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    Monday, October 18, 2010

    Shutting it Down

    I'm going to be shutting this blog down and moving everything over to http://michael-rollins.blogspot.com.  Head on over there for the latest.

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    Drama in the Jailbreak Land: SHAtter Delayed

    Egos are a fact of life.  They run rampant in almost everything, though it seems that the bigger the limelight, the more likely it is that an ego will jump to the front.  This is surely the case in the hacking world, where egos are attached to handles that don't necessarily bear any resemblance to reality.  Such is the case with the latest iOS 4.1 jailbreak.

    Chronic Dev Team, a group of hackers known for developing some of the most capable jailbreaks for the iPhone, have been touting a major bootrom exploit for the latest generations of iOS devices called SHAtter.  With SHAtter, which relies on an unpatchable vulnerability in the bootrom of all current generation iOS devices, jailbreaking would be guaranteed for the life of the device (source: QuickPWN).  The exploit is at such a low level that it would be all but impossible for Apple to patch it with software.

    The exploit was announced several days after iOS 4.1 went live with a message that the jailbreak was verified and would make its way to the wires soon.  The raw jailbreak was announced with this twitpic photo on July 15, 2010.  Note the version of iOS which states 4.1 along with "rooted".  Eventually, this jailbreak was slated to be rolled into a package called "greenpois0n", which would be released on 10.10.10 at 10:10 am (the Geek holiday).

    Drama and egos, though, are apt to ensue with something this highly touted.  On October 9, 2010, one day before greenpois0n was to be released, another member of the iOS hacking community released a different bootrom exploit, rolling it into a package called limera1n.  That hacker, George Francis Hotz (born October 2, 1989), aka geohot, had previously released a tethered jailbreak known as blackra1n.  This release of limera1n was apparently against the express wishes of both the Chronic Dev Team and the iPhone Dev Team.  In a tweet that would come out shortly after the limera1n release, some insight into the drama that must have been running amok is revealed.  The tweet states:


    chronic dev team
    use limera1n at your own risk. it has been untested and geohot screwed over @ who trusted him to wait.
    It is worth noting that limera1n is in beta form and does not work on older devices.  Further, it is rumored to not work on newer bootrom iPhone 3GS devices.  Finally, it is currently only Windows based.

    In the ensuing fallout, the Chronic Dev Team postponed greenpois0n, pulling the SHAtter exploit from it completely and choosing to implement the bootrom exploit which geohot used.

    At issue here is that each bootrom exploit is precious.  Apple can patch and remove these exploits as they iterate hardware.  To release two bootrom exploits at the same time would be a waste, in that Apple could roll up both of them in the next iteration.  By doing the "mature" thing, the Chronic Dev Team is at least giving potential life to SHAtter on another device, and it may serve as the means of a lifetime jailbreak on the next iteration of iOS devices.

    Given the beta nature of limera1n and the timing of its release, it certainly seems as if it was released as a means of grabbing the limelight.  It was also apparently an unpopular thing to do in the small community which is known for turning out solid jailbreaks.  The fact that it does not work on older devices and is rumored to not work on the newer iPhone 3GS devices seems to indicate that it is an inferior jailbreak, as well, which is a true shame:  It is unlikely that the SHAtter exploit will see the light of day anytime soon.

    Greenpois0n will be released soon, according to the Chronic Dev Team.  It may be wise to wait for their fully tested version to be made available before jumping into the hairy landscape of jailbreaking.  If you can't wait, however, limera1n is available and waiting.

    Sources: Chronic Dev Team twitter, geohot.us, quickpwn.com

    Thursday, September 16, 2010

    Assimilation: A Review of iPhone 4

    On my birthday, September 9, I walked into an Apple store and asked to be assimilated.

    It was a truly magical event.  As I walked down the long hall of aluminum, surrounded by cheering Geniuses in their blue shirts, my heart beat furiously.  Soon, oh so soon, I would have within my possession the grail of all phones, the beautiful and sleek iPhone 4, that phone which makes all other phones seem as pale imitations of phonedom.  I approached the counter, stated my case, laid out my credentials, was judged worthy (after a slight Apple network hiccup) and proceeded out the door carrying the fabled device.  The universe was right and good, a thing of majesty and beauty.

    If you've never been in an Apple store, you may scoff at this account, but I tell you, this is exactly what Apple is trying to foster in their stores.  A land of sleek industrial design which seeks to pull you, atom by atom, into a world where the coveted fruit of their hard work is your only goal, idolized and adored by you to the exclusion of all else.  They go a long way to accomplishing that goal.  Hold fast your soul should you ever tread these hallowed halls!

    It's been a week since I purchased said device, so I'd like to give you my impressions.

    Syncing and Upgrading

    I brought my iPhone 4 to work, hooked it up to my computer and synced everything that had been on my tired and worn out iPhone 3G.  Apple has really nailed it, here.  It was a painless process.  In less than half an hour, I was holding a device that seemed identical in OS to my iPhone 3G (besides hardware differences, mind).  It was faster, sleeker, but every single piece of data had transferred.  I was almost disappointed that I wouldn't have to crawl through the depths of the device to set anything up.

    Design


    It is truly a sleek device.  When I got my iPhone 3G, i thought I had never seen a more beautiful piece of hardware, but the 4 makes the 3G/3GS design seem cheap and plasticy, utterly devoid of inspiration.  This glass and aluminum idol is a thing of utter beauty to behold, I have to say.  All other phones come up short, so far as I can tell, in comparison.

    That's not to say that it's without flaws.  Being all glass on front and back, it makes it hard to hold.  Often when I'm talking, I feel the phone start sliding around in my hand.  I keep having to rearrange my grip to keep it from sliding out of my fingers.

    I'm also extremely nervous about it, in general.  I know that the glass is hardened, but I can't help but be concerned that I'm going to shatter it.  In fact, when I went into the Apple store, the geniuses at the bar were mulling over an iPhone 4 with a shattered back.  These things can be broken, and I'm much more cautious about using this phone than I was about my 3G.  When I used to place my 3G in my pocket, I would always put the glass against my leg, hoping to protect it to some degree.  No matter how I put my iPhone 4 in my pocket, some glass is going to be exposed to the outside of my pocket.

    I've also noticed some slight hairline scratches on the back of the device already.  As I've stated, I've been extremely careful with it, so that just goes to drive home the point even more:  despite hardened glass, it should be handled delicately.

    I've already put my order in for my free case, and I can't wait for it to get here.  I'll feel a bit better about things when I finally have this thing at least moderately protected.  Such a shame, though, to cover up a beautiful device.

    Speed


    Compared to my 3G, this thing is a rocket!  There is now very little lag in the OS.  I can move between apps quickly and things like diving into the texting client take only a fraction of a second.  On the 3G, this was a particularly onerous task, taking up to a minute to fully load.  It's nice to have a usable phone again.

    Antenna and Reception


    I've experienced the death grip one time and one time only.  My hands were slightly damp from washing them and when I held the phone in my left hand the cell radio suddenly went into searching mode.  If I really squeeze down with the death grip (holding the phone in the left hand with the black bar on the lower left of the phone in the palm) I can see some signal attenuation, but by and large it has not been a problem.

    I also experienced another issue I've never seen with my 3G.  Over a period of about 15 minutes, while driving down the road, every call I made dropped suddenly.  The person I was calling wondered just what the heck was going on, as I kept dialing and redialing them.  Whether this was due to the phone or the network, I can't say, but that never happened with my 3G.

    Other than those two times, the reception has been fabulous.  Call clarity and quality are awesome.  Folks are telling me I sound better.  The noise cancelling mic is truly awesome.  This is a great phone to make calls on.

    Pictures and Video


    The camera on this device is amazing.  The stills it takes are phenomenal and with the addition of HDR photos in iOS 4.1 you can really get some amazing shots.  The flash also adds a new dimension lacking in the previous models.  I am starting to think that I might be able to leave my point-and-shoot behind in favor of my phone, and that's an awesome thing, indeed.

    This is a silly little picture of a kids toy, but it really serves to illustrate how sharp these photos are.  This was taken with the flash.



    But as good as the stills are, video is even better.  The 720p video this iPhone takes is smooth like butter.  The details are crisp and there's almost no jelly-vision, even if your hands aren't too steady when you're filming.  Add in the capability (at the premium app price of $4.99) to edit movies on the device with iMovie, and you really have an awesome deal.

    Here's a movie shot with my iPhone, put together with iMovie.  It's of my son's soccer practice.  Such a simple little thing, but it really is an amazing to have done this on a phone.  (Looks like Blogger really compressed the mess out of the movie, here's the original on YouTube)

    video

    Conclusion


    This is truly an awesome device.  Despite some minor complaints, it is both beautiful and functional.  I will be able to leave behind both my Flip and my point-and-shoot.  I can edit video on it and upload that video to YouTube without a problem from the device.  It's snappy and runs iOS flawlessly.  Upgrading from a previous iOS device is painless.

    Truly, I can't recommend this phone more.

    Friday, August 13, 2010

    Double Fisting It on AT&T

    I have recently had to severely analyze my motivations for which phone I will get next.  Included in this analysis were factors such as work getting me a development phone, would I stay with AT&T and would I leave the iPhone behind.

    In answer to my last post, whether I would shift with the wind on which platform I wanted to commit to, the answer is both yes and no.  When I watched WWDC I became very excited about the iPhone 4.  What a gorgeous piece of hardware, and iOS has already proven to be a capable OS so I had no concerns there.  In short, there was much that was attractive to me about the iPhone 4.  Add in the capability to take slick 720p videos and edit them on-device and it seemed like a no-brainer.

    Then, antennae-gate hit.  It quite literally paralyzed me where I stood.  Could it be true, the vaunted iPhone 4 was a deeply flawed device?  Would simply holding the phone render it useless as a phone?  The echo-chamber of the gadget media covered the story in excruciating detail.

    As it turns out, it's not such a bad flaw, only showing up in low signal-strength areas.  Further, Apple is giving out bumpers with every iPhone 4.  The bumper mitigates the problem completely.  While I can't say that I love the thought that some high-end gadget has a design flaw which necessitates a case, the benefits of having an iPhone 4 greatly out-weigh the downsides.  Simply put, Apple has put out another superb machine for indoctrinating the masses and across the board all the pundits that have obtained one say it is a beautifully useful device.

    So, with the iPhone 4 back in the mix as a viable alternative (meaning I couldn't simply dismiss iOS and switch to Android), which phone would I get.  Ironically, work and AT&T provided the answer.

    Work has agreed to the necessity of development hardware and is allowing us to choose which device we would like.  We have to provide the service, should we want it, but by and large the choice of phone is ours.  The development team all agreed that Android was the way to go, as it is likely our customer will have Android phones at their disposal.

    Providing the service became a bit of a sticky wicket, though.  Did I really want another device, one that could be taken away at any time, and have to provide at least $40/month in service for it (on Verizon or AT&T)?  Did I want to switch to a lower tier provider like Sprint or T-Mobile?  Heck, did I want to carry around two devices with two numbers?  All of these questions came to mind, and I researched them to death.

    Turns out that Sprint and T-Mobile both have great plans which roll data into the plan.  On AT&T and Verizon, you have to pay ~$30 for data per smartphone and there is very little way around that.  However, the savings I would get on Sprint or T-Mobile weren't that much greater than what I have now.  If the answer had been that I could have my cost on my mobile bill go down $50/month, it would have been a no-brainer, but that is not the case.

    Adding to the complexity is the decision I made to have both major phone OSes at my disposal.  I would like to have my hand in both Android and in iOS, with an eye towards developing in both.  This requirement ruled out Sprint, but due to rumors did not rule out Verizon.  However, the modus operandi of AT&T provided a clear-cut answer.

    AT&T is a GSM carrier.  That means that the service each phone has is dependent on which SIM card is in the phone at any given time.  As long as I kept my iPhone plan/SIM, which provides data, SMS and phone service, I can switch my SIM into a different phone and still have all of that service, as well as keeping the same number.  It's a beautiful solution.  I could get both an iPhone 4 and an Android device and, depending on the necessity of the day, switch my SIM around to carry which phone I needed.

    Now, I have to find the right Android device on AT&T.  A Nexus One would suffice, but I will have to go to Ebay for one of those, so I may wait around and see what percolates out in the next few months.  Regardless, I believe I will be able to carry both OSes, and this makes my geeky heart very happy.

    Wednesday, May 26, 2010

    Wherever the Wind Blows

    Just recently I spent a couple of days watching the Google I/O 2010 keynotes live.  The first half of the second keynote was dedicated solely to Android 2.2 (codename Froyo, which is short for Frozen Yogurt) and man, I'm incredibly pumped about it.  Despite the fact that I don't have an Android phone, nor am I likely to get one anytime soon.

    It did get me thinking, though, about whether or not I will upgrade my iPhone come June 7 when the new iPhone is released.  It certainly has put a lot of hesitation in my mind.  Some of that hesitation is due to my frustration with the iPhone.  I recently decided that I would finally take the plunge and spring for the iPhone dev kit.  I amped myself up to start writing nifty apps on the iPhone and was completely gung-ho about the whole process.

    Only to find out that the only way to write apps on for the iPhone is on a Mac...  This caused me much angst.

    Enter Google I/O (and some Engadget reviews about the EVO and Incredible) and the wind started to shift.  By the end of the second keynote, I was committed to being an Android convert (with the added bonus that I could leave AT&T far behind).  However, there was a question niggling in the back of my mind:  Would my lust for a new iPhone reassert itself as I avidly watch the WWDC, where Apple will launch its new iPhone?

    As any good fanboy will do, I decided to seek out as much information as I could about Froyo and the current batch of devices everyone is talking about.  I turned to Mashable, Engadget and Ars, reading the same stories hashed and rehashed.  I downloaded all of the pertinent Engadget podcasts.  I devoured this info.

    And, hidden in there, I found an interesting tidbit of info:  A lot of these guys which are touting Froyo as the next coming of the mobile Jesus are reluctant to release their firm grasps on their iPhones.  In fact, during the Engadget show, an audience member asked a panel of Engadget editors if they would be willing to leave behind their iPhones for an Android device.  The answer, across the board?  "No."

    Here is an interesting perspective.  Has Apple done such a good job that even those that don't want to be indoctrinated are truly indoctrinated?  It's quite clear that the iPhone is the phone to beat.  This shows up whenever the latest, greatest phone is reviewed.  The question is always, is it an iPhone killer?  The answer every time so far is, "No."  In short, even though the pundits are crying out for a changing of the guard, they are unlikely to get one anytime soon.

    Even though the wind is blowing towards Android right now, will it be blowing that direction in two weeks?  I actually doubt it.  Don't get me wrong, Android is a worthy platform.  I want to develop for it.  It has some many things that make it ideal for our projects (more on that in another post).  It has strengths which are only now being developed and which, when they come to fruition, will be amazing.  But, for now, in the words of Paul Miller from Engadget, "Now is the best time to wait."

    So, I leave an eye to WWDC.  Will I be able to stomach another two years of AT&T and Apple (I highly doubt that Verizon will get an iPhone this time around)?  Will I find some way to secure the development environment which I so crave for iPhone OS devices?  An answer of yes to either of these two questions will indeed commit me to another tour of duty with an iPhone.

    Monday, March 15, 2010

    What Should be Next for Enterprise Mashups?

    My friend over at JackBe, Chris Warner, recently sent me an email asking me what the next 2 to 3 years should hold for Enterprise Mashups. JackBe, in case you don't know, is the creator of the Enterprise Mashup software Presto.  We've used Presto on a project and it's a wonderfully crafted piece of software with many, many possibilities in front of it.  Presto has, at its heart, the creation of mashups, those elusive but so useful beasts which give you all kinds of new-fangled views into your data.

    This is a topic I've spent a little bit of time thinking about, fancying myself to be at least a passable user and creator of mashups.  I'm going to change up the question a bit, though, and delve into territory that is slightly afield.  So, I propose these related questions:  Just what the heck are Enterprise Mashups?  And, what's next for them?

    Any Ol' Programmer
    Let's be honest, any programmer can get out there and create a mashup with a little elbow grease.  The technology is there such that, with a little bit of web service lifting and a little bit of UI know-how you can create fantastical mashups that will make everyone sit up and take notice.  What's more, if you do it right, your own mashup can, in turn, become a data source for someone else to consume.  It's a bit like Sir Elton John says, that whole Circle of Life thing.

    But, that's just the problem, isn't it?  We're not all programmers, now, are we?  Not all of us even have access to programmers (or, as we like to style ourselves now-a-days, "software engineers"), so it's not like we can ask someone else to do it for us.  And, most important of all, programmer time is expensive.  If you do have access to a programmer and task them with spending hours creating your pet mashup, you're likely to get a whack on the wrists from the company dumby stick.  So, what use are mashups to the common-day man?  They're nice to look at, but not really practical beyond that.

    Enter the Enterprise
    No, not the ship, though that would be cool.  The Enterprise is (or should be) all about putting a useful tool into the hands of someone other than an engineer.  To a certain extent it's about lowering the technical barrier of entry.  Any programmer should be able to put a mashup together, but that doesn't mean that they are easy.  There is a lot of wiring together and hacking things up that takes place.

    Enter the folks at JackBe, handing us Presto.  With software like Presto it's possible for someone of a less technical bent, someone that's not a programmer, to put together a mashup that's useful.  This Enterprise tool takes some of the difficulty out of the creation.  And that, in a nutshell, is what the Enterprise should be about.

    What's Next?
    Even though products like Presto lower the barrier of entry, there is still a long way to go.  Presto shines at doing the actual mashing, wiring the data together to get the new view.  But, one area where Enterprise Mashup software needs to tread next is into more robust presentation of that new view.

    One thing that mashups excel at is the creation of data.  One thing that data desperately wants to do is be visualized.  There are so many tools out there for visualizing data, but most of them have a similar dilemma to non-enterprise mashups:  it takes specialized skills to use them.  Enterprise Mashups need to tread here, next, lowering the barrier of entry into rich presentation of the data that mashups are so good at generating.

    To Infinity...
    From there, well, who knows.  I'd like to see tools which are good at creating not just a good presentation but actual interaction, all done so that the common layman can create them with minimal know-how.  I've blogged before about how it's important for people like analysts to be able to do at least some kind of rudimentary software development.  I see that Enterprise Mashups can fill this role once they come to full maturity.  It's a big area, one that needs more exploration, and I'm quite happy that I get a peek into it at the ground floor.

    Wednesday, December 30, 2009

    Social Media: Capturing Knowledge in a Self-Organized Way

    It's the early 80s and you sit at your terminal with a stack of papers, a document holder and a keyboard. Your mission: Enter as many of the paper forms into the terminal as possible. Exciting work, isn't it?

    The problem is that this is not an inaccurate way to view data entry today. Granted, a lot of the brute force work has been done and legacy systems exist from which to pull data. Further, the forms are now entered directly into the system as opposed to copied from paper, but as regards entering novel data the situation has changed little.

    The other major problem is that this type of raw entry, which is generally entering data into a form, only captures defined phenomena. The data that is being entered, especially into a form, is often classified and defined in advance. There is no elasticity to what can be captured.

    This is problematic in that you must have a clear picture of what you are capturing in advance. For hard problems and complex situations you very rarely know much, if anything, in advance. If your only valid form of capturing data is via traditional predefined methods, such as forms, then your ability to capture data, and eventually knowledge, is vastly compromised.

    This revelation is nothing new, of course. People have been trying to innovate data entry and knowledge capture for several decades. But, what other types of data can be captured and how?

    The Army is asking this exact question, if indirectly. In reading several SBIRs the concept of capturing the knowledge inherent in soldiers heads is coming to the forefront. It is being recognized that not only do experts have valid perspectives and answers, the boots on the ground do, as well (keep in mind, this is probably not a new perspective in the military, but is one that I have seen in several SBIRs recently). Beyond that, though, they are starting to explore how to bring that knowledge into existing systems.

    The how of this is a serious question. Computer systems today are clearly defined and generally purposeful to a single end. Human thought, on the other hand, is often multi-purposed and the field of understanding human thinking (philosophy) has been around for as long as humans and has yet to reach one shared conclusion on how we think. Even if we could get some Matrix-like data jack implanted into soldiers heads could we really transfer the knowledge as it is represented inside their brains into a computer system?

    Perhaps we need another way of gathering data since it would seem that direct access to the human mind would avail us little. There is a new(-ish) movement which is providing an answer: social media.

    Probably one of the most useful aspects of social media is how important and interesting knowledge percolates to the top. This is done in various ways. For instance, if I see an interesting tweet on Twitter, I will retweet it. If I read something worthwhile on Facebook, I may comment on it or repost it. It's this interaction with the content that causes the interesting bits to rise to the top.

    The exciting thing, at least from a systems perspective, is that this is self-organizing behavior. It is through the interaction of the components of the system (here, the components are the people) that the interesting bits are being obtained. While it may be difficult to capture human thought and knowledge in its native form, it's not as difficult to capture the important pieces as they are being defined by the social system already.

    Further, the nature of social media, in that it tends to interact in bite-sized, discrete pieces, means that the computer system needs not have much understanding of what it is capturing at all. The knowledge is already distilled into its core component, often with attribution, and the computer system merely need remember it. It can be stored without pre-defined labels and fields.

    The thing which the computer system must crucially provide is a robust search capability. Whether this search capability is enacted after the fact, or whether there is a component of the system which searches as knowledge comes in is immaterial. As long as the system can search through the knowledge is what's important.

    Eventually, this captured knowledge can be used and reused as more people interact with it. Each interaction would in essence refine the knowledge, making it more useful to the computer system and the people in general.