Conversational Code

You won’t find Swift anywhere on that map.

Speaking of computer science for all (as in a post from last week), Apple CEO Tim Cook was visiting a college in the UK to promote the company’s Everyone Can Code curriculum. The UK Guardian was one of the news organizations that covered Cook’s stop, as they might for a visiting rock star.

Although the headline (“Apple’s Tim Cook: ‘I don’t want my nephew on a social network’”) hints that the article will focus on the newly-discovered issue of tech overuse, most of it is a largely flattering profile of Cook. Plus some information about the financial and tax problems Apple is facing in both Europe and the US.

But buried in the small section about whether everyone should learning programming, we find this idea from Cook.

I think if you had to make a choice, it’s more important to learn coding than a foreign language. I know people who disagree with me on that. But coding is a global language; it’s the way you can converse with 7 billion people.

I’m one who would disagree.

Coding is largely a global standard, but it is not a language for communications. Learning to code does not help students understand the world outside their borders and offers no insight into another culture. It is not more important than learning a conversational language that is not their own.

If a school was, for some reason, forced to make a choice between the two, their students would be far better off in a Spanish or Chinese language course than they would be learning to code.

No Simple Case

You may have recently heard on the news about the conflict between the FBI and Apple. It’s one of those geek stories that leaks out into the mainstream media, which then completely drains the issues of all context and creates a simple, easy to tell, two-sided narrative.

Big brother demanding new spy tools vs. company trying to defend the privacy of it’s customers. Or noble law enforcement tracking down terrorists vs. evil company trying to defend their profits.

It ain’t that simple, as explained by a digital security expert in the Washington Post (ironically, about as mainstream media as you get).

What the FBI wants to do would make us less secure, even though it’s in the name of keeping us safe from harm. Powerful governments, democratic and totalitarian alike, want access to user data for both law enforcement and social control. We cannot build a backdoor that only works for a particular type of government, or only in the presence of a particular court order.

Either everyone gets security or no one does. Either everyone gets access or no one does.

There is much more to this story beyond one particular phone, including mistakes made by investigators and lots of uninformed, headline-grabbing rhetoric from politicians and others who should know better. Start with the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s summary of the facts and the implications this controversy could have for everyone’s privacy.

Sadly I suspect the outcome will leave everyone’s devices – and the personal information they contain – just a little more open to both the “bad” guys and the “good” guys.


Image: Sticker available from EFF Shop.

Who Owns The Media You Just “Bought”?

My cable company regularly sends me offers to buy movies. Amazon does the same, and for television shows as well. iTunes tells me they have thousands of video programs I can purchase.

Except they’re all lying.

They either claim, as in the cable ads, that I’ll “own them forever”, or imply that’s the case. But what happens if (more likely, when) Verizon’s contract with the owner of your movie ends and it’s no longer available from that particular store. Or if your cable company merges with another and the new accountants decide that season pass you “bought” was priced too low. Or Amazon goes out of business (it will happen someday).

When it comes to music, there are a half dozen or more streaming services, places where you can listen to all the tracks in the known universe. Build collections, assemble albums, play them on any device. At least you can until you stop paying the monthly charge, after which your music collection disappears.

Then there are digital books from Amazon and Apple, and audiobooks from Audible (which is owned by Amazon). They download to your device and you can read them when you’re not online, so it looks like you own them, but not really. Those files come with digital rights management (DRM), code that prevents you from doing what people have always done with paper-based books: give to family or friends when you are done, or allowing others to borrow them from your library. Except, it’s not “your” library.

The bottom line to all this ranting is simply that everyone needs to realize that when you pay for media and are not allowed to control the file, you don’t own it; you’re renting. And that’s the plan of the big copyright owners. They want to get us used to this kind of media marketplace, since it’s only a few steps from there to all music, video, and books being pay-per-view.

Just something to think about as you go about your holiday shopping this year.

Doing What’s Right, Not Necessarily Profitable

From Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, in response to questions raised at a recent shareholder meeting about the company’s investment in sustainable energy and the it’s impact on profits.

“When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind,” he said, “I don’t consider the bloody ROI.”1 He said that the same thing about environmental issues, worker safety, and other areas where Apple is a leader.

He didn’t stop there, however, as he looked directly at the NCPPR representative and said, “If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock.”

Argue all you want about the merits of their products, iPhone vs. Android, Mac vs. PC, this is an attitude and corporate policy we should see from more CEOs.

Happy Birthday, Mac

Ok, this is going to be a very geeky bit of nostalgia, so you may want to just move on to something more substantial right now.

Anyway, today is the 30th anniversary of the announcement of the Apple Macintosh computer2 and, having owned and used a variety of command-line computers prior to 19842, the graphical interface in this new machine grabbed my attention like nothing before it. Based on the message boards I frequented at the time (Facebook’s great grandfather), I wasn’t alone.

My first Mac was the 512K, the second edition, released in the fall of 1984. I sorta kinda bought it illegally. Apple was allowing a few colleges to offer Macs to faculty and students for large discounts through their bookstores and a colleague at my school arranged for his daughter to buy one for me. She was an English major, owned a top of the line IBM Selectric, and had no interest in computers of any kind.

Since then I’ve lost track of how many Macs I’ve owned and used, certainly more than two dozen different desktops and portable machines. The only representative of those earliest editions I still have is that SE/30 (on the left in that picture), which was my second purchase. It still works (booting from that massive 40mb hard drive) and is still an amazing piece of engineering.

There’s no need to go into any more details. Someone else can relate the rest of the history of the Macintosh (like this list of favorite models), I’m more interested in the future of personal, portable, connected devices, regardless of whether they are called computer or Mac.

However, for as far forward as I’m able to predict technology (which frankly, is not very far), I’m pretty sure I’ll be buying the best of that category from Apple.3

Happy birthday, Mac.