The FBI in full Honecker mode

Consider this:

Obama: cryptographers who don’t believe in magic ponies are “fetishists,” “absolutists”

…and even worse, this:

Surprise! NSA data will soon routinely be used for domestic policing that has nothing to do with terrorism

Let’s consider this for a bit. In particular the “going dark” idea. The idea that cryptography makes the governments of the world lose access to a kind of information they always had access to. That idea is plain wrong for the most part, since they never had access to this stuff.

Yes, some private information used to be accessible with warrants, such as contents of landline phone calls and letters in the mail, the paper kind that took forever to get through. But there never was much private information in those. We didn’t confide much in letters and phone calls.

But the major part of the information we carry around on our phones were never within reach of the government. Most of what we have there didn’t even exist back then, like huge amounts of photographs, and in particular dick pics. We didn’t do those before. Most of what we write in SMS and other messaging such as Twitter and even Facebook, was only communicated in person before. We didn’t write down stuff like that at all. Seriously, sit down and go through your phone right now, then think about how much of that you ever persisted anywhere only 10 or 15 years ago. Not much, right? It would have been completely unthinkable to have the government record all our private conversations back then, just to be able to plow through them in case they got a warrant at some future point in time. 

So, what the government is trying to do under the guise of “not going dark” is shine a light where they never before had the opportunity or the right to shine a light, right into our most private conversations. The equivalence would be if they simply had put cameras and microphones into all our living spaces to monitor everything we do and say. That wasn’t acceptable then. And it shouldn’t be acceptable now, when the phone has become that private living space.

If they get to do this, there is only one space left for privacy, your thoughts. How long until the government will claim that space as well? It may very well become technically feasible in the not too distant future.

Darn neat stocks feature on iPhone

Just read this in a forum post (Swedish, sorry ’bout that), and simply had to tell you.

In the Stocks app that comes with the iPhone, you can add in a number of other things than the most obvious, like this:

Add the exchange as a suffix. For example TLSN.ST results in the share price of TeliaSonera on the Stockholm exchange. The price and graph will be in Swedish Crowns.

The OMX index can be added as: ^OMXSPI

Even currency exchange rates can be added with the base currency followed by the target and then the string “=X”. Examples:


The first one will show the current exchange rate as Swedish Crowns per US Dollar. The others follow the same pattern.

Kudos to signature sebastian_r on the forum for this info. It’s just so damn neat…

3.3.1 with a twist

The by now famous paragraph 3.3.1 in the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement for iPhone OS 4.0 says that “Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited”. Which, of course, ruins the day for Adobe and Flash CS5. The idea was to have Flash scripts run on the iPhone on just such a compatibility layer.

The theories as to the reason why are, generally speaking: f*ck Adobe, preserve performance on the iPhone and iPad, and/or make multiprocessing efficient on these devices. With regard to that last, the theory goes that the OS figures out how the app works and hooks into the app and the app framework, but if there’s a compatibility layer in between, that becomes very difficult and inefficient. Actually, purely technically, without any fanboyisms, it does make sense to me.

In that case, and reading the 3.3.1 literally, nothing stops me, or Adobe, from implementing a translation from our own specific languages using a precompiler, as long as you end up compiling actual Objective-C code using XCode into the app. That’s what I would do, and I find it a better solution, anyway.

But the anti-Adobe conspiration theorists may claim Apple doesn’t want you to do this, either. I don’t know if they do, but let’s assume.

Now it gets interesting. There is no way that Apple can detect from the runtime code, or even the source code, that the code has been produced by a precompiler, if that precompiler does a decent job. If they want to stop that from happening, they’ll have to monitor the user’s machine for precompilers and editing tools, like World of Warcraft is monitoring for bots. What a fascinating circus that would be.

iPad: the lowest common denominator

After watching Apple vs Predator, a short YouTube video, I had a blinding flash of the somewhat obvious and this is it: no other interface but the iPhone/iPad interface can seamlessly transfer to a virtual surface and gestures. Let’s expand on this.

If you’ve seen “Minority Report”, the movie, you must remember the interface Tom Cruise uses to access files. He pulls on gloves, then works the displays as if he touches a virtual surface in space. There are a number of projects doing gloves like this, such as the AcceleGlove by AnthroTronix.

It’s obvious, to me at least, that you can’t usefully move just any graphical interface to a virtual surface like in “Minority Report”. There are UI elements that work and others that don’t work. Obviously, you can’t use a mouse, there’s nowhere to let it rest, there’s just air. You can’t use a pen. The only thing you can use is your fingers. In other words, it’s a multi-touch interface, albeit virtually and in the middle of the air.

Could you imagine if you developed a useful virtual surface like this and you wanted to use the same user interface on a hard, real surface device. How would that look? Surprise, surprise, it would look exactly like the iPad. Not like Windows for Tablets, not like any other smartphone UI I’ve ever seen, but exactly like the iPhone and iPad UI.

I don’t think this is accidental. I think this is the fundamental reason that the iPhone and iPad have never had, and never will have, a pen or other pointing device. As long as they are entirely useable using only one or more fingers, the UI translates seamlessly to a virtual surface in the air.

There are signs one can do using a glove and a virtual surface that aren’t useable on a real surface with multi-touch. Example: making the “ok” sign using your thumb and index finger could work with a glove, but not with an iPad. On the other hand, it seems such signs are rarely used even in science fiction movies, and I think there’s a fundamental reason why not, simply because they are less suitable for an intuitive command interface. This leads to the rule that one should probably not introduce any visual signs in virtual surfaces that cannot be translated to gestures using a hardware device surface.

For medicine, all this is great news. This means that if you develop a medical records interface, or the interface to any other medical system, on an iPad, it will automatically be just right for a virtual interface, such as those we will need in operating theatres and bedside.

That makes the iPad user interface the lowest common denominator. If you develop for this UI, your medical app is future proof. MS Windows based medical apps, on the other hand, are living on borrowed time.

So much knowledge in such a small box

I was doing the rounds at a nursing home out in the sticks the other day, and came to an old (all of them were old) woman with a urinary catheter and bag. Her problem, or rather her worry, was that the bag turned violet from the urine sometimes, but only the last week. The urine itself didn’t change color, only the plastic of the bag.

I already knew that some laxatives can cause the urine itself to turn violet if it’s alkaline, and I’ve heard of this phenomenon of the plastic becoming discolored, but as far as I remembered, it wasn’t alarming, so I just made the regular soothing doctor noises. But the nurse persisted, said she’d heard it could indicate urinary tract infections.iphone

So I pulled out my iPhone, opened Safari, and googled “violet urine bag” and lo and behold, there’s an article about the “Violet urine bag syndrome” from Osaka University, explaining how this happens in some urinary tract infections. Other similar articles taught me which bacteria are usually involved and when to look out for it.

I happily explained this to the nurse and told her she was right and I was wrong. Then the patient said to the nurse: “Amazing how they can get so much knowledge into such a small package” and they both looked with wonder and amazement at my iPhone. I was on the verge of explaining it wasn’t in the phone but on the ‘net, but then I thought: what’s the difference, really? Isn’t that just a technical detail? So I just nodded and said “yes, indeed”.

App store or Dashcode?

Over the last week or so, I’ve spent a lot of time with the WDC 2009 sessions, and Dashcode, at least in its upcoming 3.0 version, seems to be amazingly capable. The results are almost indistinguishable from SDK apps (for want of a better label). And, they don’t go through the app store. And, they download to the phone and can run offline as well, including a local database.

This is probably what Apple hinted at when the iPhone 1.0 was introduced, except nobody would believe it was a useful way of creating apps. Neither did I back then, but now I do. Interestingly, the hassles with the iTunes policy (see previous blog entry) also pushes me in that direction. Maybe they did it on purpose? Read a much sharper and more enjoyable version of the same idea at Factory Joe.

Anything but games are illegal?

I’m having this most surrealistic dialog with a very agreeable iTunes support person, about invoicing. The thing is I bought a few apps from the iTunes app store, among which Omni Focus for the iPhone, but the invoice (or “receipt”) I got from Apple doesn’t mention sales tax at all. Just the net amount in Swedish crowns. It is, however, correctly addressed to my company.

As practically anyone realizes, this is super weird and means I can’t recover the sales tax when I enter this document into my accounting. So I wrote to iTunes support and asked for a correct invoice. The ensuing conversation follows (I took out the name of the iTunes representative).

Continue reading “Anything but games are illegal?”

Damn, I’m so proud of myself

This morning I started developing for the iPhone (it arrived two days ago, what took me so long?). After watching a load of presentations from WWDC 2009 (you have to pay for that, but boy is it worth it), I got really curious about Dashcode. This environment lets you develop web applications and it looked really impressive. So I took half an hour to implement a webapp based RSS reader. Then I spent a couple of hours trying to find out why it didn’t work. I still don’t know, but I think it’s due to crappy 3G performance in my living room. Works fine outside.

If you’ve got an iPhone, try it out for yourself. Once you’ve got it loaded in Safari, tap the plus sign down below and save it to the home screen. Next time you start it from the home screen as if it was a real app, it will look like a real app, without any Safari chrome to give it away. You’ll also notice that the icon is totally crap, just a grey rectangle. But what do you expect from a developer that only this morning started up the IDE for the first time?

If you open up this app in Safari on the desktop, that works as well, but looks like just any old web page, but grayer. In Firefox it fails. In Explorer… who cares?

The link is: