Yesterday Catholicgauze linked me to an Amazon offer, giving a free MP3 album of a live concert by an old favorite of mine, Dispatch. I picked it up, and was happy to see that Amazon now has an “Amazon Cloud Player” app for Windows 8:
The screnshot also shows a free album by another favorite of mine, French Teen Idol.
Several weeks ago Kevin Mitnick spoke at the research arm of my employer. He is a funny guy, knowledgeable, a great public speaker. He was also hawking his book. During the Q&A Kevin was asked what the most realistic movie about computer hackers was. He replied, “Sneakers,” a 1992 film starring Robert Redford, Dan Aykroyd, Ben Kingsley, Mary McDonnell, River Phoenix, and Sidney Poitier, which I had remembered watching as a teenager. This answer seemed so bizarre it made me want to know more — hence several hundred pages later, I’ve read Mitnick’s book.
After re-watching Sneakers, I was struck that it did not use the Hollywood trope of a computer whiz sitting down on a keyboard, hitting random buttons, and getting into the system. Or Mission: Impossible high tech wizardly or suspension cables. Instead, in Sneakers access is gained by talking to people, calmly and persuasively lying to them, and getting them to do what you want. This was Mitnick’s method. That was why he liked the film.
Kevin’s story begins as a boy “hacking” the L.A. mass transit system to get free rides, thru getting his mom free long distance, to finally an increasingly complicated web of compromised systems to evade the growing number of enemies who was looking for him. Mitnick’s adventures take him from California to Las Vegas, Seattle, South Dakota, and North Carolina, before finally being arrested.
Kevin’s spoken a lot about his former life. Here’s a 60 minutes report:
And an hour-long talk he gave at Google
Shortly after his release his prison, he was called to testify before a Senate committee headed by Joe Lieberman and Fred Thompson.
The Difference Engine is a hard book to review. On one hand it is technothriller that asks, “What if Charles Babbage had succeeded in building his programmable computer in the 19th century?” On another it is literary science fiction, with a depth comparable to Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 or Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. On the third it’s a rumination on word processing.
Charles Babbage and Charles Darwin were contemporaries in early 19th century Britain. Both men made great discoveries, and both were perfectionists. Famously, Darwin only published his theories when he heard that Wallace had independently discovered natural selection and was going to release his own version of the theory. Less famously, Babbage designed the Difference Engine (which has successfully been constructed from his plans in our down day), a mechanical computer, but abandoned work finishing it to attempt the Analytical Engine, a computer that was as advanced as the electronic ENIAC that was finally built more than a century later.
No men, if their careers could have been more successful, might have changed our world more than Archimedes and Charles Babbage.
But what would such a world have looked like? Could an information revolution occur at the same time as an industrial revolution? Who would benefit from such a world? Who would oppose it?
The Difference Engine is composed of several “Iterations” and a final “Modus.” Many characters appear again and again, though often the reader’s view of them differ – a character might simply be standing near an event in one iteration, an antagonist in a second, a helper in a third, and the protagonist in the fourth.
The meaning of the ending of The Difference Engine is disputed, and (in the finest literary tradition) there is no need to take the authors’ remarks as the last word. I’m still unsure what finally happens.
I lost my Kindle yesterday, and while I since found it, the incident made me take seriously the different “clouds” I use. I regularly use clouds made by three companies — but Amazon’s and Microsoft’s clouds don’t fully integrate with themselves, and Apple’s doesn’t play nicely with other folks
Amazon’s cloud let me continue reading and listening where I left off — but I can’t stream my Amazon CloudPlayer mp3s to my Kindle, and I can’t use the CloudPlayer interface to play my Audible files
Apple’s cloud let me redownload music that I had lost during an old computer crash, but the format was m4p, which is not standard and doesn’t work on players made by other companies
Amazon SkyDrive lets me upload from (But not download too) Windows Photo Gallery. Likewise, Mp3s I buy thru Zune are not automatically placed on SkyDrive.
When I purchase MP3s from Amazon MP3 Store, I download them from Amazon CloudDrive on my other computers to play with Zune. When I buy from Zune, I use the Amazon CloudPlayer upload utility to automatically put them into CloudPlayer, and from there download them to my other PC (which also uses Zune Player).
The network revoloution that is brining us Clouds and media-rich smart devices (phones, tablets, e-readers, etc) is amazing, but I don’t think any vendor has a final solution out yet.
I’m biased here: I worked in the same building in which the Kinect was developed. But I wanted to share some thoughts about the use case that’s surprised me the most, because it’s not what I thought about when I first saw it, and I think not why most people buy it.
The Kinect is an advanced 3D motion detection camera. It is sold bot with new Xboxes, as well as an accessory. If you go into Microsoft stores you will see kids playing with Kinect as an advanced Wii — as the ads say, “you are the controller.”
It’s been months since we played a game that way.
What we’ve been doing a lot more, though, is use the voice recognition engine. Because the Kinect for Xbox contains a microphone, and uses Microsoft TellMe (our not-quite-as-cool but released earlier version of Siri) for voice recognition / natural user interface, you can control the Xbox with only voice, using hand-waving as a back-up interface.
Right now I’m listening to music which I got to by saying “Xbox, bing Sufjan Stevens,” saying “Seven Swans” at the list of albums, and then saying “Play Album.” But frankly, the Zune pass (which does the on-demand music streaming) has not been a market success, and Last.fm (which is free and more popular) does not allow you to specifically choose albums to stream. Plus Zune goes on the fritz more than I would like (like now — sigh).
A bigger difference in our life has been increased use of Netflix. My wife and I watched two movies today (Four Rooms and Jackie Brown), and have watched a long list of them recently, including:
My suspicion is that when it comes to chillaxing time, freeing yourself from the formality of the remote makes it easier to start movies. It’s interesting for a technology that I suspect will have the biggest impact in disability & medical fields, & children’s toys, but for us it makes netflix an less stressful option than the cable guide.
This is a screenshot from my office’s Zune music player, as it played its 3,000th song.
Notable additiosn to Zune’s tile-based display since song 2000 including (the very easy on the eyes) Tata Young, Justin McRoberts, and multiple references to Jonathan Coulton’s work on the Portal video game series.