Category Archives: Technology

Doing Instagram Right

Great video, great guide.

The Guardian Project

orbot

Tor+Android=Orbot

Nancy Scola at techPresident has a long article about The Guardian Project, an effort lead by my friend Nathan Freitas, that seeks to create secure software for mobile communications. Mobile devices are critically important for activists, dissidents, and leaders of change movements. But most are incredibly insecure and using them can put activists at risk. The Guardian Project seeks to make open-source technology that gives people the ability to talk, message, browse the web, and store data securely on their mobile devices.

[T]he Guardian Project is working on tools to make those devices more secure. Their flagship product is Orbot, an implementation of Tor, a network of servers that routes users in ways that obscure where they’re coming from and where they’re going. Freitas built Orbot with computer security expert Jacob Applebaum. And then there’s Gibber, an encrypted, firewall-evading chat application. The Secure Smart Camera App is an innovation in the works with Witness.org, the group that sprang up after the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles that works to document situations where human rights are at risk. The camera app aims to use automatic facial recognition software to obscure identifies on video taken from mobile phones. It uploads the documentary footage extra-slowly. That’s useful not only in low-bandwidth spots on the globe, but for shielding the video from network censors by making it look like any other type of Internet traffic. There are plans in the works for a “poison pill” program that would allow you or an ally to wipe your phone clean in a dangerous situation. (All Guardians apps in progress are listed on their website.)

This is some of the most inspiring and important work I see taking place at the nexus between technology and progressive activism.

The Stolen Scream


This is a really cool story of how keeping things free in the public domain of the internet leads to greater creativity and an easier spread of ideas. FStoppers has an interview with the photographer who took these pictures of himself, Noam Galai.

There is no way to know for sure but I bet if Noam had watermarked his images from the start, none of this would have happened including the Glimpse Magazine cover. The people that were looking for “free” images online would not have contacted him if his images were watermarked, they would have simply found another image to use. By allowing his images to be public, Noam has gotten to experience something that many artists would give anything for. In my opinion, this experience is worth more than any advertising agency could pay for the image. Noam has made almost no money on these images so far, but I believe the money will come. I know many, if not most of you, will disagree with me but I see Noam’s Stolen Scream as an amazing example of art and the power of technology. I believe everything worked out for the best.

David Bergman is right on here. This really shows that there’s a great opening for creative commons as a means to share ideas around the world. It also shows how unethical some individuals and businesses can be to take work published on Flickr and represent it as their own.

…Adding on, I see that these pictures are not currently licensed under creative commons. I’m not sure if they originally were licensed under creative commons and Noam changed the licensing to “all rights reserved” after others started selling his work for their own profit, or if they were always licensed “all rights reserved” and people straight-up stole his work from the get-go.

The Pale Blue Dot

Via Devour,

Moving footage of the Tunisian and Egyptian democratic revolutions interweaved with different timelapses and set to Carl Sagan reading from his book “Earth – The Pale Blue Dot.”

Apple TV

I wasn’t exactly an early adopter, but I have had an Apple TV for a couple of years. I never used it as much as I wanted to, but found that it was great for watching TV shows sans commercials and the occasional movie rental. I didn’t do much with it for photo and audio purposes.

When the new version of the iPad OS launched, I was most excited for AirPlay. I wanted to watch movies and shows I had on my iPad on my Apple TV. I was pretty ticked off to find out that night that AirPlay would only work for new generation Apple TVs, ones without a hard drive and only capable of streaming content. I was so ticked off that Apple wouldn’t include AirPlay for us old Apple TV owners that I vowed not to get a new Apple TV, even if though it was priced relatively low by Apple standards.

Well a month or so goes by and my righteous indignation has worn off. I decided to buy a new Apple TV, in part for higher quality streaming HD movie rentals, but more because I want to be able to stream Netflix onto my TV with ease. The Netflix streaming selection isn’t that great now, but I’ve already paid for it and it will surely improve over time.

What I hadn’t counted on was that Apple’s HD rental market is substantially smaller than their download to own market. The number of TV shows viewable on the new Apple TV is a fraction of what is currently in iTunes. Again, I end up miffed at the quality of product Apple is offering loyal customers.

I like the movement away from ownership of digital media towards streaming, on demand rental. It is probably cheaper in the long run and reduces the amount of stuff I have. I look at my collection of about 100 DVDs next to my TV and think, “What in God’s name am I going to do with that crap?” Until I get off my butt and burn it all to a hard drive, I’m going to be stuck with it just taking up space. So in some regard, I appreciate Apple’s move towards streaming only with the Apple TV. But if you’re going to do that, you must provide your customers with the same volume of product to choose from as you do for download and sale. Why? For no other reason than you just took away Apple TV customers’ ability to buy product for downlad. I was perfectly fine having a device that gave me the choice between renting and owning content. Apple took that choice away from me, but didn’t up the volume in a meaningful way for rental content. That reeks of FAIL. I don’t really care what the underlying contractual reasons with film companies and TV studios is. If you’re not there from a legal side, don’t limit yourself on the hardware side.

Here’s my prediction: by the time Apple gets their new, Apple TV specific iTunes rental volume up to snuff, there will be either another Apple TV product that is somehow better or competitors will have offered a killer alternative to Apple TV. In the end, I guess I’m just a sucker for continuing to be a fan of Apple’s technology products, even as they treat me worse and worse as a customer.

Google Reading Level

Google recently launched a new feature that allows you to include the reading level of a given website’s text in search results. I did searches for the three blogs I write – Hold Fast, A Jigger of Blog, and Blogger Hamlin – and the results were surprising.

holdfast reading level
My writing on politics seems to be an even balance between the levels of reading levels. This is probably a good thing, though I would also guess that each one is determined by the type of post I write. I would imagine shorter posts highlighting video clips are in the basic category, while most other posts are intermediate, with the exception of wonky posts on economic or foreign policy. Obviously, though, I write a lot of those, hence the even balance. I would guess this even mix makes for a readable blog, but my traffic numbers belie that theory.

I’m really surprised there is any advanced reading material being created at my cocktail blog, let alone almost a third of the posts. I’m not immediately sure what causes that to happen, other than lots of ingredients and cocktail names are foreign.

I’ve done a bit of long form writing here at Blogger Hamlin and I would have guessed that it would have lead to a more uniform level of reading complexity. But I guess it’s a mix!

I really wish I knew what this fairly balanced mixture of reading levels across three different blogs means about my writing style. It seems that it’s more a statement about my writing than the blogs themselves, if those things can be separated. I’ll poke around and see what Google has to say about what these levels mean.

Phenomenally Wrong About the Internet

For as long as the internet has been around, there have been people decrying it as without value. This piece by Clifford Stoll in Newsweek from February 27, 1995 is startling to read. In short, Stoll is wrong in just about everything he said about what the internet would be and how it would impact regular peoples’ lives.

Then there’s cyberbusiness. We’re promised instant catalog shopping—just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obselete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month? Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet—which there isn’t—the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.

What’s missing from this electronic wonderland? Human contact. Discount the fawning techno-burble about virtual communities. Computers and networks isolate us from one another. A network chat line is a limp substitute for meeting friends over coffee. No interactive multimedia display comes close to the excitement of a live concert. And who’d prefer cybersex to the real thing? While the Internet beckons brightly, seductively flashing an icon of knowledge-as-power, this nonplace lures us to surrender our time on earth. A poor substitute it is, this virtual reality where frustration is legion and where—in the holy names of Education and Progress—important aspects of human interactions are relentlessly devalued.

This is a remarkable snapshot from where critics were 15 years ago. As I said above, basically everything Stoll says is proven wrong by the growth of the internet. Online commerce is a major driver in our economy, from massive companies like Amazon to smaller ones like Zappos to peer-to-peer sales on eBay. Every major company that sells things in storefronts to the public also sells them online. Airlines, hotels, rental car companies sell their services online. Blogs are a major source of written communication. Online publications like Huffington Post and Politico have emerged solely in the digital age. Traditional newspapers and magazines rely heavily on the web for ad revenues. People meet on Facebook, Match, eHarmony, and Craigslist and build incredible relationships, up to and including marriage.

What’s remarkable about Stoll is that while he is incredibly wrong from top to bottom, some of the things he says are still being said by people when talking about how the internet can be used in politics and, in a different way, in union organizing. Prior to Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, the assumption was that people who engaged in politics online were not real people. They weren’t real voters, they didn’t go offline to knock on doors or make donations, all they are is teenagers in their parents’ basement, sucking down Mountain Dew and Cheetos. Of course this isn’t true: people who engage in politics online are often older, highly educated, and make good money. They are social connected influentials who their peers turn to for advice on politics or commercial products. In short, people who engage in politics tend to be exactly the sort of people that campaigns would want to engage with offline anyway. I see similar attitudes in my work in union organizing – there’s often real skepticism that conversations which happen online are meaningful or erroneous doubts that workers are online.

The internet is the greatest advancement in human interaction since the printing press. People who underestimate its power will continue to be proven wrong. That’s not to say the internet is a cure-all and you should believe any person who touts internet triumphalism. Using the internet to build connections, grow business, and share human knowledge takes a tremendous amount of work. But there will always be people who are looking to find ways to use the internet to achieve these goals, which is why Stoll was wrong in 1995 and people like Stoll will be wrong today.

Streaming Video Apps

I plan on using my iPhone 4 as a mobile video camera pretty extensively on my upcoming trip to Japan. I’ve used the native application to upload to Youtube already, but I’m now starting to play with Qik and Bambuser too. We’ll see if either fit my needs of being able to upload while mobile in a foreign country. I’ll likely be exclusively on wifi, so I do wonder whether using a streaming application like Qik or Bambuser is necessary.

iPod Qua iPhone

Lifehacker has a great post up exploring how you can use an iPod Touch as a replacement device for an iPhone. The idea is that a new iPod Touch is cheaper than a new iPhone 4G and running things this way could save a lot of money. Noting that the hardwear and functionality for both is now identical in the 4G versions, with the exception of the iPhone being a phone, Adam Dachis walks through the things that you need to make this a money-saving reality. All that’s needed is a 4G iPod Touch, a VoIP app like Skype, Fring or Line2, a constant wi-fi connection, and a headset that can work for the iPod. Wi-Fi is easy at home and work, but a mobile wi-fi hotspot like Verizon MiFi or Clear is needed to make this actually work. Of course, adding the data plan for a mobile wi-fi device actually is where the bulk of your costs come with this setup. Dachis writes:

$10 a month seems pretty reasonable for just Line2 phone service, but if you want contant connectivity, throwing in $70/month for the Verizon MiFi is a lot. How exactly is this better than just buying an iPhone? Well, if you get the cheapest, most limited plan the iPhone offers it’s not—you’d actually be spending $10 more by getting a MiFi and using Line2 on your iPod touch. If you get AT&T’s unlimited plan for iPhone, however, you’d save $45 per month by using a MiFi and Line2 on your iPod touch. Here’s the breakdown:

So basically you can pay $10 per month more than the cheapest iPhone data & phone costs, but get a massively larger data, SMS, and talk minutes pay-out. Or you can save $45 per month from the unlimited iPhone option that people who find this post appealing likely already have.

The only other big knock that I see with this setup is that the battery life on a MiFi is not that good, while adding another device you have to worry about charging:

Battery life, however, is a bit of a problem. The iPod touch will last you all day and then some, but the MiFi will not. If you’re lucky, you’ll get four hours out of the MiFi before it quits on you, and a little over three is more likely. On the plus side, you can purchase an extended battery to give you a day’s worth of use, but that’ll set you back an extra $100 and add a bit of bulk to the wonderfully slim MiFi. If you primarily use the MiFi in your car, however, you can always charge it with a USB adapter for your car’s power port.

Another downside to using a MiFi for your connectivity is that you have to carry around and charge two devices. The advantage of having your connection separated from the iPod touch is that you can leave the iPod touch in your pocket and place the MiFi elsewhere, allowing you to get a better signal without having to adjust your position. The MiFi (with the standard battery) is also ridiculously slim. Combined with an iPod touch, they’re about as thick as an iPhone in a case. This isn’t necessarily the most elegant solution, and it’s not without it’s problems, but all of these sacrifices can save you a lot of money on your monthly cellphone bill, so they’re worth some consideration.

For this swap to work, you have to have a functioning MiFi with battery life. If you’re not on wi-fi, the substitution of an iPod for an iPhone stops working, as you can’t receive or place calls or texts.

I think more than anything, this sort of substitution is a fun proof of concept. Yes, you can save some money by going this route. But you also will be creating a more complicated mobile phone setup by taking a one device solution and turning it into a two device solution. That might not be a problem if you don’t mind carrying an extra device, but it shows that saving dollars here requires adding more stuff to the mix. It’s not so slick as to make me want to jump up and do it now, but I’d be curious to find out if anyone does make the switch and keeps it going persistently.

Packing for a Big Trip

This is a whole other level of no baggage, ultralight travel. When you’re going into space, you can’t stop and buy more supplies, so what you bring with you becomes pretty important.

The video covers some of the survival systems that go into astronauts’ suits for manned space flight and the contingencies that an astronaut might face during and after launch, including oxygen tanks, fresh drinking water, survival radios and life preservers. It’s also interesting to see how many normal, household items go on the flight – pencils, paper clips, kitchen timers and so on.