Category Archives: technology

Sync and Ejecting Your Iphone With Quicksilver

For longer than I care to admit, every time I ejected my iphone from itunes, I would get frustrated that I had to go into itunes to eject my iphone.

Why can’t quicksilver do this? Why isn’t there a script?

I already had a script to initiate the sync, but not to eject. I’ve tried to make one, and checked the itunes “dictionary” in the script editor countless times, but never saw the eject command.

So, today, I googled it.

Duh.

The same place I found a script to sync — here, at Macworld’s OS X Hints site — in the same post no less (!!!), there’s a script to eject the phone.

To set this up, it’s simple.

First, open the AppleScript Editor application. Next, create two new script files, and paste each one of the scripts on this page into a new script.

Save them both in the Quicksilver Actions folder (by default: Home -> Library -> Application Support -> Quicksilver -> Actions). You can name one something like “itunes_sync” and the other “itunes_eject” — or whatever you can remember, as those are the scripts you’ll be calling in Quicksilver.

Next, rescan the Quicksilver catalog (if you just type “rescan” in Quicksilver, it will bring up the “Catalog Rescan” action for you to run), and your scripts will be ready to go.

Plug in your iphone, type the name of the sync script you created, and watch it go! Same for the eject.

You’ll probably want to change the score for an abbreviated form of the script’s name to call it — I have “it” set to call my sync script.

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RIP, Delicious

Sadly, Delicious, one of the best services out there on the net, is shutting down.

Unlike many other cloud services, Delicious allows (allowed…) you to export your data. On a regular basis, I have always saved my bookmarks, tags, and notes (and imported them into Quicksilver, so I had instant access…).  In this respect, for me, Delicious was really a hosting service for my bookmarks, so having it disappear isn’t the worst thing that could happen.

I’ve switched over to Pinboard.in – their service charges a nominal one-time fee to register, but it actually looks quite good. I’m especially happy about the auto-bookmarking of my Instapaper saves!

Sadly, though, the “social” part of Delicious’s social bookmarking service is what I will really miss. I used a feed to follow all the links that my “network” on Delicious were saving — this is made it very easy to see what other people were interested in, and what they found across the web. In a sense, it was a curated, serendipitous flow of information from folks I knew and trusted; so many of my bookmarks actually came from that feed.

Pinboard seems to have a similar service, but as everyone on Delicious is now scattering to other services, it is going to take some time to replace that feature.

RIP, Delicious. It was a good run…

[Update] I should have added, Pinboard.IN so far has been really excellent. Most importantly, all my Delicious bookmarks uploaded perfectly. It took a while, as their servers are getting slammed by the mass exodus from Delicious. They said on twitter last night: “we have added just short of one million bookmarks today.”

Pretty amazing.

Firesheep

Wow. It really works!

Cyber War versus Cyber Espionage

Sy Hersh has an excellent article in The New Yorker about much-politicized notion of “cyber war.” Insightful all around, but the real crux of the story is noting a distinction between cyber war and cyber espionage:

American intelligence and security officials for the most part agree that the Chinese military, or, for that matter, an independent hacker, is theoretically capable of creating a degree of chaos inside America. But I was told by military, technical, and intelligence experts that these fears have been exaggerated, and are based on a fundamental confusion between cyber espionage and cyber war. Cyber espionage is the science of covertly capturing e-mail traffic, text messages, other electronic communications, and corporate data for the purpose of gathering national-security or commercial intelligence. Cyber war involves the penetration of foreign networks for the purpose of disrupting or dismantling those networks, and making them inoperable…Blurring the distinction between cyber war and cyber espionage has been profitable for defense contractors—and dispiriting for privacy advocates.

Cyber war, it turns out, is a ploy used to scare up the body politic, and funnel funding into lucrative defense contracts. Often, one hears of hacker attacks on things like our electrical infrastructure. But this is just not possible:

There is no national power grid in the United States. There are more than a hundred publicly and privately owned power companies that operate their own lines, with separate computer systems and separate security arrangements. The companies have formed many regional grids, which means that an electrical supplier that found itself under cyber attack would be able to avail itself of power from nearby systems. Decentralization, which alarms security experts like Clarke and many in the military, can also protect networks.

Hersh’s article is well worth reading, a straightforward and level-headed look at the threats we face, and the once that are more or less fictional.

Gibson’s Critique

This op-ed, from novelist William Gibson, is perhaps the best, most succinct critique of Google I’ve ever seen:

Cyberspace, not so long ago, was a specific elsewhere, one we visited periodically, peering into it from the familiar physical world. Now cyberspace has everted. Turned itself inside out. Colonized the physical. Making Google a central and evolving structural unit not only of the architecture of cyberspace, but of the world. This is the sort of thing that empires and nation-states did, before. But empires and nation-states weren’t organs of global human perception. They had their many eyes, certainly, but they didn’t constitute a single multiplex eye for the entire human species.

Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon prison design is a perennial metaphor in discussions of digital surveillance and data mining, but it doesn’t really suit an entity like Google. Bentham’s all-seeing eye looks down from a central viewpoint, the gaze of a Victorian warder. In Google, we are at once the surveilled and the individual retinal cells of the surveillant, however many millions of us, constantly if unconsciously participatory. We are part of a post-geographical, post-national super-state, one that handily says no to China. Or yes, depending on profit considerations and strategy. But we do not participate in Google on that level. We’re citizens, but without rights.

Read the whole thing here. It’s a must-read.

“I think the machines just took over.”

That’s perhaps the best explanation I’ve seen on yesterday’s sudden stock market drop:

“I think the machines just took over. There’s not a lot of human interaction,” said Charlie Smith, chief investment officer at Fort Pitt Capital Group. “We’ve known that automated trading can run away from you, and I think that’s what we saw happen today.”

On the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, stone-faced traders huddled around electronic boards and televisions, silently watching and waiting. Traders’ screens were flashing numbers non-stop, with losses shown in solid blocks of red numbers.

As noted by the WSJ, about two-thirds of the market’s overall volume is comprised of trades from “high-frequency trading firms,” which are fully automated systems. The New York Times offers additional insight into how these trading systems can fail:

Many firms have computers that are programmed to automatically place buy or sell orders based on a variety of things that happen in the markets. Some of the simplest triggers are set off when a stock drops or rises a certain percent in the trading day, or when an index moves a specific amount.

But these orders can have a cascading effect. For example, if enough programs place sell orders when the overall market is down, say, 4 percent in a single day, those orders could push the market down even more — and set off programs that do not kick in until the market is down 5 percent, which in turn can have the effect of pushing stocks down even more.

Some circuit breakers do exist, a legacy of the reforms made following the 1987 stock market crash, but they only kick in after a huge drop — and only at certain hours. Before 2 p.m., a 10 percent drop in the Dow causes New York Stock Exchange to halt trading for one hour. Between 2 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., the pause shrinks to a half-hour and after 2:30, there is no halt in trading.

The damage was deep:

Multiple stocks, ranging from Accenture PLC to Boston Beer Co., momentarily lost nearly 100% of their value, changing hands for just one penny. Exchange-traded funds, which are index funds that trade like stocks on exchanges, were also temporarily vaporized. The $9.5 billion iShares Russell 1000 Value Index Fund went from $59 to around 8 cents in the blink of an eye.

“It happened so quickly, it was like a torpedo,” said Scott Redler, chief strategic officer at T3 Capital Management, a hedge fund. “It was mayhem.”

I am still looking for more details around what actually and specifically went wrong yesterday, but so far, there is not much information.

From Writing to Personal Memory Device

h+ Magazine postulates a seemingly distant future where we all have “personal memory devices,” that record, index, and make available every second of our experiential lives:

In the near future, someone will decide to record every moment of a human life from birth to death in digital storage…It will mark the era of personal memory offloading, an adaptive memory technology that records and indexes every single moment of your life. Offloading personal memory begins with a personal memory device, or a PMD. The basic PMD would be no more complex than a small video and sound recorder that captures your every experience. A PMD could be easily fitted shortly after birth; the least invasive option would be like a Bluetooth headset worn over the ear connected wirelessly to a local device no larger than a cell phone. Once installed, the PMD would capture and upload all first-person memories to a centralized database for indexing, search, and recall.

To be clear, the author isn’t talking about embedding chips in our brains, or recording our innermost thoughts and feelings. The idea here is more like a video recorder that’s running all the time, like a playback of your avatar in SecondLife. It would capture “GPS, Google Maps, facial recognition, speech/text recognition, brainwave analysis and so on,” recording this all for posterity, and making it available for use later on:

Whatever you do will be captured by the PMD for later playback and recall. Your PMD will remember every place you visit, every person you meet, every conversation you have, every object you look at, every movie you watch, every meal you eat, every page you read, every email you write, everything.

It sounds like Big Brother. But isn’t a lot of this already happening?

Our calls and email messages today leave traces that the government can use to spy on us. Search engines track what we do online. Our browsers track what what we do as well. We post most of what goes on in our lives on social networking sites, while remaining clueless about how these sites protect — or don’t protect — our privacy. We post our location without thinking of the implications.

The technology behind a personal memory device isn’t all that far-fetched. It’s possible to stream video from wherever you are already. This dumped to a database, time-stamped and geo-located, would provide much of the basis of such a system. Or, even closer to the vision of h+’s futuristic article, here is the Sensecam — a device, available today, that helps people with Alzheimer’s and other memory disorders to remember:

The concept was simple: using digital pictures and audio to archive an experience like a weekend visit from the grandchildren, creating a summary of the resulting content by picking crucial images, and reviewing them periodically to awaken and strengthen the memory of the event.

The hardware is a little black box called the Sensecam, which contains a digital camera and an accelerometer to measure movement…For the elderly, though, it could herald a new kind of relationship between mind and machine: even as plaque gets deposited on the brain, everyday experience is deposited on silicon, then retrieved.

Admittidly, the personal memory device still does not exist today, but we are close. Rather than this being some shocking sci-fi, and maybe even dystopian vision, I think this is actually predictable.

Isn’t this, in fact, the logical conclusion to a path humans have been on since the invention of writing? A line that can be drawn, from pre-literate humans, to writing, to the dawn of the computer age, to today — it is a line that finds humans almost compulsively drawn to recording our existence.

As Walter Ong has explained, before writing, humans existed in a culture of orality. Phrases such as “take a note” or “look something up” had no meaning, because they are visual metaphors, rooted in literacy and writing. Before humans could write things down, we thought differently, we spoke differently. Thinking “long” thoughts required formulaic speeches and mnemonic tricks. But these tricks only went so far. Writing, by fixing thoughts into somewhat permanent media, allowed humans to think in much more complex terms.

Fast-forward to the age of computers (machines that are integrally tied to the concept of memory), and we have a world in which it is not only easy to record our thoughts, but, increasingly, pieces of ourselves exist only within media that, by design, records our presence. Humans are inseparable from our machines, but today’s machines are machines of inscription, digital recording devices, and when we use them we leave a trail of bits and bytes for others to follow: “Our best machines are made of sunshine; they are all light and clean because they are nothing but signals…”

This is the central idea behind a paper I wrote as a grad student, where I described the group blog (Daily Kos, in particular) as a “space to create a collective memory, without which the blogger does not exist.” As we chat with our friends on Twitter, as we post pictures to Facebook, as we share our music preferences on Pandora, all these actions exist solely within the realm of the digital — there is no analog, biological counterpart to the “follow” on Twitter.

So we essentially have the technological basis today for the personal memory device; we already record what we do online. The only piece that is missing is a local database in which to record our digital selves. And we will get there — rather than this being a surprise, it is really just an expected step down a path humans started on a long time ago.

Google? Really?

Google now sells power.

Not sure what to say to that, other than asking, “where will they stop?”

I’ve always been amazed by Google’s success. Their stock price is currently at 540 bucks a share, so obviously others don’t feel the same way. They’ve been a wall street darling since day one, and it’s never really let up.

But I could never understand why? I mean, they sell ads. That’s nothing new. And they have a search engine. And they figured out that if you give your product away, you might be very popular.

All very simple things. (OK, obviously there’s some math and programming behind Internet search, but it’s really just tracking down links and assigning values and keeping a really fast index of everything. Good stuff, but not exactly rocket science. Well, maybe it’s kind of like rocket science. Whatever.)

But this is America! The greatest country in the world (TM)! No one can come up with something that can knock Google off its pedestal? No one can up with some new way to search the net, or better yet, some up with something disruptive enough to make Google’s search irrelevant?

I mean, that’s what Google did to get on top, right? We all used “portals” from companies like Yahoo (and, pre-web, services like Compuserve and Prodigy), that directed us where they thought we would want to go. Google changed that by making search the first thing you did when you hit the web. And they’ve since entrenched themselves into the web’s fiber.

Now, they are a verb:

Google
Pronunciation: \ˈgü-gəl\
Function: transitive verb

Usage: often capitalized
Etymology: Google, trademark for a search engine
Date: 2001
: to use the Google search engine to obtain information about (as a person) on the World Wide Web

Search, plus giving your products away, and it’s a hit. All funded through ad sales on the very pages you serve up on your products. It all seems so mundane. Yet 540 bucks a share.

Am I the only one surprised that Google’s still on top?

Amazon App Store

Amazon is adding apps to the Kindle.

I’m not sure why I’d want to run an app on my book, but there it is.

Wii links

A collection of links for my Wii:

http://www.redkawa.com/sofatube/

http://www.wiidesigned.com/

http://video.stumbleupon.com/

http://finetune.com/wii/

http://wiitoob.com/

http://www.wiicade.com/

http://wii.clusty.com/

http://www.google.com/reader/wii

http://www.wiihear.com/

[Update: Most of these are either broken, or terrible. The search for good Wii-enabled sites goes on…]