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Tai Toh

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    IoT: Does everything need to be in the cloud?

    On the Verge reports that Google remotely reset some customers Google OnHub routers:

    Google has apologized to its Google Wifi and OnHub customers after it inadvertently reset a number of routers to their factory settings. Google blamed an issue with its Google Accounts engine for the problem, which forced OnHub owners offline in the middle of the US day, erasing their saved settings and forcing them to re-enter their network information.

    This is why I have no interest in hosting these type of remote systems on my network.

    The Cloudbleed bug caused multiple password resets across all my devices and sessions. Doing it on a phone or a computer is relatively simple, but having to re-enter that on a SmartTV sucked. I can’t imagine how’d I do that for a fridge or something.


    2017: A new year

    Reading Jen’s end-of-year piece made me realize that I haven’t written much of anything in a while.

    Starting a new job the 2nd week of December at Nulogy has kept me busy.  Coupled with past holidays creates a certain type of gravity that prevents me from reflecting on 2016. As Jen and I talk about what we want to do about 2016’s family photo book, I realize that this year was more about recharging for me than anything else.

    Given that 2016 was the year of “Post-Truth”, many people feel that it was a negative year.  With much of North America’s eyes focused on the run-up and outcome of the US election, the Syrian refugee crisis, and the death of many creative icons, I think there was a collective sigh of relief when we rolled over to 2017.

    While I can’t deny that there are many happening in the world that bring me down, I personally ended off 2016 on a high note.



    The highs and lows of the last two weeks

    From the “I love show tunes” department

    Two weeks ago I saw a the Chicago run of Hamilton: An American Musical.1

    It deserves all the accolades and awards that it has garnered.  Lin-Manuel Miranda, Thomas Kail, Alex LacmoireAndy Blankenbuehler and the rest of the team have created a true “cultural experience”.  It is up their with Alvin Ailey’s Revelations 2.

    As a Canadian, I was surprised how moved I was with emotion.  Hamilton is the type of show, much like Revelations above, that will continue to give more each time you see it.  It’s like the many layers of an onion.

    I had listened to the soundtrack many times (Jen was obsessed with it). That said, I walked away from the performance stunned due to the gravitas and emotional weight of seeing it live.  I hope that the DVD release of the original cast carries the same weight.

    You walk away with great hope, optimism and admiration for the country south of us. Hamilton inspires a sense of nobility.

    If you can, just go see it.

    From the “Lows of the lows” whereby I talk about the US Election

    In a stunning contrast to the week before, the next Wednesday I’m greeted with the Surprise-Non-Surprise of America’s next President-Elect, Donald J. Trump.

    I did not see the outcome of the 2016 presidential election at all.  The longer I search for reasons, the more I realize that I am totally out of touch as a well-to-do father living in an urban city like Toronto.3

    The best analysis I can find as to what happened is Michael Moore’s article, “Five Reasons Why Trump Will Win“.  This was piece was written this summer, months before the election. It’s pretty spot on.

    The frustration amongst Liberals is palpable. Aaron Sorkin’s letter to his daughter captures a lot of the emotion I’m feeling right now. His calls for action is the right thing to do (it’s in the same spirit, but not as militant or specific as Moore’s 5-point, “Morning After To-Do List” that has been making the rounds in Liberal Social media). For what it’s worth, I don’t necessarily know if what Moore is trumpeting will be helpful, but winning seats and creating obstacles through to the 2018 mid-term elections could energize the democratic populace, I guess.

    There will be a lot of consequences when a man is put on the international stage as the leader of the free world who normalizes casual racism, misogyny and hate.  It will embolden others.

    It already has.

    I like to think that the majority of Trump supporters don’t buy much of his rhetoric; that is, they are not rascist, sexist or xenophobe.  That said,  the message they sent to Blacks, Muslim, Hispanics, etc. was, “We don’t hate you, we just don’t care about you.”   That scares visible minorities, the LGBT communities, etc.

    Based on this analysis of Trump by the Atlantic, I doubt that DJT believes much of the rhetoric as well. He is driven by the pursuit to win. However, what he does next is anyone’s best guess.

    Commentators talk about the divide–It’s real.  You read about the bubble that Liberal elites live in, but it cuts both ways too.

     And, of course, people on the coasts could stand to meet more rural and exurban people, to understand why they are anxious about a changing world and less economic opportunity. But rural and exurban people need to see more of America. People do not understand the depths of how little rural America travels and sees other people and cultures.

    The optimist in me feels that this is more about class divide rather than race or gender.  Joan C. Williams has an interesting take on it at that outlines several reason’s why “white working class” Americans voted an outsider into office.

    Is it just a statistical aberration that they cohort falls into white working class americans? Or is there something more sinister than that?  Doug Saunders sides with the latter and wrote an amazing piece for the Globe and Mail, entitled, “Whitewashed: the real reason Donald Trump got elected? We have a white extremism problem.”

    In particular, he speaks of the radicalization of white voters and quotes Carol Anderson, a historian at Emory University:

    You know, if you’ve always been privileged, equality begins to look like oppression. That’s part of what you’re seeing in terms of the [white] pessimism, particularly when the system gets defined as a zero-sum game – that you can only gain at somebody else’s loss.

    Moreover, he ends the article with perhaps the saddest truth about the election:

    After all, the tragedy this week was not just that a radical faction within the white community broke away from the rest of the United States and elected an extremist, but that they abandoned the Democratic and Republican parties in the process, leaving mainstream politics without a language that can lead to victory.

    Making sense of this will take years.

    1. Thanks to C&C for providing Jen, the kids and I with a place to stay. 
    2. The Ailey company estimates that it has been seen by more than 23 million people in 71 countries — a larger audience than has viewed any other modern dance work. The Washington Post has a lovely piece discussing the history and impact of the seminal work
    3. Confirmation bias is definitely a work.  Take a look at the Wall Street Journal’s Blue Feed, Red Feed visualization

    Android security progress

    In a somewhat “click-bait”-y title1 on Motherboard, Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai quotes the Director of Security for Android:

    “For almost all threat models,” Adrian Ludwig, the director of security at Android, referring to the level of security needed by most people, “they are nearly identical in terms of their platform-level capabilities.”

    In a short interview after a talk at a security conference in Manhattan on Tuesday the talk, Ludwig said that, “for sure,” there’s no doubt that a Google Pixel and an iPhone are pretty much equal when it comes to security. Android, he added, will soon be better though.

    “In the long term, the open ecosystem of Android is going to put it in a much better place,” he said, without mentioning that Android has already been around for more than eight years at this point.

    There’s no doubt that Google is getting better at handling security.  My Nexus 5, while no longer receiving OS updates, still gets monthly security updates.

    However, the business model of Android really fails consumers.  Carriers and manufacturers are not motivated to maintain the toolchain to support updates.2  There are many people who never receive updates at all.  I’m sure Google pays the likes of Qualcomm big money to get support.

    The story gets worse as Android begins to take a foothold in IoT devices.  While smartphones are highly personal devices that are at least managed with some sort of effort by users, IoT devices are abandonware by many manufacturers.

    In the end, security is always a moving target and what matters to security is how many people are running an older OS.

    In fact, Ludwig said showing a graph, less than 1% of Android smartphone contain malware.

    Uh, 1% is likely greater than 14 Million active devices.3

    Fragmentation is a problem.  Android, by its own success has a difficult job ahead.

    1. Seriously, this is a horrible title. 
    2. Qualcomm, for instance, has no need to keep SOC and LTE antennae drivers up to date. 
    3. Google stated that there were 1.4 Billion active devices  back in Sept 2015.  So it’s probably getting close to 2 Billion active devices. 

    Apple Touch Bar & Microsoft Surface Dial: Two separate solutions for the same problem

    Yesterday, Microsoft announced their all-in-one Surface Studio PC featuring a very clever integrated zero-force monitor arm.  It reminded me of Wacom’s Cintiq line of visual graphic tablets.

    Now the Surface Studio  isn’t cheap ($2,999 USD for the base model), but I’m actually more intrigued by the new Surface Dial that they released as an add-on accessory to the Studio PC.

    MS Surface dial

    When placed on the screen, a menu appears. You can toggle and adjust different functions by turning it or clicking it.

    It seems similar at first to the Griffen PowerMate dial that has been around for years (in USB form), but when placed on a compatible Surface product (works with both the Surface, Surface Book and Studio), it displays a contextual radial command dial that you can interact with.

    When the dial is on the screen, you can rotate and toggle commands.

    When the dial is on the screen, you can rotate and toggle commands.

    Today, Apple released a revision to their MacBook Pro product line with an integrated, secondary touch display called Touch Bar.

    Apple Touch Bar

    The Touch Bar sits where the function keys used to sit.

    The Touch Bar features contextual commands that replace the function keys.

    Apples Touch Bar is contextually aware of the app you are in.

    Apples Touch Bar is contextually aware of the app you are in.

    Firstly, I think it’s great that we’re moving beyond the “right-click” contextual menu.  Too many features are buried behind it.  Hell, Apple even turns it off by default. Don’t even get me started with Linux.1

    That said, I remain unconvinced that either of these solutions are home runs.

    Apple’s Touch Bar requires you to separate your attention across two different displays.  However, I know many designers and programmers who use multiple monitors successfully to improve their performance.  I think an additional problem is that Apple doesn’t offer an external keyboard with such a display. I would only use the Tool Bar when working mobile.  I prefer a separate keyboard and trackpad / mouse when docked to an external monitor when I’m at my desk. Inevitably, my MacBook is often closed.2

    I like the “directness” of the Surface Dial.  Context is king and the fact that there is no spatial separation between the content, the commands and the Surface Dial makes it easier to use.3  I think this is a key learning from Microsoft’s Surface Table device.4   That said, encapsulating it into a physical device that has to be placed on top of the screen will limit it’s uses.  The radial movement doesn’t apply well to certain tasks.  Inevitably, the 360˚ area will be obscured by your had as well. There is also the cost of the peripheral ($99 USD).

    The abstraction available for Apple’s Touch Bar will give it additional flexibility, but I wonder how it behaves when multi-tasking across two or more windows. I suspect that the transitions in the Touch Bar commands will be distracting on your peripheral vision as you move between apps. Moreover, with the Touch Bar toggling between apps, it will be difficult to develop muscle memory.5

    We’re also held hostage by how well software companies make use of the Tool Bar.

    It would be great to see software utilities take some real estate there as well.  I wouldn’t mind using it to display status menus.

    A side note on the inclusion of TouchID on the MacBook Pro

    I love the addition TouchID to the Touch Bar. Using it to unlock your device is great. I feel the use case of fast user switching isn’t great because I don’t know many people who share a laptop across different user accounts.  It’s unfortunate that this isn’t available across more devices.6  It would be great for the iPad or Apple TV or iMac where there are multiple users on each device (i.e., think Kids’ vs Parents’ profiles) .

    1. There is a Linux Desktop Environment called OpenBox that binds a “root-level” start menu in their mouse right-click. 
    2. Like any good graduate with a Human Factors and Ergonomics degree. 
    3. Similarly, I loved the loupe feature in Apple’s discontinued pro photo software, Aperture. 
    4. For instance, you could sync your camera photos by placing it on the Surface, but you didn’t know what camera (if any) supported this feature. 
    5. For instance, I know how to start / stop iTunes and change the volume without looking at the keyboard. 
    6. C’mon Apple!  Throw me a bone and add this to an external keyboard. 

    pfSense OpenVPN, VLAN and DNS Resolver guide

    This is a great tutorial on setting up AirVPN (can easily be applied to any VPN provider) on pfSense 2.3.x and VLANs.  I had always meant to update my guide for this.  I had written:

    NOTE: FWIW, I think you could accomplish this through VLANs [rather than static IP addresses]

    The author goes through the details of setup, including VLANs as well as hosting your own DNS resolver.  It’s a great job.



    The behavioural psychology of engagement

    Working in design and UX, my team and I are often challenged with making things more “engaging”.  In other words, how do you make the user come back for more?

    Ian Leslie writes in, “The Scientists who Makes Apps Addictive“:

    Fogg called for a new field, sitting at the intersection of computer science and psychology, and proposed a name for it: “captology” (Computers as Persuasive Technologies). Captology later became behaviour design, which is now embedded into the invisible operating system of our everyday lives. The emails that induce you to buy right away, the apps and games that rivet your attention, the online forms that nudge you towards one decision over another: all are designed to hack the human brain and capitalise on its instincts, quirks and flaws. The techniques they use are often crude and blatantly manipulative, but they are getting steadily more refined, and, as they do so, less noticeable.

    In particular I found the paragraphs about slot machines of interest:

    The casinos aim to maximise what they call “time-on-device”. The environment in which the machines sit is designed to keep people playing. Gamblers can order drinks and food from the screen. Lighting, decor, noise levels, even the way the machines smell – everything is meticulously calibrated. Not just the brightness, but also the angle of the lighting is deliberate: research has found that light drains gamblers’ energy fastest when it hits their foreheads.

    But it is the variation in rewards that is the key to time-on-device. The machines are programmed to create near misses: winning symbols appear just above or below the “payline” far more often than chance alone would dictate. The player’s losses are thus reframed as potential wins, motivating her to try again. Mathematicians design payout schedules to ensure that people keep playing while they steadily lose money. Alternative schedules are matched to different types of players, with differing appetites for risk: some gamblers are drawn towards the possibility of big wins and big losses, others prefer a drip-feed of little payouts (as a game designer told Schüll, “Some people want to be bled slowly”). The mathematicians are constantly refining their models and experimenting with new ones, wrapping their formulae around the contours of the cerebral cortex.

    Gamblers themselves talk about “the machine zone”: a mental state in which their attention is locked into the screen in front of them, and the rest of the world fades away. “You’re in a trance,” one gambler explains to Schüll. “The zone is like a magnet,” says another. “It just pulls you in and holds you there.”

    A player who is feeling frustrated and considering quitting for the day might receive a tap on the shoulder from a “luck ambassador”, dispensing tickets to shows or gambling coupons. What the player doesn’t know is that data from his game-playing has been fed into an algorithm that calculates how much that player can lose and still feel satisfied, and how close he is to the “pain point”. The offer of a free meal at the steakhouse converts his pain into pleasure, refreshing his motivation to carry on.

    Sound familiar?  One only needs to look at something like Candy Crush Saga to realize how much we are indebted to Las Vegas?

    For those who haven’t read Nir Eyal’s Hooked, you’ll find a great model for how rewards can trigger the motivation to return.

    @Kobo: It’s been a slice

    Today was my last day at Kobo.

    Over the past seven years, I have forgotten more war-stories than I remember. What is left are positive memories of Kobo, née ShortCovers, bringing digital reading to the masses through our mobile apps; anytime & anyplace. It’s followed by us dreaming big and making our mark on the world by building the world’s first “affordable” eReader.1 We expanded and grew the Kobo family quickly with early innovations in gamification and social reading. We did this all while taking on industry titans like Apple, Amazon and Google.

    In that time, companies like Palm, Nokia, Borders and Oyster are no longer. Sony exited the eReading market.2 Barnes and Noble have all but left the market.

    Kobo has played a big role in changing the way people read and I am positive that future historians will talk about Kobo alongside the other companies (west of Toronto) when they talk about the shift to “digital reading”. More importantly, Kobo has played a huge part in moulding the person that I am today.

    I’ve had a spectacular time there.

    Keep on, keeping on.


    1. People don’t remember that Kobo was the first to start the eReader price wars. 
    2. Sony actually founded the entire E INK eReader space a decade before Amazon entered. 

    Comcast has a dream(works)

    The USA Today reports:

    Comcast is in talks to buy DreamWorks Animation in a multi-billion-dollar deal, The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg are reporting. The cost of the deal would be more than $3 billion, according to both news organizations, citing unnamed sources. Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation, has been searching for a buyer for the company, which has a current market value of $2.3 billion. DreamWorks is based in Glendale, Calif., and was founded in 1994 by Katzenberg, filmmaker Steven Spielberg and movie and music executive David Geffen. The animation unit was spun off in 2004. Philadelphia-based Comcast has two primary businesses, Comcast Cable and NBCUniversal. Comcast also owns Universal Parks and Resorts. Comcast already owns an animation studio, Illumination Entertainment, known for its work on the Despicable Me and Minions movies.

    Comcast already owns NBCUniversal which owns Illumination Entertainment1.

    When you’re an infrastructure company like Comcast Cable, you need to diversify into content or services lest you be left behind as a “dumb tube”.

    However, I think the real play is against Netflix.  The properties of DreamWorks have long been part of Netflix’s catalogue2.  You can expect them to disappear when the rights are renewed if this deal goes through.

    1. They own properties like Despicable Me, Minions and Dr. Seuss licenses. 
    2. Shrek, How to Train your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar properties. 
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    A blog by Tai Toh