Battle for Control: Apple Versus Developers – by “Bowei J – YLT2012”

With the appliancization of the Internet, more and more consumers are accessing the web using a variety of non-browser based applications. Because the applications are built for specific platforms, the shift to apps gives more power to the owners of the platforms. Developers have to choose whether to build their apps for Android, Apple, Windows or a combination of the options.

So far, Apple has been falling out of favor among developers. With its much tighter restriction on which App gets approved, Apple is losing to the Android operating system where developers enjoy more freedom in designing their programs. As Windows mobile platform starts to pick market share, Apple might fall further since Microsoft plans to sets its restrictions on app distribution and approval process somewhere between that of Android and Apple.

            In 2009, Google filed a complaint against Apple for rejecting its Google Voice app, citing the decision as outrageous and requesting FCC to investigate. Another bad press for Apple was when it rejected Google Latitude on the ground there was already another map app on iPhone, and it would be confusing for users to have two. Despite the negative PR, theoretically Apple should be allowed to choose whichever program it permits on its platform. Some would argue that Apple is just like a supermarket that provides platform for products, such as fruit and vegetables. The supermarket reserves the right to decide which products it takes on, and Apple should be allowed to do the same with apps from developers.

Is Apple and apps analogous to supermarket and products (in this case, apples)?

However, the fundamental difference between Apple’s platform and a supermarket is that unlike the supermarket, Apple does not purchase the apps from developers. Instead, it takes a 30% cut on the revenue generated by the program. Though Apple still has the right to decide who to partner with, it should not just arbitrarily decide which app to reject. Often the decision standard Apple uses becomes controversial, and its practices reflect excessive protection of the App Store revenue model. Earlier this year, Apple rejected a few apps that used Dropbox, because once a user is in Safari in the “Desktop Version”, it was possible for him to directly purchase additional space from the website without going through Apple’s App Store. This violated the App Store Review Guidelines that outlaw Apps using a system other than the Apple’s In App Purchase API to buy services. Dropbox saved developer’s apps by getting rid of its “create account” option in one of its APIs. However, it seems Apple is simply getting too much control over what external links can be referenced in an app.

Unfortunately, developers are losing in the battle in software distribution as well. Instead of the freedom of software distribution spreading to App stores, we are experiencing the opposite. A Forbes article compared the new distribution model to the Hollywood studio model where a few large companies, such as Warner Brothers, are in control of all the distribution. Just as Paramount and Columbia Pictures decide most all movies’ distributions, we will have Apple, Google and Microsoft deciding the fate of software. Apple gained additional leverage by introducing the Sandboxing requirement. Apps will have to be Sandboxed before introduced to the Mac App Store, and through the process Apple will have the power to determine whether to restrict certain resource access of the Apps. Software programs will be completely at Apple’s mercy in term of whether it could access internet, networking or write access.

Apple is even better at Gate Keeping -- Steve Jobs at Heavenly Gate

As appliancization continues, platform and app store providers will act as the Gate Keeper to check for security issue, copyright violations and other regulations. App and software developers will lose more and more freedom as they become increasingly reliant on the distribution functions of Apple, Google and Microsoft. Unless developers rise up and revolt against Apple’s control, the Gate Keeper’s restrictions will dampen creativity, freedom of speech and innovation.


Additional Resources:–latitude-7


Mind over Matter: The Future of Education & Knowledge – by “Katayon G – YLT2012”

I sit here in one of the world’s most hallowed institutions of higher learning, attempting  (to no avail) at writing a inventive yet sensible blog post, one whose whit and charm will only force you to read it from beginning to end. But, alas, my efforts are to no avail.  So, as anyone in my position would ask himself or herself, who is to blame? Is it the result of my education thus far, one that has lacked to instill in me any sense of creativity? Are years of rote memorization at fault?  Would the use of an iPad or a computer have helped me in any way to avoid situations such as the one I find myself in right now? Wikipedia, where are you when I need you most?

In all seriousness, the education crisis that we see within our own country has prompted policy makers and schoolteachers alike to reexamine what it means to have a “western education.” More specifically, within the past decade, the prospects of incorporating technology into a traditional western education have become more and more appealing.  If we expand our focus more globally, the use of technology would allow for regions that lack fundamental infrastructure and manpower to have the ability to successfully educate a population.

However, society presents us with a paradox, of sorts. On the one had, as Issac Asimov contends within his short story “Profession,” technology may accelerate the weaknesses of our current education regime, one that, some argue, promotes rote memorization and, ultimately, the attainment of a job, rather than developing the ability to think critically.  In essence, he illustrates the appliancization of the human with an education regime which not only governs whether or not you will “be educated” with pre-determined programing, but also prescribes your line of work, ultimately robbing all but a small fraction of its population the ability to think freely and to learn.   Yet, others contend that the current “text book” status quo, cannot continue. Consequently, in examining the traditional methods through which a “Western education” is administered and how these methods will ultimately intersect with technology, (both in the sense of actual hardware and accompanying networks, like the internet) we are forced to ask ourselves, as Asimov contends, what the fundamental purpose of “getting an education” should be.

The introduction and development of programs, such as Khan Academy, providing lessons on topics ranging from chemistry to philosophy all housed within cyberspace, have, in part, restored what Asimov sees as the ultimate goal of education: a life long pursuit of knowledge for the sake of learning that will allow for innovation rather than appliancization. To this end, these programs help alleviate the problem of exclusivity not just within our own country’s education system, but within a broader global context.

Moreover, it is the “generatvity” of technology itself that may ultimately secure its foothold as far as modern education is concerned. Take for example, the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project beginning in 2005.  Aiming to give one hundred million hardy, portable computers to children in the developing world, the goal of the project is “to create an infrastructure that is both simple and generative,” allowing children the ability to think critically within a community setting while “fixing most major substantive problems only as they arise, rather than anticipating them from the start.”   In conjunction with such developments, we see that access to knowledge and science has become “protected by Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights . . . [balancing] the right of access with a right to protection of moral and material interests.”

Yet, we would be remiss to assume that technology will solve all of our problems. While the number of open courses at universities like Yale or MIT are growing and the development integrated teaching platforms online help provide equal access, they do not completely address the underlying socio-economic and cultural barriers that we are faced with in reality.  Furthermore, there is no point in having these technologies available for little to know cost if those who need it most will not have the infrastructure (i.e. computers) to make use of such opportunities.  There is only so much projects and organizations can do.


As for right now, and I’m sure for decades to come, a college degree will continue to be a signal to employers and society “that you’ve passed a certain bar.”  Time will only tell if we can develop as Neeru Paharia, founder of Peer 2 Peer University which allows users to set up or participate in online classes, puts it, “alternative signals that indicate to potential employers than an individual is a good thinker and has the skills he or she claims to have—maybe a written report or an online portfolio.” It is clear, however, that we are experiencing the beginnings of “ unbundling,” where the four elements of education—design of a course, delivery of that course, delivery of credit and delivery of a degree—will no longer be housed under “the same institutional setting,” as suggested by Roger C. Schonfeld, research manager at Ithaka S+R, a nonprofit service that helps academic institutions use technology for research and teaching.   Ultimately, as technology and education walk hand and hand into the future, a balance of sorts must be found, preventing our society from heading down the same path that Asimov so strongly heads against.

Is Appliancization about Freedom and Security? – by “Kojiro M – YLT2012”

Freedom.  It’s a word that stirs deep feelings in the heart of any American, as much as the words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address or Ronald Reagan’s inaugural speech.  So when I tell you that your freedom is threatened by your attitude about computers, you will no doubt listen carefully.

What Zittrain is all about

What is Appliancization?

It’s actually not me but Jonathan Zittrain who’s out to convince you that “appliancization,” the transformation of personal computers from flexible generative platforms to locked-down appliances, threatens your freedom—or perhaps more accurately, the freedom of technological progress.  Appliancization is particularly apparent in Apple products.  The typical iPhone can only run software from the App Store, and the App Store can only contain apps that confirm to Apple’s nebulous whim.  This means that if you buy an iPhone, you are buying not a completely customizable platform, but an appliance whose functionality may be limited by Apple’s judgment.  With their Mac App Store, Apple threatens to do to the personal computer what they have done to the smartphone.

Why do we allow this ostensible appliancization to happen?  According to Zittrain, we trust Apple-approved products because we value our computers’ safety above all else: “Viruses, spam, identity theft, crashes: all of these were the consequences of a certain freedom built into the generative PC. As these problems grow worse, for many the promise of security is enough reason to give up that freedom.”  Whether or not Zittrain is intentionally paraphrasing Ben Franklin here, the way out of our appliancization conundrum is clear: we must show that, as consumers, we value generative freedom over security.  The first step is to, um, give up your Apple products.

The real problem

Maybe Apple Isn’t Evil, Yet

Let’s be honest, the technical word you just learned about isn’t quite enough to convince you to relinquish your Apple fetish.  In fact, I’m pretty sure you don’t care that much about generative freedom, as long as you get to keep playing Angry Birds and taking artsy Instagram photos.  Zittrain might give consumers too much credit when he claims that people use apps out of an informed desire to avoid bad code.  What really drives us to apps is not security but convenience.

I’m not ashamed to admit that we’re all sheeple, guided by our desire to get the products we want with the minimum amount of effort.  Apple has made thousands selling a smaller version of a bigger version of a 5-year old product.  Now it is profiting off of, quite simply, a convenient market in which to acquire software.   What would really drive people into the App Store isn’t, as Zittrain claims, a network security crisis, but some crisis where Google breaks and it becomes even more inconvenient to search the web for software.

Moreover, I would hesitate to call Apple’s actions outright “appliancization.”  Sure, Apple might push its own apps and occasionally act irresponsibly as a gatekeeper, but its products are far from appliances.  The iPhone is a platform, albeit a shiny, somewhat limited platform: apps can serve a vast variety of different innovative functions.

A Widespread Problem

It’s not just Apple that holds us under its corporate thumb, either.  Zittrain claims that the rise of “Web 2.0,” the increasing use of browsers to do just about anything, also threatens technological innovation.  Do you remember the days when you used an email client instead of Gmail, an instant messaging client instead of Facebook chat, and your computer’s built-in calculator instead of Wolfram Alpha?  Or are you too busy listening to Pandora and browsing Tumblr to care?  This very WordPress site demonstrates the ubiquity of Web 2.0, from its reliance on user-generated content to that weird gray sidebar on the right that doesn’t seem to serve any purpose.

Despite being a PC user who considers himself completely above all of those unthinking short-sighted mac users out there, I spend 95 percent of the time on a word processor or a web browser.  I am completely dependent on the structure of the internet and the integrity of my web browser when it comes to most of what I do on a computer.

Sheeple Aren’t That Dumb

Web 2.0 presents a structural vulnerability in our network that is not immediately apparent, but Apple presents a more manageable problem.  If you believe my claim about sheeple consumers, in the end, it’s not norms or laws, but the market that will decide our future.  Zittrain can’t stop people from buying Apple products, but Apple can.  As soon as the App store starts infringing on our convenience, customers will take notice.  And if the infringement grows to the extent that it outweighs the convenience of using the App Store, a separate market will emerge to satisfy consumers.  If Apple decides to use its control over its hardware to block such a market, even fewer people would buy Macs.  The average consumer might be dumb, but he’s not that dumb.

The consumer solves the problem.

Developers, too, still have a stake in the survival of the App Store.  They no longer have to process transactions or track licenses on their own.  As soon as a critical mass of developers see the App Store as a detriment to their work, an alternative will emerge.  If Apple blocks an alternative from emerging, they will lose the developers and the generative capacity they offer.

As we witness the development of Apple-style appliancization, we should also note the benefits that come with it.  First, people unfamiliar with technology find app-based computers easier to work with, and those people matter too.  Second, Apple doesn’t dictate the future of the PC; there remains a significant portion of the population that prefers the more open, non-Apple personal computer.  We’ll sit back, grab some popcorn, and wait for what Apple does next.

The Future of Appliancization – by “Aaron L – YLT2012”

George Orwell

In a move that seemed almost too ironic to be true, Amazon in 2009 remotely erased George Orwell’s 1984 from thousands of Kindle devices. The web giant’s spokesperson explained the book had to be removed because it was added to the store by a company that didn’t hold the rights to it. Amazon became a sort of Big Brother in the real world even as it erased the character from the digital one. This move and others like it point to a problem that could only increase in scale as we enter into a world where technology occupies a space at the very center of our lives.

The Issue

People are now moving towards using more centrally controlled, or “tethered,” information devices like smartphones and e-readers in order to increase security and ease of use. But there’s a tradeoff here. The more tethered to the network our devices become, the easier it is for institutions to regulate them and the harder it is for users to tinker with them. Our devices are becoming appliances that, as Internet expert Jonathan Zittrain puts it, “can [only] be updated by their makers and [are] fundamentally changing the way in which we experience our technologies. Appliances become . . . rented instead of owned.” This is the kind of change that allows you to own 1984 one day and see it vanish the next. Companies simply have more control over the products and content they sell you because they can modify and monitor them from afar without your consent.

Where We’re Headed

We’ve become fairly accustomed to tethered appliancization on our smartphones and laptop screens. Soon, this model will make the jump to new kinds of “wearable computing” devices. Earlier this year, Google announced Project Glass – augmented reality glasses designed to overlay contextually relevant information atop the real world. The idea is to get technology out of the way and make it easier to share moments from your life in real-time.

If Google has its way, you might use these glasses for all sorts of things. If you’re a car mechanic, you could wear Glass and have information about what exactly you need to fix displayed right in front of your eyes. If you’re a doctor, maybe you’d use these during surgery to get easy access to important vital statistics without taking your eyes off the patient. Project Glass could also allow you to easily navigate a new city or give constantly up-to-date information during a natural disaster. No matter the use case, this technology would arguably more integrated into daily life than anything that came before it and regulation could take on a whole new level of eeriness. Tethered technologies like Project Glass make surveillance inexpensive and practical for regulators. If the government wiretapping our mobile phones, what’s to keep them from doing the same with high-tech glasses? Surveillance would become less like Big Brother looking down on you and more like a first person-shooter video game. It’s not too hard to imagine that Project Glass might one day become ubiquitous. A government would only need to regulate Google in order to change the way that hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, experience the world. While the U.S. might not be willing to go to such lengths, it’s not inconceivable to think that Chinese or Iranian governments would.

Famed Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreessen likes to claim that software is “eating the world.” If that is indeed true, its next meal could very well be the auto industry. Google and others are working on a self-driving car that has already been approved in several places, including California. An autonomous car would be a kind of PC in its own right and would take the idea of “tethered appliance” to a whole new level. Car companies could micromanage our driving behavior in the same way that media companies dictate the use of our DRM-protected mp3s and ebooks. Self-driving cars could be forced to self-report to local police upon breaking the speed limit and tyrannical governments could even remotely disable cars or set curfews on their use in order to prevent people from mobilizing. Given that all these “mobile devices” would be connected to the network, the barriers to surveillance would be minimal. All kinds of new questions would arise: who, for example, would be responsible for car crashes? What new, unfair practices could car insurance companies think up? Major policy changes could be implemented as “minor technical adjustments” to code or technology in the car. We would sacrifice full ownership of our cars in the same way we’ve done with PC software and increase regulability for the sake of security (a tradeoff that, as we’ve seen in the PC world, is not always a beneficial one).

Let’s also consider the emerging practice of biohacking – a field that fearless teenagers and experienced doctors alike have shown interest in. To biohackers, computers are hardware, apps are software, and humans are wetware. “Gone are Microsoft’s windows into the digital world, replaced by a union of man and machine,” they say. These hackers see humans as the next frontier for technology and believe cyborgs will eventually become the norm in society. They implant chips into their bodies in order to connect to the network and experience novel things like electromagnetic fields and cybernetic telepathy. If this were to happen on a grand scale, humans would ultimately become tethered appliances themselves. Self-driving cars and wearable computers are layers built on top of the human experience. Biohacking brings technology, and thus regulability, to a far deeper level and forces us to rethink the idea of what it even means to be human. In a scenario where cyborgs do indeed become the norm, governments and companies would be able to regulate our very existence in the same way that they today regulate software, cars, and digital content.

I’m painting a very bleak picture here of a dystopia that certainly won’t come around tomorrow or even in the next few decades. It is, however, important to take the long-view and entertain seemingly improbable ideas – especially in an industry that’s moving so blindingly fast.

A Glimmer of Hope

With its new Kinect, Microsoft seems to be taking a different approach that may help us avoid the freakish future outlined above. While it can certainly help you master your Lady Gaga dance moves or improve your tennis skills, what’s most interesting is what the Kinect can do when it’s not chained to an Xbox in your living room. Developers have gotten their hands on the Kinect and used its advanced sensors and imaging technology to implement all sorts of creative hacks. Microsoft has even endorsed this practice; it set up a $20,000 fund to help companies interested in toying with the Kinect and came out with an ad promoting such innovation earlier this year.

From controlling robots, to enabling virtual fitting rooms, to helping blind people walk, the potential of the Kinect seems boundless. Though the appliance is “tethered,” it allows for a huge amount of generativity. In other words, independent users can tweak it to their own liking and come up with new, inventive ways to use it. Microsoft set an example here that the entire industry should follow. This kind of “hackability” leads to more innovation and will offset the costs of increased regulability that these tethered appliances often bring.

“Imagine the ways we’ll seem backwards to future generations”

Startup expert Paul Graham likes to think up new startup ideas by imagining the ways we’ll seem backwards to future generations. We, it seems, would certainly seem backwards if we abandoned tethered appliances altogether for fear of  regulation. The benefits of connected devices are far too numerous to count. In order to maximize their potential, technology companies need to follow Microsoft’s lead and keep platforms open enough for innovation and secure enough to combat malware. Apple doesn’t necessarily have to turn their App Store into the Wild West, but their policies should at least be more transparent. Why, for instance, can’t this developer get his drone strike-tracking app approved? Governments need to meet these tech companies halfway and enact policies that facilitate innovation rather than hamper it. As tech companies grow increasingly powerful, they can serve as checks on the power of abusive governments, but only if they allow users to do a little of the hacking themselves.

Is Apple an Evil Controlling Monster?? – by “Cameron A – YLT2012”

No, probably not. But that’s not what some people think. Ever since it was the little guy fighting big bad Microsoft, Apple has been known as the more controlled, more protective alternative. But now that Apple is a giant in its own right, that tight-to-the-vest nature can seem a bit… possessive. Critics call the iPhone App Store a walled garden where Apple rules all and generally has too much power, while Apple itself calls the store a “curated platform,” where apps are assured to be quality-controlled and safe. No matter which side of the debate you’re on, everyone can agree that as it stands Apple is the gatekeeper to a huge amount of content, and, more importantly, brand-obsessed Apple junkies. So who’s right, Apple or  critics? Maybe they’re both right. Better investigate.

From the point of view of software developers, it’s unclear whether Apple’s walled garden, including the Mac App Store, is a boon or a curse. Yes, when a developer sells their product on the Mac or iPhone store Apple takes a sizable junk of 30% of the profits simply for the privilege of being there. But perhaps more important than that 30% is the increased exposure a product gets when it is a part of the App Store, as well as the implicit Apple seal of approval. Instead of having to advertise independently and seek out ever-so-elusive customers themselves, developers in the App Store have access to an already-established audience, and one that immediately has trust in the product simply by virtue of it being in the App Store. Though some critics say that this will reduce the presence of software bundles and the amount of information a developer has on their customer, or will destroy developer independence, it doesn’t seem like many developers have rejected the App Store in favor of independence. Sure, some might object to the platform, but that certainly didn’t stop Apple from having 650,000 apps on its store as of July 24th, 2012. And the $5.5 billion Apple has paid to the developers of those apps is certainly nothing to sneeze at either. For many, it seems, it’s better to be in the club than outside looking in.

From the viewpoint of non-tech savvy consumers – and I include myself in this group, the judgment on Apple is a no-brainer. We don’t want independence; we wouldn’t know what to do with it. Rather than having hundreds of various email apps, all which differ in small, insignificant ways to me, the non-savvy, I’d rather just have a choice between two or three. While Apple may be criticized for some of its sillier rejections, on the whole, I would really prefer not to have access to a Baby Shaker app. While the Android App Store may have  the smaller list of rules that the more independent-minded might crave, for those who would simply be more confused by more choice, the Apple App Store is the way to go. The only downside for those who don’t know any better is the long-term potential for less innovation. Developers making apps for a marketplace run solely in Apple’s garden are necessarily going to be limited by some restrictions, although not, I think, to the extent that doomsayers might suggest. Steve Jobs once said that “95% of all apps submitted are approved within five days.” Apple might be curating, but not that much. Besides, in this era, where the tech scene is ruled by a handful of giant companies, is dramatic innovation, rather than incremental change, really even possible? And, if dramatic innovation doesn’t seem feasible, couldn’t it be sacrificed for better quality products?

Really, the debate over the controlling nature of Apple comes down to two values: quality and freedom (with a little security thrown in) Some developers and critics may want freedom from Apple’s restrictions, but the marketplace has shown that the consumer doesn’t. As long as the majority of consumers do not realize what functions they are missing by only playing in Apple’s backyard, quality will win out over freedom for many. The rapid devotion some people have for Apple products will blind them to the alternatives. As much as Apple has been criticized for being a Big Brother figure, as long as it turns out pretty, functional products, that  criticism will be confined to small minority.

Legal Questions in a Cloudy Future – by “Ric B”

We're all headed for the sky


Cloud computing is the future, and it may be here sooner than we think. This past June, Google rolled out the Chromebook, its cloud computing clients pre-installed with ChromeOS. The idea is simple: almost everything we can do on our PCs locally, we could also be doing on the internet; on someone else’s computer. Why not strip away all of the excess, and let our computers be small, sexy, and sleek while the heavy lifting is done on “the cloud”?


A Google Chromebook: "Nothing but the Web"
...and a whole host of legal uncertainty

We could start with the fact that well-acquainted internet doomsayer Jonathan Zittrain would blow a gasket over the loss of generativity, as outlined in Chapter X in his “The Future of the Internet”, where X stands for any chapter number in his book. The minute we start letting someone else tell us what we can and cannot do with our computers, we begin to stifle the very innovation that created the Internet as we know it a.k.a. the best thing evar. Is he right? Who knows. This topic has been in beaten to death this course anyway. There are other relevant issues at hand, such as privacy, and I’d like to examine some of the relevant laws and legal questions associated with cloud computing before we plunge headfirst into the future.



This is the Big Issue. The 4th amendment protects us from “unreasonable searches and seizures”. If we recall from Katz v. United States, one component of what constitutes an unreasonable search is whether or not one has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Should I have a reasonable expectation of privacy with my data on the cloud because a Zoho spreadsheet functions just like the excel one on my personal hard drive, or because I’m hosting it on the internet can I not possibly expect privacy? Enter the Stored Communications Acts, part of the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act.


The SCA protects users from warrentless invasions of privacy, or, at least it did in 1986. The SCA stems from a time before the cloud when server space was more expensive, and when all e-mails were downloaded off of the server and onto your hard drive. As such, the SCA  made a distinction between e-mails that were less than 180 days old, and e-mails older than this. An e-mail on the server for 180, it was thought, was thought to be abandoned, and someone could not reasonably expect privacy of their abandoned e-mails. Thus, the government can, under the SCA, freely demand anything off the cloud that older than 180 days. Makes sense 25 years later with cloud computer, when the cloud has replaced users local hard drives, and people use 3rd-party servers for longterm storage of their data, right? Didn’t think so. The good news is, this has been challenged legally, and at least one district court has called the SCA unconstitutional in Warshak v United States. The bad news is, the SCA isn’t the only relevant law at stake…

How the government can do whatever it wants


Enter the PATRIOT Act, a new government doctrine which says, in summary, that government can, with regards to getting information, basically do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, regardless of where the the information is stored. That means anything on any cloud is fair game for the government’s eyes. In fact, under the PATRIOT Act, somehow, the US government can get information off a server stored in Europe without a warrant or consent. Whoa. It’s already stopped one major defense firm in the UK, BAE, from adopting Microsoft’s Cloud 365 service, because they are afraid of the US government stealing state secrets off of the cloud, which is something that could happen under the PATRIOT act. Privacy being basically a notion of the past with this law, let’s move on to other legal issues.


Net Neutrality

The future of cloud computing is dependent on strong network neutrality laws that are not yet in place. If you are relying on the internet to provide functionality for you computer, and the internet becomes restricted, so does the functionality of your computer. For example, imagine that your ISP begins to put out a web productivity suite designed for use on the cloud. Should they choose to prioritize or filter data away from competitors on your Chromebook, not only does your ISP limit what you can do on the internet, they are now limiting the basic functionality of your computer. The idea that you are free to hack a device that you own to make it do whatever you want doesn’t really apply when the functionality of your product requires the ongoing participation of your ISP.



As we know, jurisdiction already makes things legally thorny on the internet. At any given time, you could be accessing data owned Australians hosted on Russian servers from your laptop in America, and it wouldn’t be uncommon. Right now, however, if an French website gets taken down for violating French laws, it might be upsetting to you if you like to visit that website. However, if your French cloud computing service, where you hold all of your data, gets taken down for violating French laws, it could mean the loss of all of your data. You may be bound by local laws with regards to what data you could be allowed to store on your cloud, effectively limiting what kind of data documents you can have. For instance, while in America the first amendment gives you every right to deny the Holocaust, you may not be able to store your papers saying so on cloud services in Germany. In fact, the a paper you had been writing, editing, and storing on a German cloud, could suddenly vanish, and you’d have no way of getting it back. Scary.


In summary…

The Internet is a complicated landscape legally. Cloud computing has many advantages, like making your data more portable, and allowing your computers to be more powerful. While Google would have you believe that using GoogleDocs is just like using Microsoft Word on your computer, and it may feel that way on the surface, legally the two are worlds apart.


...we really, really hope


In an interview two years ago, CEO Eric Schmidt was asked the question “People are treating Google like their most trusted friend. Should they be?”. His response? “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” Using cloud computing involves not only entering a complicated legal framework, but trusting your 3rd party cloud source, perhaps the way that Hoffa trusted Partin. For the time being, I don’t use GMail, and my programs, e-mail and data are on my personal hard drive. I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Final Project: Mental Health on the Go – by “Bryan B”

As part of my final project, I was interested in the way health care and health care related information is provided on smartphones. Because I am interested in mental health care, I looked at apps relating to mental health care in particular. Moreover, because Google’s Android system and Apple’s iPhone currently dominate the majority of the smartphone market, I compared the results of my project on both markets. One purpose of my research is to investigate how people access apps in pursuit of mental health services. To investigate this, I compared results for various search terms related to popular mental health concerns. These included general symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, as well as specific searches for ten of the most common mental disorders, such as major depressive disorder, social anxiety disorder, and anorexia.

Once the search was initiated, I took inventory of several factors: total apps returned, total relevant apps returned, total apps that were free, and for the specific disorder searches, a count of how many apps were directly related to the disorders in question. The most important results of my project are here:

Graphical Results
Side by side comparison of results between the Android Market and the iPhone App Store. Average utility refers to the number of relevant apps compared to total apps for all searches.
Android Full Results
iPhone Full Results

First, the Android surpassed the iPhone in how many total apps were produced for each search term and in each search category. This reflects the fact that, for each search term, I found that the Android was generally much more responsive to general terms in producing associated applications, however, the iPhone was better at returning more relevant apps, as indicated by it’s higher utility value.

Though the Android was much more generally responsive to search terms, it appears as though the iPhone was much better at only returning relevant apps. It seems as though the Android may bloat the number of relevant apps presented to the individual conducting a search. This could frustrate users seeking help, which in turn may repel individuals seeking help from doing so on the Android platform. iPhone users, and in turn, developers, may appreciate the ease of use and lack of clutter provided by the App Store.

Apple's App Review Guidelines may have something to do with this. The Android Market currently has no equivalent.

Another important result to highlight is that the Android surpassed the iPhone in the availability of apps tailored to the alleviation of a specific disorder. In nearly every case, the Android returned more overall apps than the iPhone did. The case of GAD and Major Depression were most notable in that the iPhone failed to recognize any relevant results, while the Android proved mildly successful. Because the iPhone did respond to and produce results tailored specifically to “depression,” this may not reflect an availability issue, but rather an accessibility issue with the way the search engines return information.

Because there were significant differences between both platforms, and some clinicians acknowledge this to promote the use of one platform like the iPhone, there are several potential implications. A clinician I work with told me that the iPhone is the preferred platform, for him and for others, in releasing mobile mental health care services mostly because of the ease of use and accessibility of the iPhone. But Apple products are typically more expensive than Android equivalents, and this difference in population may further promote the divide between individuals who seek mental health care. Financial concerns are one of the obstacles to accessing mental health care. If the iPhone comes to dominate the use of mobile mental health care, then this could alienate individuals who seek access to mental health care on apps but for whom financial troubles prevent access to both the iPhone and professional mental health services. In this regard, it is also worth mentioning that the Android market provided more free apps. If developers move to the iPhone, accessibility for those who have an Android device may further decrease.

Though these apps may be useful, developers must be cognizant of demographics of iPhone and Android users

Moving forward, one thing that would be important to look at is issues of legitimacy of apps like these. In professional mental health care, government law and agencies, high barriers to entry into mental health care fields, and peer review processes help us determine who is a trusted clinician and what forms of therapy are valid. For example, Twitter provides an excellent example of this: Twitter allows users to mark their profiles as “Official” in order to prevent fraud or misattribution of information. Such a similar feature could likely be presented in the future for apps mental health apps, as they are a sensitive issue. For now, however, most likely most people will rely on proxy sources like official consumer reviews and news, such as from the New York Times, and suggestions from doctors or therapists on which applications to seek.

Final Project: Making Things – by “Nick D”

The Makerbot Thing-O-Matic (Attribution: Makerbot on Flikr)

I finally posted my 10th thing to Thingiverse! The road has been fun and the interactions I had with the community were better than I expected!

The idea of my final project was to ask friends and classmates for ideas for physical objects that they would like to have that could be 3D printed on the Makerbot. I designed them on an educational version of Solidworks, printed them out on my Makerbot Thing-O-Matic 3D printer and gave them to the people who requested them. I also uploaded the designs onto Thingiverse (an online site maintained by Makerbot Industries to facilitate sharing designs of physical objects with other users) which made them available to anyone else who wanted to use or improve them. I released all of my designs under an Attribution – Non-Commercial – Share Alike license. This project explored first hand the collaboration and network effects that we had been talking about in class. It allowed me to get some really neat ideas into people’s hands and onto the web community so others could benefit from the designs.

If you don’t know, the Thing-O-Matic is an open source, open hardware 3D printer developed by Makerbot Industries. The Thing-O-Matic is capable of making 3D parts out of ABS thermoplastic within a build envelope of approximately 4″ x 4″ x 4″. For those of you who didn’t get the chance to see my presentation in class, here is a time-lapse video of the device’s construction and the device printing out a toy bell.

Each design started out as an idea or suggestion. Many times I found designs online that served as a good starting point and I worked from there. When I had decided on a plan, I designed the object in Solidworks, a 3D Computer Aided Design (CAD) software package. Solidworks is a parametric feature-based modeling tool, where 2D sketches are extruded or cut to create 3D objects. Here is a quick run-through for creating a simple square cutout on the program:

Step 1 - Draw a 2D Sketch and Add Dimensions


Step 2 - Extrude Features


Step 3 - Create 3D Body


Step 4 - Draw Another 2D Sketch for New Features and Add Dimensions


Step 5 - Cut Features


Step 6 - Finished Model


Step 7 - Scale, Rotate, and Adjust before exporting to the Makerbot


Step 8 - Commence Creation!


Step 9 - Let Cool and Remove Print

With a lot of sketching, extruding and cutting (and a few other tricks) you can make any 3D object you can think of – when it comes to a generative hardware technology unconstrained by the vendor, this is where it is happening!

Did the project work out as well as I hoped? It sure did! All in all, I have nearly 100 combined “likes” (to date) from other Thingiverse users on the things I designed, which ranged from medical devices to toy planes. One of my designs was featured on Thingiverse, having caught the eye of an administrator as a particularly good design. I even had other users printing out my designs (and taking pictures of them to show off!).

So, you may ask, what did I end up designing? Here is a run-through of the 10 “things” that I made.

 _   _   _   _

Thing 1: X-Acto Knife/Hex Wrench Holder


Likes: 7

Thing 1 - A Thing for Tools


This thing was an integrated tool holder that attached to a pre-existing part on the Makerbot. It was something I had been thinking about for a while and wanted to make, and it served as a nice upgrade to my printer. Another user thought so too –

“Nice. I had been thinking about some kind of clip or mount for the wrench for some time.” – DigitalBytes, Okotoks, Canada

This design was featured the next day, having caught the eye of a Thingiverse Admin. For my first “thing”, it was such an exhilarating feeling to have been featured. In retrospect, this may very well have been by design (maybe all first time posts get featured?). In any event, it accomplished the goal of getting me excited to contribute more.

 _   _   _   _

Thing 2: Parametric Radial Ornament

Likes: 8

Thing 2 - A Thing for a Tree


This thing was an ornament, which played with the printer’s ability to create enclosed negative space. I was asked to design an ornament by a friend and I was inspired by the tear-drop shaped ornaments and a whisk.

 _   _   _   _

Thing 3: Decorative Coat Hook

Likes: 11

Thing 3 - A Thing for a Coat

This thing was a coat hook for a friend who had run out of her 3M hooks and wanted something a little more aesthetically pleasing. I designed it to accept adhesive backing as well as a nail, for some flexibility in mounting.

What was exciting about this design was that another user MacGyver in Salt Lake City, UT liked the design and printed one out for himself! He commented:

“I’ve been looking for just this thing for awhile now. Thanks for the upload!” – MacGyver, Salt Lake City, UT

He also posted a picture of the design. This was electronic transmission of hardware! Talk about COOL!

A Copy of Thing 3 Printed by MacGyver

 _   _   _   _

Thing 4: Recycled Bottle Coat Hanger

Likes: 38

Thing 4 - A Thing for a Closet

This thing was an attempt to do some recycling while designing and was requested by a friend who is very environmentally conscious. I was inspired to create this design from a similar product by Chinese designer Xuan Yu. I thought this was a great way to recycle 2 bottles while utilizing the printer’s capabilities. Here is an image of the print before I cleaned off the support material and assembled it.

Thing 4 with Support Material

This was the most “liked” design that I put together and the comments were so encouraging –

“This idea is amazingly clever! What a wonderful way to combine a 3D printer and recycling bottles to make a useful product. ” – PolygonPusher, Sweden

“What a brilliant idea!!” – Rasle500, Denmark

“This is genius !” – mrule,  Providence, RI

I didn’t really expect to get such good feelings from sharing my designs with the community, but here I was, excited to post more!

  _   _   _   _

Thing 5: Glasses and Cleaning Cloth Moustache Stand

Likes: 7

Thing 5 - A Thing for a Pair of Glasses

This thing was suggested to keep a pair of glasses safe and cleaning cloth handy. It a “moustache stand” – a play on a design my girlfriend found here. The Makerbot is capable of printing out in different colors (depending on what color raw material you have). I had a spool of black ABS and I thought it would work well with the design.

   _   _   _   _

Thing 6: Arrow Bookend

Likes: 4

Thing 6 - A Thing for Books

This thing was requested and designed using inspiration from a similar bookend.

At this point, I was really getting into the groove of cranking a couple of designs out a day! It was really fun watching my designs and waiting for comments, “likes”, and printed copies by others!

    _   _   _   _

Thing 7: Plantar Fasciitis Pain Reduction Apparatus

Likes: 4

Thing 7 - A Thing for Pain Reduction
Illustration of Using Thing 7

This thing was suggested to me by a Physical Therapist who sufferers from pain due to Plantar Fasciitis to help alleviate discomfort. It was a resting splint for sleeping or relaxing (not walking) designed to apply tension on the ball of the foot. This was an improvement over current devices that put tension on the toe using a tight fitting sock, which causes discomfort to the toe. The printed component allows the foot to be supported with the commercially available straps.

    _   _   _   _

Thing 8: Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel Toy Model

Likes: 7

Thing 8 - A Thing for Fun
The Sentinel (Thing 8's Inspiration) ©TruthDowser / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0 & GFDL

This thing was suggested to me by an engineer and enthusiast. It is a miniature mockup of the Sentinel stealth drone (also known as the Beast of Kandahar) developed by Lockheed Martin.

I thought I would have a little fun with the caption too, given recent events in relation to this story.

“Iran got an early Christmas present… So can you!”

    _   _   _   _

Thing 9: Photo Keychain

Likes: 2

Thing 9 - A Thing for a Photo

This thing was the only design that featured two separate interlocking parts. A suggestion came along for a photo frame keychain for backpack or purse. One could place a photo within (1″x1.5″ size) along with a 1″x1.5″x.25″ piece of plexiglass and snap/glue the pieces together to create the keychain.

Thing 9 Separated

_   _   _   _

Thing 10: Watch Stand

Likes: 14

Thing 10 - A Thing for a Watch

This thing was modeled after those watch stands they have in stores for holding watches up in display cabinets. A friend wanted one so that they could hold their watch up to the light to charge their solar watch during the wintertime.

_   _   _   _

I want to thank everyone who contributed ideas and helped me make this final project possible!

If you would like to check out my things on thingiverse, visit Indigojin.


Happy Holidays everyone!

I couldn't resist! (Design by tc_fea)

Sandboxing Generativity – by “Misbah U”

Earlier this month, Apple sent an email out to its developers delaying the implementation of sandboxing to Mac App Store submissions, stating:

The vast majority of Mac users have been free from malware and we’re working on technologies to help keep it that way. As of March 1, 2012 all apps submitted to the Mac App Store must implement sandboxing. Sandboxing your app is a great way to protect systems and users by limiting the resources apps can access and making it more difficult for malicious software to compromise users’ systems.

Simply put, sandboxing serves as a security enhancement. It’s a container  in which an application is allowed to function–unable to perform any tasks or access any resources that would mean transcending the container’s boundaries. Essentially, one application is prevented from affecting another in any malicious way (i.e. its prevented from potentially/theoretically using UNIX commands to delete files on your hard drive without your knowledge, or attempting to extract passwords and share them, etc). I think, conceptually, this sounds fantastic and a great deal for the end user, but there are other consequences that should also be taken into account when it comes to sandboxing and its implementation. Often the case is that applications need a certain level of outside access in order to perform whatever they have advertised to do. For example, a photo editing app, wouldn’t be of much use if it wasn’t even able to access your iPhoto library. To address this, Apple allows for “entitlements” that app developers can request for the application they submit for Mac App Store approval. A quick glance shows that the complete list is fairly straightforward (there are a couple temporary exemptions) …although if you happen to need access to hardware from something other than USB (e.g. Thunderbold, Firewire, or Bluetooth), you’ll be hard-pressed to find a way to do so.

The mobile world has generally always had sandboxing. Apple’s move to apply it to the Mac world seems to imply that engineers thus far have found it such a great idea that they wish to see Mac users benefit from it as well. Yes,  as I said earlier, on the outset sandboxing presents a method for furthering security–unfortunately, as we’ve seen in the jailbreaking community time and time again, code isn’t perfect and it’s only a certain amount of time before someone finds a loophole and continues the constant game of cat and mouse. Just to think of a few areas where sandboxing may fall through:

  1. Apple seems to be  relying on its ability to implement the entitlement limited code perfectly. If Apple could write in perfect code, then it would have, I would think, been able to immediately fix the PDF & TIFF submodules so that they were exploit/bug-free. Unfortunately, code is imperfect.
  2. For apps not sold in the Mac App Store, there’s nothing requiring them to use entitlements. And if there  even was such a requirement, malware could just be distributed in applications with entitlements including basically everything the system could do.
  3. This brings us to the following: Apple has mentioned that it will look closely at apps requiring a lot of entitlements. And again, I can see how that might make sense as it might look suspicious if an app requests sixteen entitlements…but at the same time, looking closely at such applications in some ways can be seen as an admission that entitlements do not work since it leads to what many may consider as code auditing.

To further emphasize the idea that sandboxing is far from full proof: earlier this year, security researcher Charlie Miller submitted an application to the iOS App Store, which was audited and approved. The application allowed Apple’s iOS software to run arbitrary code and therefore download new, unapproved commands onto the device and execute them at will. For example, he demoed the phone being able to vibrate or produce sounds, steal user photos, read contacts, etc. In response to this news, Apple revoked Miller’s developer account.

At this point, I think the real question this comes down to is whether Apple’s latest move has to do primarily with security or Apple’s intent on further exerting control on what’s installed on users’ desktops. To many, sandboxing is seen as the beginning of locked down desktop machines similar to iPhones and iPads, where any development not sanctioned by Apple is effectively diminished.

After Apple sent out the updated timeline for sandbox implementation on applications, Jonathan Zittrain, the author of The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It, tweeted:

Zittrain: Apple one step closer to locking down PCs as predicted in The Future of the Internet at ; see

What Zittrain is referring to here is the predictions found in The Future of the Internet, where he begins by discussing the concept of generativity–or the openness of a system to new and unplanned changed from its users. Today we have open internet and open computers where you can run any programs and protocols you want and connect to anyone you want. This has been tremendous in establishing what he describes as a generative system. It is important to note, however, that what may seem as a strength can also serve as as weakness for the very same system. Computers can get viruses and crash. They can start to slow down. Thus, the very same force that attracted so many users in the first place can now lead users to go for the safer options available, systems they can be assured will work reliably. Hence Zittrain’s tweet.

One can argue that Apple seems to be closing off the Mac App Store and forcing users to choose between the “open” and “closed” worlds that Zittrain mentions.  Apple justifies sandboxing by appealing to users wanting their Macs to run more smoothly. From their perspective, any users that want to run unsandboxed applications found outside of the Mac App Store, can still do so. Thus,  Macs can function as computers that support safe and unsafe modes–one focusing on increased security, and the other for increased generativity. Because of this, there have been mixed reviews when it comes Apple’s choice to implement sandboxing: some fully support Apple 100%, while others fear the dumbing down of the Mac store.

Furthermore, if you look at this situation of sandboxed applications in the Mac App Store vs. unsandboxed applications found outside of the Store from the developer’s perspective, then I think it’s highly unlikely, that over time, those developers that are at all concerned with market share will choose to create at least two different versions of an app–with one including extra features that the sandboxed version could not have. This therefore brings us back to the concern that sandboxing maybe dumbing down the set of features available to even those who choose not to purchase through Apple.  Hence, at this point, there seems to be a lot of uncertainty surrounding what a sandboxed future means for both the distribution of, and applications themselves.

Overall, Apple’s decision to postpone till March, I think is reason to be somewhat hopeful that developers may play a greater role between now and then in the final implementation of sandboxing; Apple seems to recognize that the concept isn’t exactly ready yet. At the end of the day, however sandboxing is executed, I dont think there is any doubt amongst both developers and users that this is just the beginning of Apple’s overall plan to “IOS-ify” OSX.

“Don’t make an App for that” – by “Nathan B”

If there’s one term it seems that tech writers can’t get enough of, it’s Web 2.0. It has spawned design conferences, a host of new applications, and  even Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. The idea behind this buzzword is that while once the average user went online and found a plethora of content produced by others which they could access, this new incarnation of the internet would be democratized. Instead of its content being dictated by only a few individuals who knew how to code and could afford hosting, now any user who wanted to could produce websites, blogs and videos and share them with the world via the internet. This supposedly marked a great shift in how people communicated and would help realize the web’s true potential.

At the same time, there has been a significant change not only in the way that online content is produced, but how it is accessed. Where internet users were once chained to personal computers (which were themselves bound by the limitations of wired access and WiFi), they can now go online via mobile devices, whether they be through smartphones like the iPhone or the Droid, or tablets like the iPad (because, let’s be honest, no one is actually going to buy the Samsung Galaxy).

If all of this is true, then the question needs to be asked: why is Apple (one of the largest and most influential makers of mobile devices) standing in the way of electronic populism?

Apple has long been known for its draconian policies on any number of subjects, and they’ve made it abundantly clear that content on their mobile devices will be no exception. The App Store has produced nearly $200 million in profits for Apple (though it only accounts for about 1% of gross profits), but more importantly, the broad range of applications available through the App Store has fueled sales of the iPhone, driving up its market share.

This diversity of applications has emerged in spite of Apple’s promulgation that it will remove any Apps which, for example, have metadata that mentions the name of any other computer platform, misspells the name of any Apple  product or even simply has icons which are too similar to those used by Apple (not to mention the fact that, lest this be easy for developers, having an interface which is too complicated is also grounds for removal). In short: if you want to put your application on the iPhone, you had better follow Apple’s rules, no matter how ridiculous (also, don’t think you can get away with talking about how absurd you think some of the regulations are, either).

So, what does all of this have to do with Web 2.0? Simply put, the fundamental idea behind Web 2.0 is that users get to dictate the content they find online with relatively little interference from the electronic “elite.” Apple’s actions, however, drive the newest online frontier in the opposite direction. Instead of creating an electronic forum where ideas and innovation flourish free from censorship, Steve Jobs would impose a world where the unwashed masses are kept away from “undesirable” content in the name of Apple “trying to do the right thing for its users,” instead of those users deciding what is right for themselves.

While more open platforms like Google’s Android have been gaining steam in recent years, users of iPhones and iPads are left with little recourse against the arbitrary governance of their closed platforms, except, perhaps, someone playing them a sad, sad song on the world’s tiniest open-source violin.