Apple Displayed Masterful Mediocrity Yesterday

Yesterday was Apple’s iPhone event and I must say they have mastered the art if being completely mediocre. The only announcements they made that I felt remotely excited about were the fact that Sprint will now have the iPhone (as they’re the last carrier with unlimited data that’s quite nice) and Siri. After they finished jerking themselves off over how great their sales are, Apple’se first product announcement was Cards. Cards is an application that lets you send, well, cards to people for $2.99 a pop. When they made Cards their first announcement I knew this event was going to be non-consequential.

Apple again talked about iOS 5 but alas I’ve been playing with it for months now and there was nothing new tossed in at the last minute to make it exciting. Either way iOS 5 will be officially released on October 12th.

Next on the list of announcements was Siri. Siri is the iPhone 4S’s new voice service which is akin to Android’s voice service if it were on steroids. Let me rephrase, if Siris works it will be akin to Android’s voice service on steroids. Siri will supposedly allow you to do a great number of tasks by using your voice which is nice for those who see the need to send a text message when they’re hurtling down the highway (you know who you are, I hate you by the way). While Siri looks impressive it’s restricted to the iPhone 4S which limits its appeal.

Speaking of the iPhone 4S, that was Apple’s only notable hardware announcement (they announced a new iPod Touch, but who really cares). The iPhone 4S is simply an iPhone 4 with a faster process, better camera, and dual mode radio (every 4S is both GSM and CDMA capable). It’s not really worth the upgrade in my opinion if you’re already carrying an iPhone 4.

So there you have it, Apple’s rather lackluster event. I think Amazon won the device unveiling this month but that could have something to do with the fact that I’m a Kindle fanboy.

New Kindles Released

Yesterday Amazon had their Kindle event where they released their expected tablet device along with two other e-ink based Kindles.

There are now three tiers to the Kindle line starting with the cheapest device simply referred to as the Kindle. Although the price starts at $79.00 that includes advertisements being sent to and displayed on the device. Unlike most websites with advertisements the Kindle’s ads appear to be unobtrusive although I would still pay the extra $30.00 to have an ad-free device. This device should really be considered a dedicated reader as it lacks a hardware keyboard and instead relies on an on-screen keyboard where you use the four-way navigation button on the unit to highlight and select keys individually. So long as you don’t type notes on your Kindle very often this probably shouldn’t act as too much of a deterrent. If you really want a keyboard the previous Kindle can still be had for $99.00 if you’re OK with ads and $139.00 if you want an ad-free experience.

The next tier in the Kindle line is the new touch-screen equipped Kindle Touch. Like the previous Kindle the Kindle Touch comes in two variaties; Wi-Fi only and Wi-Fi with free lifetime 3G. The Wi-Fi only Kindle Touch runs $99.00 for the ad-supported version and $139.00 for the ad-free version. The 3G equipped unit starts at $149.00 for the ad-supported version and $189.00 for the ad-free version. When the Nook Touch came out and I was able to get some hands on time with it I said Amazon would be guaranteed to have some of my money if they ever came out with a touch-screen enabled Kindle. Well they did and Amazon now has $189.00 of my money as I pre-ordered the ad-free 3G version of the Kindle Touch the second it became available for pre-order on Amazon’s website. Sadly I have to wait until November 21st for the unit to ship.

Finally Amazon surprised nobody with the announcement of their new tablet, the Kindle Fire. The Fire will set you back $199.00 (period, there is no ad-supported version) which is pretty reasonable considering the price of most tablets currently on the market. For that $199.00 you will get a Wi-Fi equipped tablet device with a 7″ screen, dual-core processor, and 8GB of on-board storage. While 8GB of on-board storage seems small you also get free cloud storage of all Amazon content which includes both music and movies offered by the retailer. Another thing that you get is access to the Amazon App Store which is really just Amazon’s own version of the Android App Market. Yes the Fire is an Android tablet but you’d never know that by looking at the interface as that has been completely customized by Amazon. While I will reserved judgement until I actually get to play with the unit I will say at first glance this looks to be the first real competitor to Apple’s iPad.

Overall I must say that Amazon continues to find new and inventive ways to get my money. I wish Amazon would put native ePub support on their readers so I wouldn’t have to use Caliber to convert titles in that format to Mobi, that is a very minor issue. It’s great to see competition in the e-reader market as well. Even though Amazon kickstarted the e-reader market with the first Kindle, Barnes and Noble has been doing a great job at releasing competitive products. When the free market is allowed to work the real winners end up being consumers.


I believe I’m one of only three people left on the plant who still wears a wristwatch regularly. For several years now I’ve been sporting a rather awesome Tissot T-Touch stainless steel watch. For anybody who is unaware of the T-Touch line (which I expect is most everybody) it’s a wristwatch with a built in compas, chronometer, alarm, altimeter, barometer, and thermometer. Why do I need all of that in a watch? Because it’s there!

Sadly the butterfly clasp on the band finally broke. As a guy who spends a great deal of time shooting I know the drill when something breaks; find out what broke, find out what part you need, search online for somebody who has the part, and finally have it shipped to your home. I’m learning that wristwatches are nothing like that. Due to the way the band attaches to the physical watch I can’t just go to any jewelry store and get a new band (I’ve already tried that). Even the authorized Tissot dealer in my area couldn’t repair it but instead gave me the number of the United States repair center for Tissot. It seems the only place on the planet to get wristwatch parts is from the manufacturers.

So it looks like my only option is to call the repair center and hope to Thor they will simply send me the part I need instead of making me send the watch in. As it sits right now I have no watch and thus am rather confused when somebody asks me what time it is. I wasn’t aware of how much I depend on a wristwatch in my daily life until now.

My Love of the Ridiculously Overpowered Strikes Again

I have a slight confession to make, I love things that are ridiculously overpowered. For example when I purchased my Ford Range I made sure it had the biggest engine available thrown in. Do I ever use it to tow things that require such a large engine? Fuck no. When I go to three-gun tournaments I shoot in the heavy metal division so I have an excuse to lug around a .45 auto handgun, 7.62x51mm rifle, and 12 gauge shotgun. Does my shoulder get sore causing me to question my thought process of shooting heavy metal instead of something more practical? For about three seconds maybe until I remember how awesome bigger caliber weapons are. I also have a Desert Eagle in .50 AE that has the titanium gold finish on it. The gun should be made of gold considering the price of the ammo but even though the weapon lacks any practicality I wanted one because it was a ridiculously overpowered handgun.

What happens when this love over all things overpowered meets my love of lasers? This:

Meet the Wicked Lasers Spyder III Arctic 1W blue laser. I’ll admit I’ve not had as much time to play with it as I’d like but I can give you a quick overview of the device. To imagine this device in your hand take a regular laser power, throw it out the window because it’s pathetic, pick up a light saber, and you’re basically holding what’s pictured above.

The laser is about the size of a medium Maglight flashlight, made of solid aluminium, and is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion 18650 battery. It also ships with a pair of laser safety glasses since a microsecond or so of eye exposure can cause permanent blindness.

So far all I can really say about this beast is that it’s fucking awesome. This thing gets the Christopher Burg seal of approval already just for being what it is, ridiculous. I’ll probably record some videos of the laser burning through shit because it does that quite well.

The Coolest Flying Drone Out There

What if I told you there was an unmanned drone that was developed to fly around, sniff Wi-Fi networks, and eavesdrop on GSM phone conversations? You’d probably get angry and yet another device developed by Motherland Homeland Security to spy on the citizens of the United States. In this case your rage would be misdirected because this drone was developed by a private individual trying to raise awareness of the poor security found on many Wi-Fi and all GSM networks:

At the Black Hat and Defcon security conferences in Las Vegas next week, Mike Tassey and Richard Perkins plan to show the crowd of hackers a year’s worth of progress on their Wireless Aerial Surveillace Platform, or WASP, the second year Tassey and Perkins have displayed the 14-pound, six-foot long, six-foot wingspan unmanned aerial vehicle. The WASP, built from a retired Army target drone converted from a gasoline engine to electric batteries, is equipped with an HD camera, a cigarette-pack sized on-board Linux computer packed with network-hacking tools including the BackTrack testing toolset and a custom-built 340 million word dictionary for brute-force guessing of passwords, and eleven antennae.

“This is like Black Hat’s greatest hits,” Tassey says. “And it flies.”

On top of cracking wifi networks, the upgraded WASP now also performs a new trick: impersonating the GSM cell phone towers used by AT&T and T-Mobile to trick phones into connecting to the plane’s antenna rather than their carrier, allowing the drone to record conversations and text messages on a32 gigabytes of storage

How fucking cool (and scary) is that? Truth be told the security on many devices that we commonly use today is completely nonexistent. Last year there was a demonstration at Defcon showing that it’s very possible for an average person to get the equipment necessary to spy on people using GSM phones (CDMA, as far as I know, is still safe from non-government snoopers).

HP/Palm TouchPad Goes on Sale July 1st

HP/Palm’s (I know the Palm name is dead but damn it I refuse to stop using it) iPad competitor, the TouchPad, is set to go on sale July 1st. I’m rather excited about this device because I think it’s one of the few new tablet devices that at last has something interesting to offer consumers beyond the capabilities of the iPad (namely WebOS).

It do foresee a problem with the price though as the 16GB model will cost $499.99 while the 32GB model will cost you $599.99. This is the exact same price range as Apple’s iPad which I believe to be a potential problem. I just believe it will be hard to justify the high costs of the TouchPad when the app ecosystem for WebOS is pretty poor (and most current apps being written using the Mojo API will run in a small window much like iPhone apps run on the iPad) and WebOS has very little penetration into the mobile market at the moment. At the price HP/Palm is asking it’s very unlikely I’ll buy one unless they offer a great developer discount.

iOS 5 May Warn About Unsecured Calls

Some chatter has been going around the iOS community about a possible feature in iOS 5 that would warn users of unsecured calls. The encryption used by GSM was cracked and a great presentation and demonstration (which I had the privilege of attending) were given about the crack at Defcon last year. The presentation is available on YouTube for free and is split up into four segments:





Obviously this feature won’t be able to detect if a government agent at the phone company is listening into your phone call (this is why we need secure point-to-point communication capabilities on all phones) it would at least let you know if your phone call is being intercepted locally.

Government in Your Phone

Happy days are afoot now. In 2006 the federal government approved the creation of the Commercial Mobile Alert System and it’s ready for action. On the surface it’s claimed to be a mechanism of alerting people in an area of a disaster. I’m sure anybody reading this blog long enough know that I’m very skeptical of anything the government does. First I find the following interesting:

A special chip is required to allow a phone to receive the messages, and soon all new phones will have the technology. Some smartphones already have the chip, and software updates will be available when the network goes online later this year, Genachowski said.

Why does this interest me? It interests me for several reasons. First is the design of this chip open for anybody to develop or is production of these chips controlled by one company that was granted a government monopoly? If the design of this chip isn’t open we have no clue what it can actually do. When the government controls something I can’t verify the abilities of I worry.

Another thing I find interesting are the levels of alerts this system can implement:

Presidential Alerts – Alerts for all Americans related to national emergencies, such as terrorist attacks, that will preempt any other pending alerts;

Imminent Threat Alerts – Alerts with information on emergencies, such as hurricanes or tornadoes, where life or property is at risk, the event is likely to occur, and some responsive action should be taken; and

Child Abduction Emergency/AMBER Alerts – Alerts related to missing or endangered children due to an abduction or runaway situation.

Combine this with the following:

People will be able to opt out of receiving all but the presidential alerts.

So what the Hell is this system supposed to accomplish? Obviously not warning people in an area of natural disasters because those messages can be opted out of. But if there is a terrorist attack in New York again I’m unable to opt-out of that message. I’m sorry but a terrorist attack in another state isn’t something I need to be warned about immediately while a tornado touching down over my house would be of some interest to me. The opt-out mechanism is backwards to say the last and that is also cause for suspicion.

Basically the government has legislated a new chip be required in all new cell phones yet have no released any documents that I can find that give the exact specifications of this chip or its capabilities. I’m guessing we’re going to find something additional functionality further down the road but I could just be cynical due to the history of government implemented projects.

What’s interesting is currently only AT&T and Verizon are signed up for this. Sprint and T-Mobile (who will soon be AT&T) haven’t which really makes me want to utilize my Sprint phone more.

Tear Down of an FBI Tracking Device

I can’t express in words my love for iFixit. Somehow the guys there manage to get a hold of every device manufacture and create excellent tear down guides allowing people such as myself to perform self-repairs on many electronic gadgets. It seems that working with Wired the guys over at iFixit were able to obtain one of those Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) tracking devices and went to work tearing it apart.

The thing I was most curious about was the power source. It seems these tracking devices are powered by lithium-thionyl chloride batteries which I’ve never heard of until today. These batteries specialize providing long term power (think 10 to 20 years) to devices which don’t require a ton of power. That’s some pretty sweet technology if I do say so myself.

I was also surprised at the ease at which getting into the tracking device was possible. If I were the FBI and wanted to make a device that allowed me to ignore those pesky laws against illegal search and seizure I’d have epoxied the living shit out of everything inside to make a tear down practically impossible. It’s not like they need to worry about repairing these things as they have access to the government’s printing press as long as they can drop the word terrorism into their request.

The guys at iFixit it also have the following disclaimer:

Disclaimer: We love the FBI. We’ve worked with them on several occasions to fight crime and locate criminals. We’ve helped them with instructions on gaining entry into certain devices. We have nothing against them, and we hope they don’t come after us for publishing this teardown.

I also have a disclaimer… We (by which I mean I) here at hate the FBI. We feel that no organization should be able to go beyond the law and the FBI has done that numerous times without consequences. The only way we’ll help the FBI is if we are subpoenaed and forced to do so. We have a lot against them including the fact that they’re run by a bunch of authoritarian assholes.

Amazon to Allow Library Lending of Kindle Books

The Sony E-Reader has had the capability to allow libraries to loan e-books to their customers for a while now. It seems Amazon wants in on this action and are now going to allow libraries to loan Kindle e-books:

SEATTLE, Apr 20, 2011 (BUSINESS WIRE) — (NASDAQ: AMZN)– Amazon today announced Kindle Library Lending, a new feature launching later this year that will allow Kindle customers to borrow Kindle books from over 11,000 libraries in the United States. Kindle Library Lending will be available for all generations of Kindle devices and free Kindle reading apps.

What I really like about how Amazon is going about this is any highlights or annotations you make on a rented book will be saved:

Customers will be able to check out a Kindle book from their local library and start reading on any Kindle device or free Kindle app for Android, iPad, iPod touch, iPhone, PC, Mac, BlackBerry, or Windows Phone. If a Kindle book is checked out again or that book is purchased from Amazon, all of a customer’s annotations and bookmarks will be preserved.

I’d say that’s pretty important because it would be a huge pain in the ass to lose any notes made on a book because the loan expired.