Google-Free for Me

Anyone who follows me on Google+ may have seen a comment I gave to a friend’s post where I declared that I am going to go Google-free in 15 days (from that post). The end date for those 15 days is March 7th, 2014.

I am writing this blog post for my site, and copying it to Google+, to explain why I am doing this. It is not my intention to convince others of my thinking, I’d consider that rude as there is too much effort on the Internet today where people try to influence each other’s behaviours. If I say on the Internet I don’t like Brussels Sprouts, there will aways be someone who will argue why I actually should like them. There was a time this would be considered rude behaviour, but the Internet has made it a norm.

So, to re-iterate, I am only “documenting” my reasoning and explaining why those who follow me on Google+ won’t see me anymore after Mar. 7th. I do plan to delete my Google+ account on that date, as well as using the duckduckgo.com search engine. I’ve done a good job of avoiding other Google applications, and I run browser plug-ins to minimize tracking by Google Analytics.

This is a long post filled with many words and paragraphs and no point form. If the Internet has re-wired your thinking such that your attention span does not allow the reading of long prose (as argued by Nicholas Carr in “The Shallows”), then stop now…there is nothing for you here.

Here we go!

Importance of Privacy

I am a private person. I value my privacy as something important. In our heavy social-networked world, I get the feeling I am very alone in this. I was then very much relieved to watch Mikko Hypponen’s TED talk where he made the statement: “And one thing we should all understand is that we are brutally honest with search engines. You show me your search history, and I’ll find something incriminating or something embarrassing there in five minutes. We are more honest with search engines than we are with our families. Search engines know more about you than your family members know about you.”. I checked my own search history and looked through the stored cookies. I was not happy with what I found. Mikko is right.

Mikko was specifically talking about the NSA and what we know from the Snowden leaks, but to me, privacy is privacy whether it is from a government or a company. And, let’s be honest here: if I was a government agency collecting information and there is this massive corporation doing it for me, I will find a way to get it from them. I have no proof, but fully expect what Google collects is going to the NSA and other governments anyways so I see them all in the same light. If I feel outrage at the NSA spying on me, I should equally feel the same way when a company like Google is determined to do pretty much the same thing whenever I am using their applications (and sometimes even when I am not).

This Ayn Rand quote sums it up for me: “Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.”

Why I trust Apple and not Google

When I started contracting, I incorporated a business for my contracting activities. The one thing my accountant and lawyer kept stressing to me is that a business is a separate legal entity from me. That fact has stuck with me causing me to view businesses, regardless of their size, like I view people: an entity with its own unique motivations, goals, aspirations, etc. Unlike people, however, businesses have to write down their motivations in the form of a business model which drives the direction the employees take the business.

So, when I decide whether I want to trust a business with my private information, I do the same thing as I do with people: I try to understand the motivations and goals of the business to see if they indicate how trustworthy that business will be.

For Google, it seems very clear their business model involves farming people’s information (data), analyzing that data, and using that analysis to provide an ad targeting service to advertisers. I have to believe that everything Google does must fit into this model. With Google, it is obvious that I am not a customer because there is no exchange of money. I am the commodity Google uses to make money from its real customers: advertisers. As commodities, we users get to use Google’s applications for free in exchange for giving up some of our privacy and letting advertisers, who pay Google, target us with ads based on that private information.

From their business model, can I trust Google with my privacy. Of course I can’t. Nor can, or should I trust the data of my company, or any company I work for, in the hands of a Google application. That would be irresponsible given what I understand Google’s business model to be.

Now, let’s look at Apple. Apple’s business model seems focused on selling me very expensive hardware. Recent moves from Apple to make much of their software, like MacOS, free, makes them look more and more like Google’s freemium model. Except Apple does not engage with advertisers. Evidence is that Apple uses the sale of hardware, which is overpriced, to subsidize the development of software and services like iCloud. As a professional in high tech who makes a living off of using a computer for many hours a day, I don’t mind overpriced hardware as long as it is better quality. And I feel Apple’s stuff is very good quality. To those who keep trying to get me to use alternatives, try telling a professional mechanic that he can save money on tools by getting cheap Mastercraft tools from Canadian Tire rather than the more expensive Snap-on tools. See how he reacts to your comment. That is how I am now reacting when people tell me I should not use Apple hardware.

But, I digress. From their business model, can I trust Apple with my privacy? I say yes…until they change their business model and give me reason not to.

Not Healthy for High Tech

As someone who has worked in high tech for over 25 years, I simply do not like some of the “effects” Google has had on my industry. They use the freemium model like a weapon against other companies to force them to play the same game; adopt the freemium model or go extinct.

But is the freemium model really good for the us? Certainly as a software developer, the idea that I am expected to give away my efforts for free only to make money via a middleman (advertiser) makes me pretty angry. I’m a bit of a student of Ayn Rand’s objectivism so this whole freemium model goes against my grain.
For app users, getting a flurry of applications for free seems like a pretty good deal. But in the long run, I don’t feel freemium is a better way to go. There are numerous examples on the Internet showing the flaws of freemium. In the mobile gaming world, freemium translates to in-app purchases and this articles does a good job to criticizing that: http://www.baekdal.com/opinion/how-inapp-purchases-has-destroyed-the-industry/.

Freemium takes away a critical feedback mechanism built in by capitalism: the use of money. When a product does not work, we either won’t buy it, or will ask for our money back. When a product is good or great, we happily pay for it thereby support its creators. Traditional businesses use money as a measurement of how successful a product is. With freemium, money is not longer a feedback mechanism. If Googles decides one of their apps is not achieving their business model’s objectives, they can just cancel it since the users of it have not paid anything for it anyway. Just ask people who enjoyed using Google Reader or Google Wave (for a view of the Google graveyard, see: http://gizmodo.com/all-the-google-products-that-google-itself-has-killed-d-665225668). No matter how popular or wide spread these apps became, without money being directly involved, you cannot help them to survive should they not meet the main objective of selling ads.

False Economy Around Data

Google has been referred to as a data collection and analysis company. And certainly many of their acquisitions are indicating this to be true. I feel Google is one of the main reasons we have the latest buzzword: “Big Data”.

My thoughts on Big Data are best summarized by this quote from the Internet: “Big data is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it.”. My own professional exposure to Big Data lines up with this quote. As such, I feel it is the next buzz-worthy topic which won’t go away, but won’t stay in its current hyped-up state either. In short, I expect there to be a “Big Data Bubble Burst” at some point.

But, that has not stopped Google and others from building a very big economy around Big Data. Now with wearables becoming the next big thing for consumers, I expect that Google will be focused on using the vast army of wearables to collect massive amounts of data which will be aggregated to fuel Big Data analysis machines….to do what? Sell us yet more ads? Seriously, is this what we want from high tech for our world?!? I know I don’t.

Borg: Kings of Wearables

Speaking of wearables, Google Glass has become the kingpin of wearables. It promises to keep you connected to the hive mind of the Google-sanctioned Internet so you no longer have to remember tedious things like train schedules or facts and figures. Connected to the hive mind this way, we can enjoy a questionably better life. We can share with friends, and the hive, in real time rather than actually living our own lives.

I remember watching “Star Trek: New Generation” and thinking the being a Borg is a horrible thing. Loosing one’s identify to a hive mind…the horrors, the horrors (“Apocalypse Now” reference). Yet here we are with Google making it sound like a “good” thing we allow ourself to be integrated into a larger collective! Am I missing something here?!?

If other people want to be Borgs, fine. But what really annoys me is that Google glasses have the ability to infringe on my privacy without me knowing it. How do I know that a friend standing near me and wearing Google glasses is not recording video of me, recording my voice, or taking my picture? And all this can go to the Internet so fast, there is no way I can ask politely to not do that. Conclusion: anyone who actually wants to talk to me in person (heaven forbid!) is being rude if they are wearing Google glasses while doing it. I don’t like rude people.

Conclusion

Now I come full circle on my diatribe. I know I promised at the beginning no bullet points, but that seems like a good way to sum everything up:

  • To me, privacy is an important thing.
  • Google’s business model is not one I can trust with my privacy.
  • Google, in my opinion, is not having a long term favourable effect upon the industry I depend upon for my livelihood.
  • As such, to not be labelled a hypocrite, I can no longer use Google products (and that includes ones they acquire).

And so I bid adieu to Google+. I’ll end this now with the way Edward R. Murrow ended his programs: “Good Night, and Good Luck”.

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On iOS7 breaking wineCellar 1.17

As reported in the news section of our website, iOS7 broke critical functionality of wineCellar. I’m getting the question as to why I did not catch this ahead of time given Apple pre-releases iOS builds to developers. I wanted to address this question here.

When I first developed the iOS version of wineCellar, I decided up front to only use Apple’s API’s as provided in iOS to minimize the chance that wineCellar would break with iOS upgrades. Other developers were doing custom graphics and complex layouts which make their apps far prettier than wineCellar, but more susceptible to breakage from OS changes. Up until now, that approach has worked for me and wineCellar has not required many changes to adapt to iOS upgrades. iOS 7 changed that.

I want to first off say I am disappointed in Apple. Breaking such a basic feature as a field with a picker wheel is, in my view, very unprofessional. I fixed wineCellar just by re-building it with the latest version of Xcode. No code change was required. To say I’m not happy with Apple engineers right now is a big understatement.

So, to the question of why I did not catch this earlier. I did not bother running wineCellar on the pre-release of iOS 7. Again, this was due to the fact that I was under the belief that I built wineCellar to be immune to iOS upgrade breakages. When I upgraded my own devices to iOS 7, I did not initially see the breakage myself as I pretty much have all my fields pre-populated with the values I need for my day to day use. It was upset customers who informed me that things were broken by the iOS 7 upgrade.

The lesson I have gotten out of this is I cannot trust Apple to retain backward compatibility for basic UI elements. I will now have to download and run wineCellar on all iOS pre-releases and do a full test suite to hunt down possible breakage’s.

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Shutdown of Cadent Forum

After fighting for years with constant spam, I’ve decided to permanently shut down the Cadent forum. The forum, unfortunately, did not really see that much traffic and did not seem to be used for its intended purpose.

With regards to spam, well I put up a good fight. I tried to figure out what IP address domains were being used by the spammers and to block them in the forum software. This helped a bit, but they always seemed to find a way through.

I have to say it: I just do not understand why some people feel that any forum or blog out there is a target for their advertising! Most of the spam seemed to come from two countries…I won’t name them here for fear I will be called racist. Are there people out there so dumb that they actually click on these inane ads? There must be as making money would be the only incentive to aggravating those of us who are trying to sustain forums and blogs.

I have already turned off comments on this WordPress-based blog. Sadly, I now must turn off the forum entirely. I’m now convinced that the best web solutions are static or custom made so the spammer’s automated systems cannot breach them. In the months ahead, I will seriously consider leaving WordPress and going back to a static blogging system like Sandvox which I use to maintain this site.

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Stolen MacBook Pro and iPad

Work has really slowed down for me. Had my vehicle broken into and my main development MacBook Pro and iPad stolen. Given how slow it is to get insurance to cover things, I find myself set back in a big way.

My big regret is I did not have Lion’s new File Vault 2 turned on to ensure none of my sensitive data could be seen using target disk mode. When I get the replacement laptop, I will definitely be turning that feature on!

It has also gotten me thinking about how dangerous it is for us to store critical information on the Internet protected only by numerous passwords we have to try and remember, or use tools like 1Password to fill in for us. With browsers like Safari caching everything under the sun, how many passwords or access credential can be accessed by the thieves when they examine the hard drive?

Of course I have changed all my passwords to keep that data safe, but that was a whole evening of pain I don’t want to revisit.

I’m now starting to see an interesting paradigm in our connected world which I plan to use to change the work being done at Cadent. I will need to think on this more, but plan to make my next blog a discussion of this new view and how I plan to change Cadent’s product offerings.

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Working with Lion Now

Well, contrary to the previous post, a rewrite of wineCellar was not necessary to fix the Lion-triggered crash. It came down to an over-complex build system which accidentally mixed versions of the compiler gcc. That caused some code to build as 32-bit, and other as 64-bit. There was one point where the different sizes made a difference and triggered a crash. Sigh.

It has been resolved in version 2.19 which has been submitted to Apple for approval. Disaster has been averted!

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The Lion Disaster

What a bad couple of days!! I did what I tell all my friends not to do: Never apply a major OS upgrade on a critical machine until it has had time to “soak”. Well, I updated my primary development laptop to Lion as soon as it came out. I wanted to see how things like wineCellar and other projects fair under Lion. Things have been going from bad to worse!! Here are just a few issues I have encountered:

  • The tool I use to maintain my website, Sandvox 1.6.8, does not even run under Lion so I have been unable to update my website to tell my users of the dangers of Lion in the news section.
  • I am off on a contract in another city with only this machine so I cannot use another computer to save the day. This will continue for another week.
  • I did not bring an external HD with me to keep Snow Leopard around (ouch!!).
  • wineCellar from the Mac App Store won’t run under Lion. Something about the new sandboxing is causing some significant issues to wineCellar.
  • wineCellar from the DMG download does run…why it does not also crash, I cannot determine yet.
  • The tool I rely on to make wineCellar run on both Windows and Macs, wxWidgets, seems to be the core of the crashing.
  • Lion’s version of Xcode, 4.1, will not build wxWidgets so I cannot begin to address this issue on a Lion-based machine.

Wow! And of course all my contracts which involve MacOS are eager for me to get them Lion-ready too! In all my history working on Mac-based programs, nothing Apple has done has broken my code as bad as Lion has. The main reason for this: I don’t use Xcode, but rather use good old Makefiles so I can build for multiple platforms. This decision has really burned me this time.

I’m now stuck in a awkward position. To address what Lion has reaped, I can:

  1. Try to solve the issues in wxWidget for Lion. This is a huge task which will probably require months of effort!
  2. Abandon wxWidgets and rewrite wineCellar using Xcode. This would be a Mac-only version.

I recon I will have to do number 2. However, that is going to take time, but it will free me from wxWidgets thereby preventing the type of issues I have just run into. My lesson from all of this: If you are going to drink the Apple Kool-aid, drink it! Don’t mess around with layers of portable code (wxWidgets, and yes, I’m looking at you Java!).

What about Windows then? Having two separate code streams was something I desperately wanted to avoid…but I don’t feel I have a choice…sigh.

Important message: If I am rewriting wineCellar for Lion, this is going to take a lot of time given I have to juggle that with contracts and that I work alone. Until then, wineCellar does not work under Lion!!! If you upgrade, please understand that wineCellar will probably not work. Yelling at me, as some have done already, will not change this unfortunate situation.

Unless the wxWidget community finds a way to get it working on Lion quickly (I’m not betting on this), it will be months of effort to get a rewrite done. Looks like my evenings, and yes, any summer vacation I would have taken, are gone. Thanks Apple.

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WordPress: Is it Worth It?

I can’t say my experiment with using WordPress has been going well. Previously, I was using a “static blog” created with the tool Sandvox by Karelia. With that blog, I would create static entries and people could comment using a special third party comment system. I never had any spam or security issues. Not one. Mind you, I also did not have any comments.

I switched to WordPress for two reasons:

  1. To use the great plugin, WPTouch which makes the entries friendly to iPhones.
  2. To get better SEO support via one of the many SEO plugins.

Well, things have not gone great with this experiment. Two things in particular have been a big thorn in my side:

  1. Spam, and lots of it! Even with good SEO support, I do not get any legitimate comments…just spam…sigh. I feel like that kid in the South Park episode “You have Zero Friends”.
  2. Security issues. I keep reading things like this article on plugin backdoors, not to mention the constant updates of plugins and WordPress itself to deal with security issues. I’ve come to the conclusion that WordPress has become a target of spam and hacking.

I’m a programmer and really get this web stuff. I thought I would use a CMS like WordPress to make my life easier. I now realize that WordPress has really made it worse. This is interesting given that WordPress is pushed by non-technical users as “the” way to get on the web with a blog or even a commercial site.

All the forms, tabs, and settings pages has made, in my opinion, WordPress a heavily over-engineered product. I’m not sure the other CMS’s are any better. I heard that Drupal is having a big conference in England for people who have to configure Drupal sites. Seriously, has that CMS advanced so much in complexity that people feel the need to have a conference over it?!?

It seems to me that the CMS’s have all become big businesses competing with each other for features and marketshare. I wish Apple would come along and kick their asses showing them how to build something people actually “like” to use and don’t need to go on a course or conference to figure out.

In the meantime, while I’m waiting for Apple to do CMS right, I have to decide whether I will be moving back to a static blog system away from this “spam-bait” known as WordPress (and no, I will not pay money for a plugin to filter spam!), or even if I want to continue blogging at all. Having no comments is the equivalent of talking to oneself and that is usually the first sign of insanity.

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theLocBox Close to Release

It has been awhile since I have last blogged. Reason: very busy on multiple business ventures. One of them, a new software product called “theLocBox” is nearing release.

theLocBox is a file encryption utility aimed at encrypting files going into cloud storage such as Dropbox. There are two versions: the free version which just works with Dropbox, and a Pro version which lets you create vaults wherever you want (i.e. USB key).

You can learn more about theLocBox on its dedicated website: theLocBox.com. Note: this is all in a beta state and will be continued to evolve over the next month.

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The 90’s have called and want their user interface back!

I never get tired of hearing my interfaces being called “90’s interfaces” (much sarcasm). To help defend my choice of interface design, I need to relate a story about the “Delicious Generation”.

I was attending a WWDC conference in 2007 and kept hearing references to “the Delicious Generation”. This seemed to be a reference to the people behind Delicious Monster and their product “Delicious Library”. Namely, it was referring to the new design techniques they were following. Everyone who was following their lead were considered part of the Delicious Generation whereas those who were still designing software the old way were part of the “Old School”. I started to get the feeling I was in this Old School without realizing it.

When I got home, I started to look up Delicious Generation and found this blog from Rogue Amoeba. You can also see what Wikipedia has to say about it here.

So, am I part of the Old School? Yes. I have always focused on function over form. My own interpretation of the Delicious Generation is they focus on form over function. But, I have to admit that the pendulum swing to the Delicious Generation approach has been overwhelming.

This really hit home for me when I was working as a contractor for a startup. We were interviewing application developers for a position. The company’s owners were asking for portfolios and focused all their attention on UI design. Never once did they want to seeing if the application even ran or how well it worked (i.e performance)! Nor did they concern themselves with how many bugs the developer had to iron out of the software nor with how long it took to stabilize it. All they cared was it looked good. Sigh.

As the Rogue Amoeba CEO quotes a Delicious Generation person in his article: “You can be honorable, or you can make money”. I believe I have taken the honorable road up until now. But the markets have spoken. Statistics have shown that flashier wine cellar apps are kicking my butt in sales. People want elegant interfaces. I can spend the next couple of years adding new functionality to wineCellar but I do not believe it will result in any better sales. This is the new reality for indie developers.

So, kicking and screaming, I have to solicit outside help on interface design to pull in some of the principles of the Delicious Generation. I have already done so for another project I am working on (will announce it here at the beginning of June).

With regards to wineCellar, I have a problem. You see, wineCellar is a niche product and will never generate enough to be an income to sustain even just me. Sales have really dropped off. I have to decide if the cost of a third party UI designer for wineCellar will be recouped in new sales due to the flashier interface. If this was a mainstream product, I’d say yes. Being a niche product, I doubt it. I just cannot afford to throw thousands of dollars at wineCellar only to recoup a few hundred in extra sales. That is just bad business.

I don’t want to scare my customers here. I am still committed to supporting wineCellar as it is today. I’m just not certain a break from the current “90’s interface” would be a smart business move on my part.

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iPhone/iPad Version 1.9 to Apple

I just send version 1.9 of wineCellar for iPhone/iPad off to Apple for approval. This changes fixes two issues on the iPad (nothing changed on iPhone):

  • Images were not being resized on the iPad. This caused an issue where imported photos (via camera connector) were so big they caused the Cadent Cloud server to fail the sync operation. In this update, the photos are resized to a more reasonable size.
  • Owners of the iPad 2 (lucky people) were not able to add photos to wine entries. This has been resolved so you can now add from either your photo library or your camera.

Back to enhancing the desktop versions…

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