Your Phone Should be Your Butler

18. October, 2017

A lot of people share private details with the world without being aware of it. For example, they take nude pictures with their phones (NSA keeps a copy, just in case) or they sell the phone without wiping it properly, allowing the next owner to get a good idea who you are, or they install apps like the one from Facebook which ask “can I do whatever I want with anything I find on your phone?” and people happily click the “Yeah, whatever” button (a.k.a “Accept”).

When people use modern technology, they have a mental model. That model tells them what to expect when they do something (“press here and the screen will turn on”). It also contains other expectations that are rooted in social behavior. Like “I take good care of my phone and it will take good care of me (and my data)”.

That, when you think about it, is nonsense.

A phone is not a butler. In essence, a phone is a personal data collecting device with additional communication capabilities. But the main goal is to learn about you and then manipulate you to buy stuff. It’s about money. Companies want it, you have it, they want you to give it to them. Anything else only exists to facilitate this process. If pain would increase revenue, we’d be living in hell.

Case in point: Speech based input. When you click on a page, that doesn’t tell much about you. When you use your finger, the phone can at least feel when you’re trembling. Are you angry or enthusiastic? We’re getting there. But your voice is rich with detail about your emotional state. More data to milk to make you perfect offers which you simply don’t want to refuse.

A butler, on the other hand, has your interests in mind. They keep private information private instead of selling it to the highest bidder. They look out for you.

The source of the difference? You pay a butler. (S)he is literally working for you. On the phone, a lot of people expect the same service to happen magically and for free. Wrong planet, pals.

Wouldn’t it be great if phones were like butlers? Trustworthy, discreet and helpful instead of just trying to be helpful?

I hope we’ll see more technology like the app Nude (which hides sensitive photos on your phone).


Jazoon 2011, Day 1 – Cross-Platform Mobile Development with Eclipse – Heiko Behrens and Peter Friese

26. June, 2011

Cross-Platform Mobile Development with Eclipse – Heiko Behrens and Peter Friese

The duo showed a nice example how a DSL (created with Xtext, of course) can be used to generate code for an iPhone app, an Android app, a standard Java web app and an app for the Google App Engine from the same source.

The point here is not to emulate all features on each platform but to fall back to sensible replacements if a platform doesn’t support something.

It also showed the blazing speed of the new Xtext 2 code generator.


Reading On the Samsung Galaxy II

13. June, 2011

A couple of days ago, I got a new toy: The Samsung Galaxy II. Along came a “readers hub” which I didn’t use. The contract says something about “additional charges might be incurred.” “Might” surely isn’t a word that I like to see close to “money.”

So I got the Amazon Kindle reader for Android. Everything else aside, Amazon is the largest book seller on the planet and the prices are better than anywhere else. Which leads to the question: Are the prices worth it?

On the plus side, reading on the Galaxy II is a nice experience. The text is clear and easy to read. Flipping pages by tapping or swishing over the screen is easy enough. The device is smaller than normal book and the weight is comparable to a 400 page paperback. Since it’s smaller than the book, it’s easier to hold “open” then the book. My fingers are long enough to wrap around the whole backside, so with a bit of strain, I can tap the right side of the screen with my middle finger without moving my hand at all. It shows much less text per page, so you need more tapping but it was very easy to get used to that.

In fact, I completely forget about it. When a piece of the story makes me stop (like “huh? That doesn’t seem to match to what I’ve read before”) and I start to “leaf” back, I’m usually surprised how many “pages” I have to go back to find something I’ve read “just before”.

Another neat gadget is the dictionary. If I press the finger on a word, the dictionary entry for it pop up. Especially useful if your English is as good as mine but not perfect – what was “lambent” again?

On the negative side, with the Kindle and similar tools, I don’t get much for my money. I surely don’t get a book – just the right to read one. Until someone decides different. So to ask a similar price for less service feels like a rip-off. For example, the paperback for David Weber‘s “A Mighty Fortress” costs EUR 5,50. The eBook goes for 5,22. The list price makes it look better: For the paperback, that would be EUR 11,- while the eBook is EUR 8,45 – 23% less.

But that’s without postage and packing and the fact that I get the book right away. So in reality, I get the book for about 40% less and I can get it as soon as I discover it.

But I can’t lend or sell it. Being an author, I usually don’t lend or sell my book, so that’s not a big deal for me. It still irks me. On the other hand, have all my books with me at all times. All of them.

Which leaves the only major drawback: There are two big, competing formats: Kindle and EPUB. And the Kindle doesn’t support EPUB (for obvious reasons). And I’d be surprised if, after one format “won,” you would be allowed to convert all your old books to the new format. OTOH, Amazon isn’t going to drop support for the Kindle format and the EPUB format is open (so anyone can implement a reader), that means your books won’t be worthless.

Until the seller goes bankrupt, of course. Or a lawsuit happens. Or crackers wipe their databases. After that, all your books will be unreadable.

Hacking for Humanity

6. June, 2011

Random Hacks of Kindness is an event where hackers (the good guys; what you read in the papers are crackers but journalists usually don’t care) present software that saves lives. Examples include:

  • Android software to mobilize disaster response teams “with possibly unstable network conditions”
  • HelpMe – a guided first aid emergency and calling app” which collects vital information like time, number of injured people, type on injuries. It also gives first aid tips to those at the site.
  • Or how about wheelmap, a site which finds you restaurants or stores that are accessible with a wheelchair.

Publishing Your Passwords on The Internet

17. May, 2011

Would you tell your GMail password to a friend? Your colleagues in the office? Publish it on the Internet?

If the answer to any of these is “NO“, you should turn off automatic synchronization on your Android smartphone and never use it in open Wifi networks.

The reason is that Google uses something called a “token” to allow apps your smartphone to connect to Google services like your mail box, your calendar, etc. The token is like a key on your keychain: Anyone who has the key can open the door it fits. Unlike keys on your key chain, anyone who can pick a token out of the air knows where that door is!

Related article: Catching AuthTokens in the Wild