I’d be remiss if I did not bring to your attention to an accelerating trend sweeping over the web right now, and one I view as timely since our attention is being pulled in dozens of directions at once and there is simply too much content to consume!

The trend is called “Web Stories” and the buzzword used to describe them is that they are “tappable” stories that are bite-sized and easy to swallow. Tappable is an obvious reference to smartphones and tablets being the primary device target for these “story containers”, but I’ve also seen some good full-browser ones being delivered too (that look good on desktops, laptops, and mobile devices). I’ve yet to see a TV-delivered container, but it makes perfect sense and am sure we’ll see some soon.

As I’ve gone through numerous Web Stories, I’ve thought that they’d be great for “How To” tutorials, general learning content, fun stories of any type, or even a replacement for the meme-driven videos we see all the time (I should note that I’m growing weary of text over video that, once you tap to listen to the video’s audio, the text remains).

ABOUT WEB STORIES
The trend is called “Web Stories” and these stories are small, self-contained, encapsulated stories about a single topic. Creating them is leveraging AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) and is a big push for Google. Why? Because the cost to them of dealing with big, bandwidth-intensive web pages is extremely high. So for some time we’ve been seeing Google trying to figure out ways to make the delivery of web content smaller and faster and so AMP was developed.

The problem historically with AMP is that it didn’t offer a whole lot to the world so people didn’t do much with it. It was also a pain in the ass to use in a website and also to build web stories. But in 2020 the world has rapidly moved toward smaller, discrete “containers” of content that would be great on mobile and the tools have evolved too.

The other driver for AMP/WebStories are data caps by mobile providers that can increase cost of bloated websites. Even with a so-called “unlimited” mobile account, almost always there is a gigabyte (GB) “ceiling” for how much bandwidth a mobile network user can consume in a single month. Usually 22 or 23GBs in a monthly billing cycle, once a user goes past that amount their mobile data connection is “throttled” and slowed down significantly. Outside 1st tier economies in the world, data speeds are typically slower and mobile connections not as ubiquitous, which makes rapid delivery of encapsulated content like Web Stories even more compelling.

Others have recognized that smaller, discrete pieces of functionality are important as well. For example, WordPress fundamentally changed how the software’s back-end content creation was done with their Gutenberg approach to creating and editing content. Even Apple has delivered this same sort of concept with App Clips in iOS 14 so we don’t have to launch an app, wade through menus, only to perform one, discrete and simple task.

There is some concern though…

Read More

Apple Macintosh SE30 with Apple Standard
Keyboard and Apple Desktop Bus Mouse.

In January of 1989, Apple introduced the Macintosh SE/30, an upgrade to the SE model. This new one had a whopping 30 MBs (yes…that’s megabytes) as its hard disk drive. I bought one shortly after its introduction and thought I died and went to heaven to have that much storage for files.

At the time this machine was the best one I could afford since, when introduced, its retail cost was US$4,369 (equivalent to $9,011 in 2019) but I got a deal through a buddy that worked at Apple so saved nearly 40%.

The good news? The unbelievable productivity I gained owning it was totally worth it, especially as it allowed me to accelerate my learning of Aldus PageMaker (which was acquired by Adobe in 1994) and thus my wife and I were able to launch our company, Marketing Directions, Inc. (we began publishing newsletters and reports).

The screen was only nine inches diagonally and was monochrome…mainly because the color Mac II — which was introduced in 1987 — cost an incredible US$5,498 (equivalent to $12,373 in 2019). No way could I afford it, even with a discount, as we’d been married for less than three years and our daughter Liz was not yet one year old.

Using this new computer was liberating, especially since I could store so many files on the hard disk. That said, scrolling from side to side and up and down to perform page layout on an 8.5″ by 11″ page was kind of a nightmare. But with the dozen or so books I’d purchased on graphics, desktop publishing, page layout, and typography, I was able to muddle through, design a newsletter and reports layout, and make it work. (As a reminder, this was early 1989 and the reason I bought all of those books to learn how to create professional-level published works was because there was not a public internet available for five more years. It was also many years past before there were a robust set of needed publishing resources available online).

The desktop of Mac OS 7.6.1 with the Apple menu opened on a Macintosh 9″ screen. Copyright information is here.

When I think back on that time (now 31.5 years ago!) I’m still kind of amazed that I was able to leverage this machine in those ways. I will still emphatically state that, if it hadn’t been for the Macintosh and its innovations, our company would never have begun, it would have been unlikely that I ended up working in interactive media, computing, and internet-centric software companies for the remainder of my career. Without my embrace of the Macintosh and its technology ecosystem, I would have just been another tech geek futzing around with Windows, various gadgets, while struggling to make them work together.

A few of the original developers of the Macintosh — Steve Jobs is on the right

I also would not have met Steve Jobs and a few of the Macintosh team while a manufacturer’s rep in the early 1980s, made great friends through Apple, kept stock earned by me while working with Apple in the mid-Nineties, and accumulated enough stock after that to now have a very comfortable retirement. So thank you Steve wherever you are, to Steve Wozniak for kickstarting the company with Jobs, to every human who pushed Apple forward since the beginning, and for today’s outstanding leadership from Tim Cook and his team which is carrying Apple in to the future.

We continue to invest in Apple products and services and are “all in” to the secure, private and amazingly great Apple ecosystem.

It’s happened again: I’ve had yet another friend that lost everything on their phone when it was lost (or possibly stolen?). “Did you back it up,” I asked. He responded, “Don’t even go there…I hadn’t backed it up for almost a year.”

He lost nearly ONE YEAR of photos, videos, text messages, contacts, app data and more. With external drives and cloud backup being so cheap, I’m truly sad for him and his phone loss but can’t really muster much sympathy for him. Sorry ______ (name withheld to protect the sheepish).  😉

Our entire family routinely backs up to external drives for our iMacs and MacBooks. I’ve set up our iPhones and iPads to automatically back up over WiFi whenever home. But all of that data is then backed up to ioSafe Solo G3 waterproof and fireproof drives (I have two of them: a 3TB and a 6TB…the latter to back up my iMac’s internal 1TB SSD and the 3TB ioSafe drive with files on it). Read more about why I love these drives, and recommend them highly, in this post from last year.

Lots of my archive files are stored in my paid, 2TB Dropbox account as well (which, by the way, is a change to my attitude toward no-privacy-required archive files which I’m now willing to store in the cloud). I sync up or upload files, but I’m also using Dropbox’ selective sync capability so huge, archives of photos and videos stay in the cloud only and don’t clutter up my drives and take up space.

Also, external 1, 2, 4, 6 and even 8 TB drives are laughingly cheap right now so there is simply no excuse not to back up. In fact, as of this writing you can buy this Seagate 8TB external drive on Amazon for only $146!

So please…back up your computer and especially your mobile devices and do something about it right now.

By the way, many peaceful protestors recently arrested in the George Floyd protests still don’t have their phones back and many have been told they have no idea when they will be returned. In fact, with the proliferation of geofence warrants, arrests and phone confiscations can happen even long after a protest has concluded. If they were backed up, those persons could buy new phones and restore them.

After I wrote the post Effective Green Screen Gear You Can Buy Inexpensively, many people asked me about where I get my virtual backgrounds for usage in Zoom so I’ve added links below.

I thought I’d toss up a few screenshots of me using a few of the backgrounds I’ve downloaded. While the first one in the upper left of the image above is a composite one I created in Photoshop from two others, all the rest were downloaded from free sites like these:

But it’s not just Zoom that offers virtual background capability. Many other virtual meeting software offerings are scrambling to offer virtual background capability since people love the feature. Here are links to a few popular offerings with direct links to their virtual background help pages:

Surprisingly Google Meet or Hangouts does not offer virtual backgrounds (yet).

NEW GEAR
Hopefully it will ship before my next scheduled webinar, but the $295 Blackmagic ATEM Mini will help me go to the next level. This device will enable me to input up to four HDMI inputs (like all of my good cameras) as well as HDMI out from my laptop, iPad or iPhone.

One of the best features of this device is that it will also enable me to input virtual backgrounds directly in to the switcher. So, for example, when I switch from my laptop presentation to my live camera feed on me, its output is as a “webcam” so will show me over the virtual background of my choice. In addition, every app that accepts a webcam will see me overlayed on a virtual background.

If you’re interested in the ATEM Mini (or the ‘Pro’ version) you might want to check out a few of these videos on YouTube.

BUT IT’S NOT JUST VIRTUAL BACKGROUNDS…
Don’t look or sound like you are using a computer, smartphone or tablet for the very first time when you’re in a meeting! Even if it is your first time, practice with someone beforehand and, at the very least, LOOK AT YOURSELF so you can come across well online.

These tips are the best ones I’ve found yet on YouTube, and thought you might enjoy it:

Good luck and stay safe.

Browser extensions are fraught with danger — which is why I rarely use them — especially those extensions that request your permission to:

  • Access your data for all websites
  • Access browser tabs
  • Access recently closed tabs
  • Read and modify bookmarks
  • Download files and read and modify the browser’s download history
  • Input data to the clipboard
  • Display notifications to you
  • Read and modify browser settings.

I mean…seriously!?! There is not a snowballs-chance-in-Hell that I would ever give permission to a browser extension to rummage around in my browser and change things, possibly add malware code in to my computer or device’s memory (i.e., the clipboard), as well as essentially look over my shoulder while I use that browser!

Photo of investigator and security expert, Brian Krebs

Brian Krebs

As you may have already guessed, I’ve been wary of browser extensions for a long time. I wrote about how dangerous browser extensions are back in 2011: Why We Need a Google Condom for Chrome Extensions and again in 2017: Why Browser Extensions Are Dangerous but there are an increasing number of security experts now recommending caution on your use of browser extensions. One such expert is the cyber investigator Brian Krebs who writes the excellent Krebs on Security blog. His latest post was just published on March 3, 2020 and gives great advice and reasoning behind limiting the browser extensions you install: The Case for Limiting Your Browser Extensions.

Add to that my specific intention to limit (or completely stop) tracking as best I can — which is why I’ve moved from Google’s Chrome to Firefox as my default browser — is why I am not just concerned about malware and rogue extensions, I’m more concerned about third-party trackers and the companies that enable them to flourish to our detriment.

A CRACKDOWN ON EXTENSIONS

Fortunately there is a move by major browser companies (i.e., Google with Chrome and Mozilla with Firefox) to crack down on rogue and dangerous extensions. Ars Technica had this article published January 30, 2020: More than 200 browser extensions ejected from Firefox and Chrome stores:

The crackdowns highlight a problem that has existed for years with extensions available from both Mozilla and Google. While the vast majority are safe, a small but statistically significant sample engage in click fraudsteal user credentials and install currency miners, and spy on end users—in at least one case, millions of users, some of whom were inside large companies and other data-sensitive networks.

WHAT IF THE EXTENSION IS FROM A TRUSTED COMPANY?

Even trusted companies can give you a useful browser extension but you need to decide if you’re willing to make tracking you easier. For example, there is a long-time webpage capture browser extension which boasts “millions of users” and comes from a trusted company, Nimbus Web. Though I routinely need to capture long web pages, I would never install their extension and instead I capture page sections manually. Why wouldn’t I just install Nimbus Web’s extension? Because of the following from their privacy policy which allows them to collect and use our user data from the installed extension, combine it or leverage aggregator’s data, and facilitate advertising to us:

“When you use the Websites or Products, we automatically gather information made available by your web browser (such as Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome), Internet service provider (such as Comcast or Time Warner), and device (such as your computer, phone, or tablet), depending on your settings for each. For example, we may collect your IP address, information about the operating system or type of device you use, the date and time you access the Websites or Products, and the location of your device.

Generally, the information addressed under this section is anonymous and does not, standing alone, directly identify you; however, it could possibly identify you when associated with other information. For example, if a third party were to see your IP address, they would not automatically know your name—yet your name could be associated with your IP address by your Internet service provider if you are the named accountholder.

You could argue that the above is boilerplate and all organizations do some form of this type of data aggregation. But when that data is has specific intents like the following, it shows how they intend to use your data AND allow it to be shared by third parties:

To Advertise to You. We also use Cookies and web beacons, including those placed by Third Parties, to deliver advertising that may be of interest to you. For example, we use the Facebook web beacon to better target and retarget users and potential users of the Websites by advertising to them on Facebook. Twitter, Google Analytics, Google Adwords, and other Third Party Cookies may also be used in our advertising endeavors. We may also use a web beacon in email messages sent to track your response. Cookies and web beacons also help us and our Third-Party advertising partners ensure you do not see the same advertisements over and over and to identify and block unwanted ads.”

What about Third Party practices? 

Third Party Cookies and Web Beacons: Advertising agencies, advertising networks, and other companies (together, “Third Parties”) who place advertisements on the Websites and on the Internet generally may use their own cookies, web beacons, and other technology to collect information about individuals. Except as expressly provided herein, we do not control Third Parties’ use of such technology and we have no responsibility for the use of such technology to gather information about individuals. It is up to you to familiarize yourself with the privacy practices of such Third Parties.”

Remember this quote when something like this useful extension is free, “You are not the customer. You are the product.”

WHAT EXTENSIONS CAN YOU SAFELY INSTALL?

In my main browser Firefox, I have only one extension installed: the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) Privacy Badger. EFF describes Privacy Badger as:

…a browser add-on that stops advertisers and other third-party trackers from secretly tracking where you go and what pages you look at on the web. If an advertiser seems to be tracking you across multiple websites without your permission, Privacy Badger automatically blocks that advertiser from loading any more content in your browser. To the advertiser, it’s like you suddenly disappeared.

Though Firefox’s new privacy and anti-tracking capabilities are excellent, Privacy Badger completes the capability I seek to make tracking and surveillance even harder for the hundreds of third-party trackers out there. Firefox’s creation organization, Mozilla, also has a rigorous vetting process for extensions and has a short list of verified extensions that do not violate their Recommended Extensions program guidelines.

Here is the best article from Mozilla that I’ve seen yet on how to determine whether or not a browser extension is worthy of (and safe to) install. but if you already know these tips (or have read Brian Krebs’ article above), at least pay attention to wise advice like this from Dan Goodin, the writer of the previously linked-to article from Ars Technica:

“There’s no sure-fire way to know if an extension is safe. One general rule is that there’s safety in numbers. An app with millions of installs is likely to receive more scrutiny from researchers than one with only a few thousand. Another guideline: apps from known developers are less likely to engage in malicious or abusive behavior. The best rule is to install extensions only when they truly provide value. Installed extensions that are used rarely or not at all should always be removed.”

UPDATE on 02/07/2020 at 6:38pm PST
Looks like Google is adamant that they do NOT track this way: Google denies Chrome tracking allegation, explains use of ‘X-Client-Data’

As I take steps to extract myself from Google (and others) ubiquitous tracking, I’ve been paying attention to anything related to Google’s Chrome browser. In my news feed yesterday, I came across this threaded discussion in Hacker News:  Google tracks individual users per Chrome installation ID.

I was stunned to learn that every install of Chrome generates a unique ID just for you and it’s possible that Google is using this install ID to track us. As soon as you log in to any Google account with that new installation of Chrome, it’s also likely linked directly to your individual Google profile.

Not only is this completely “evil” on Google’s part if true and they’re using this ID for browser fingerprinting, but it also means it is a complete violation of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GPDR) and would result in massive fines for the company.

In order to get a deeper sense of what was going on, I went out and did a bunch of online searching (using my now preferred search engine, DuckDuckGo, of course). There are dozens of developer and tech site articles and posts that helped me fully understand what is going on, and why developers (and those of us who care about security and privacy) are so upset, concerned, and making a huge fuss to get an answer out of Google.

From LongRoom News:

On Tuesday, Arnaud Granal, a software developer involved with a Chromium-based browser called Kiwi, challenged a Google engineer in a GitHub Issues post about the privacy implications of request header data that gets transmitted by Chrome. Granal called it a unique identifier and suggesting it can be used, by Google at least, for tracking people across the web.”

Even the adblocker software company, Magic Lasso, shared this insight on their blog about the controversy and explained the problem and how this potential tracking occurs:

Each and every install of Chrome, since version 54, have generated a unique ID. Depending upon which settings you configure, the unique ID may be longer or shorter.

Irrespective, when used in combination with other configuration features, Google now generates and retains a unique ID in each Chrome installation. The ID represents your particular Chrome install, and as soon as you log into any Google account, is likely also linked directly to your individual Google profile.

The evil next step is that this unique ID is then sent (in the “x-client-data” field of a Chrome web request) to Google every time the browser accesses a Google web property. This ID is not sent to any non-Google web requests; thereby restricting the tracking capability to Google itself.”

Google needs to address this and quickly. Just about every developer I know has abandoned Chrome and are using Firefox exclusively (as am I).

It’s been years since I’ve gone to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, so had considered doing so this year as I could grab a cheap airfare or would likely just drive there as I’m only 4.5 hours away! With other commitments I found myself unable to go to CES, so this morning I went on the hunt for good videos from the show, and came across ones from CNET at their dedicated CES website.

As much as I was delighted to find that site and it is filled with excellent videos from the tens of thousands of products at CES, I must admit that I’ve got a love-hate relationship with CNET though, even though I fully realize they (like most media companies) are struggling to find the sweet-spot on making money vs. pissing off their visitors to the point they’ll stop visiting:

  • Their websites are a nightmare of popups, snarly ads, and visual noise which are especially bad when reading on my iPad.
  • For years their “CNET Downloads” site saw near-malware installation on PCs and Macs and I spent many hours cleaning (or helping clean) people’s systems who inadvertently trusted them.

So even though their dedicated CES website is organized very well and it’s easy to find specifically what might interest you, instead of the website you might want to go to CNET TV channel on YouTube instead.

If you don’t want to go poke around their site, embedded below is their “Best of CES 2020” recap you’ll likely find interesting:

iPhone 11 Pro Max and Sony RX100 VII

Admittedly I’m a technology snob. I’ve always purchased relatively good DSLR cameras, high end computers and devices, excellent microphones and sound editing gear, and have tried to find the sweet-spot of best quality vs. price.

When it comes to cameras, however, I’m always torn about taking a bag with the camera, two lenses, and a tripod with me to shoot photos. It’s too much bother and fuss, even though the images I can capture are outstanding!

A few years ago we went, as a family, to Italy. I wanted to enjoy the trip and knew that it would be hot and I would not want to carry a big bag with lenses, or even a single, big DSLR camera with one “walking around lens,” an 18-200mm one that would cover what I’d likely need on our trip.

Instead I purchased the best small travel camera on the market at the time (and arguably still the best travel camera as Sony just released version 7), the Sony RX100 M2. While the “reach” of this camera’s lense was not what I wanted, the photo quality was unbelievably good and I got some good photos on the trip.

So with upcoming trips in 2020 — and no desire to carry my big Nikon on any of them — I decided to purchase the Sony RX100 M7 which now does have a better lense, microphone input and other great features. I even had it in my Amazon cart with all of its accessories and the cart total was close to $2,200.

THE IPHONE 11 PRO MAX
Then I watched the Apple September 2019 keynote where the new iPhone 11 series was introduced and I made my decision: I would preorder the iPhone 11 Pro Max with 512GB of storage and NOT buy the Sony RX100M7.

Wait just a dang second Borsch … what!?!

For quite some time I’ve been watching the acceleration of computational photography and have realized we are at (or very close to) the tipping point where smartphones will supplant every kind of photo capture device except for truly high-end, professional cameras.

In fact, check out this paper and the video on this page about 3D rendering and creating a “Ken Burns effect” from *a single image* as it shows what’s possible computationally with photography.

One could argue we are already there, what with camera company sales down trending dramatically, according to a brilliant tech analyst and writer Om Malik. Om wrote this post about the down trending of camera sales and included this graph:

One of Om’s reasons for this decline is the acceleration in smartphone sales and the “good enough” quality of images shot on these devices. While I recoil at the thought of millions of muddy, not sharp, bad color photos being shot by hundreds of millions of us around the world, this is the future of photography whether we “prosumers” or “pros” want it or not.

Having heard this (possibly apocryphal) response by a professional photographer to a novice who had asked, “What’s the best camera I should buy?” and the pro’s response was, “The one you have with you” have made me realize how many times I’ve been somewhere when a great photo opportunity has presented itself.

Yes, this is a glib response to a legitimate question, but one thing is clear: If you don’t have your camera with you, you are unable to take any kind of photo and almost all of us have our smartphones with us all the time. I know I do.

So when I saw the computational photography capability of the new iPhone 11 Pro Max, I knew that I’d have to buy it and not buy the Sony RX100 M7.

By the way, I still often go out with my sole intention of taking photographs and schlep all of my gear with me. But now that I have tripods and a gimbal for my iPhone (and have had them for some time), now that I will be able to take better quality photographs I’ll use these accessories even more.

Food for thought…

In just eight months I’ve had three pair of the $250 (now $199) Bose Sleepbuds. The first pair ‘lost’ connection in the right sleepbud after a few months. I brought the complete product back to the Bose store in the Irvine Spectrum Center in Irvine, CA, and the staff not only didn’t bat-an-eye when I asked if I could exchange them, they glanced at each other and one of them immediately gave me a completely new shrink-wrapped complete product.

I was surprised but pleased. But that super-easy return made me immediately suspect that Bose knew they had a big problem with these sleepbuds and just gave away a new product to anyone who complained.

Two months later I had to do another exchange and get a second new pair and I’m now on my third pair of Bose Sleepbuds which are now unusable. Sigh…

BOSE COMMUNITY
So I joined the Bose Community to see if others had the problem and if there was something I’d not yet done to fix it (as a techie I know to run updates, reset, delete and redownload the mobile app, etc. which I’d already done … multiple times). Nothing would fix it.

Then I posted this as a new thread for discussion and to get some help:

As a techie I am overly careful with devices like my noise-masking sleepbuds (and case) while ensuring that they are clean, charged properly, updated immediately (e.g., case firmware), and otherwise handled with care. I adore what these sleepbuds do for my sleep, but have since learned that they only work for a couple of months.

So when, some months ago, my few-months-old sleepbuds saw that the right bud stopped charging fully. I brought the buds, case and all pieces to the Bose store in Irvine Spectrum Center (Irvine, CA). Told the guys what happened and they instantly returned it and gave me a new one! I was surprised, but quite pleased that they did that.

Less than two months later the exact same thing happened, this time with the left sleepbud. I updated the case firmware and both buds, and everything was fine for a week or so. Then it happened again with the right bud not charging. I took it back to the Irvine Bose store and you guess it … they replaced it *again*!

It’s now been six weeks or so and two days ago the left bud would only charge to 38%. It didn’t get me through the night, but was still workable as I could get to sleep. Did you guess that it now is only charging to 1%? Yep…so my third pair of sleepbuds have stopped working.

This is SO frustrating for a gift my wife gave me that cost her $300. It’s the only Bose product I’ve ever owned that I’ve not been consistently over-the-moon and also a product that lasted years.

I’ve read this community forum frequently trying to figure out what I might be doing wrong, but when I handle this device gently, keep it updated and clean and it still doesn’t perform, I can only surmise that it is just plain bad engineering.

If anyone from Bose is reading this and has any suggestions — and please don’t give me links to support docs since I’ve done EVERYTHING in all your troubleshooting guides — then I’m open to real solutions. Otherwise I guess I’ll take them back to the Bose store AGAIN and have them replace them for me so I can get another 6-8 weeks to find another, reliable solution.

So what did Bose do? One of their “community admins” (moderator) merged it with another thread that supposedly contained the solution … one that did not work for me so I still have an unreliable product.

They did NOT offer me any kind of personal response. There was no link to a post in the private message the “community admin” sent me. I tried to reply to it with a copy and paste of his message to me, but the HTML in it was refused and my 2nd attempt to message did not go through and resulted in an error message that I was “over my private message limit”. Holy shit this is poorly managed.

There is a “Phone Free” mode which seems to make the sleepbuds function … but I lose the alarm and other phone-connected functions (and the right sleepbud still disconnects) so that’s not a great solution.

Taking the sleepbuds out of the case they connect, then disconnect, then connect,
then stay connected for an intermittent number of minutes, then disconnect again!

So I think now my only course of action is to pack up my current sleepbuds and drive half an hour over to the Bose store to return them … this time to get our money back vs. exchanging them. My wife bought them for my December 2018 birthday and it’s been less than a year, so they definitely should refund us.

So Bose … if anyone bothers to read this post, you’ve got to step-up your game and learn how to perform customer support. I know this isn’t a huge sale at $250, but I’m about to go out and buy a sound bar for my expensive Sony 4K TV, and I will not be considering Bose because of this incident and how you handled it. Perhaps it’s time to bury your remaining sleepbud inventory in a landfill.