When you think of online privacy, it’s fair to assume it’s usually about nasty people or faceless corporations tracking the online behavior of adults, although children obviously spend loads of time on social networks and other pursuits that are Internet based. It’s about setting strong passwords, watching out for phishing emails designed to steal your identity, and making sure you are at least a little careful about the sites you visit.
But when your kids are at school, you want to think that educators care about their privacy and, when the occasion arises, will teach them best practices. You don’t want to think that the company whose software powers the cheap computers handed out to students at many school systems these days is, itself, engaged in violating their privacy.
Then there’s a recent blockbuster story from Daniel Eran Dilger in AppleInsider, in which he reports that, “Privacy advocates at the Electronic Frontier Foundation have again outlined how Google is successfully dumping millions of low-cost Chromebooks on U.S. schools, enabling the mass collection and storage of information on children without the consent of their parents or even the understanding of many school administrators.”
These unsavory practices include automatically signing up students to Gmail accounts, using their full names, and even posting their photos without their knowledge or permission on social network sites, which I presume is mostly about Google’s failed Plus. Worse, they are given simple passwords by default, passwords that are easily cracked by Internet hackers.
Unfortunately, today’s political headwinds have left school systems in the U.S. starved of the cash needed to buy quality computers, and thus they will often choose cheap Chromebooks instead of, say, an iPad or a Mac. Indeed, this may be a key reason why there is now a $329 iPad. If bought in quantity by a school system, the price per unit will be far less. At the same time, Apple has very strict policies that protect the privacy of its customers.
That takes us to this weekend’s edition of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where we featured prolific author Joe Kissell, who discussed the third edition of “Take Control of Your Online Privacy.” Joe presented hints and tips on ongoing threats, including the fallout from legislation from the U.S. Congress, signed by the President, to allow ISPs to sell your online history to third-party companies. Are there ways to protect yourself against this and other invasions of your privacy? Joe also discussed another of his books, “Are Your Bits Flipped? Overcoming Tech Misconceptions.” He talked about a few common day-to-day mistakes some people make in handling their tech gear.
You also heard a wide-ranging interview with prolific author Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus, who talked about Apple’s commitment to take heed of the needs of professional Mac users and build a new Mac Pro, offer an iMac with professional options, and perhaps a souped up Mac mini. In discussing the potential of self-driving vehicles, Bob mentioned the safe driving features now available in many new cars, such as his Subaru Legacy. Bob discussed the steps he took to control his ADHD condition, and how he developed the advice he offers in his first self-published book, “Working Smarter for Mac Users,” which will soon be available in a Windows version. Gene and Bob also briefly recalled old-time radio.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: With guest go-host Goggs Mackay, The Paracast returns to the traditional Ufology and UFO sighting mold with Bob Spearing, a MUFON field investigator who has investigated over 500 cases. He is part of MUFON’ s elite special assignment team and is their International Director for Spain and India. Robert is frequently published in the MUFON Journal and other publications, has spoken at UFO conventions, and maintains the website World UFO Watch. An expert on orange orbs, Robert will trace the history of this incredible phenomenon and whether it exhibits evidence of intelligence. He’ll also talk about what he calls “nuts and bolts UFOs.”
Do you remember the IBM Selectric? It represented the pinnacle of traditional typewriter technology before companies tried to turn them into rudimentary word processing machines. The Selectric made it easy to change typefaces by putting the letters on tiny switchable font elements or balls.
My recollection of the Selectric is that they were smooth, reasonably reliable and expensive. Even better, IBM would easily finance most anyone, making it possible to get one with for a small monthly fee. That’s how I acquired my red Selectric II in the early 1970s. At one time, the Selectric had 75% of the typewriter market.
The Selectric survived from its introduction in 1961 until 1986 with only modest changes. I kept mine for well over a decade, until it developed some irritating mechanical problems, and I replaced it with one of those so-called electronic typewriters that were sold in the heady days before personal computers took over.
So what’s the point?
Well, a certain blog likens the Selectric to the iPhone in becoming a mainstream and thus “boring” product. So it’s true that IBM rarely made major changes to its electric typewriter. Mine was the Correcting Selectric II. It made perfect typing easier by using correction tape to banish your mistakes. Thus I no longer had to use Liquid Paper, and thus my letters and manuscripts would no longer be filled with tiny white smears. The correcting tape was a revelation, making the fixes difficult to see, and it became a staple on many brands of typewriters.
An enhanced version of the Selectric was the Composer, a rudimentary cold typesetting machine that featured proportional spacing and allowed you to create justified copy by typing the document twice. Costly versions used magnetic tape or magnetic cards to store the text for automatic playback of the “typeset” version. It’s better known competitor was the Varityper.
So for 25 years, IBM was able to make lots of money from a successful mainstream product, one that survived with only modest changes until it was replaced by personal computers.
Does that sound like an iPhone to you?
The theory presented in this article is that the iPhone is a dull mainstream device that will exist and prosper with only minor changes until it is finally replaced by something totally different. An unlikely piece of evidence is that Apple is still able to sell older models to people who want something cheaper. But the basic theory is not at all true.
While the IBM Selectric was sold unchanged for years before it received any updates at all, the iPhone, as we all know, undergoes annual refreshes of varying degrees. So the 2016 iPhone 7 may be superficially similar to the original in 2007, but it is literally hundreds or thousands of times faster, competitive with the performance of many notebook computers, and is infused with lots of advanced technology including voice assistance and fingerprint detection.
Indeed, if an Phone doesn’t receive enough changes, the critics quickly pounce on Apple, claiming it’s losing its mojo. But the critics go after Apple even when it’s clear an upgraded iPhone has been changed considerably.
Sure, we live in different times and everything moves at a much faster pace. Tech companies cannot get away with selling a product unchanged for up to a decade. While PC form factors may exist without alteration for a few years, the internal components will be frequently updated with faster parts and sometimes more useful features. When Apple dared to continue to sell a product, the Mac Pro, unchanged for over three years, the growing protests became loud and clear. They became so loud that Apple had to summon a handful of reporters to its corporate headquarters to essentially apologize for its lapses and promise to do better.
These days, IBM doesn’t really serve consumers anymore. After selling off its PC division to Lenovo in 2004, IBM focused strictly on its business divisions. It’s a very different company from the one that made home and office typewriters in the old days.
Apple? Well, it’s clear that billions of dollars are being invested every year in R&D to create the next great things. One division is managing autonomous driving and recently received approval from California’s DMV to conduct road tests of self-driving vehicles. Every few months, you read reports of new patents granted to Apple for new inventions of one sort or another, such as an enhanced method of fingerprint detection that may find its way into the rumored iPhone 8 or a future device. Or an innovative wireless charging scheme.
A company that dedicated to innovation is hardly going to rest on its laurels. In addition to the iPhone, you can hardly say that current Macs are unchanged from the 1984 original. Sure, today’s iMac is also an all-in-one computer that is very difficult to open and upgrade. But it also offers near-workstation performance with an advanced 5K display that’s valuable in doing content creation, such as editing videos and originating motion picture special effects.
A closer comparison is the plastic-clad 1998 iMac in Bondi blue. Apple fitted it with parts derived from the PowerBook to create a relatively affordable consumer Mac. It sat at the bottom of the desktop product line, whereas the current model is a mainstream computer that can smoothly perform chores required by professional users. Rather than serve the same market year after year, the iMac has moved upscale and has, to many, supplanted the need for the Mac Pro.
You may refer Apple’s products and its technology advances as “dull,” but only if dull means that most of them go about their business without much fuss or bother. If that’s dull I want more of it.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
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