoors) for the last couple of years.

Kindle paperwhite

But the new Kindle paperwhite changes all of that.



Returning to the concept of an e-ink display, the device is again fabulously suitable for daylight reading on the beach on a bright sunny day, yet it also has a subtly lit display that is perfect for low-light conditions and indoor reading at night. The device is extremely light and they got the form-factor just right. Getting rid of the physical keyboard from the Kindle 2 model and replacing it with a touch-screen helped to shrink the form factor considerably and makes reading books on the device that much more comfortable than reading them on an iPad. I cannot wait to see if the advertised battery life of 8 weeks really holds up in real-world reading and usage.

The font choices have been expanded and the high resolution of the display makes reading a real pleasure - even if you switch to a small font-size (if your eyes are still good). Alternatively, you can opt for a larger line spacing and bigger fonts if your eyes get tired more quickly.

As always, the device is directly linked to your Amazon.com account and you can download books form the cloud onto your device easily via the built-in Wi-Fi or free 3G networks. And in addition to highlighting paragraphs and adding notes for your own purposes, you can also share passages with friends via Twitter and Facebook integration. And you can continue to send PDF files and Word documents to a special device- and user-specific @kindle.com email address to read these on your Kindle.

However, I found it a bit disappointing that Amazon has once again failed to include support for ePub publications in their latest device, given that this open electronic book publishing format is fully supported by Adobe, Apple, and many other industry players.

Bottom-line: great form-factor, perfect screen resolution and readability in direct sunlight as well as low-light conditions due to advanced e-ink technology with backlight display. This will be a permanent travel companion for all my future trips.

P.S. I would recommend opting for the 3G model "without special offers". For just $20 more you can get rid of annoying advertising in the Kindle Store screen as well as the sleep-mode display. However, you can also buy the cheaper model first to see whether you find the ads annoying and then later pay $20 on your credit card to "upgrade" your device to get rid of them.

P.P.S. You may ask what is on my reading list on the new Kindle paperwhite? Presently I'm continuing "Chapterhouse: Dune" by Frank Herbert, which I had last read some 12-13 years ago and decided to re-read recently. In fact, I decided to re-read the entire Dune cycle this summer, and have now reached this book. Next I have "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand on my list, followed by some Neal Stephenson novels and "The Intelligent Investor" by Benjamin Graham.

Backup/Restore on iOS - not always what you'd expect

Yesterday I had an interesting experience with the backup/restore function in iTunes 10.7 while migrating all my data from my old iPhone 4S to the new iPhone 5. Due to my previous unsatisfactory experience with backup/restore from iCloud when migrating from an iPad 2 to iPad 3 this spring, I decided to use iTunes on my MacPro to make a local backup this time. Furthermore, I wanted to make sure not to run into any iOS 5 -> 6 upgrade issues, so I had already upgraded my iPhone 4S to iOS 6 in the previous week to make this switch more efficient - or so I thought! When it was time to make the move, I connected the 4S, waited for the sync operation to finish, and then right-clicked the phone in iTunes and selected backup.

After the backup process completed, I turned off the old phone, connected the new phone, and selected "Restore" to restore the phone from the backup I just had created. After I waited through a reboot and confirmed a few more dialogs, I thought I would now have everything on the new device exactly the same way as I had on the old phone. But that was not the case…

When you do a backup of your PC or Mac and then lose your hard drive you would expect the machine to be exactly the same after you buy a new disk and run a restore operation, right? Especially you'd expect all settings and configurations to be restored.

Apparently not so with iOS. To my great disappointment I found that for a lot of my applications the restore function only restored the app itself, but not any of its settings, especially not any login information. In particular, I had to manually reenter my account information into all of the following apps on my new phone:

  • Evernote
  • Dropbox
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • WSJ
  • Kindle
  • iCloud, iMessage, FaceTime, Find my friends
  • Netflix
  • Hulu+
  • Yelp
  • OpenTable
  • MLB At Bat
  • Disk Decipher
  • and many more…
In addition, I found that all of the soft-token apps for secure 2-factor authentication to various services were not getting restored with their settings, and so they each generated a new unique device idea and did not allow any easy restoration, transfer, or migration from one device to the next. In fact, with the Google Authenticator that I use for Google Apps and Dropbox as well as with thr Symantec VIP Access app I use for some banking sites my only choice was to log into these web sites, request deactivation of the old soft-token, and then add the new soft-token. In most cases this required having access to the old soft-token to enter a valid code. So I had to turn the old phone back on and migrate every single service authentication to the new token app on the new phone one by one.

Now, in all fairness, I should say that in iOS at least there is a Backup/Restore function, which is completely missing in Android (unless you want to be adventurous and root your device). But I found it very surprising to be lacking in so many ways, especially with regards to app configurations, settings, and logins.

Luckily I don't have to complain about any actual data loss. With my calendar, contacts, and email all in Google Apps, none of those got lost. So this was more of a nuisance that cost me about an hour or two before I had my phone reconfigured to my exact specs and resetting all my soft-token apps.

But it would have been much harder to do, had I actually lost my phone or had it been damage, because removing 2-factor authentication from an account when you don't have the soft-token anymore is rather difficult and often only possible with lengthy tech support calls. It would make much more sense to allow full backup/restore functionality of your phone onto your computer - especially since you can encrypt your backups nicely with iTunes, so the information therein is rather secure.

Bottom-line: plan a couple of hours for your upgrade - especially if you use many apps…

 

Samsung Galaxy S III vs. iPhone 4S - a phone-swap experience

I am always on the look-out for the newest gadgets and best technology for my own personal and business use, so when the Samsung Galaxy S III started shipping in the US this month, I pre-ordered a Verizon 4G LTE model in white with 32 GB and it arrived Monday last week. I set myself the goal of doing a "phone-swap" and using the new phone exclusively for one week to determine whether it could replace my iPhone 4S as my primary smart phone device. Having all of my data in the cloud already through a combination of Google Apps, DropBox, Evernote, and our corporate email system, setting up the S III was a breeze. All I had to do was configure my Google and Exchange server accounts, download the DropBox and Evernote apps, and I was ready to go with all my calendar, contacts, notes, to-dos, emails, etc. 100% in sync on the new phone. In addition I installed Google Voice and Skype for my telephony needs as well as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for social networking. The next step was to go through all the other apps on my iPhone that had accumulated over the past year and determine which ones I really used more than once a month. That in of itself was a true cleansing ritual and I was able to get rid of a lot of junk (yes, I do admit that I actually played all levels of Angry Birds Space when it came out). And I was pleasantly surprised to find that about 95% of the apps I actually used were available on the Android platform as well. For convenience, I arranged them in a similar manner with folders so that I would be able to easily locate each app on both devices: 2012 07 15 10 51 18 cropped For the few apps that I did not find in the Google Play app store (or other app stores) I was able to easily locate an equivalent replacement app with only two exceptions. More on that later… With all these preparations done in the first day, I was ready to embark on my one-week phone swap test and redirected my iPhone phone# to the Galaxy, as well as including it in my Google Voice list of active phones. The second day held three interesting surprises for me in stock and I was actually quite disappointed with the Galaxy at the end of that day. The issues that I encountered were the following:
  • Battery Drainage: Within only 2-3 hours the battery on my S III had gone from 100% down to 48%. I was only using the phone to play with apps and was on my home Wi-Fi network, so this should not have happened. However, I later found out that the severe battery drain was caused exclusively by a very poor cell phone signal at my location and the phone trying to communicate with the towers despite the poor signal strength. When I used the same phone in the office the next day, where we have good cell phone reception, the battery was still at 79% in the late afternoon.
  • No German Keyboard: For some reason Samsung had decided to only ship English, Spanish, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese keyboards in the S III. I was, therefore, unable to compose any e-mails or text messages in German.
  • IPv6 Connectivity Problems: On my home network I already use IPv4 and IPv6 in a dual-stack setup and all my laptops, PCs, Macs, and iOS devices automatically get both an IPv4 and IPv6 address. Then, when communicating with an IPv6 enabled web site they already do that via IPv6, which can be easily verified using the test-ipv6.com site. However, the S III was unable to pass that test and could only use and IPv4 address and thus was unable to reach any IPv6 website. Samsung tech support proved to be highly incompetent in this regard an had absolutely no idea how to fix this problem (or even understand what IPv6 is).
However, on the third day I was able to resolve two of those issues and things were looking much better thereafter: The battery problem is strictly a result of bad cell phone coverage, and we had seen a similar problem with the iPhone about a year ago, so I expect Samsung to fix this shortly. Furthermore, when I am at home I plug my phone in anyway, so the lack of cell phone signal at home and the resulting battery drainage can easily be circumvented. But the battery meter makes it very clear how bad the problem is, if you look at this screen shot taken 1 hour and 15 minutes after taking the phone out of the charger and not using it at all. In that time it has already lost 11% of its charge doing absolutely nothing: Battery drain due to bad cell reception The keyboard issue was easily fixed by installing Swype Beta for Android. Swype is an alternative keyboard that not only supports multiple languages (including German), but also provides a much faster input method for text, because it lets you trace the letters of a word on the on-screen keyboard without lifting your finger, which is indeed much faster than tapping each key individually. Furthermore, it comes with a vast dictionary for each language and really recognizes your movements with amazing accuracy. Quick wcl The remainder of the week progressed on a very upbeat note and I really enjoyed my usage of the Galaxy S III after I had overcome those small initial setbacks. In particular, these are the features and app experiences I liked most:
  • Swype: this is really a powerful productivity tool and I found that text entry speed for me improved by about 50% compared to the standard on-screen keyboard.
  • Larger screen: I really like the screen size and form factor of the S III. The larger screen size directly translates to 30% more emails visible in GMail as well as better browsing experience in Chrome and other apps.
  • Much deeper integration with Google Voice: I've been using a Google Voice phone number as my primary phone number for several years now, and the Google Voice app for Android provides a much deeper integration with the telephony module on the phone than iOS would allow. In particular, it is possible to set up the phone so that all outgoing calls are automatically routed via Google Voice, which is brilliant.
  • Background apps: It has always been an annoyance for me to no end, that on iOS there is no facility for true background applications. For example, DropBox on Android really uploads photos in the background whenever I am connected to my home Wi-Fi network, whereas on the iPhone I have to actually go to the DropBox app to trigger the upload. Similarly Skype works much better on Android than it does on iOS.
  • Auto-update of apps: I love the fact that I can configure my apps to automatically update on Android. Whenever I am connected to my Wi-Fi network at home, all apps get their updates and I don't have to do anything. By contrast, on my iOS devices I have to go to the App Store and manually hit Update and then enter my password.
  • Google Voice Search: Maybe it is just me (and my German accent), but Siri and I never developed a true relationship. I found that for many queries on Google Voice Search I can actually get better results and faster responses than with Siri, and it seems that I am not alone in this observation.
  • 4G LTE: it is truly remarkable how much faster the 4G LTE data network is. Similar to what I had previously reported with respect to the iPad 3, the 4G LTE data speed on the S III makes a huge difference, if you are inside the LTE coverage area. Reading emails and news, browsing web sites, etc. is just lighting-fast.
  • Face Unlock: OK, unlocking your phone automatically via face recognition is really cool. It may not be super-secure, but you can always combine it with PINs etc. And it is really nice when the phone recognizes its owner.
  • Widgets: Yes, it seems like such a small thing, but being able to see the local weather details, Wall Street Journal headlines, and latest Engadget news directly on my home screen really makes me happy.
Samsung Galaxy S III home screen In many respects, these positive experiences as well as the abundance of apps that are now available on both the iOS and Android platforms in parallel made it very clear to me that Apple is about to lose its competitive edge in the smart phone business soon, if it hasn't already happened. Either platform allows you to be productive and connected in this mobile world and the differences are becoming more and more a matter of personal taste. Talking of which, in the past week I found that these are the iOS features that I missed the most and where I was unable to locate any reasonable equivalent on the Android platform:
  • iCloud backup: I found it truly astonishing, that Google would not think of providing Android users with a true cloud-based backup solution for their phones. Backup functionality is limited to calendar, contacts, and emails, and if you want to be able to backup your entire phone (including photos and all apps) you have to do so on an SD card, connected computer, or you have to hack your phone to get root access in order to use a backup app like Titanium Backup.
  • iMessage: being able to save on SMS costs by sending text messages via the data network in the form of iMessage was a game changer when it was first introduced on iOS. While there are some apps that promise to do the same on Android, the real killer-app feature of iMessage is that it is transparently integrated into the messaging app, so it will try to deliver a message via iMessage if it can, but will automatically revert to sending it via SMS when it cannot do so.
  • Find-my-phone: The ability to go to the iCloud website, and trigger a loud sonar-ping from your phone (irrespective of what the sound volume is set to) is a feature that we often use in our family to locate missing phones. And no, just calling the phone doesn't work, because they or often set to just vibrate.
  • Different notification sounds: On my iPhone I use different notification sounds for SMS vs. emails vs. voice mails etc. and I found no good equivalent that would let me configure this in a similar way.
  • Clear OS upgrade path: This is perhaps the biggest weakness of the Android platform at this stage. The Nexus 7 is coming out with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and there is no clear path that would let me know when I can expect to get 4.1 on my S III. There are so many different devices and variations and the fact that both device manufacturer and phone network provider add their own variations to the base OS results in a plethora of different versions of the OS. And after a while people realize that their 2-year old smart phone suddenly will either not get the latest version of Android or will get it with a substantial delay.
In addition to these platform differences between iOS and Android, I also found that I could not locate either one of the following apps, which I love and use on iOS on a daily basis: Dark Sky is a hyper-local short-term weather prediction software that allows me to predict rain within the next hour with super-accurate precision based on analysis of the weather radar. For boaters (and fireworks committee chair people) this is an absolute must-have. The second app is g! Mobile, which is part of my smart home system that lets me control HVAC, audio, video, irrigation, pool, and various other home automation systems from my phone. Last, but not least, here are four more observations that - when taken together with the above features and apps that I am missing - end up tilting the balance in favor of the iPhone from my perspective:
  • Battery drainage in areas of bad cell-phone coverage: While I was initially happy to accept this limitation based on the thought that (a) it would only occur at home and (b) would soon be fixed by Samsung, I have since then experienced this battery drainage repeatedly while underway. In all cases it was connected to poor cell-phone coverage, but that is just the reality of the networks today and I experienced battery drain while being out on the boat in Massachusetts Bay as well as while having dinner at Woodman's in Essex.
  • Larger screen not as useful as initially thought: despite the larger screen, there are several limitations built into Android that make things look quite ugly over time. For example, you get the same layout of 4x4 apps, folders, or widget space only, even though the screen should easily be able to accommodate more rows or columns. And even inside apps like Facebook or Skype or Twitter, the usage of the extra screen real estate is not efficient. By contrast, on the iPhone you get a smaller device yet makes better use of the screen real-estate and due to the high-resolution Retina display looks a lot sharper.
  • Verizon has much less real-world data coverage than AT&T: Yes, this is clearly a criticism that has nothing to do with Android vs. iOS, but the reality is that while 4G LTE is beautiful and fast wherever it is available, the second you move out of the core coverage area the Verizon CDMA network is really vastly inferior than AT&T's GSM network. And I found in my testing that I got a lot better and more consistent data coverage on my iPhone, for example out on the boat or away from the city.
  • IPv6 support not working properly: now that IPv6 is permanently activated since the World IPv6 launch day in June this year, I think it is quite astonishing that Samsung would introduce a device that is not capable of getting an IPv6 address or communicating with IPv6-only websites. And talking to Samsung tech-support via website chat and email revealed another weakness: there is no good and knowledgable technical support available. While it is true that the "geniuses" at the Apple "Genius Bar" are not always brilliant either, at least the Apple website and support forums provide the in-depth technical information and I had been able to solve every technical problem there in the past. By contrast, the Samsung website doesn't even have any reference to IPv6 at all.
So after a week-long phone swap, here is my conclusion: for now I'm switching back to my iPhone 4S for daily usage, but I'm really hopeful that future innovation on the Android platform with 4.1 Jelly Bean will close the gap even further and I'm looking forward to repeating this week-long test at that time. I also have a Nexus 7 tablet coming this week and look forward to experimenting with that. At the same time I hope that Apple won't stand still and will surprise us all with new innovative features in their iPhone 5 product this fall, including a larger-screen device. Long-term, I hope that Apple will finally become a more open platform. The ability to replace keyboards and use Swype, the ability to deeply integrate with the telephony capabilities - those are all huge advantages that Android has right now and they will eventually give Android the edge over iOS, if Apple sticks to the closed platform model forever. We've seen this happen before in the 80s with Windows vs. the first generations of MacOS and history is bound to repeat itself - especially now that Apple no longer has its charismatic leader and his reality-distortion field. Bottom-line: if you are looking to buy a new smart phone right now, the Samsung Galaxy S III is a really nice device and as long as you live in a city with great 4G LTE coverage, everything should be fine. It boils down to personal preference in the end. However, if you have been using iPhones for the past couple of years, there is no convincing reason to switch.

The Emperor's New Clothes - a "New iPad" Review in a "Post-PC World"

As I've mentioned on this blog before, I love gadgets and usually am an early adopter of the latest and greatest toys that tech companies produce and I often share my opinions about these devices with the world. I bought the original Kindle, the Kindle 2, the Kindle Fire, all generations of the iPhone, various Droids, the Xoom, the original iPad, the iPad 2, and now… the new iPad.

IMG 4202

When Apple did their big announcement on March 7th, I immediately went online that afternoon, pre-ordered one in the largest configuration (WiFi+4G 64GB), and it arrived yesterday afternoon. I am not going to repeat the benefits and new features of the device, since they've been aptly covered by Walt Mossberg and many others. And the new screen with its super-high resolution is really stunning.

Instead, I wanted to put Tim Cook's claim that this is now a "post-PC world" to the test and decided to set up my new iPad without connecting it to either PC or Mac and use my iCloud backup of the old iPad 2 to set up the new iPad.

Restore from iCloud

To prepare for the migration from my iPad 2 to the new iPad I made sure that I had previously upgraded my iPad 2 to the latest version 5.1 of iOS and also completed a backup to iCloud over my Wi-Fi network at home on the previous day.

I also should probably say at this point that my home Wi-Fi network is 802.11 g+n and my home is connected to the Internet via a Verizon FIOS connection at 50 Mbps. Therefore, running SpeedTest or similar apps on iPhones or iPads typically report latencies of only 64ms, downstream bandwidths of 17-18 Mbps and upstream bandwidths of 16-17 Mbps on the home Wi-Fi network. So by any means, this is not a slow network. One would think that this is the ideal environment for iCloud to shine in a "post-PC world".

After unpacking the new iPad and attaching the cover I started it up, connected it to my home Wi-Fi network, and entered my Apple ID to connect to my iCloud account. As expected, the iPad offered me the choice to restore from iCloud or to restore via iTunes on my computer. I elected to put the iCloud Restore to the test.

To my initial great delight, the iPad showed a download progress bar, and after a short period of 2-3 minutes proceeded to restart the device, show another progress bar underneath the Apple logo, and completed the whole process in about 5 minutes.

Or did it?

When the iPad came back from its reboot, all my apps were in their usual places, but every single one of them had an empty progress bar underneath. And then I was greeted with a rather unspecific message that said "Restore Incomplete":

ICloudRestore

Not only did the message not inform me of which apps or what data I would be missing, it also left me with the uneasy feeling that this was perhaps not restricted to just apps, because it said "Some items could not be downloaded".

I was still optimistic that all the apps would now quickly download and I could start using my new iPad soon. However, as it turns out the entire process of restoring all the apps from my iCloud backup took more than 3½ hours. Given that I have about 22GB of apps on my iPad and the available network bandwidth mentioned above, the process should have taken less than half and hour!

4G LTE Activation

The next step was to activate the new high-speed 4G LTE data network option. Based on my poor experience with AT&T activations in the past, I decided to go with Verizon this time around. Furthermore, I was looking forward to using the iPad as a mobile hotspot, and presently only Verizon is offering that feature at no extra cost.

After entering all my credit card data and choosing the 5GB data plan, the iPad informed me that it would take up to 15 minutes to activate the new data plan. What really happened after about 5 minutes, however, was that I got the following "Data Plan Activation Failure" message:

IMG 0064

A second attempt to "Try Again" just produced the same message after a several minutes of no information and no progress bars. On my third attempt I then got this rather interesting message about the need to "reprovision" my device:

IMG 0065

I followed the steps prescribed in this screenshot and was soon greeted my another cryptic message - this one more surprising than all of the others before, because I had not touched the SIM card slot at all and so the card was most definitely still there:

IMG 0066

Indeed, after another 15-20 minutes or so, the problem disappeared entirely on its own, the iPad finally connected to the 4G network and also properly activated the data plan. As a next step I wanted to see how fast the 4G network really is…

4G LTE Performance

Living on the Boston Northshore, I've always had network coverage issues in certain rooms in my home, so for this test I went to a window in the attic facing in the direction of the closest cell phone towers and was rewarded with 3 out of 5 bars of LTE signal strength. I ran the trusted old SpeedTest app and to my great delight found downstream bandwidths of 17-18 Mbps, which is indeed as fast as the Wi-Fi connections at my house. Network latency was a bit poorer with 117ms vs. the 64ms on Wi-Fi, and upstream bandwidth was much lower as expected. By comparison, on my iPhone on AT&T's HSPA+ network in this area (which now also shows up as "4G" on the iPhone, even though it is technically just 3G) I get downstream speeds of 2.8 Mbps and upstream speeds of 1.1 Mbps with a latency of 181ms. So these LTE speeds are indeed about 6 times faster than typical 3G speeds and that is quite impressive.

IMG 0092

Next I wanted to put it to the real test and download an app over 4G. I picked Infinity Blade II - one of the new apps that were just recently released and optimized for the new high-resolution "retina" display. Imagine my surprise when I got the following message on my screen:

IMG 0087

The astonishing thing about this is that Verizon advertises their LTE network with the words "Verizon 4G LTE means real-time responsiveness. Apps. Games. Movies. Seamless streaming". And even though I just signed up for a 5GB data plan they are not letting me download a 791MB game? I could certainly understand the need for a warning message that would advise people that this game has a certain size and ask them if they were sure they wanted to download it over LTE. But to not allow them to download it at all makes little sense.

Similarly, as has already been mentioned in various other blogs it is not quite understandable why FaceTime would not work over the LTE network:

IMG 0093

More specifically, there is no technical reason for this arbitrary restriction. As I now have an iPad 2 and the new iPad, I was easily able to turn on the Personal Hotspot feature on the new iPad, create a Wi-Fi network from it, then connect my old iPad 2 to that Wi-Fi network an successfully make a FaceTime video call to Europe from the iPad 2. So the LTE network is easily able to carry the data traffic for FaceTime.

So it seems that while the new iPad does indeed shine technologically on the LTE data speeds as well as the beautiful screen resolution, the whole "post-PC world" hype is to a large degree bogus and it will take quite a while until even the new iPad can be used to its full power on the LTE network.

Some will probably argue that the "post-PC world" meme is not just about smartphones and tablet becoming untethered from computers and directly connecting to the cloud. The idea is supposedly that you can now do certain things on the tablet that required a computer just a few years ago. However, if you look at what the best-selling applications on tablets actually do, then you quickly find that 95% of them are games and the remainder are mostly social media apps or consumer-level tools for editing photos, videos, or organizing personal to-do lists.

For example, while the iPad versions of iMovie and iPhoto are certainly impressive and give people the ability to edit their photos a bit, they are at best useful for hobbyists and when you look at the features available they simply cannot even being to compare to the state of the art of professional photo or video editing tools that exist on computers today.

Summary and Clarification

Just to clarify, I really enjoy using iPads, and continue to believe they are great media consumption devices. I love to read books on them. I love to read magazines and newspapers on them. I even watch the occasional movie or play a game. And for all these purposes, the improved screen resolution of the new iPad as well as the 4G LTE network capabilities are fabulous improvements.

But for any expression of creativity, for software development, for photography, for cinematography, for journalism, blogging, marketing, science, engineering, architecture, … in other words for any serious work … tablets are somewhere between mediocre to useless. For all of these fields the PC - be it Windows, MacOS, or Linux based - has been and will be the essential tool of any creative mind. Therefore, I firmly resent the hubris of people proclaiming this to be a "post-PC world".

The reality distortion field

It is amazing to see the efficiency of the Apple PR machinery at work and how all major newspapers from the Wall Street Journal to the NY Times are praising the new iPad and giving its launch such huge coverage. And all the bloggers are doing their part to extol the virtues of the new features by endlessly repeating the same mantra: "insane Retina screen resolution, faster GPU, 4G LTE, same long battery life".

Apparently the reality distortion field is alive and well, even after Steve Jobs has passed away.

But doesn't anyone see that the emperor is wearing nothing at all?

Postscriptum

P.S. Kudos to Joe Brockmeier of ReadWriteWeb for publishing a critical article last week on what we lose in a "post-PC" world.

P.P.S. For comparison purposes, I also set up my wife's new iPad yesterday and in her case used iTunes on her MacBook Pro to install it, activate, it, and restore the backup from her old iPad 1 via the computer. The entire process worked seamlessly with none of the errors I encountered and was completed in about half an hour. She was happy to read her email, go on Facebook, and play Boggle on her new iPad in no time, while I was still waiting for hours for my "Restore from iCloud" to complete…

Fun with EPUB

Release 2 of the Altova MissionKit 2012, which was announced today, adds tons of new features to various products in the MissionKit, including EPUB support in XMLSpy.

Since there has been a lot of recent press and blog coverage of Apple's iBooks Author program, I wanted to point out that an open standards-based alternative exists in the form of EPUB and that we at Altova are fully committed to supporting such open standards.

EPUB is published by the <idpf>, the International Digital Publishing Forum, and is widely supported by various manufacturers and on many devices. The standard is based on XHTML, CSS, SVG, and other well-known web standards and a huge volume of freely available EPUB books already exist today.

Canterville
From "The Canterville Ghost" by Oscar Wilde, 1906

Let me point out a few useful resources for getting started with the EPUB standard and also outline the new EPUB capabilities in XMLSpy.

To consume EPUB documents, you will need a reader application for the device of your choice. On Windows 7 or MacOS X computers I would recommend Adobe Digital Editions, which is a free eBook reader applications that supports EPUB as well as PDF/A. On the iPhone or iPad you can simply use the standard iBooks app, which supports EPUB as well as PDF and the Apple-proprietary iBooks formats. On Android devices you can use Aldiko, and you can also read EPUB books on the Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, and other devices directly.

There are many web sites dedicated to providing collections of free eBooks that you can download to get started, but I recommend Project Gutenberg, which was started by Michael Hart in 1971.

Now let's talk about EPUB support in XMLSpy. Essentially, an EPUB file is a ZIP archive that contains all necessary components in a compressed archive to reduce space. Within that archive is a navigation document, metadata, content documents, CSS stylesheets, as well as all required image files (for further details, please see the EPUB specification, which can be found here). When you open an EPUB file in XMLSpy you are able to view all the included components.

From this archive view you can now directly edit the CSS files as well as other XML-based navigation and content files and you can validate the entire EPUB package file using epubcheck directly from within XMLSpy as well as preview the publication in XMLSpy's built-in browser preview.

We are all keenly aware that the publishing industry is undergoing a radical change these days. People consume magazines and books increasingly via electronic devices rather than in print and in the process the books themselves transform into a more interactive reading experience than we had ever seen before. Having an open standard like EPUB available ensures that no one manufacturer or company can dominate the industry and it also allows us to preserve many existing books and make them widely available via organizations such as Project Gutenberg.

Library

While my wife and I are collectors of printed books - the above photo is from our home library - I believe the march towards electronic books is inevitable. I am convinced that within the next few years we will see the huge shift in the industry continue and I hope that EPUB support in our products will allow people to create as well as consume electronic books in many ways.