iWatch

Has Apple lost its way?

Since the sad passing of Steve Jobs it seems to me that Apple has lost its way somewhat. That’s not to say that it has gone down the pan (as we Brits say), just that its lost its edge somewhat. It may still be raking in the billions but its starting to look like the Apple of the pre-Jobs days (before he returned to be crowned King the second time around). Some of us are old enough to remember those days, including me. Those were the days when Apple allowed others to make PCs that ran the Mac OS (they weren’t really Macs, despite running System 7). I had one ( and it had no end of issues with USB in particular. For example, to boot up you had to unplug your printer, every time! In the end the supplier took it back and swapped it for a genuine  Power Macintosh 7600.

So, what exactly has got me feeling this way? Well, for starters lets talk about the Mac. By that I mean the non;laptop Macs. There was a time that Mac and Apple were virtually synonymous; now Apple means iPad or iPhone to most folk. When the computer press talked about Apple it was about in terms of the latest Mac desktop or maybe laptop. Now the desktop hardly features apart from the MacBook Air. Often its all about Retina screens or Thunderbolt. I am starting to become all nostalgic for the 1990′s suddenly, sorry. Don’t get me started on the Power Mac! Why we have to wait so long for an update and why Steve Jobs killed off the Xserve I will never understand. I realise that technological advances means that the iMac can be a powerful workstation but for 3D graphic artists and video editors the option of additional hard drives and graphic cards is what  makes the Mac Pro so attractive. Tim Cook as promised a refresh this year (rumoured to be soon) so lets hope he honours that. If not and instead he kills it off I predict a backlash. Many professionals have already jumped ship and bought workstations from the likes of HP or just bought an off-the-shelf PC and installed a decent graphics card, SSD drives and plenty of RAM. Either way they have got themselves and awesome workstation for less money than a similarly specified Mac Pro (if you are lucky enough to find one available).

Also, these days Apple seems to be more focussed on iOS than anything else and the software for its Macs (of all types) seems to have a much lower priority. I know this reflects the fact that more people rely on their smartphones and tablets these days than laptops and desktops but for me it feels like Apple has changed beyond recognition. Maybe, just maybe, it has lost its soul and become just another global IT company. Or maybe I am just an old bloke who is having a bout of nostalgia for the good ole glory days.

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Massive online sexual exploitation of young people

key2011

As the father of teenagers I have struggled with getting the balance right between safe-guarding them whilst online and yet allowing them to benefit from the internet in terms of learning, self-expression and socialisation. As someone who has grown up with technology and is very confident with it I always wanted to help my kids gain as much as possible from computers and the internet. Its worrying therefore  to see the rise of online bullying, sexual exploitation of young people (in particular) and recent incidents such as having my own Twitter account hacked (along with 250,000 others). Another recent worrying trend is that of the number of sexual blackmailers harassing and terrorising young girls online, as reported by the FBI.

So, what is the current state of play? Well, the 5th February 2013 was UK Safer Internet Day and a report has been published following this. This reports that a staggering 86% of 7-11 years-olds use some form of online communication tool (Facebook, Twitter etc.) and that this rises to 96% of young people age 11-19 years-olds. So its obvious that most young people are at risk of exploitation.

When looking at the experience of young people online, the report says 36% of primary school children (7-11′s) and 24% of secondary age children (11-19′s) said they have reported something online. This is worrying to say the least. What about convictions? Well, the number of people convicted of sex offences on children aged under 16 in England and Wales has increased by nearly 60% in six years. In 2005, 1,363 people were convicted while in 2010, it was 2,135. The BBC recently reported that 281 people had been convicted of meeting a child following sexual grooming on the internet, since it was made illegal in 2004.

The growth in the web has also seen a growth in the number of sites distributing obscene images of children. Here in the UK, the Internet Watch Foundation shuts down websites where images of child sex abuse are being shared and offered for sale.

According to the BBC, in 2010, the IWF’s annual report said that it knew of 14,602 sites peddling images. About 59 pages a day were added to that list. A recent uncover operation, Operation Alpine netted more than one million images and 6,000 films.

In the US, in the fiscal year 2011, United States Attorneys’ Offices obtained 2713 indictments, against 2929 defendants, for offences involving the sexual exploitation of a minor. This represents a 15 percent increase in the number of indictments over fiscal year 2007 (in which 2364 indictments were filed against 2470 defendants).

So, what can parents and others do to protect young people from the risks of online exploitation? Here are some tips:

  • Talk to your child about what they’re up to online. Be a part of their online life; involve the whole family and show an interest. Find out what sites they visit and what they love about them, if they know you understand they are more likely to come to you if they have any problems.
  • Watch Thinkuknow films and cartoons with your child. The Thinkuknow site has films, games and advice for children from five all the way to 16.
  • Encourage your child to go online and explore! There is a wealth of age-appropriate sites online for your children. Encourage them to use sites which are fun, educational and that will help them to develop online skills.
  • Keep up-to-date with your child’s development online. Children grow up fast and they will be growing in confidence and learning new skills daily. It’s important that as your child learns more, so do you.
  • Set boundaries in the online world just as you would in the real world. Think about what they might see, what they share, who they talk to and how long they spend online. It is important to discuss boundaries at a young age to develop the tools and skills children need to enjoy their time online.
  • Keep all equipment that connects to the internet in a family space. For children of this age, it is important to keep internet use in family areas so you can see the sites your child is using and be there for them if they stumble across something they don’t want to see.
  • Know what connects to the internet and how. Nowadays even the TV connects to the internet. Make sure you’re aware of which devices that your child uses connect to the internet, such as their phone or games console. Also, find out how they are accessing the internet – is it your connection, or a neighbour’s wifi? This will affect whether the safety setting you set are being applied.
  • Use parental controls on devices that link to the internet, such as the TV, laptops, computers, games consoles and mobile phones. Parental controls are not just about locking and blocking, they are a tool to help you set appropriate boundaries as your child grows and develops. They are not the answer to your child’s online safety, but they are a good start and they are not as difficult to install as you might think. Service providers are working hard to make them simple, effective and user friendly. Find your service provider and learn how to set your controls

These tips and much more advice can be found on the Thinkuknow website.

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Family History Online and the Internet

Genbox Family History
Genbox Family History (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Family History Online: As a family we recently had the sad experience of losing two close family members who were an important part of the family. One death was expected, the other totally unexpected. Like all deaths in the family, especially at Christmas time, these can be difficult to deal with and grief has many sides to it. However, I don’t want to focus on this aspect of the whole experience. Instead, I hope I can draw something positive out of this.

 

When someone dies, it’s like the words of a song by Cinderalla, ‘Don’t know what you got till it’s gone’. You suddenly wish you had spent more time with them, asked them tons of questions about their life and written down or somehow recorded funny or interesting stories about them. I guess this partly explains the explosion in interest about family history. Ancestry.com and other family history sites have millions of subscribers. In the process of course they make a lot of money in subscription fees, though many would argue that its worth it as such sites have revolutionised the task of researching one’s family tree.

 

The internet not only makes it possible to research your actual family tree, by which I mean the facts such as when your ancestor was born, married, or died etc, but other information including photographs and maps showing where they lived. Anyone who has delved into their family history online you will know that it can become an addiction. I have found myself spending several hours following various lines of enquiry and checking possible links in my family tree.

 

Another aspect to researching your family history online is that it reconnects you with family members, some whom you never knew existed. It can also help bring you closer to family members you already know and maybe even see fairly often, as you share information and resources.

So, I have to give thanks for the revolution in family history research that the internet has brought about. More than that though I give thanks for the lives of two special people who shall always be missed. At least now their memory will live on, not just in ours but online as I and others add their stories to that vast repository online.

 

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Looking back on my technology in 2012

2012 was a mixed year for me personally. There were good things and not so good. Without boring everyone with too much personal information that will be of no interest here are some of the highlights as they relate to technology and the use of technology:

1. I bought a new digital camera – the Samsung NX11 to take on a family holiday to Italy. It had been almost 25 years since my last visit to that beautiful land and I wanted to be able to capture some decent photographs. I chose the camera because it was light (much lighter than my daughter’s Nikon D3100 and also smaller), whilst still have a good resolution 14.6 MP and a decent sensor (23.4 x 15.6mm). It has received good reviews and my experience of Samsung technology in the past has been a positive one.

Overall I am pleased with how the camera performed and for the money (£299.00 for body and 20-50mm lens) it was good value. The RAW editing software that came with the camera is not the most user-friendly but once you get used to its quirky interface its surprisingly powerful. One advantage I found over the larger Nikon is that you are less conspicuous when taking candid shots, which is something I wanted to do whilst in Italy. I am rather pleased (I have to say) with one shot I took in particular (see below – ‘Italian Beauties’).

Italian Beauties

 

In terms of the actual images, they can be a little noisy above ISO 800 but that applies to many digital cameras costing much more. Also, when shooting in RAW they are not as sharp as they could be but this can be easily corrected in the RAW editor. Jpegs of course already have sharpening applied but then you lose the fine control over aspects like dynamic range, exposure or colour modes.

As for the future, I am looking at developments with Samsung’s NX range as they have some interesting innovations with their digital technology at the moment, with their Android equipped Galaxy Camera and their new range of NX cameras with 20.3 MP sensors. I may still end up with a move over to Nikon if more professional commissions come my way though and Nikon are certainly bringing our new DSLRs all the time of late. Who wouldn’t want a D800 or a D600 or even a D5200 for that matter?

2. Broadband – here in the UK we are often seen as behind the curve when it comes to broadband speeds. However, its really a very mixed picture. If you live in an urban area then you can get speeds up to 100MB, as I do with Virgin Media (soon to be upgraded to 120MB free at the same cost). However, if you live in the countryside (and a significant minority do) then you may not even be able to get any broadband – zilch connection! The UK Government along with the providers is working hard to change all that but some villages have given up waiting and installed their own broadband services using local investment (essentially local people invest and buy shares in a company set-up to provide broadband and related services locally).

So, the good news has been that my broadband service form Virgin Media, on the whole, has been excellent. However, its serves just my office which is detached from the house and in there we have Orange Broadband and phone. Orange are now calling themselves EE , meaning Everything Everywhere - which seems a total piece of marketing hogwash if you ask me as they don’t even provide broadband and phone services everywhere! In fact, I can’t get a mobile phone service in lots of places out in the countryside. An example would be Docking in North Norfolk, where my brother-in-law has a cottage. Its got a population of 1,150 in 469 households as of the 2001 census and yet Orange can’t give me a signal in large parts of the place and surrounding area.

In terms of the connection in the house it is basically mediocre and I am unhappy with it (more to the point my teenage kids are!) and I am looking at changing. So, I am not impressed with Orange (sorry EE) and even think that they should be reported to the Advertising Standards Agency for misleading advertising with their Everything Everywhere claim.

3. Apple – this last few months I have been surviving without my beloved Macbook Pro, having donated it to my daughter for her college work as my previous donation (a 1st Gen Macbook Pro) has finally got too slow and the keyboard has lost a few keys. Its been hard and without my iPhone 4S I am not sure how I would have managed. I am intending to get a new iMac soon and I will let you know how that works out.

So, how have I coped? Well, my iPhone 4S has Numbers and Pages on it and combined with Dropbox and the work laptop (I manage a charity and use a HP laptop) I have just about managed. it makes wonder if I could ditch the laptop altogether (in terms of mobile use - would still need it at work for the accounts – Windows only) and just use an iPad?

Speaking of iPhones, I dropped my iPhone recently whilst visiting someone in hospital and of course the screen smashed making it very difficult to read the screen now, so it looks like I will need to get that replaced asap. In terms of upgrading to the iPhone 5 my contract has some time left on it so I guess it will be an iPhone 6 for me if all the posts about Apple’s plans in that respect are anything to go by.

So, all in all, 2012 has been a mixed bag tech wise but I remain grateful for all that has been good about the year and that generally my tech as served me well and been useful and productive. At the end of the day I have so much stuff that I feel terribly guilty at times when I think about others less fortunate. That’s why in 2013 I am part of a team going to work with street children in Brazil, but more of that another post. Just to say I wish everyone a very happy, peaceful and healthy New Year!

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