App army promises new software revolution

In line to enter the World Wide Developers Conference 2009
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

A decade ago, San Francisco’s trendy South of Market district was the birthplace of hundreds of web design firms that have since gone under or been swallowed by rivals.

Now it is the turn of the “app army“, the scores of companies devoted to churning out small programs known as applications that run on Apple’s iPhone and rival devices, as well as on regular computers for users of Facebook and similar websites…

Indeed, veteran industry executives, investors and analysts are calling the shift to internet-capable devices and the apps that run on them a once-a-decade leap in technology, on a par with the great personal computing boom of the 1980s and the debut of the World Wide Web in the 1990s.

“The ramp [growth rate] of the iPhone and iPod touch in the first eight or nine quarters is more than five times the ramp for the internet,” says Kathryn Huberty, Morgan Stanley tech analyst. These devices, and faster wireless networks, are both now reaching about a fifth of the global population, she estimates, which will drive much more rapid development : “Globally,” she says, “2010 is the tipping point.”

No company is more central to the shift towards the mobile internet than Apple, which enjoys a wide lead in distributing applications. More than 100,000 apps are available on its App Store and more than 2 billion have been downloaded in less than a year and a half.

To keep that gusher flowing, Apple has sought to inspire more outsider developers with the rare rags-to-riches stories — like that of Steve Demeter, a bank programmer who earned $250,000 in two months of 2008 after launching a simple game called Trism…

The advantages the bigger companies have over the smaller developers — scale, expertise and marketing know-how — mean there may not be any “app millionaires” in the years ahead, says Matt Murphy of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, who runs a fund devoted to backing iPhone developers.

But small groups that have multiple successes will be pursued by bigger companies. “There will be teams of people who get a hit franchise acquired for north of $1 million,” Mr Murphy says.

Useful article. Beaucoup information.

As visionary as their leadership may be, this is a phenomenon that, after all, even surprised Apple.

Winter Solstice and the Christmas Bird Count

My favorite raptor

The official first days of Winter have come with the Solstice and with it the Annual Christmas Bird Count is in full swing. Called the CBC, the first count was done on Christmas Day of 1900, over the last 110-years, with waistlines bulging, thousands of citizens have joined together to volunteer their time to walk off that Pumpkin Pie in the name of science. Count dates vary by area, but are conducted from December 14 to January 5, across the US, Canada, and 19 countries.

Everyone is welcome to participate, Compilers, or group leaders, arrange field parties so that inexperienced volunteers are always out with seasoned CBC veterans. Volunteers will go out over a 24 hour period to count birds following specified routes through a designated 15-mile circle, counting every bird they see or hear all day. If you live within a CBC count area, you can arrange to count the birds at your own feeder and submit the data to the group leader. To find a count in your area just select “Get Involved” from the CBC home page.

Go to the Birds. When the shortest days of the year are giving you the mid-winter blues take a walk through the trees and look up at the birds, you can participate in as many counts as you like, you’ll be giving a hand to science, and you might even find a new hobby or Solstice Tradition.

You can avoid some of the spookier aspects of mid-winter holidays by doing something refreshing and useful, eh?

Hollywood security is better than the Pentagon’s

It sounds like the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster: A group of insurgents hack into American military drones, using software they got off the Internet, according to The Wall Street Journal. But, for the benefit of that screenwriter likely pounding away right now to get his idea in first — as well as for the general public — what actually happened?

First is the growing use of unmanned systems, something I explore in my book “Wired for War.” Just a few years ago, the U.S. military had no interest in unmanned systems. Indeed, when the U.S. invaded Iraq, we had only a handful of unmanned systems in the air and zero on the ground in the invasion force, none of them armed.

Today, we have more than 7,000 in the air, ranging from the 48-foot-long Predator to tiny ones that can fit in a backpack, and 12,000 on the ground, such as the Packbot and Talon systems that hunt down roadside bombs. Many of these systems are armed, giving new meaning to the term “killer app…”

The problem of the relatively open video feeds has been known for a while. Indeed, back during our operations in the Balkans, it was discovered that just about anyone in Eastern Europe with a satellite dish could watch live overhead footage of U.S. Special Operations forces going out on raids of suspected war criminals. One joker commented that it was harder to tap into the Disney Channel.

But the Pentagon assumed that foes in the Middle East wouldn’t be smart enough to figure this out, and underestimated how quickly the technology to tap in to the feeds would advance, becoming cheaper and widely available. The problems were not fixed, and more and more of these relatively open systems were deployed…

The U.S. military has responded to the reports with a mix of public calm and private consternation. Officials have said they are fixing the problem, such as by working to encrypt the video downlinks, and that this is a tempest in a teapot.

The first problem, though, is the scale. There are literally thousands of unmanned systems in the air (as well as the current ROVER models that only receive the unencrypted video feed) that will need to be retooled for encryption. This will be expensive and arduous, and all while the war goes on. There are also worries that layering the encryption on top of the system software will slow down the communications and make them hard for multiple users to access at once.

More important, though, is the ad-hoc, back-end nature of the response. It is far different from having your entire system design of both hardware and software take into account how to protect information efficiently but effectively, throughout the communications and operations chain.

The result could be that our patched systems may end up still less protected than the movies or video games you download at home on your DVR or X-Box.

What happens when a Predator drone readies to fire a Hellfire missile – and gets the X-Box red eye of death? What happens when ping time from a tech sitting under a dish in Alamogordo triples out-and-back to that Raptor over South Waziristan?

Merry Christmas honey. How about a divorce?

Stuck for Christmas gift ideas? Is your marriage or a friend’s going through a rocky patch? How about a divorce voucher?

In an unusual take on the season of giving, a London law firm is offering Christmas gift vouchers for divorce advice.

The firm, Lloyd Platt & Company, which normally charges £325 an hour, said it had been swamped with enquiries since it launched the vouchers early last week.

So far, more than 60 have been sold — a snip at £125 for a half hour session with a divorce lawyer.

The firm’s founder, Vanessa Lloyd Platt, said she had been amazed at the response to the vouchers. “They seem to appeal to an enormously widespread spectrum of people looking for that ‘must have’ gift for Christmas,” she said.

Not associated with the holiday, especially – but, I did schedule one of my divorces for after the first of the year – for tax reasons. Har! 8)

Sarah Palin wins – Lie of the Year

Seniors and the disabled “will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel‘ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care.”

Sarah Palin, Friday, August 7th, 2009.

RTFA. Long, detailed examination of this statement from our #1 favorite nutball.

UPDATE: And, now, she paints herself into a corner trying to explain how she’s right – and how she’s not wrong. WTF?

Thanks, Mr. Fusion

Israel admits to organ thefts

Israelis demonstrate at Swedish embassy after organ thefts revealed
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Israel has admitted that it harvested organs from the dead bodies of Palestinians and Israelis in the 1990s, without permission from their families.

The admission follows the release of an interview with Jehuda Hiss, the former head of Israel’s forensic institute, in which he said that workers at the institute had harvested skin, corneas, heart valves and bones from Israelis, Palestinians and foreign workers.

In the interview, which was conducted in 2000 when Hiss was head of Tel Aviv’s Abu Kabir forensic institute, he said: “We started to harvest corneas … Whatever was done was highly informal. No permission was asked from the family.”

Nancy Scheper-Hughes, who conducted the interview, told Al Jazeera on Monday that Hiss had said the “body parts were used by hospitals for transplant purposes – cornea transplants. They were sent to public hospitals [for use on citizens]. “And the skin went to a special skin bank, founded by the military, for their uses”, such as for burns victims.

The practice is said to have ended in 2000.

If you believe the Israeli government – which also says they haven’t nuclear weapons.

RTFA. This is the same government which will not allow an investigation into more recent charges of the same ghoulish practices commonly practiced upon Palestinians killed during Israeli raids.

Supremes revisit ruling requiring testimony from police lab techs

Virginia Hernandez Lopez admitted to knocking back two shots of tequila with Sprite chasers on an August night in Julian, Calif., a couple of years ago. But she said she was not drunk when her Ford Explorer collided with an oncoming Toyota pickup truck later that night, killing its driver.

In May, a California state appeals court affirmed Ms. Lopez’s conviction for vehicular manslaughter. Her blood-alcohol level two hours after the accident was, according to a report presented to the jury, just over the legal limit of .08 percent.

But the appeals court reconsidered the case after a decision in June from the United States Supreme Court that prohibited prosecutors from introducing crime lab reports without testimony from the analysts who prepared them.

The appeals court reversed Ms. Lopez’s conviction, saying prosecutors had violated her constitutional right to confront witnesses against her by failing to put the analyst who prepared the blood-alcohol report on the stand.

But now, in an unusual move, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on Jan. 11 in a new case that raises questions about how lower courts may carry out its six-month-old precedent. Many state attorneys general and prosecutors are hoping the court will overrule its decision in the earlier case, Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, before it can take root, saying it is a costly, disruptive and dangerous misstep.

“Already data and anecdotal evidence are demonstrating an overwhelming negative impact,” a friend-of-the-court brief submitted by 26 attorneys general last month said. The decision, they said, “is already proving unworkable.”

RTFA. Prosecutors and defense lawyers have the world of differences on the question – as you might presume.

The article doesn’t mention what Ms. Lopez had to say about the constitutional rights of Allan Wolowsky, the driver she killed.

DC copper pulls his gun on snowball fight

A plainclothes police detective allegedly pulled his gun out and waved it at a large group of people in a snowball fight at the corner of 14th and U Streets NW Saturday afternoon.

An off-duty member of the Metropolitan Police Dept. was reportedly driving his car in the area when the car was suddenly pelted with a barrage of snowballs, according to a statement from the MPD.

The detective stopped his car, got out and approached a crowd of people that might have thrown the snowballs. He then got into a verbal fight with members of the crowd, according to police.

At some point, the detective called for assistance. According to witnesses, one of the uniformed officers that responded pulled out his weapon as he approached the plainclothes detective. As soon as the detective identified himself, the uniformed officer put his gun back in the holster, police said.

MPD claims the footage does not show the detective drawing his weapon, but they have since received additional images and statements that would seem to support that allegation.

According to 3D Commander George Kusik, the uniformed officer conducted himself appropriately.

Uh, OK. There wasn’t anything more demanding of his attention? Like going home, having supper, leaving people alone?